Return of London trams takes step closer

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THE RETURN of trams to the streets of London came a step nearer yesterday with the signing of an agreement to pay for the initial project costs of the Croydon tramlink.

Three companies have agreed to spend 'well over pounds 1m' to underwrite the initial project development costs of the pounds 140m project for an 18-mile (28km) network of tramways across south London from Wimbledon to Beckenham Junction and New Addington via Croydon town centre.

The companies - Tarmac Construction; AEG Rail Systems, the German rail stock manufacturers; and Transdev, a French firm which operates public transport systems - are using their own money to bring the project to the point where contracts to build, operate and maintain the system can then be let by tender.

However, the funding for the project - which was initiated by Croydon council and has the support of London Transport - has not yet been obtained. The bulk of the money is likely to come from the private sector but it will need about pounds 25m- pounds 30m of public funds as 'seed corn'.

Supporters of the project say that this is precisely the type of scheme which the Government should support after its U-turn this week.

The scheme, which was first conceived in 1986, is the subject of private Parliamentary Bill which is expected to have its second reading in the Lords next Tuesday. With Royal Assent in the autumn, the council hopes that the first trams could be running in 1995.