Trolleybuses' highwire act billed for millennium return

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The Independent Online
Trolleybuses, the guided electric vehicles of yesteryear, are to return to British streets in the new millennium. Liverpool will be the first city to install a network of electrified routes, which transport planners have recently returned to after successful schemes in Germany reduced pollution levels.

Merseytravel, the region's passenger transport authority, opted for a system of guided electric buses to serve busy routes into the city centre. Councillors chose the trolley bus option ahead of expensive tram systems - which have been successful in Manchester, but costly, and ineffective in Sheffield.

Planners in the city believe the new network is necessary because increasing congestion will make traditional bus journeys too long and that the new guided routes will offer more direct journeys to areas at present badly served by public transport.

The Merseyside Rapid Transit Project will be segregated from traffic for "the majority of its route", so journey times will be much faster than at present by bus allowing, so the authority claims, a "speedy trip".

The first line, costing pounds 50m, will run in 2001 for nearly nine miles from the Albert Dock water front to Prescot on the eastern edge of the city. Passengers will be able to catch the electrically-powered single- decker bus which takes current from an overhead wire.

The buses will be guided by a wire buried in the road, but the driver will be able to override the automatic control in the event of an emergency. Trolleybuses, of course, have no exhaust. The advantage is that the mechanics are relatively simple and wearing parts few. The disadvantage would be the network of overhead power cables they require.

The project will be overseen for Merseytravel by Professor Simon Lee, of Liverpool Hope University College. "What we are proposing is set to improve not only the way people can travel in Merseyside but the perception of the area as a cultural centre with a positive vision of the future," Professor Lee. said.

Other cities have considered the return of trolleybuses. London Transport chiefs have long viewed the vehicles, last seen in the capital 35 years ago, as an efficient and environment-friendly way to beat traffic congestion. Despite a number of radical proposals issued by LT directors for nine areas not currently served well by rail, the plans were scuppered by a lack of government funding.

Although Liverpool's system will be under public-sector supervision, it will be built and maintained by a private-sector consortium consisting of a subsidiary of bus group Cowie and part of Alcatel Alsthom. Cash will be raised by local authority borrowing, European Union grants and private sector investment.