The problem with Tram-Train on the Harrogate line

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One of the schemes being pushed to give Leeds a tram train is to convert the Harrogate line to tram train. Some options are full conversion with only the London trains operated by heavy rail trains.

Other options are to run tram trains between the city centre and Leeds Bradford Airport, mixing them in with existing rail services. Both appear to be strong offers but will not offer an uplift on the proposed service that many are hoping for.

It is important to understand that the base line for the Harrogate line is not the service today but the service it is planned to have in the next few years. Any proposal to convert to tram train won’t start until 2020 at the earliest.

What are the current proposals for the Harrogate line?

There are two proposals

The first is to run four trains per hour between Leeds and Harrogate. This could be impacted by the London service. All trains on the route are to be modernised.

The second is the proposed construction of Leeds Bradford Airport Parkway railway station.

Gotcha! So why is tram train not going to work as well?

A railway station and reliable bus connection with four trains per hour and good links to the airport offers a better journey for most people than two trams per hour from outside the terminal. Leeds bound passengers get more journeys, so despite the inconvenience of the interchange, they get less waiting time at the start of their journeys (lets be honest, we all know that we will get through security one minute after the previous departure has gone), which is particularly important when trying to get to and from the airport. A half hourly direct service is going to struggle in competition with a robust 15 minute service.

Trams attract people out of their cars! 

The impressive traffic reduction for trams is usually based on a figure for one year for Croydon Tramlink (14%) . Most systems are only achieving  around 6% traffic reduction, with concerns raised about the induced traffic because around 1 in 5 of the new passengers on light rail are former motorists. Comparator figures for BRT show strong rises in patronage and attraction where the system is implemented. The problem is that most comparisons treat light rail as a fresh project on a route, whilst BRT is treated as an upgrade of existing services. This isn’t a like for like comparison.

The Harrogate line is like the Oldham line that was converted to Metrolink

The vast improvements in the passenger numbers of the Oldham/Rochdale line since the introduction of Metrolink cannot just be pointed to trams. The route has had an increase in stops, diversions built, an economic uplift and service improvements. The proposal for Leeds Bradford Airport of just two tram trains per hour won’t be an improvement over three buses per hour, compared to four train/bus journeys.

The route is segregated

Street running trams aren’t necessarily a positive. Once they interact with other vehicles, the risk of problems rise. We aren’t just talking about the lost car driver who was following their sat nav rather than the situation around them. Any major incident leaves trams at risk of being stuck in traffic jams. The proposed network will leave trams and their passengers trapped outside of Leeds because there will be nowhere in the centre of Leeds that will be able to take them. A nightmare for anyone who is trying to get a flight.

The work is focused on an existing transport route with good quality rail services. The plans for the route mean that it is not going to be life expired during the 2020’s unlike some of the other routes that have been converted to trams (Croydon-Wimbledon, Bury/Altrincham, Birmingham-Wolverhampton). It fails to acknowledge that a lot of the traffic problems are generated because people are trying to get to places that are not already well served. This investment proposal will just reinforce an already reasonable transport corridor, whilst ignoring other areas that require better and more reliable connectivity today.

Key Points

The money we have is here today to be spent ASAP for the problems we have today (we dont know if it is enough for tram train). The project to deliver Tram-Train to Leeds Bradford Airport isn’t ready to be delivered today. The project to create a railway station is in a better position to be delivered within the next few years.

The Harrogate line is not the best line to convert to tram train. Any new mass transit system investment should focus on the most densely populated areas, destinations that require public transport improvements pinchpoints.

Street running trams are not a good thing if we don’t sort out the current problems with the road network around Leeds.

There is no guarantee that new tram lines will follow. Sheffield Supertram’s only expansion after over two decades is a late running tram train test pilot.

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