One of my jobs as MP is to get involved with All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs). I act as Vice-Chair for APPGs on Aid, Debt and Trade, Headache Disorders and Muscular Dystrophy, and I Chair the APPG for Light Rail.
Last month, we went see the Tram system in Alicante (funded by sponsorship and not the taxpayer) and see what they, and we in Manchester, could learn from each other.
The Alicante light rail system has undoubtedly been of great benefit to the region, linking a number of coastal towns to help boost tourism, but at the same time including commuter routes for locals working in these towns, providing a cheap alternative form of transport that will take them to work. With tourism a chief employer in the area Alicante has succeeded in putting in place a system that serves a dual purpose by combining a tourist service (the tram practically stops on the beach!) with a commuter service. This has also resulted in significant regeneration of previously run down areas, as well as significant increases in property values in the areas that were already prosperous, by between 20% and 30%. Opponents of Light Rail schemes in the UK often claim that it will affect their house prices, but the evidence from schemes, both home and abroad, suggests otherwise.
When implementing the system and converting the original heavy rail line the engineers and directors at FGV (the Valencian transport authority) had many physical limitations to take into consideration when planning the route due to the topography of the area. This has meant that a single track system remains and so it has proved impossible to benefit from a more regular service which is normally one of the major advantages of a light rail system. Much of the single track is now being converted to twin track to address this problem. This will undoubtedly help increase revenue through the fare box, and help to reduce the level of subsidy required on the service.
There are also question marks about planning of the system. There seems little logic as to why the early phase of the scheme didn’t run to the airport. That said, the Manchester Metrolink has been up and running for 20 years, and our Airport link still hasn’t been completed, although it is under construction. In terms of supporting the local economy I would have thought an airport link would have been central to supporting economic growth in the region and encouraging inward investment.
We were surprised to see the local media following us around the underground tram system and joining us on one of the journeys we took. I also gave them a short interview explaining the purpose of our visit and what we hoped to get out of it. I’ve included the links below, it’s all in Spanish but there are photos and a couple of videos!
First tram-train in the UK
Around the time of our visit to the Alicante province, Transport Minister Norman Baker made an announcement that would see a pilot scheme worth £58 million install the first tram-trains, like the ones we visited in Alicante, in the UK by 2015. The concept will be tested between Rotherham and Sheffield in South Yorkshire in order to test it with a view to roll it out across other parts of the country. This has been a long time coming, but it is very welcome that it is finally going ahead.
The tram-trains are expected to cut journey times and make it easier for people to get into the city centres the vehicles serve. They are lighter, more energy-efficient and have faster acceleration and deceleration than conventional trains. They impressed us in Alicante, let’s see if they are successful in providing this country with a fast, clean and cheap alternative to the car.