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Light Rail Summit

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If one word was used to sum up September’s Light Rail Summit it would be ‘partnership’. The event was held in Manchester, the city where the UK’s first modern generation street tramway was inaugurated in 1992 which now boasts the country’s biggest tram system with 64 route miles of standard gauge track, 99 tram stops, and 147 three-bogie articulated trams.

Unlike any other UK street tramways, Manchester’s trams have a high floor and all stops have high platforms, a feature that has enabled relatively easy conversion of heavy rail lines to tramways and was a feature of the original 1992 system.

UKTram and the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board used the event to report back to members, but other presentations highlighted developments throughout the industry – see also the 2021 summit covered in Rail Engineer 193 (November/December 2021).

Business plan
James Hammett, Managing Director of UKTram, explained how there is now much better engagement between the light rail industry and the Treasury, Department for Transport (DfT), and Transport Scotland, which is often weekly and with open and honest exchanges of views. This is a major improvement developed over the last couple years.

James Hammett

George Lowder, chair of UKTram, welcomed what was probably the last tranche of government Covid funding: £380 million from DfT and £37 million from Transport Scotland. James added that the Light Rail Strategy for the UK, published in early 2022, had been welcomed by the Government and this, together with a favourable report by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) had been instrumental in delivering a long-term funding agreement for UKTram and the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB).

James described the priorities in the 2022-25 business plan which include helping to define the viability for up to seven new light rail schemes; an ambitious decarbonisation/sustainability agenda both underpinned by innovation and R&D activities; sector growth; and the pursuit of a diversity and inclusion agenda.

Partnership with young people
Building on diversity and inclusion, James Wingerath, commercial director of Youth Employment UK, presented the results of the Youth Voice Census 2022. This involved 4,000 responses to a survey of 11- to 31-year-olds, together with six regional focus groups to explore issues in their local areas. James presented a bleak picture of the impact of Covid-19, with young people feeling debilitated by mental health issues, the cost-of-living crisis, and political tensions.

The report states starkly that: “…our findings also reveal that we have now 17 years of cohorts telling us that they feel unprepared for their futures and fear that they do not have the work experience, life skills or practical job-hunting skills that they need to progress.”

James encouraged light rail operators to facilitate work experience for school children and to offer opportunities to young people. James also made remarks about many schools’ poor record in preparing their students for work, and it was noticeable that, during the break, James was surrounded by delegates who were also school governors (including your writer!).

Safety improvement
Neil Clark, CEO of Integrated Human Factors Ltd, provided an update of the FOCUS+ system, developed under the Driver Innovation Safety Challenge initiative, which was described in detail at the 2021 Summit. In brief, the aim is to reduce the risk of accidents due to medical or physiological impairment on the part of the driver. This is against the background that only 20% of all rail and road accidents are a consequence of mechanical issues and they are often linked to driver error. Currently, health/fatigue issues are only identified post-event, and FOCUS+ aims to help identify circumstances where errors might occur so that action can be taken before any incident occurs.

FOCUS+ hardware includes a wrist worn device with sensors in contact with the user’s skin. This communicates with a belt worn, or cab mounted, hub with built in GPS and 3/4G comms. Biometric data from the wearer is anonymised and stored in the cloud. This data is processed and machine learning models identify an individual baseline for each wearer. The algorithm can then highlight deviations from the baseline and send green, amber, or red alerts. Neil said that it was important to over emphasise transparent communication to ensure that users trust both the system and how the alerts are used by employers. In terms of progress, Neil said that work had been delayed by Covid, ice storms, and even the stranding of the Ever Given container ship in the Suez canal, but there are now pilots on five sites with a total of 30 volunteers with more users coming on stream.

Safer journeys
Julian Smedley, a former police officer and now operations manager for Keolis at Nottingham Trams, described his team’s work in combatting anti-social behaviour on the outer sections of the tram network. This behaviour was discouraging passengers, and there was an impact of staff welfare with a risk that drivers might refuse to drive through the affected areas. None of this would be good for the system’s reputation, of course. He had had difficulty getting the police interested but the arrival of a new police lead for the area saw a change of attitude. Julian had called together his organisation, the police, all other transport providers, and Network Rail to pool knowledge and understand what was happening across the modes: “an itch that had to be scratched”, as Julian put it.

Starting in one area, funded police patrols in affected areas delivered great results, dealing with many knife, drug, and county lines related crimes. There was also training for the tramway’s staff on how to identify vulnerable people and what to do if they were found. It was not just enforcement but co-ordinated diversion activity, including working with youth outreach teams such as the Pythian Club which focuses on ‘supporting communities within deprived areas, providing diversionary activities, and constructive pathways’.
This was a great success leading to other community groups becoming involved and an all-over advert in one of the trams featuring the Consent Coalition – 20 Nottingham-based statutory and voluntary sector organisations aiming to raise awareness of consent and reduce sexual violence.

Equally important was keeping the staff involved through the unions, employee support noticeboards and face-to-face meetings.

Guillaume Chanussot

Manchester update
Danny Vaughan, head of Metrolink for Transport for Greater Manchster/partnership (TfGM), and Guillaume Chanussot, managing director of Keolis Amy Metrolink (KAM), presented current activity beyond merely running a safe and efficient tramway. Guillaume presented a single slide (below) showing all the main partnership activities highlighting significant success, for example, in significantly expanding the network, doubling the passenger journeys to 45.6 million (2019 figure) whilst needing zero operating subsidy (pre-Covid). He pointed to a bright future ahead, whilst highlighting challenges including inflation and HS2. The latter stems from the current plan to sever the line to Ashton-under-Lyme, to the east of Piccadilly station whilst the HS2 station is constructed.

As well as the network’s success as a public transport provider (which your writer evaluated extensively on the day before the event with an excellent value £4.90 off peak day ticket), the presentation turned to the social sustainability and environment agenda. This builds on light rail’s excellent rail credentials with no emissions at point of use.

LRSSB: partnership with operators
The good news is the three-year funding deal following a positive review by the ORR, reported Mark Ashmore, LRSSB’s safety assurance manager. He also introduced Russell Copley from Greenborough who presented the improvements to the Tram Accident and Incident Reporting system (TAIR). TAIR has been vital in developing the light rail sector risk model and continues to evolve. Following a thorough tender process to find a software partner, Synergi Tech Ltd was chosen to help upgrade the system.

The specification was refined to include only the art of the possible and an implementation group with representatives from four operators was set up. Features include single data entry for all accidents, incidents and near misses; programmed data export to any Operating Company systems (e.g. asset management); reduced data input, minimising data errors; real time reporting; and seamless link with the risk model, generally giving greater accuracy and less work. Future developments include full integration of individual network risk models; full integration with the sector’s overall risk model; integration of RIDDOR reporting; and integration of RAIB reporting.

More light rail systems?
The final presentation – ‘Restoring Railways’ – was delivered by Colin Robey, Chair of UKTram’s Centre of Excellence, who, so far, has had a 55-year career in British Railways and light rail. The Centre of Excellence (COE) was set up in 2013, initially to explore reducing cost of light rail schemes following a critical National Audit Office report. Colin reported that the COE’s investigation found that UK trams systems cost no more than their foreign counterparts and sometimes less.

Colin Robey

UK costs seemed higher because the cost of diverting utilities and general works aimed at ‘beautifying the public realm’ were seen as tramway costs in the UK but not in the costs of the foreign systems. Since then, the COE has been helping promoters with their business cases. Often, promoters would come to UKTram with a proposed solution and the COE would patiently help them though the often tortuous route map (likened to a marathon – with hurdles every nine metres) to arrive at the right solution for their particular needs. Inevitably, to have any chance of success, partnership between promoters, politicians, and other stakeholders will increase the chance of success.

Colin said that his group has developed a list of key questions that promoters should answer and, if they can provide positive answers to at least eight of them, his view was that they might have a chance of making it all the way through the process. The questions cover a full range of issues that potential promoters will be faced with covering: alternative modes, local political support, and financial support throughout from feasibility to operation. The following locations are currently being examined: Bath, Bristol, Stoke on Trent, Isle of Wight, and Folkstone. There will be others.

Colin observed that the current ‘Restore your Railways’ initiative was initially flawed as it focussed on ‘heavy rail’. If these schemes were to be examined more holistically, perhaps including a section of on-street running, they may have more chance of success as they would no longer have to interface with the onerous standards necessary for main line running. UKTram is now invited onto the review panels of those schemes that may have a potential light rail solution.

Finally, and coming back to the route map, Colin observed that the Transport and Works Act, which was intended to make infrastructure works easier to get approved, requires review as it presents endless possibilities for delay caused by what might be described ‘professional objectors’. The COE is exploring how it might be amended and has engaged with the person who drafted it originally.

All in all, another excellent event, and looking forward to 2023.

Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechE
Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechEhttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Rolling stock, depots, systems integration, fleet operations. Malcolm Dobell worked for the whole of his 45-year career with London Underground. He entered the Apprentice Training Centre in Acton Works in 1969 as an engineering trainee, taking a thin sandwich course at Brunel University, graduating with an honours degree in 1973. He then worked as part of the team supervising the designs of all the various items of auxiliary equipment for new trains, which gave him experience in a broad range of disciplines. Later, he became project manager for the Jubilee Line’s first fleet of new trains (displaced when the extension came along), and then helped set up the train refurbishment programme of the 90s, before being appointed Professional Head of Rolling stock in 1997. Malcolm retired as Head of Train Systems Engineering in 2014 following a career during which he had a role in the design of all the passenger trains currently in service - even the oldest - and, particularly, bringing the upgraded Victoria line (rolling stock and signalling) into service. He is a non-executive director of CPC Systems, a systems engineering company that helps train operators improve their performance. A former IMechE Railway Division Chairman and a current board member, he also helps to organise and judge the annual Railway Challenge and is the chair of trustees for a multi academy trust in Milton Keynes.


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