From our questions in The Guardian we can answer series:

The UK once had an extensive tram network, now reduced to just eight cities. Would resurrecting the historical network solve Britain’s transport woes?

47 thoughts on “No”

  1. Horse drawn, do they say, to ‘solve’ the CO2 emissions nonsense?

    Would resurrecting the canal network solve Britain’s transport woes?

  2. Is there a transport bod who can explain to me the role of a tram network? What are the pros and cons compared to eg a bus network (particularly designated bus lanes or bus-only roads) or (light) rail? How are the relative construction and operating costs?

    In terms of speed, capacity, flexibility, and construction costs in particular, it isn’t clear to me how trams could beat a very regular bus service running along designated roads/lanes but with the additional benefit of being able to change routes onto conventional roads in the event of disruption. But then maybe there is some good feature of trams I’m overlooking.

    The main good feature I’ve heard talked up though, is that they induce civic pride and can improve ridership because they’re not deemed as socially inferior as buses, neither of which seems like a sufficient argument for splashing hundreds of millions out on them.

  3. Trams were good in their day and if they had been left alone by the scummy councils and state etc they might still be useful.

    Trying to revive them via the same gangs of crooks who got rid of them leads to colossal expense and little benefit.

    Manchester is a prime example with Edinburgh being an even better showcase of how corruption and incompetence vie to drive up costs and reduce results.

  4. “In terms of speed, capacity, flexibility, and construction costs in particular, it isn’t clear to me how trams could beat a very regular bus service running along designated roads/lanes but with the additional benefit of being able to change routes onto conventional roads in the event of disruption. But then maybe there is some good feature of trams I’m overlooking.”

    The only benefit is that they run on electricity, so they’re slightly more environmentally friendly. But buses are already very good for the environment compared to cars. If you want to spend public money to reduce pollution, subsiding buses is far more effective.

    The other downside is markets, markets, markets. Everything about buses has markets and nothing does with trams. Monopoly supplier of trams, monopoly set of drivers and a monopoly centralised controller. If you have to go back to a supplier for more trams, and they know it, they’ve got you by the bollocks and will squeeze.

  5. When I was a kid the baker, milkman, coal merchant and rag and bone man still ran to horse and cart; the power station had its coal delivered by canal barge; and we journeyed to town on a trolley bus. Walsall were buying trolley busses when everyone else was tearing down the cables. The Black Country Museum was positively high tech – Silicon Valley. Trams were the future.

  6. @BoM4

    To be fair, I’m informed that tram systems actually do have higher capacity than buses. But I’m struggling to see how that works. Is speed the main factor in that? Time taken for passengers to get on and off? In London one can see bus lanes that take a lot of buses per minute and therefore a lot of bodies, though in the sticks bus lanes often look deserted.

  7. I really like trams – when visiting lisbon amazed at the climbs and the narrow streets they wove through. If my town had a tram system that would be good. Since my council is very adept at pissing away millions on dumb schemes whilst moaning about austerity i suspect any new tram system would cost billions – even for this largish town and be designed to go where nobody wanted., so liking trams and being prepared to pay for them is an entirely different matter.

    Plus the moronic car drivers round here have difficulty enough coping with overtaking cyclists at a safe distance- a simple enough manouever, so the thought of these idiots coming up against a tram one shudders to think – not helped by loads of vibrant diversity that’s recently arrived – last week they were driving a donkey – this week a bmw (no tax insurance or driving license required)

  8. I’m always amazed by the French obsession with trams. Every tiny town has an extensive network – Brest, Caen, Le Mans, Rouen, etc. I assume it’s a subsidy for Alstom, who make most of the tram vehicles.

  9. Trolley buses can run on electricity if that is the main reason.

    It’s noticeable that eastern European cities with team networks don’t extend them much. They use buses instead (sometimes trolley buses).

    Trams are really noisy, which is OK downtown but no so much in residential.

  10. My Burning Ears,

    “To be fair, I’m informed that tram systems actually do have higher capacity than buses. But I’m struggling to see how that works. Is speed the main factor in that”

    I suspect that figure is calculated in a pro-tram way.

    A tram may carry more people than a bus, But you can have a line of buses compared to a tram. And then there’s cost. What’s the cost (including all capital investment) per passenger? If you took that cost and paid for buses, how many more could you carry?

    I really think the tram lobby are just about a mix of “new hotness” and “European sophisticates”. Buses are boring but actually work.

  11. Nottingham put in a tram network when I was going there a couple of times a year. My first visit was on a day they turned off the traffic lights in the city for no good reason. They also had to relocate the entire set of services from underneath the rails because it’s obvious that one water board trench stops the whole system dead. 5 years on, and the first trams were (almost) running. Now, t seems that a tram crash screws up the whole city. Does anyone remember the November 2016 Croydon tram crash. Apparently the driver dozed off.
    I remember trolley buses, which aren’t restricted to the same rigid lines, but do come unhitched from the overhead wires quite frequently. Trolley buses are very quiet, and trams can be (but often aren’t).

  12. The disadvantage of trolley buses is that they’re still just another bus, still filling up the road.
    The “use dedicated bus lanes then!” argument is just an argument for trams – if you’ve got a segregated travel line, you may as well put tracks on it.
    The pro-electricity argument would surely be in favour of battery-powered buses.

    Trams work well where they are segregated from road traffic and where the passengership is concentrated along the route. When Sheffield’s new tram system was being built some people in one area shouted “don’t put it down the main road, put it along the dual carriageway over there!” – so…. instead of routing it *through* the destination, route it *past* the destination along the bypass???

    One of the lunacies that made it into the final construction was that of the three terminiii, two of them stopped 500 yards from a neighbouring railway station. Head->Desk! Who the hell builds a mass transport system and doesn’t link it to the neighbouring mass transport system???

  13. “What are the pros and cons compared to eg a bus network”

    You know where the fuck a tram is going. Tell me you can use buses without extensive local knowledge.

    To be fair that could be as simple as cities actually drawing maps of bus routes, which they never do.

    “Manchester”

    Made two major mistakes. Shut down a number of perfectly functional railway lines and spent untold millions turning it into a “tram” network. The only remotely new thing about it before the exasparatingly slow Salford line (which includes stations in areas so scrote-infested there is no access to the street from the station) was the cross-town Piccadilly to Victoria connection.

    The second was to buy shitty uncomfortable vehicles that have to slow down to 0.7 mph to turn a corner.

    The Sheffield “supertram” is almost as shit as Manchester’s.

  14. “You know where the fuck a tram is going. Tell me you can use buses without extensive local knowledge.”

    All the time. Type my destination into Google Maps, select public transport and it gives me a route. Used it in Swindon, Western France, Switzerland, Bristol.

    It changed the way I travel. I don’t use the car so much because I’ve got the bus routes and times at the click of a button.

  15. “Tell me you can use buses without extensive local knowledge.”

    So trams are good for attracting outsiders who are too tight to take a taxi? Not sure I see the point in subsidising people who aren’t going to make a positive contribution to the local economy.

  16. “The “use dedicated bus lanes then!” argument is just an argument for trams – if you’ve got a segregated travel line, you may as well put tracks on it.”

    Disagree for several reasons.

    In the event of an accident or work needing to be done, tracked vehicles can’t be diverted so flexibly as road-going ones.

    You’ve probably got a road there already. Deciding only certain vehicles can use that section – buses, ambulances/police, perhaps (electric-only?) taxis – is cheaper than putting tracks down and you can more easily change your mind as needs change.

    Related to that, if you’re serving a low-volume area – taking the network well out from the town centre for instance – you might only have the designated lane in action at key times and let all vehicles use it at others. Or you may simply find it cheaper or easier not to use a designated lane at all in some areas, but the vehicle can move into a designated lane at other points on the route if needed.

    Tracks raise issues with cycle wheels I believe.

  17. “To be fair that could be as simple as cities actually drawing maps of bus routes, which they never do.

    London have done a good job at this. Some other places too. Electric signage can also help.

    Having said that I’ve been caught out myself before – in very bad winter weather I didn’t want to drive to the rail station (unsafe conditions due to steep hill down to station but also concerned I may not be able to extract the car when I returned if it had got snowed in) I opted for the bus instead, but turned out they were running a diversion route. Steep hill down to the station was a no-no due to the ice. That wasn’t warned to me on the usual apps – but still at least I could get off at the top of the hill (an area without any parking so the car wouldn’t have been much good) and do the rest by foot.

    I suppose trams may cope better with bad weather than buses, maybe? But like I said, the ability of the bus to divert rather than be cancelled wasn’t a total waste that day.

  18. @Mr Ecks, August 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    +1 on Edinburgh Tram network Line 1/2 Tram Line

    Network cost meant to be £500 million

    1/2 Line cost £1 Billion

    Edinburgh city centre to airport – bus is faster

    A white elephant vanity project.

  19. Dunno. I reckon tram nostalgia is understandable but misplaced.

    It’s kind of like wistfully harking back to the golden days of the NHS circa CARRY ON DOCTOR. Sure, it’d be nice if we had clean, efficient hospitals full of busty British nurses instead of the money-burning, flesh-eating, Third World fleapits we have today, but we’re not gonna get there from here. Politics, economics, technology, laws, culture and demographics have changed the equation.

    So trams probably worked just fine in the 1930’s, but what would they be like today? Edinburgh spunked about a billion pounds on 8 miles of pointless tramline. There’s no reason to assume London, Manchester or anywhere else in the UK would do better.

  20. My gran worked on the trams in Bristol.

    They were being scrapped anyway but then the Luftwaffe hastened their end by bombing the power station which supplied the electricity.

    I think there’s a lesson in that. Not sure what though.

  21. If you’re ever in Bristol and near St Mary Redcliffe church, there’s a length of tram track embedded in the graveyard. Got blown there by a bomb.

  22. St Mary Redcliffe church was described by Elizabeth I “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.”

  23. St Mary Redcliffe church was described by Elizabeth I “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.”

    That most English of our monarchs wouldn’t recognise the modern Bristol. Not only because it’s so much larger, but also because 16%+ of the residents are whingeing BAME…

  24. I lived in Manchester for 13 years and commuted into the centre for about 5 of those. The tram service for commuters is beyond abysmal. I think I used it twice. Pre about 08:30 anywhere from Hale inwards, and you can wait for several totally full trams to pass, before a not completely crammed one turns up. Standing only from Stretford to St Peter’s Square or thereabouts.

    At the time the buses were less predictable and you still couldn’t get a pass which covered the different bus operators. They were more frequent and a lot less full. No info displays in bus shelters either. Trouble is the were full of chavs and selfish wankers who would smoke or, in winter, hack and cough everywhere.

    So I mainly used the train.

  25. Justin,

    “The service was abysmal and the trams were crammed full.”

    Is that a new variant on “the food was terrible and the portions were tiny”?

    The fact that the trams are full to capacity suggests that they’re not nearly as abysmal as you claim. Certainly better than the next-best option.

  26. Didn’t we already have a thread about the stream of wank from Europe drying up after Brexit? Because that’s what’s going to happen to most of these insane vanity projects should we actually achieve an exit.

    The Nottingham abortions were disguised in the EU money cloak. No local in their right mind would have countenanced such spunking of wealth down the stupid drain if it had clearly come directly from their own pockets. The obvious question “what the fuck do we want this stupid shit for?” would have prevented progress beyond the wet dream stage.

    I see there’s talk of the national govt considering abandoning the great HS2 tramline. That was always an EU “regions” based nonsense, so maybe we really are getting out.

  27. @PJF, August 25, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    No EU funds for Edinburgh 1/2 Tram Line and voters said NO. Council & Scottish Executive (SNP/Labour/Lib-Dems) continued anyway as cost spiralled out of control. Sunk costs – not something understood.

    Tram was ideological punishment for voters overwhelmingly rejecting a “congestion” charge.

    It all dates back to anti-car ex Councillor Iain Begg

  28. Trams are not the future. The future is congestion charging, ride-sharing and e-bikes. But try telling that to the communists running Hartlepool council which has the shittest taxi service in the UK, with many others in the North of England not far behind.

  29. What about an extremely organized passport system for localised areas . This only the limited few can get to any point/ Cars are banned of course. Walking is healthy.
    As well over supply of shops would be diminished.
    Possibly food rationing might help too and stop waste.
    Seems a perfect solution

  30. MBE: A tram line, because it is a large inflexible investment is an assett ploy: building one raises the value of nearby property because of the fixed transport link. A bus route is not the same, because it can veryeasily be re-routed or abolished at minimal sacrifice of sunk cost. More cynically, tramlines offer many more lucrative opportunities for graft than bus routes, although not as many as underground railways.

  31. john malpas, South Africa had just such a local passport system in the 60s and 70s. Just for black people though.

  32. Henry,

    It no longer looks like such a bad idea from today’s perspective.

    Perhaps we could reintroduce the concept on the Meditteranean frontier as well.

  33. Re Bristol

    Being a Bristolian it’s true there’s a high % of BAME but found that the % of whingers was much lower. Most of the professional whingers are students from elsewhere.

    It’s a bit hippy, free-range, trendy, cycle from an independent dealer, artistic graffiti, street festival but there you go.

    Conversations with a full dreadlocked Rasta man speaking in a broad Bristolian accent is an experience to enjoy.

  34. Tracks raise issues with cycle wheels I believe.

    Very dangerous if you need to cross them at any angle other than 90 degrees.

  35. @pcar

    “Edinburgh city centre to airport – bus is faster”

    How is that even possible? Is that a “when the team is disrupted but roads are clear” thing or is it more general?

  36. @Robbo

    “A tram line, because it is a large inflexible investment is an assett ploy”

    Yes that I can believe.

    Definitely the solution for someone who wants to look like they’re actually “doing something” and wants something concrete to point at.

  37. @MyBurningEars, August 26, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Don’t know why bus is shorter journey time Edinburgh city centre to airport, but it is. Also bus arrives/departs at airport door whilst Tram is a fair walk away. It’s another* reason tram is a white elephant.

    Bus [£4.50]: Waverly Bridge (beside rail station); Tram [£6.00]: St Andrew Square {near bus station)

    https://www.edinburgh.ie/getting-from-edinburgh-airport-to-edinburgh-city-centre/

    * Another is Princes Street is closed for Hogmany, last night of Tattoo and other events

  38. When john77 goes to Edinburgh Airport I believe he pays £1.70 from Waverley Bridge to Ingliston ( the last stop before ) and walks the rest of the way ( about 2km ). Or he would if he had cause to go there.
    You can get this down to 1km if you walk to the long stay car park and catch a free shuttle bus.

  39. @Pcar

    “Edinburgh’s main bus company, Lothian Buses provide public transportation to and from the airport with the Airlink 100 express bus service. This express bus service runs every 10 minutes from the airport to Waverley Bridge (near Princes Street and the main rail and bus stations). Journey time to the city centre is around 25 minutes (depending on traffic). Tickets cost £4.50 for a single journey and £7.00 for return. Reductions for Children apply. See latest ticket prices here.”

    Edinburgh Trams run frequently between the airport and the city centre. Trams run every 7 minutes with journey times taking around 30 minutes. All trams are fully accessible and offer dedicated luggage racks for large bags and suitcases. Tickets cost £5.50 for a single journey and £8.50 for return, reductions for Children apply. Tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines at the airport tram station or you can buy your ticket online before you travel.”

    Wait, and is a big part of the plan with the tram that it connects the city centre to the airport??

    I’m getting a DOES NOT COMPUTE error.

    I honestly thought you were exaggerating or going on anecdotal experience or something. Sincere apologies. Did you perchance have to pay for this thing too? Then I don’t think I can say sorry enough!

  40. @MyBurningEars, August 26, 2018 at 10:53 pm

    NP, it does sound ridiculous and like anti-tram fake news. Reality is often unbelievable when politicians are involved.

    Bus: one may board and pay cash; tram must be pre-purchased

    Yes, I’m paying for the white elephant vanity project I formally objected too.

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