Exploring developments in light rail and the way light rail can help to build a modern and sustainable UK transport system.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak to you, albeit remotely, at this year’s UK light rail conference.
I apologise for not being able to attend the conference in person but this is due to being overseas on government business.
I am pleased to see that the conference programme covers a wide range of very important topics related to light rail.
I am sure that many of the subjects that you will be hearing more about today (15 May 2013) have close links with the work that UK Tram and others from the sector have been undertaking following the Green light for light rail review report that I published in September 2011.
As you know, the Department for Transport is focused on building a modern and sustainable transport system that will connect our communities, support our economy and protect our environment.
It is still my firm belief that light rail has a key role to play in meeting these objectives.
Even though our manoeuvre since 2010 has been limited by the economic circumstances that prevail this government has invested in light rail since 2010, not just financially, but also by providing the support and tools planners and promoters of light rail need to ensure that costs are brought down to pave the way for new light rail systems happening in the future.
The statistics that we published last year are a testament to how popular light rail is in this country.
These show that in 2011 to 2012, there were 204 million passenger journeys on light rail and tram systems in England, the highest annual figure recorded and it continues the upward trend of recent years.
I am also pleased to see that progress is being made on extending existing light rail systems and also in implementing the recommendations from the ‘Green light for light rail’ review.
Since I granted final funding approval in 2011 for extending the Nottingham Express Transit system with a Department for Transport contribution of over £370 million to the scheme cost, I am pleased that construction is now well underway and services are expected to commence late next year.
I am also delighted that the construction for the extension to Midland Metro Line One through Birmingham City Centre to New Street Station is also now underway with the new tram vehicles expected to be in passenger service in early 2014 and the extension to be completed and open in 2015.
And I have been very impressed with the work that is underway in Manchester in expanding the Metrolink network in order to provide new connections and also new growth opportunities for Greater Manchester communities.
I have also taken the opportunity to see light rail in action overseas. Earlier this year I visited Lyon at the invitation of Keolis and it was fascinating to see this successful system in operation and how it interacts with the other transport modes within the city.
There are definitely some areas that we can learn from our overseas counterparts.
As you know transport is right at the heart of this government’s localism agenda.
For example, in decisions on local major transport schemes funding.
Under the current spending review period to 2015, we are spending £1.8 billion on local authority major projects.
But we are devolving funding in the future and under our localism policy it will be for local transport bodies to make the decisions on where future funding will be targeted.
This is a fundamental commitment on behalf of government to devolve responsibility for transport. Under the last government, these schemes were managed through the regional funding allocation. This meant central government remained the ultimate decision maker. With the new structure, we will be genuinely shifting power from Whitehall into the hands of local bodies, accountable at the local level, and responsive to local economic conditions.
I do hope that light rail promoters have now started to make the case to the LEP/local transport body for light rail schemes within their areas. If you haven’t, you need to.
Now, as you know, tram-train is something I am very passionate about as it has game-changing potential in terms of driving down costs of operating over heavy-rail lines, and facilitating greater capacity and a wider choice of routes.
I know you will be hearing more during the conference from various speakers on tram-train including hearing and understanding more from a German perspective.
I am glad that the tram-train pilot between Sheffield City Centre and Rotherham is now progressing well towards full funding and contract signature. I am looking forward to making a further announcement shortly.
The teams from South Yorkshire PTE, Network Rail, South Yorkshire Supertram (Stagecoach) and Northern together with my officials have been working hard together to get the technical and legal issues hammered out on a wide range of agreements.
The pilot is important to this country as it will bring out the issues that are unique to the railway systems used here and enable further proposal be made with full knowledge of the costs, needs and benefits for both the light rail and heavy rail vehicles, infrastructure and safety systems. This learning is being recorded by the project team and will be made available to future tram-train promoters on an emerging basis as the evidence is secured.
When we have an operating tram-train service that has achieved all the required safety authorisations, we will have proved that the concept is a viable, safe and efficient mode of local transport. One that will connect communities with commercial, business and retail areas within our major conurbations by a cost effective means and making best use of existing heavy and light rail infrastructure.
I am also pleased to see that UK Tram have led on taking forward the actions arising from the ‘Green light for light rail’ report that I originally commissioned in 2010 and which was published in September 2011.
I pay tribute to the work by UK Tram, in particular through the Chairmanship of Geoff Inskip and those who sit on the working groups set up since the publication of the report, to take forward the various actions the report recommended are required to bring down the capital costs.
My thanks to you all.
However we must not get complacent. There is still much more that we need to do. It is great to hear the progress that is being made. Following the last 2 high level tram summits following the report, today (15 May 2013) I am announcing that I will be hosting a further high-level summit in July this year in order to learn of progress and ensure that we do not lose momentum. Invitations will be sent out in due course.
One of the recommendations arising from the green light report was for UK Tram’s role in mobilising collective action across the light rail sector to be strengthened. I know Geoff Inskip has been liaising with some of the other light rail groups on this.
It is important that UK Tram is the single voice for light rail and the sector. Whilst I understand that many groups wish to have independence, it is vital that you all work with and through UK Tram.
The main point is that we are all working to the same outcome - to share best practice and identify further initiatives for cost reduction, cost effective approaches to procurement, as well as design standards in the UK and elsewhere.
I also understand, as a follow-up to the ‘Green light for light rail’ report, the Technology Strategy Board is currently considering developing a project with UK Tram to promote the development of industry specific technologies which would help improve the delivery, cost effectiveness, quality and maintenance of light rail systems.
Whilst the details are still being worked upon, this sort of activity is definitely something that I want to encourage happen in order for us to deliver the next generation of light rail systems here in the UK.
I understand that there is an exhibit stand at the conference where you can learn more about the work that the Technology Strategy Board is undertaking on a variety of issues.
I am also pleased that UK Tram are working closely with the ultra light rail sector and I encourage those parties to continue to work with UK Tram as they progress this important work.
I was delighted to be the 500,000th passenger on the ULTra personal rapid transit system which is in operation at Heathrow Airport. I know the promoters of ULTra have been working closely with a number of authorities and other business organisations both here in the United Kingdom and abroad and again I would encourage you all to visit Heathrow and see this system in operation.
Finally, turning to utilities and light rail interface. This work is being undertaken by my official, Steve Berry, Head of Light Rail Policy Branch within the department.
I am pleased to inform conference today (15 May 2013) that a draft guidance note that I tasked Steve with producing to tackle this important issue is now near to completion. I know he has been frustrated with the length of time that it has taken him to produce this, although as I am sure you will understand it is quite a complex and sensitive subject area.
That said, I am hoping to be in a position to launch this guidance note in the not too distant future. Lastly, let me wish you all a successful conference and I look forward to seeing some of you at the High Level Tram Summit in July.