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Landmark year ahead for light rail Friday January 21, 2022

With government funding for new and existing transport systems, and the publication of a bold strategy for the future of light rail in the UK, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the sector.

Growing calls for further action to tackle climate change and the emergence of innovative new technology will also boost the case for a mode of transport that has already proved its value to key cities across the UK.

In 2022, UKTram will remain at the forefront of what promises to be a landmark year for the sector, and its Managing Director, James Hammett, believes the organisation is well placed to lead light rail into a new era.

“Covid-19 has undoubtedly had a major impact on our tramways and similar transit systems, and we still face a significant challenge in rebuilding patronage to pre-pandemic levels, but there is a sense of growing optimism for the future of the sector,” James said.

“The recent announcement of £830 million to develop an integrated transport system in West Yorkshire – plans which include options for light rapid transit – and a further £100 million for the renewal of Sheffield Supertram, show that our calls for fresh investment in light rail are being listened to by government.

“As the details of these major projects take shape, our Centre of Excellence will be on hand to offer advice and support. Drawing on experience and expertise from across the sector, the Centre is also exploring ways to overcome barriers to the growth of light rail in other cities and large towns, including helping promoters of proposed schemes to find the most cost-effective ways to improve connectivity whilst navigating the complex legislative process.

“This is backed by support for research into new technology and tramway design, including the setting up of a new ‘taskforce’ to help exploit the potential of Very Light Rail to help drive down the cost and complexity of future systems.”

Over the coming months the UK’s light rail sector also expects to celebrate the opening of tram extensions in the West Midlands, and there was further good news from government with the announcement of funding for the expansion of the network to Brierley Hill as part of a £1.05 billion transport improvement programme for the region.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, this year also sees work nearing completion on the Trams to Newhaven scheme that will see the opening of a 4.69km extension to the popular network in 2023.

While these exciting projects take shape, UKTram will continue its work to enhance training and professional standards within the sector, encouraging the development of the next generation of light rail professionals and closing a widely recognised ‘skills gap’.

Mr Hammett added: “Clearly fresh challenges lie ahead as the country emerges from the pandemic. However, 2022 also presents numerous opportunities to enhance the reputation of tramways as a safe, reliable and environmentally friendly mode of public transport with a proven track record of driving regeneration and economic growth.

“We will also build on our strong links with both the UK and Scottish governments, which have already helped to secure more than £250 million in Covid-support during the pandemic.

“At the heart of this will be our strategy for the future of light rail, which has been developed with help from colleagues from across the sector and is due to be officially launched in the spring.”