MPs call for leadership to get trams back on more city streets

Yellow Metrolink and passengers
  • MPs’ inquiry calls for DfT to end bias against tram schemes

A cross-party Parliamentary inquiry (supported by pteg) into the future of light rail has found that light rail and modern tram schemes can help transform urban transport systems as well as the wider urban realm, promoting greener, smarter economic growth in the process. However, to bring back the tram to more city streets there’s a need for a clearer lead from Government, less bias against them in the appraisal processes, and for ways to be found of further cutting the costs of new schemes.

The All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group (APPLRG) report is being launched today (15.00, Tuesday 23rd Feb) at an event at the Grand Committee Room, Westminster Hall in Parliament.

Rochdale MP, Paul Rowen, chaired the inquiry:

‘Where the UK has invested in modern tram systems we have seen motorists switching to the tram and impressive growth in passenger numbers. However, overall the progress on implementing modern trams has been slow and fitful – certainly when compared with our near neighbours in Europe, where entire systems are being built in the time it takes us to get through the mountains of paperwork that characterise the approach in the UK.’

‘We wanted to see how we could put the future of modern trams in the UK onto a sounder footing. Our report suggests that leadership and co-ordination is key in order to arrive at a framework for the development and implementation of light rail schemes that is cheaper, quicker and more appropriate.’

The report found that:

  • Although there have been some improvements in the way DfT approaches light rail in recent year, the Department still lacks an overall light rail strategy or centre of expertise, the Department does not treat light rail proposals in the same way as other modes, and has a tendency to micro-manage from the centre
  • In Europe schemes are generally delivered faster and more efficiently, and often benefit from devolved decision making and access to local funding flows
  • Trams schemes can bring a wider range of benefits (including on carbon, air quality and urban regeneration) which are not captured meaningfully in the appraisal process

Paul Rowen MP said:

‘There’s little argument that modern trams can help get cities moving and transform the urban realm. However, progress on bringing the tram back to city streets can too often get bogged down in circular arguments about process and costs. Our report provides a way out of the impasse with practical recommendations which we will put to the transport leads for all three of our main political parties.’

The key recommendations of the report include:

For Government

  • the biases against light rail schemes should be removed from the appraisal process
  • the DfT should provide more leadership on light rail, including a dedicated funding stream and a centre of expertise
  • the Government can assist in cutting the high costs of moving utilities associated with new light rail schemes

For local transport authorities promoting light rail schemes

  • trams should not be promoted in isolation but should be fully integrated into wider transport, economic, regeneration and environmental strategies for changing cities for the better
  • the benefits of integration that can come through the tools available in the 2008 Local Transport Act should be explored

For the light rail sector

  • the multiplicity of players, in what is ultimately a small industry, should raise their game through a single, co-ordinated and effective body which will act as a single voice for the industry as well as establish cross-industry standards which can help drive down costs

The report highlighted utility costs as a potential ‘quick win’ in bringing down the costs of new tram schemes.

Paul Rowen MP said:

‘A significant challenge to new tram schemes are the costs associated with constructing tramways and, in particular, the costs of moving utilities. We have highlighted this in our report and we believe that the issue of costs needs further investigation. To that end I have written to the chair of the Transport Committee to suggest that they bring these issues under scrutiny.’

The Parliamentarians have also written to the leads on transport for all three of the largest political parties, urging them to get behind the report’s recommendations so that Britain’s cities can benefit from the right tram schemes at the right price.


For more contact Christine Payne on 0207 219 6936 or Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445 / 0781 804 1485

The All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group (APPLRG) provides a mechanism to examine issues concerning light rail; to raise awareness of those issues among parliamentarians; to provide a forum for discussion and debate on those issues; and to generate recommendations for the government to improve light rail and ultra-light rail.

pteg represents the six Passenger Transport Executives which serve 11 million people in the largest urban areas outside London.


  1. The Inquiry Panel consisted of: Paul Rowen MP (Chair) (Rochdale), Tom Harris MP (Glasgow South), Graham Stringer MP (Manchester Blackley), Clive Betts MP (Sheffield Attercliffe), Lord John Attlee and Baroness Hanham.
  2. Members of the Inquiry met three times in the Autumn of 2009 to consider evidence and hear from twenty five witnesses.
  3. The transcripts of the inquiry sessions can be found at the inquiry web hub.
  4. A picture of Paul Rowen can be downloaded here