Trams 'better alternative to Tube or bus'

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The Independent Online
TRAMS should be brought back to London as a cheap alternative to new Underground lines or buses, a conference will be told today.

A mini-network of trams, last seen in the capital in 1952, should be created to revive public transport, according to a report, Street Trams for London, to be presented to the conference, organised by the Centre for Independent Transport Research in London.

Chris Wood, the report's author, said: 'With political will and commitment, London could have trams within three years of the go-ahead being given.'

To smooth the transition from buses to trams, Mr Wood suggests building dedicated bus routes in the middle of roads as a precursor to putting trams on them. 'This would begin the separation of public and private road space. Trams operate best in the middle of roads, rather than next to pavements where cars park illegally.'

He added: 'Trams are so much more attractive and comfortable than buses. Many people who would never be seen dead on a bus travel by train. To be successful, public transport needs to attract people away from cars, as trams have done in Manchester.' The Manchester system, which opened in 1991, has surpassed predictions about the number of passengers it would attract. A second tram system - not yet complete - was opened in Sheffield six months ago, and is proving very popular.

Four other systems - in Croydon, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Leeds - have been given parliamentary approval and await funding.

For the London system, Mr Wood has suggested a number of routes including Pimlico to Hampstead Heath, Palmers Green to Camden Town and Victoria to Camden via King's Cross and Waterloo.

Although the cost of building trams is increased by the need to move under-street services such as electricity and water, Mr Wood calculates that the cost of a 10km route such as Pimlico to Hampstead Heath would be between pounds 110m and pounds 134m, about one- tenth the cost of building an equivalent Tube line.

Mr Wood accepts that trams would take up a large amount of road space, but says: 'This is a good thing. If planners are trying to reduce the amount of traffic in London, then you have to do something with the space that is freed up. Otherwise it will just fill up with cars again.'

Croydon may see the arrival of trams long before Mr Wood's network is launched. The Bill giving the go-ahead for the Croydon Tramlink, linking Beckenham, New Addington and Wimbledon, has been passed and funding could be available in 1996.

Although the overall cost of the scheme is pounds 150m, the sponsors - London Transport and the local borough - only need about one-third of that amount to subsidise the gap between its cost and expected income from fares.

Street Trams for London; Centre for Independent Research in London, Universal House, 88-94 Wentworth St, London E1 7SA; pounds 29.50.

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