Management & Operations

British light rail schemes suffer setbacks

Posted on February 1, 2006

While light rail transit (LRT) projects in France are being buoyed financially, British LRT proposals have suffered setbacks — possibly terminal ones. Government support for light rail schemes in the South Hampshire and Merseyside regions of England was withdrawn in November 2005 due to rising costs. With project promoters protesting the move, the outcome may be determined in the courts. Without central government contribution — more than 70% in both schemes — the projects will not go forward. “If the issue is not resolved before July there would inevitably be several years delay as all the process would have to be repeated,” said Hampshire County Council (HCC) Spokeswoman Sarette Martin. HCC Leader Ken Thornber called the government decision “shortsighted,” as the local transport infrastructure is stretched to the limit. According to government land-use projections, the South Hampshire area is slated for up to 80,000 additional homes by 2020. The LRT line would link Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham and include an underwater tunnel. It would also connect people in the Gosport peninsula area to the national rail network for the first time. The funding withdrawal came despite a revised plan to contain costs and reapportion the risk. It was a similar story for the Merseyside LRT project, where the government demanded in October that two of the region’s local authorities, Liverpool and Knowsley, agree to underwrite all the costs before its decision to pull out of their conditional $300 million contribution. The regional transport agency Merseytravel, which is the lead promoter of the LRT project, is attempting to have the funding withdrawal decision declared unlawful claiming a failure to act in accordance with transport legislation and unreasonable imposition of additional conditions. Whatever the resolution of continuing arguments in England, the introduction of modern transit in Scotland by 2009 is still on track, with an $80 million contribution confirmed by the City of Edinburgh Council in January. A total of $955 million is now available, which will finance the first phase of the network linking the waterfront, city center, west end and airport, and is forecast to attract 13 million passengers in its first full year. In France, boosted by the availability of an employers levy mechanism for transport infrastructure projects and financial backing from the regional councils and the groupings of the local authorities in urban areas, construction of LRT lines is going strong. The first sections of the $500 million two-line scheme in Mulhouse, Alsace, open in May. Once the 12-mile network is complete in 2011, it will operate as a tram-train system and is forecast to attract 87,000 riders daily. New lines are on site in Bordeaux and Nice, opening for business in 2007 and 2008 respectively. — BRIAN BAKER

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