City puts transport future on the line: Sheffield hopes that its new transit system will cement the second coming of the tram following Manchester's success, but doubts remain. Christian Wolmar reports

CHASING the tram is about to become a new sport for drivers in Sheffield.

The city's Supertrams, to start running in 'mid-March' - the operators are reluctant to give a precise date because of fears of last- minute hitches - will get priority at traffic lights and can even change them to green. Peter Gross, South Yorkshire Supertrams' marketing manager, said: 'Drivers are going to realise that if they keep close to the tram, they will get to their destination quicker.'

Whether people ride in them is another matter. Apart from the fact that fares have not been announced - for fear of bus companies immediately undercutting them, as happened in Manchester - there has been criticism that the pounds 240m, 18- mile network, to be opened in five phases until mid-1995, will do little to reduce the growing traffic congestion in the city. Major commuter routes have been ignored by the Supertram planners in favour of running through areas in need of redevelopment and on streets where disruption to car traffic could be kept to a minimum. And traffic delays, coupled with blocked access to shops during construction work, wore many locals' patience to the limit.

Yesterday's press launch of the first section - from the city centre to the Meadowhall shopping complex - illustrated concerns over the route. It travels through the industrial wasteland of the Don Valley and many stops are oases in a desert of decay.

While the elegant trams give a smooth and comfortable ride, they need to attract 20 million passengers per year to break even. Mr Gross is confident: 'If we had built the line only in affluent areas we would have been accused of ignoring the poorer ones. We have had a lot of interest from potential investors along the line who will bring custom to it.'

The system is likely to be the last new one for several years as the Government earmarks only pounds 100m per year for light rail schemes compared with 20 times that for roads. As it was almost all Government- funded, Sheffield consumed well over two years' worth of grant.

In Manchester, plans to expand the successful Metrolink tram network - with five new sections to be added to the 19 miles between Altrincham and Bury completed in 1992 - seem to have been derailed by a lack of cash.

In 1993, 13 million people used Metrolink, 2 million more than expected. Apart from a two-mile section in the city centre, the pounds 146m line uses converted British Rail track, which minimised disruption during construction.

The opening of Metrolink last April was the dawning of Britain's second age of the tram. Jack Flanagan, chairman of the local authorities' Metrolink working party, said: 'Trams were scrapped because the local authorities which operated them lost their role as electricity providers in 1948. As cheap oil came along, buses replaced trolleybuses and trams.' Trams were swept away by the motoring mania of the 1950s, and only the Blackpool promenade system survived beyond 1962.

The Metrolink line is franchised out to a consortium of three companies, which paid pounds 5m to run the line for 15 years, and the local Passenger Transport Authority.

The Government would not countenance publicly funded extensions like the first one, which was paid for by the public sector. So the search is on for private sector finance to extend Metrolink. Bill Tyson, its director of planning, said: 'We have to go out with a begging bowl. Even developers who know they would benefit sit back hoping that someone else will pay and they'll get a free ride. It's very frustrating.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz