Can coherent and efficient integrated travel strategies be developed across all modes that satisfy all parties and bring us more in line with the needs of the passenger? TAUT reports from two days of debate in the UK city of Nottingham.
The challenges of increased urbanisation, road congestion and poor air quality are regularly addressed in TAUT, as are the opportunities presented by technology and smart solutions. We all accept that trams and light rail are not the complete solution to challenging the convenience of private travel, however with the pronounced way that our relationship with travel is changing, the interaction between the growing popularity of light rail and how that integrates with other forms of transport are key to how our society develops.
Intermodal 2016, held in the UK city of Nottingham on 20-21 June, addressed many of the issues in the creation of the development of efficient integrated transport networks that deliver comfortable, secure, connected end-to-end journeys.
The UK’s Department for Transport’s figures show that the car is the most common mode of travel (accounting for 64% of all trips in 2014, and 78% of the total distance travelled in the latest available data). Of all journeys made in 2014, 19% were under one mile (1.6km), and 66% under five miles and although 24% of households in England have no car access, bus and rail usage outside the capital is shown to be on the decline. The UK’s tramways and light rail systems buck this trend, however, with the latest figures showing widespread year-on-year growth (allied to larger networks and greater availability of services) and Transport Focus surveys confirming higher passenger satisfaction with their journeys. A series of 47 presentations and debates at Intermodal explored the role of technology, funding and finance, modal integration, system design, propulsion innovation, passenger safety and security, climate change and passenger focus across all urban modes. They were heard by an audience of senior transport planners, local and national governmental figures, consultants and the supply chain over two fascinating days.
The common consensus shared by the delegates, presenters and panellists at the event is that the power shift away from the traditional transport model is growing in pace as technology allows the piecing together of both work and leisure trips from a multitude of separate travel options. Today’s passengers demand real-time information, entertainment and control from journey planning through to completion, yet many modes are still largely operated independently – to the detriment of the door-to-door journey.
Funding, governing and finance
Following an introduction by event Chair Peter Richardson, Chairman of Nottingham Express Transit concessionaire Tramlink Nottingham and Local Enterprise Partnership D2N2, Councillor Nick McDonald from Nottingham City Council proudly spoke of his city’s policies of allying land use and sustainable transport. He also explained its success in discouraging city centre car use, with the recent implementation of its cycle superhighway vision and extensions to its tram network.
Nottingham Express Transit doubled in size with the opening of two new lines to Clifton and Toton in August 2015 and the city region has developed an integrated smartcard that covers both municipal and private bus and tram operators. The Robin Hood Card was also presented at the event, with the challenges in rolling out complex commercial structures and dynamic fare capping highlighted, although it is hoped that the card could be a model for other UK cities as the first such scheme outside the country’s capital.
Cllr McDonald said that “bold and sometimes radical political commitment has always been at the forefront our decision-making”, referencing the city council’s land use policies and the Workplace Parking Levy introduced in 2012 that has helped part-fund Nottingham’s transport improvements. Bircham Dyson Bell’s Senior Associate Rahul Bijlani further outlined the background to road charging schemes as an enabler in unlocking transport funding: “The legislation which allows local authorities to bring road charging levies into force is very powerful, very flexible and in fact has been under-used. The scope of the powers is very broad. When talking about road user charging, you can do pretty much anything – charging at specific times or on specific days, areas, distances, payment method and you can be very sophisticated.
“There will be more emissions-related charging going forward, such as London’s Ultra Low Emissions zone and recent policy statements by DEFRA state that ‘clean air zones’ are being promoted and will be required in the five most polluted UK cities in terms of nitrogen dioxide – Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Derby and Nottingham.”
Held just a few days before the UK’s referendum on EU membership, many talking points surrounded independence and devolution, and a common call was heard amongst many speakers for a greater need for sub-national transport bodies for planning, procurement and legal structures. During a debate on how devolution could reshape the UK’s transport dynamic, Member of Parliament for Nottingham South Lilian Greenwood (at the time also Shadow Transport Secretary) said: “We have to make the links between portfolios. When we talk about transport it’s too easy to get narrowly focused and not think about what that could mean for economic and housing development and what that could mean for health.
“Bringing that to a local level, decisions that don’t need to be made in Whitehall being made closer to the end user – the passengers, the car driver, the pedestrian, the citizen – is really important.”
Councillor Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton Council and a member of the newly-formed West Midlands Combined Authority, added: “The core of our plan is transport, although there is a clear difference between devolution and decentralisation and I don’t think everybody realises that. We hope that there will be a stronger decision process in there, and we have a mantra in the West Midlands that everyone will benefit, although not necessarily at the same time and not necessarily in the same way.”
Nathan Marsh, Partner at EY, usefully drew together many points from the two days in stating that he believes that we need new models of thinking about investment, passenger interaction and the transport offering. He remarked: “The role of technology and the passenger desire for a more personalised, more retail-like experience means the economic case has to change. Quite simply, the current funding structures, sources and mechanisms will not be fit for purpose over the next 15-20 years.
“We need to link urban transport investment to wider social and economic connectivity. We need to innovate outside technology. We all know about coding, app development and data analytics etc and all of these are rich, deep and important, but I want to see the same sort of innovation from the legal sector, from the accountants and from local and national government.”
A key driver of the need to move away from private urban and interurban travel choices is tackling poor urban air quality and the associated impacts on public health. Almost all UK towns and cities fail to meet EU air quality regulations and these challenges were highlighted across both days at Intermodal, with a focus on the imperative of combating emissions and moving away from traditional internal combustion-engined vehicle use.
Although buses are often portrayed as an old-fashioned, fume-belching mode that clogs our streets and as a ‘rival’ to light rail, the debate around their future in the UK formed some interesting discussion. Although having declining usage outside London, buses are still the most prevalent provider of UK public transport– around 5.6bn journeys each year, three times that of the nation’s railways – and one of the panel discussions brought together municipal commercial and municipal operators, consultants and manufacturers on the future of the UK bus market.
Gary Nolan, a Regional Director of Stagecoach’s UK Bus division, said: “We’re working on various propulsion options, with chip fat buses in Kilmarnock, biomethane buses in Lincoln, a fleet of 40 gas buses running in Sunderland and 400 electric-hybrid buses across the UK. All of them have significant additional cost and that’s the issue we’re facing: which one do we go with and which one offers the best commercial answer?
“For example, the gas plant we built in Sunderland cost a million pounds; we got a grant towards the vehicles but we had to fund the plant ourselves and that’s where you need the volume. When you’re playing around with small numbers of vehicles, the cost can be astronomical. The perception of dirty, smelly buses is wrong, but we’re doing all we can.”
Mark Fowles, Managing Director of municipal bus operator Nottingham City Transport (and former Chair of Arrow Light Rail that delivered Line One of Nottingham’s tramway) offered insight of his own: “Public transport’s contribution to global warming is miniscule compared to the big issue – the private car… we’re talking about the gnat on the backside of the elephant. It’s the car, it’s industry, that’s where the issue is. Public transport is something we can do something about, but I can’t see any politician, anywhere in the world, saying “you’re not going to drive your car”. It’s just not going to happen.
“We need some form of propulsion mechanism that closes the CO2 loop. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the vehicle won’t be producing CO2, what it means is that the CO2 is captured because once we go above the 400 parts/million, we’re gone in terms of climate change.
“One of my best friends is one of the world’s leading authorities on climate change and he no longer recycles because he thinks it’s too late already. Until we wake up to that fact, the imperative that will drive forward that closed loop cycle will not reach the political agenda because it’s too expensive and too hard to deal with – sadly.”
Michael Jacobs, Visiting Fellow at the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, commented in a separate debate: “No major UK city outside of Blackpool and Preston is compliant with the current guidance on particulates and NOx is a major concern as we are also way over recommended limits in all UK cities. We need to get rid of diesel cars first, then all diesel vehicles and we need to be on a path to either electric or hydrogen propulsion, or both, by the middle of this century.”
Both Bombardier PRIMOVE and Ballard Power Systems offered visions of alternative traction power that can help to address the climate challenge for public transport.
Nikolaus Sauer, Project Manager for PRIMOVE, outlined his firm’s electric solutions and the driver for the development of inductive charging to make systems cleaner, quieter and more attractive with invisible fast charging. These systems are undergoing trials in Germany on both bus and tram and in November 2015 a Bombardier tram powered by PRIMOVE and MITRAC technologies in Mannheim completed a 41.6km (25.8-mile) test on the Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr (RNV) network entirely away from catenary power.
PRIMOVE’s ‘premium’ solution uses a power convertor installed under the road surface with a feeder coil that transmits power inductively to the vehicle. Cooling units are located onboard and on the pavement alongside stops or incorporated into them. Charging takes 30-60 seconds and offers enough charge for short distances, while longer charges are given at route termini. All power equipment is incorporated into one box that is easy to integrate and maintain and features remote monitoring. PRIMOVE tram technology with a lightweight battery solution is already in commercial service in the Chinese city of Nanjing and other projects are planned.
Nicholas Pocard, Director of Channel Management for Ballard gave a different view of the future, that of fuel cell-electric hybrid powertrains: “From a comparison of all the alternative drivetrains, one of the key advantages of fuel cell technology is to give autonomy to the vehicle. Fuel cells are seen in many cases as a range extender to double the range compared to a pure electric solution and give route flexibility without any limitation for situations such as steep hills or heavily-loaded vehicles.”
“China has shown a huge demand for electric propulsion. Government incentives provide a strong motivation for operators to move away from diesel to battery or hybrid fuel cell operation. Fuel cells also overcome the limitations of range and ageing of batteries, particularly in extreme environments that affect the lifetime and performance of batteries over a number of years.
“By 2020 we may see over 1000 fuel cell buses on the roads in China and in Foshan commercial operation will begin in 2017 of hybrid fuel cell trams. No additional infrastructure is needed, a 200kw power module is used – as opposed to 60-100kw for a bus – and any additional infrastructure is provided at the depot.”
On the question of asset lifespans – one of the biggest questions for battery solutions – Mr Pocard replied: “Our fuel cell stacks have passed 20 000 hours of operational life without degradation. But most important is the cost reduction; fuel cell modules have come down by 75% over the past decade and are continuing to go down.”
At the turn of the 21st Century, around 200 million devices had Internet connectivity. By 2008 they exceeded the world’s human population and there are currently over 20 billion. By 2050, many analysts believe there will be 50 billion devices capable of exchanging data and information about just about everything you can imagine. These staggering numbers prefaced a presentation by Russell Goodenough, Managing Director and Head of Transport for Fujitsu UK & Ireland, who added: “Transport is the leading light for the way that new tech is being applied to solve big societal issues.”
A key theme of the event was how ‘smart’ technology is changing the way we think about aspects of the planning, development and operational lifecycle and how passengers use and interact with transport.
In one of a series of presentations on digital solutions, Peter Smith from asset management specialist SoftSols said: “The Internet of Things, or Industry 4.0, is all about connectivity. Intelligent systems make the data about an asset available via Cloud and intranet systems that other systems can consume and make use of. So rather than having people out taking measurements and carrying out physical inspections, this data can be easily shared with many different people – operators, maintainers and manufacturers – and allow maintenance schedules to be adjusted and more efficiently planned.”
Mr Goodenough continued: “My view of the future in passenger terms is about smartphone tech, tablet tech and wearable tech; it’s also more social. As we move from Generation X to Generation Y and Generation Z, the primary engagement is through social networks and high levels of connectivity are an expectation.
“The next generation of intelligent transport systems will be all about the fusion between what’s going on in the vehicles, the intelligence in the vehicles we’re building, the intelligence in the fabric of the transport infrastructure, operators’ systems and the data from the users with devices who are telling us what they’re doing and where they’re going. They can tell us an awful lot more in the how we increase capacity and efficiency on our networks. The services themselves will tell us what’s going on. The network will know how many people are around it and where the congestion is.”
Keolis’ Digital and Innovation Group Director Arnaud Julien outlined another vision of this connected passenger environment with a description of the Connectram project launched in Bordeaux in April 2016. An Alstom Citadis fitted with onboard screens and outside cameras uses augmented reality technology to allow passengers to see the world outside the vehicle with 3D overlaid images of the development of the city’s future Euratlantique neighbourhood and real-time, geo-located information on connections such as available rental bikes, nearby parking garages, and connecting bus, tramway, and train schedules – a truly ground-breaking development.
One of the most well-attended sessions over the two days brought together various disciplines to consider the future of public transport. Economists, environmental specialists, architects, engineers and consultants all joined Peter Richardson who chaired the ‘Crystal ball-gazing into the future of public transport’ debate. Jo Baker, Development Director of Urbanisation from Mott MacDonald began with the statement: “There’s lots of talk about where the future lies and who the big players are going to be. All I would say is that Google may be the VHS, Uber may be the DVD, but the Netflix of transport is out there somewhere and he or she is probably still sitting coding in their bedroom…”
David Sidebottom of Transport Focus offered the passenger view: “Transport needs to be a choice that’s easier, simpler and more tailored to the passenger. We need to get to know the passenger, who spends an awful lot of money on our services every year.”
Questions were soon raised about the development and availability of electric and autonomous vehicles, both of which met with some debate about the timeline for their introduction. Michael Jacobs remarked: “There’s a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles, which will be a slow introduction, but I think what will be much more interesting are car sharing and car clubs, which are growing very rapidly. This is something that is blurring the boundaries between public and private transport, because the evidence is pretty clear that members of car clubs get rid of their cars so it is not increasing the amount of cars on the roads as was once thought. These cars are used much more than private cars, therefore take up much less road and car parking space, which is one of our primary constraints.”
Jo Baker added: “As I understand it from colleagues, you only need three or four electric cars on a rapid charge on the same street and you’re in danger of blowing your power supply. At the moment there’s a really fundamental problem that needs to be addressed urgently with our domestic power grid.”
Given the complexity and non-uniformity of UK towns and cities, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and UKTram has completed a lot of work on the applicability of various modes. “The right answer isn’t always a tramway”, conveyed UKTram Chairman Geoff Inskip in a presentation focused on the 2012 UKTram Guidance. He went on to outline the appraisal process, breaking it down into four basic questions: What do you want? Why do you want it? Who will deliver it? Where is the money coming from?
He stated that the best solutions are always the ones with the greatest long-term benefits and when assessing each case, emphasised the importance of considering the robustness of the case for these benefits before looking at affordability and funding. Where situations are complicated with multiple modes, interfaces and other considerations that have to be taken into account, it is essential to appoint a ‘champion’ for each to achieve an unbiased balance. Many light rail projects falter in failing to take wider benefits into account, he added, concluding: “Are these plans realistic and achievable, and do you have the resource and capability to deliver that particular option?”
Chris Deas, Major Projects Director of Nottingham City Council, gave a whistle-stop tour of the development of Nottingham Express Transit before looking at what the future may hold for links beyond the city region and the development of the HS2 high-speed rail link that will pass very close to the newest terminus and park-and-ride at Toton Lane.
He told the audience: “A tram link to HS2 can be achieved relatively easily with a 1.6km (one-mile) extension with a very short journey time and links into new housing developments. It’s a no-brainer. We’ve also looked at two short extensions from HS2 that would give better access from a park-and-ride site on the M1 motorway… either of which could be delivered for under GBP250m.”
Proposed routes between Toton Lane park-and-ride and the neighbouring city of Derby could follow either the A52 or canal corridor (the latter offering three times the amount of stops and a journey time of 28 minutes, rather than 18 for the A52 option) and would cost between GBP400m (EUR475m) and GBP700m (EUR835m). Further into the future, linking East Midlands Airport to the network via the East Midlands Gateway freight interchange and key commercial sites with largely segregated alignments would cost GBP350m-390m (EUR415m-465m) and take around 25-30 minutes.
A connection north-east from the city’s station to Gedling and a route via the the Holme Pierrepoint National Watersports Centre with a park-and-ride on the A52 road were also discussed for 9km-10km (14.5-16- mile) routes to the east at a cost of GBP200m-GBP210m (EUR240m-EUR250m). The long-discussed 6km (9.5-mile) corridor to extend the original line one spur westwards from Phoenix Park to Kimberley with five stops would cost in the region of GBP130m-GBP160m (EUR155m-EUR180m). Mr Deas was confident that further expansion of NET was not only possible but likely, although he was keen to point out that none of the projected costs included an ‘optimism bias’ [a Department for Transport and HM Treasury requirement that budgetary adjustments are based upon on data from similar projects or elsewhere], which within a business case could increase thte total by 50-60%.
Tram-train projects are still to be explored across sections of the Erewash Valley heavy rail line in nearby Long Eaton heading northwards to Chesterfield, amongst others, or tram conversion of heavy rail lines.
Following this, former heavy rail Managing Director Christopher Garnett OBE gave an engaging presentation on his report into prospects of converting the loss-making railway on the Isle of Wight to tram operation.
Currently part of the South-West Trains franchise, the Island Line uses former London Underground rolling stock built in 1938 and using third rail current collection. Suffering from chronic underinvestment and declining ridership, current revenues are GBP1m while operating costs are GBP4m; earlier in the year Mr Garnett prepared a report for the Isle of Wight Council that suggested using light rail operation (covered in detail by Michael Taplin’s analysis in TAUT 941).
He said: “Trams are a lot more forgiving on the quality of the track than a train is and overhead can be a lot simpler… this is a solution that would be one heck of a lot cheaper and moves away from onerous railway group standards. There is an argument to say that the line needs its own franchise, but it has got to still be part of the national rail system. It has got to have through ticketing, it has got to have national train information, conditions of carriage and revenue allocation, otherwise it all completely falls over. Of course, this has never been done before, but why not?”
Although there are technical challenges that are still to be addressed, Mr Garnett added: “The next compatible rolling stock released by London Underground won’t be available until 2028, by which time the existing trains will be 90 years old. So what is the cost of upgrading the track? What is the cost of electrification? What is the cost of operation and how does that compare against a scenario of patch and mend on the existing railway until the next round of Bakerloo line stock becomes available in 2028 – and can you keep it all running until then?
“This raises the interesting point that if we could move the Island line to tram operation, what other branch lines in the country could we move from heavy rail to tram? Why do we always think heavy rail when maybe sometimes we should be thinking tram?”