An uncomfortable wait for the tram

Jonathan Foster finds Sheffield residents angry at the disruption caused by building work for a new transport network
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Those waiting for the arrival next year of Sheffield Supertram had a message of sympathy yesterday for the people of Birmingham and Croydon.

"Poor buggers," Douglas Clapham said, stepping gingerly around the puddles and detritus of construction work. "What has most annoyed me is that they never asked us if we wanted this tram. In Sheffield, they used to give you a vote on important things."

Mr Clapham's first tram is due to run down the hill to Hillsboroguh Corner in October, completing Britain's first purpose-built tramway system for generations.

Local Labour politicians approved the tramway as a solvent for traffic jams, but building the 18-mile, £240 million system has bound the city in two years of hostility and disruption unprecedented since the Luftwaffe aimed for the steelworks.

"It's been a waste of money," Winnie Robinson said. "It would have been better spent on housing or poverty."

Joan Harrison, another Hillsborough shopper negotiating the excavations, deplored the miles of road and pavement closures. "They've made such a mess that I was ashamed of Sheffield when my niece brought a friend from Germany to visit. I don't think I'll

use it. I'll stay with the buses."

The demise, under Government orders, of South Yorkshire's cheap, frequent and electorally-endorsed bus system meant Supertram was always likely to be anticipated with scepticism.

"They've tried to build too much, too soon," Jim Samworth, owner of prize-winning pork butcher F Funk, said. Fences will be erected outside his shop next month as track layers move in. Customers will have to take long detours to cross the road.

"Business is down by between 20-30 per cent. There is no compensation. We reckon more than 40 buses an hour have been diverted away from the area," he said.

The greatest disruption has been caused not by track-laying, but by moving utilities from beneath the tramway. In the city centre, smart new paved areas are emerging as work on the next phase of the network to open nears completion.

Trams have been running for nine months to the Meadowhall shopping complex, carrying slightly more passengers than Supertram's business plan forecast.

"Public hostility has diminished," Peter Gross, Supertram marketing manager, said. "We've not overcome it all, but there are people now saying it has been worth it, not least for the high-quality landscaping that the city would not otherwise have gained."

Car parks enabling commuters from Barnsley and Rotherham to ride the tram are often full, and the increasing public view was that the worst disruption was over, Mr Gross said.

The return of trams to Manchester also endured a critical reception, and some passengers still complain that they now have to buy separate - and more expensive - tickets for a journey by British Rail and the Metrolink trams.

But since the first services ran in April 1992, the trams have taken half their 1 million passenger journeys a month from cars. Most Mancunians prefer the quiet, clean trams on city centre streets to buses and cars.

"Manchester's tram system has been used by many more people than expected, but that was a replacement system, running mostly on established railway routes. Birmingham and Croydon will be more like ours, entirely new. It will take longer to become an established part of the transport system," Mr Gross said.