A comprehensive ‘route map’ to help keep proposed light rail schemes on track has been published by UKTram.

It provides a valuable tool for scheme sponsors and promoters as an increasing number of cities and large towns look for sustainable transport solutions, writes Colin Robey of the organisation’s Centre of Excellence. The Centre of Excellence was established in 2012 by UKTram, the representative organisation for the light rail sector, to deliver expert advice to potential sponsors of tramways and light or ultra-light rail schemes and review their Business Case.

UKTram’s role has developed over the years, evolving into an organisation with a broad membership, including operators, owners and authorities, alongside an increasing number of individual sector professionals and industry specialists. In line with this evolution, its Centre of Excellence has also expanded its membership and now provides a vital ‘one-stop shop’ for promoters of future tramways, reflecting changes in the way tramway schemes in the UK are planned and financed.

As our first priority, we’ve recently established a detailed ‘route map’ that provides a step-by-step guide for project sponsors and aims to help them build a solid case for their plans and a clear path towards successful operations. Its publication couldn’t be more timely, as light rail becomes an increasingly popular solution to urban congestion that’s also capable of driving inward investment and improving the environment.

A number of significant proposals are currently being discussed, and the Centre of Excellence is already offering support for plans being considered in Bath, Hereford and Leicester. We’re also aware that light rail is being considered in Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol, and that there are proposals for a tramway to link Grays in Essex and Ebbsfleet, Kent.

In fact, we’re tracking around 100 different proposals across the UK, although many of these are speculative and may not prove to be viable. However, the route map will help sponsors to judge the suitability of those plans and, if they prove viable, to take the next steps towards realising their ambitions.

These plans, like any major investment in transport infrastructure, must start with a careful consideration of transport need, and a structured approach to the analysis of key objectives. This proposition marks the starting point of the route map, which advocates a phased approach that gains more detail as the proposals develop. For example, the argument for transport needs usually emerge from current or developing congestion on a route or within an area of a city or town.

Changes or restrictions may have also occurred within an area, such as parking restrictions or clean air zones. Additionally, transport demand can be predicted for travel to and from new residential, retail, commercial or industrial developments, or expansion or change of use of existing developments.

With all such new development proposals, a transport study should then be undertaken to demonstrate whether or not existing transport links are adequate and where not, how it is deficient and what mode would be most suitable. As stressed in the route map, engagement with core stakeholders is also critical as part of the early stages of development and initial studies.

Developed by experts from across the sector, the route map offers more detail on these key considerations before moving on to developing a formal business case, supported by more extensive studies confirming the transport case, route feasibilities, scoping the environmental considerations and refining the costs and benefits. It also includes information on legislation relating to the planning process that’s required ahead of any formal planning proposal. Of particular importance are Transport and Works Act (TWA) Orders that are required to secure the ‘powers’ needed to build, operate and maintain a tramway.

These are also covered by the new document which provides useful guidance for individuals and organisations promoting new schemes, helping them understand some of the key clauses contained within the Orders and the implications of them. Not all will be relevant to any particular scheme, so it’s important to know which will be needed to avoid unnecessary complications and delays. Close consideration must also be given to other factors within the construction process, such as compulsory purchase orders, utility moves and road closures that should all be planned carefully with the utility companies and the highways authority. Of course, no two schemes are the same. Some will incorporate existing rail infrastructure or closed lines – which requires the integration of railway regulations – while other proposals envisage schemes built from scratch.

Once a new scheme is nearing completion, there are still many obstacles to successful operations, and the route map ends with a reminder for operators that they must comply with the ROGS (Railways and Other Guided Systems) and other safety regulations. At the same time, legislation also changes so the route map itself is not ‘set in stone’ but rather a framework that can evolve over time that can complement the ongoing work of the UKTram Centre of Excellence to support sponsors, including local authorities and regional administrations, while promoting the expansion of light rail.

By helping sponsors present the strongest possible business case, we can aid efforts to access any available funding, whether from Local Enterprise Partnerships or from government funding for regional development or meeting environmental targets.

As well as producing the route map, from the point where a light rail project is proposed, through to the launch of services, the Centre of Excellence is able to provide expert support and advice based on the experience of those who have helped to deliver many successful schemes in UK cities over the past two decades.


Further information about the Centre can be found on the UKTram website at www.uktram.com, and the route map can be viewed here: https://uktram.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/UKTram-Routemap-for-Sponsors-of-New-Tramways-v0.4-Final.pdf