Rail experts on opposite sides of the tram tracks
A national transport expert’s claims that trams will not return to Bath’s streets in his lifetime have been criticised as “lacking vision”. Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, right, who has lived in the city for nearly 30 years, said if it cannot prioritise buses there is little hope of a tram network being built. But Jim Harkins, who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group, said public transport choices can make or break a community and trams are the best chance to improve air quality. He claimed the first new tram line could be built in Bath for £23.6 million and the network could expand incrementally. Light Rail (UK) managing director Mr Harkins, below, said: “I have encountered [Sir Peter’s comments] many times since I was first involved in Manchester Metrolink in 1985. “Away back then, learned people were putting up the same heavy-rail type of thinking and arguments but fortunately we had people of vision in transport, statesmen in politics and mutual cooperation in local government. “As a result, Metrolink [in Manchester] has gone from success to success, last year carrying 41 million passengers with a modal switch out of cars and buses of approximately 27 per cent for 120 trams. “Manchester has flourished to the point of being able to challenge the South economically. “Liverpool, on the other hand, even with EU funding, went down the bus route and is now dying, evidenced by the high number of empty shops and reduced retail footfall. “Sir Peter’s comments lack the forward vision which, as we are of a similar age, I can understand his lack of concern for those who will follow.” Mr Harkins said Sir Peter also failed to address the “Oslo effect” the fine particle pollution from road, tyre and brake dust “which is overtaking tailpipe emissions as the mass killer”. “The particles are arguably the worst environmental menace facing Bath and North East Somerset, children and senior citizens in particular,” he added. In contrast to rubber-wheeled vehicles, trams are emission-free and can run on hydrogen fuel cells without the need for overhead cables. Mr Harkins said a tram network covering a 1.5-mile loop with four streetcars could be built in Bath for £23.6 million, and various funding streams are available. For comparison, the network of cameras to monitor the city’s proposed clean air zone is expected to cost £12 million. Mr Harkins added: “The development of this modest first tram line will form the basis of extensions and new lines to the rest of Bath and district incrementally line by line.” Speaking at a conference on the future of transport in Bath earlier this month, Sir Peter said: “I’m fond of trams, but if this city is unable to give buses enough road space to give them priority, it has no hope of digging the streets up and excluding cars from parts of the city. “The idea that it can be done without public funding, I’m afraid, is nonsense. “As long as it has currency it gives local politicians the choice not to tackle the problems of today. Even if you had the money, I’m 65 - I doubt I would be alive by time it was made.” But Mr Harkins said: “We have the money - a statesman’s view over several generation funding is needed and we will go a very long way to cleaning up and regenerating our cities.”
Metrolink [in Manchester] has gone from success to success, last year carrying 41 million passengers.