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The 12th UK Light Rail Conference

The 12th UK Light Rail Conference

The 12th UK Light Rail Conference took place at the University of Manchester on 18-19 July, with over 260 delegates debating key issues on the future of the mode, and with presentations and panel debates on core strategic, technical and operational issues. With an ever-growing international presence, the event is a showcase in the promotion of technology and public transport innovation. Delegates came from 12 countries to the event – supported by Transport for Greater Manchester, UKTram and the Department for Transport – that also featured exhibits from leading industry suppliers and service providers alongside a walking tour of the city’s Second City Crossing. Networking sessions were hosted by KeolisAmey Docklands, a drinks reception was held by Keolis and a summer barbecue event for all delegates was hosted by event organiser Mainspring. The conference began with a keynote speech from Transport for Greater Manchester Chief Executive Dr Jon Lamonte who outlined the city’s 2040 vision. The region’s Metrolink network celebrated its 25th birthday two days before the event – it now stretches to over 90km (56 miles) with 120 high-floor trams. Dr Lamonte said: “We want to be a top-flight world city by 2025. The region is experiencing a population explosion… we are experiencing some of the fastest growth outside London.” “Our residents tell us they want access to jobs and opportunities, while businesses want access to new markets. The future generation, if we’re going to stop them disappearing off on HS2 to London, need to see a future here.” The welcome was followed by TfGM’s new Head of Metrolink, Danny Vaughan, who took the opportunity to thank outgoing...
Track management: repair or replace?

Track management: repair or replace?

Originally conceived in the 1850s, the concept of the grooved rail uses a chunky rail head that lies flush with the roadway to carry a tram’s tyres while a groove accommodates the wheel flange. A check, or keeper, forms the outside of the groove that the wheel flange slots into to steer the tram. Grooved rail requires a more substantial mounting for weight transfer, while steel ties at regular intervals maintain the gauge. Improved steel grades and alloy compositions in recent decades have seen significant enhancements in rail life, evolving alongside advances in rolling stock technology that have seen trams get longer, heavier and with higher axle loads. Likewise, direct contact with concrete and asphalt in the early days of tramway construction has evolved into advanced embedding using polymers and foams that reduce vibration and damage to the surrounding highway infrastructure and help mitigate issues such as electrolytic corrosion. This rail embedding system is at the heart of the street-running tramway. Most are of a resilient polymer type, with variants including bonded cork materials poured into a channel surrounding the rail before setting, and recycled rubber rail seats. As new track is often installed as part of ‘turnkey’ projects, the choice of system usually rests with the contractor rather than the engineer who will have maintenance responsibility for the decades to come. Factors influencing the choice of rail embedding include: Traffic: Heavy road traffic calls for substantial support. High lateral loads from heavy vehicles turning, accelerating or braking over tramlines can make rails roll, damaging the reinforcing material and placing incredibly demanding conditions on the rail. Concrete laid up...
Where art meets engineering

Where art meets engineering

There is more to tramway engineering than the essentials of getting vehicles from A to B. The appearance of track and overhead line equipment (OLE) can be enhanced so that it looks stylish and contributes to the city’s ambience and becomes a civic asset – art takes many forms, so why shouldn’t tramways be one of them? While few may specifically notice, any more than they go around in their daily lives admiring buildings, I hope that this article will show that good-looking tramways can be more cost-effective than unsightly ones and how being easy on the eye adds to the feel-good factor. More than a century ago, elegance was lovingly designed into tramways and infrastructure contributed greatly to civic pride, instead of being just a collection of functional clutter. Where traction poles were necessary they were, in the style of the day, decorated with extravagant scrollwork, spiky finials and ornate cast iron bases as well as being painted in attractive colours instead of the plain black or grey of today’s popular supposition. The track embodied gracefully-shaped transition curves which looked, and felt to the passenger, far more natural and efficient than the clumsy trainset-like joining of sharp circular curves directly to straight track or, worse still, via ugly and troublesome kinks. Shiny steel rails are an attractive advertisement of the mode and are expressive of the tram’s ability to combine the best elements of railways and tramways. Looking good, as well as adding to their appeal, also happens to be related to technical excellence and whole-life cost reduction. This exploration begins in Den Haag more than 30 years ago,...
L.A. light rail on the move

L.A. light rail on the move

Los Angeles famously has some of the worst traffic congestion of any city in the world. Gridlock on urban highways often delays commuters for hours at a time and a recent study found that the average driver wasted over 100 hours in queuing traffic during the busiest peak periods in 2016. This equates to a penalty for the same driver of over USD2400 in wasted fuel and lost productivity and negative impacts on the city as businesses and leisure sites lose custom. As outlined in TAUT 944 (August 2016), the LA Streetcar is a planned 6.4km (four-mile) urban light rail circulator linking various city centre neighbourhoods with existing subway and Metro LRT services at the 7th/Flower interchange. The project is aimed at assisting the revitalisation and reinvigoration of Downtown LA with its bars, restaurants and theatres as well as improving journeys to work. ‘Leave your car in one spot and use the Streetcar to get around’ is the mantra of the project with the aim of removing cars from much of the downtown LA area; this will also have a beneficial effect on air quality in the city, judged as amongst the worst in the nation for ozone and fine particulate emissions. The cost of the full installation is estimated at USD282m, for a projected 2020 opening, reduced by USD15.6m if the Grand Avenue spur is not included in the project scope. Of the capital cost, USD100m may come from Federal Transit Administration Small Starts funds with the balance being raised locally, although the future of the former grant programme has been cast into doubt with the release of...
Magdeburg still feels flooding pain

Magdeburg still feels flooding pain

That which floodwaters can destroy in an instant, may take a long time to repair or replace. The truth of such a statement is dramatically illustrated by the German city of Magdeburg where, even now, no firm date can yet be given for completion of dealing with the aftermath of devastating flooding that took place in June 2013. This city of around 200 000 people in Saxony-Anhalt was particularly hard hit by the floodwaters nearly four years ago; the Elbe – one of Germany’s major rivers on the sides of which Magdeburg sits – broke its banks, sweeping through surrounding low-lying areas and causing millions of Euros worth of damage. At its height on 9 June, the water level measured nearly 7.5m – against a more normal average of around 2m, and the roughly 6.7m of the ‘flood of the century’ in 2002. Magdeburg had already been living in emergency conditions since 4 June, as the river levels rose. The effects were substantial: whole areas of the city evacuated; schools, the university, old people’s homes abandoned; train services suspended. Thousands of people were in action, with sandbags and barriers trying to protect property. It was part of a much bigger picture, which saw floodwaters spread not only across parts of Germany, but through large areas of Central Europe. The effects this had on some tramway systems were substantial – and were covered in detail in TAUT 908 (August 2013). In terms of the former East German city’s extensive tramway, the immediate effect was drastic: all but two routes were disrupted; two depots were cut off and the third flooded;...
Tram-trains to Rotherham edge ever closer…

Tram-trains to Rotherham edge ever closer…

The pilot programme to introduce a connecting tram-train service between Sheffield’s Supertram network and the neighbouring town of Rotherham using an under-used freight railway has been the cause of a great deal of frustration. Launched in 2009, the scheme has been highlighted by some as an example of over-engineering and confused project management from some of the partners. What is often neglected, however, is that this was never intended as a scheme just to introduce the mode to the UK. Instead, it forms a greater exploration of the challenging of industry standards – as well as the implementation of new principles for connecting light rail to the railway. The tram-train concept isn’t new to the UK. The first two Manchester Metrolink lines employed trams on former rail lines between Bury and Victoria, and Altrincham and Piccadilly, with a street-running connection through the city centre. Additionally, many of the challenges associated with inter-operability of light and heavy rail have been addressed with the Tyne & Wear Metro extension to Sunderland that opened in 2002. As a little history, a previous tram-train proposal on the Penistone Line between Huddersfield and Sheffield – driven primarily by a desire to replace ageing diesel main line rolling stock – was abandoned in 2009 after it was found that suitable dual-fuel tram-trains would be too expensive due to the costs of developing a power pack that complied with the latest emissions standards. This led to the current pilot and the development of a framework of technical standards for lighter weight vehicles on the national rail network, examining operational practicalities, and importantly to gauge passenger perception. With...