Developing a metro system would solve transport woes

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From: James Bovington, Church Grove, Horsforth, Leeds.

THERE seems to be some confusion on the present transport scene – business leaders are hailing a £1bn plan while at the same time our recovery is stalled owing to “gridlock over transport cash” (Yorkshire Post, February 25).

Furthermore our region should apparently be better at marketing itself. Successful regions develop a metro system. All should support Metro’s long-term objective of creating an “urban rail network” akin to that in many continental cities, with Germany and Switzerland offering the best examples. Leeds had its central area tram subway project back in the 1940s. Other provincial British cities do of course boast central area underground rail systems so such networks are neither taboo nor impossible in Britain.

However the systems in Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle do not presently incorporate tram operation in what are essentially heavy rail tunnels. Central area tunnels in Leeds would surely be more viable financially if they allowed for regional trains to share the tunnel with municipal trams.

Tunnels in many German cities have trams and trains sharing the same underground infrastructure. I don’t know if this is still the case but I know that at one point trolley buses in Essen also shared the tunnels.

However striking developments in government willingness to fund rail projects in England coupled with an apparently sincere desire to devolve significant planning and funding powers have occurred over the past few months along with Leeds being designated as a “core” UK city. I am thinking of the commitment to electrify the main transpennine route plus the reconstruction of the Oxford to Bedford rail line via Milton Keynes. Perhaps we might be able to move from the present 1.5 per cent of GDP being spent on UK capital infrastructure projects to something exceeding Germany’s three per cent!

In this connection, the Harrogate Chamber of Commerce scheme for the electrification of the Harrogate line using if necessary ex-LUL stock seems to have acted as a catalyst, bringing together disparate planning authorities into expressing support for full, “normal” overhead 25kV electrification, which if possible in an acceptable timescale would clearly be the better option, although I also accept that on this North-South alignment tram-train is a possibility although obviously I would like to see the tram-trains running through a north-south tunnel.

It seems to me that to make a regional metro system work local politicians need more effectively to promote Leeds as the heart of a region whose population within a one-hour travel to work or to shop by train is about that of Scotland, if not slightly more, edging towards six million people.

Only tunnels can effectively link major traffic objectives at speed without the need to follow the street system inherited in Leeds at the latest from the Victorian era.

Urban planning can also promote the use of rail – hence there should be some “points value” in proposing large-scale housing or general development adjacent to suitable station sites.