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TRAM: British and Australian (American usually streetcar also trolley) noun [C]
An electric vehicle that transports people, usually in cities, and goes along metal tracks in the road. (Taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary)

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South Hampshire Light Rapid Transit by Gareth Prior
This page was last updated 26 January 2003
One of the many areas in the United Kingdom which has had plans accepted for a new generation tram system is Portsmouth. In the second of an occasional series on proposed and opening systems in Britain we take a look at the latest developments and news on the South Hampshire Rapid Transit system.

Trams were last seen running in Portsmouth in 1936 when Portsmouth Corporation Tramways closed their final route with the Gosport and Fareham Tramways having closed at the end of 1929. The first trams in the area were operated by Portsmouth Street Tramways with the first statutory street tramway, opening in May 1865 for a mile stretch between Clarence Pier, Southsea and the main railway station in the then town. At the start of 1901 the local Corporation took control of the system when the network had reached just over 13 miles and was still horse operated. The Corporation soon started the process of electrifying the system and introduced new double deck trams from Dick Kerr with a total of 113 plus one single deck toastrack (purchased from nearby Southampton) being put into operation. However the system was only to last 35 years before the decision was made to convert to trolleybus operation with the last tram being operated on 10 November 1936. Meanwhile the Gosport and Fareham Tramways network lasted for 47 years with originally horse tram operation and then overhead electric trams were introduced at around the same time as the original route was extended into Fareham. There were several proposals for this system to join up with the Corporation route in Portsmouth but these came to nothing and buses replaced the remaining routes in December 1929. There is one relic of the first generation of systems in Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham with Corporation Tram 84 in preservation on static display at the Milestones Living History Museum in Basingstoke, North Hampshire.

The final tram route had been closed for just over 50 years when plans for a new generation tram system in Portsmouth and the surrounding area were first seriously looked at in 1988 when a Hampshire County Council commissioned study saw two possible routes from Fareham to Gosport and from Portsmouth and Southsea to Waterlooville. This was followed in 1992 by a public consultation exercise which saw over two thirds of responding people in favour of a light rail system on the Fareham to Gosport route. In the intervening years there has been further public consultation resulting in some changes to the alignment of certain areas of the route and a decision was made to apply for a Transport and Works Act order in March 1998 with Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council being co-promoters.

The route will start in Fareham town centre and stretch for 14.3km, firstly into Gosport and then under the 1km tunnel under the harbour over to the City of Portsmouth. There are plans for 16 stops, many with excellent integration with other modes of transport particularly at Fareham and Portsmouth Harbour railway stations. The route has a mixture of on street running and on former railway lines as many of the other new generation systems opening in the past 10 years or so. It is planned that at peak times trams will run every 7 minutes with half the frequency off peak.

After the TWA order had been applied for there were a number of objections which led to a Public Inquiry called, starting on 9 February 1999, with 454 objections received. Many of these objections were the usual from residents concerned about the disruption that would be caused during the building of the system and also from companies such as Railtrack trying to protect their own interests. The Inquiry lasted little over a month but John Prescott did not announce the results until 8 May 2001, over 2 years after the closure, quite what took him so long can only be guessed at. This had been preceded in March by Prescott announcing that public funding would be available for the project.

One of the major concerns expressed by local residents was the noise and inconvenience caused during the construction of the system. However members of the light rail transit development panel made it clear from the outset that there would be strict rules to prevent excessive noise and pollution whilst the system was built. One of the local resident groups however are still demanding that double glazing is fitted into homes when works get underway so that the locals can get on with their lives as well as they can. There will also be a hotline available for the residents if they feel this code of practice has been broken.

In addition to the local residents the traders in areas likely to be affected have also mentioned their worries that their profits will be badly affected by the construction work. These concerns have been added to a list prepared by the Light Rail Panel to negotiate powers to minimise the impact of the work particularly in the West Street area of Fareham. However these traders have been reassured by a shop owner from Croydon who has told them that with a tram stop near to their businesses it should mean more customers will be aware of the shops. John Orchard also urged traders to take advantage of any publicity offered by the developers as in Croydon posters were made by the public relations department to tell people the shops were still open.

The Light Rail Development team put adverts in European wide journals looking for consortium to put in bids to build and operate the system. Initially 4 bids were received but in December this was reduced to the final 2, who now have put in final bids before later this year the development team will reveal who will be lucky consortium.

It has also been reported that the South Hampshire Rapid Transit system could eventually link up with a similar system now under discussion for nearby Southampton. It has recently been revealed that Southampton City Council want a 1.5bn supertram system to beat the severe congestion in the city and surrounding area. They also hope to extend it as far as Fareham, which would enable a link up with Portsmouth's system. However these Southampton plans are at a very early stage and it would be at least 10 years before this dream would be able to become reality.

The tram network is not the only light rail system currently being planned for Portsmouth with plans for a monorail system having been in the pipeline for over 4 years. The project is being developed by Carr West (from Guildford) who were set up in 1997 in order to market a monorail system already operated worldwide in places such as Seoul, Florida and Stuggart, although they have never been involved in a similar project before. However the project has never really had the full backing of the City Council and has seen several changes to the proposed route with the current route likely to include Portsmouth and Southsea railway station, Gun Wharf Shopping Centre, the continental ferry port and Port Solent. There will be no public money used on the scheme if it does come to fruition with significant bank loans likely to be used instead. Whether the scheme does ever come to life is unknown although seems unlikely at present.

Sources:
Portsmouth Today
The Directory of British Tramways by Keith Turner (for history of the old tramway routes)
Trams in Britain and Ireland - South Hampshire Rapid Transit by Martin Petch