Light rail is too costly and unpopular, say auditors

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Supertram systems, once hailed as the future of inner-city transport, have failed to live up to their promise, the public spending watchdog said.

Supertram systems, once hailed as the future of inner-city transport, have failed to live up to their promise, the public spending watchdog said.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said passenger numbers on the seven light rail projects built since 1980 had fallen well short of forecasts in some cases; four were running at a loss. Numbers on the Sheffield "supertram" were 45 per cent below expectations, while the Midland Metro was 38 per cent short.

The systems were poorly integrated with buses and other local transport networks and high costs and poor value for money prevented investment in new railways and trams, it said.

Twelve new lines are being developed, part of 25 envisaged by 2010. But the NAO said they took too long to build, costs were higher than existing rail systems and were rising.

Edward Leigh, Conservative chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "The Department for Transport has persisted in an arm's-length attitude. Despite contributing more than £1bn, it does not really know what has been delivered. If light rail systems are to become a feature of many more English cities, then the department must make them cheaper and must give passengers more incentive to switch from other modes of transport."

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