More DfT funding for English light rail systems

It has been announced that up to a further £67.8 million will be made available to tram and light rail systems across England (outside of London) up to the end of March as part of the latest funding package from the Department for Transport. For the first time in these joint announcements this will include Blackpool alongside systems in Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, the Tyne and Wear Metro and the West Midlands Metro.

The funding will come in two parts – an initial 12 week package worth £35.4 million before a government review takes place informed by local authorities plans to move networks onto a more financially sustainable footing with a further £32.4 million then to be made available up until the end of March 2021. This could bring a total amount across the pandemic of £160 million.

This is the fourth round of funding for light rail which has been announced by the government since the pandemic began and is hoped that this will be enable fairly intensive services to run on the various systems funded to allow for social distancing allowing people to continue to take essential journeys.

In the previous three rounds Blackpool had been conspicuous by its absence, not helped by it being the only system in the country to completely suspend services for a time, but it was reported in the local press that it received a later funding package (although no mention was ever made on the DfT website of this). It is now included in the main announcement – although gets by the far the lowest amount at £352,000 over the next 12 weeks. The extensive Manchester Metrolink network is at the other end of the scale with £17.521 million awarded (full amounts are shown at the end of this article).

Baroness Vere, Light Rail Minister, said: “Trams serve as a vital link for communities in the North and Midlands – whether it’s to get to local shops, school or work, we know many people rely on these services every day. That’s why we’re continuing to fund services so that they can operate safely during the pandemic. Passengers across the North and Midlands will continue to have access to the services they need.”

Cllr Adele Williams, Nottingham City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Local Transport, was one of those who was pleased with the announcement: “We welcome the additional funding that has been announced today by the Government, which will allow NET to continue to provide a vital service for essential journeys over the difficult winter that lies ahead. The tram network is a key component of our wider plans to keep the city moving, and we will continue to have a constructive dialogue with Tramlink and Government over the important and carbon-free role tram services will play in the recovery plans for our city centre and local economy in the months ahead”.

Stephen Edwards, South Yorkshire PTE Executive Director, said: “Throughout the pandemic South Yorkshire’s public transport network has played a critical role in connecting people to the places they need to be. The government’s latest announcement of just over £2.6 million of funding for light rail in our region will allow us to secure the stability of the Supertram network, protecting and maintaining services for passengers for the next 12 weeks. We continue to work with the Department for Transport on securing longer-term sustainability for the Supertram network during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Our region is facing substantial challenges in the months ahead, with Very High local Covid alert level restrictions (Tier 3) coming into force from this weekend.  The stability this funding offers will ensure we can continue to provide an integrated public transport network for those people travelling to work, school, venues and amenities that remain open across the region.”

And Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, added: “We welcome this emergency funding deal for Metro which will ensure we keep this vital service running for local people until the end of the financial year.While this is of course good news for the region, we need longer term certainty to avoid future cuts which would have a significant impact on the North East economy. I’d like to thank our regional Members of Parliament for their help in making the case to Government for this essential funding.”

Both the Docklands Light Railway and London Tramlink are not funded through this award as they will receive cash from the Transport for London settlement – if there is one. That is a whole different story with discussions between the DfT and TfL said to be ongoing with various conditions which would come with the money from the government unlikely to be particularly agreeable to TfL.

Funding for the next 12 weeks has been awarded as follows:

Blackpool Tramway – £352,000

Manchester Metrolink – £17.521 million

Nottingham Express Transit – £4.44 million

Stagecoach Supertram – £2.634 million

Tyne and Wear Metro – £8.545 million

West Midlands Metro – £1.88 million

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