Hopes rise for tram-trains pilot project in Yorkshire

HOPES of bringing ultra-modern trains that can run on both rail and road to Yorkshire were bolstered as Network Rail announced that it wanted to test the technology in the North.

Transport chiefs in West Yorkshire said last year they wanted to bring so-called tram-trains into the region as part of a 4.5bn 25-year vision for easing congested routes into Leeds.

Their plans were given a cautious welcome by the Government last week, as a strategic document on the future of the region's rail network gave the green light to further research and hinted that funding might be made available.

Now Network Rail has stated that tram-train systems could be the answer to Britain's increasingly-clogged cities, a senior executive using Leeds as an example of how it could revolutionise travel.

Chief engineer Andrew McNaughton used an interview with Rail Magazine to announce that Network Rail was now working with train company Northern to introduce a pilot tram-train scheme in the area.

Cities covered by the Northern rail network include Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle.

But Leeds is seen as the most congested city in the North and the biggest city in Europe without a tram or equivalent system. Since potential tram-train routes are already mapped out, it seems likely that the pilot project will come to West Yorkshire.

Last night all parties were staying tight-lipped. Both Northern and Network Rail stated it was far too early to say where the pilot would go – or even that it was certain one would go ahead.

But officials from Metro and Network Rail are planning on visiting successful tram-train routes in Germany this summer on a fact-finding mission, so an announcement could come as early as this autumn.

Mr McNaughton said: "This is a 21st-century transport solution. We get congestion in main stations in our major cities, some caused by shorter distance trains.

"Take Leeds, a station that has been expanded in recent years but is still very busy. What if more local services were to be diverted into City Square? We could start to realise more capacity for mainline trains and services – and for the cost of a few hundred yards of tramline."

If Leeds is chosen for the pilot scheme, Rail Magazine says services from Bradford, Harrogate and Wakefield could become the preserve of the tram-trains, which are designed for smaller and medium-sized journeys.

Network Rail is keen on the system because of the relatively small sums of money involved in setting it up. The tram-trains would run on electricity on rail lines but diesel on roads, avoiding costly electrification of miles of new track.

With driving by sight there would be no need for sophisticated signalling systems, and platforms need not be complicated affairs.

That is also likely to be music to the ears of officials at the Department for Transport. The Yorkshire Post has been highlighting how this region is being shortchanged by the Government in terms of transport funding through its Road to Ruin campaign.

A long-proposed Leeds Supertram system was shelved by then Transport Secretary Alastair Darling in 2005 because of spiralling costs, but the tram-train system, while as yet uncosted, would be considerably cheaper than its predecessor's estimated 500m.

A spokesman for West Yorkshire transport commissioners Metro, Martin Driver, said: "Tram-trains are one of the innovative things we're looking at for the area. They would be a way of making better use of the York-Harrogate-Leeds line and potentially along the Aire Valley into Leeds-Bradford airport.

"There are clear savings to be made using tram-trains and there's also the benefit that they can switch to on-street running, bringing people right into where they're working in Leeds rather than the train station."