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Design ConsiderationsThe Issues - Page 3a
Finding the right way to go

 

A Rebuttal to the inaccurate 'information' published by West London 'Friends of the Earth' regarding a Trolleybus Solution for West London Transit - Part 1   [ Continuation Page ]

References:     FOE "Say Yes To West London Tram!" [HTML]           FOE "Frequently Asked Questions" Section [DOC]


FOE
We agree that trolley buses have some superficially attractive features such as the ability to operate on road if necessary. However, trolley buses suffer from many of the problems associated with buses.

 

TfWL
The advantages of trolleybuses are not superficial. They are very real. In particular their environmental credentials are every bit as good as trams [no roadside pollution, less total greenhouse gas emissions etc.]. In fact in some areas [lack of noise for instance], they are superior.

The attitude to buses on the West London FOE site is very mixed. In some parts they are very much supportive. In the buses section for instance the following is said:
Buses can be used by almost everyone - young, old, poor and socially excluded. Cars, in contrast, are largely confined to better-off people and those who can drive. So buses are better for social reasons.

However in the 'Frequently Asked Questions' [Section 6 6] segment of the site it also states,
'People who don't use public transport often don't realise how difficult buses can be. They are difficult to get on and off and drive jerkily. Many people do not use them for these reasons.

A slightly mixed message here!

The objections raised to buses appear to be difficulty in boarding and 'jerkiness'. There is no reason why a trolleybus proposal for WLT should simply be a like for like replacement for the 207/607 but with electric vehicles. Stops can be properly constructed to enable level boarding similarly to trams. Electric control and braking systems on trolleybuses give a much smoother ride than motor buses and eliminate much of the 'jerkiness' associated with such vehicles. The latest [total flat floor] trams with stub axles produce quite severe lateral movement throwing standing passengers especially off balance [this can be experienced in Amsterdam where older and newer types ride along the same sections of track]. The relative merits of the ride of trams is therefore not totally accurate.

FOE
Compared with trams, trolley buses are less good value for money. The cost-benefit of trolley buses is not as great. Transport for London has calculated that the capital cost of a trolley bus would be 70% of the tram, but would not give the increase in capacity necessary to meet future demand for public transport along the Uxbridge Road and surrounding area.

 

TfWL
A modern tram such as in use in Croydon [capacity around 200] is in excess of £1 million. An artic [bendy] trolleybus with capacity of 120-140 would cost around £500,000. The total costs are not just of course the vehicles however. Electrifying an urban road to enable trolleybuses to operate, costs around £450,000 per kilometre. To produce a street tramway can cost between £15 million and £20 million per kilometre and this cost is much less predictable as utility relocation is often more complex than envisaged. A proper benefit/cost analysis of a conventional [unguided] trolleybus option for WLT has NEVER been carried out for WLT. Bearing in mind the foregoing comments in respect of capital costs, the benefit/cost ratio of a trolleybus option cannot possibly be other than greater than that for a tram option. As any one 40 metre tram could simply be replaced by two 18 metre trolleybuses one behind the other [and carrying the same total number of passengers], the statement that trolleybuses could not match the capacity of the proposed trams is clearly not correct.

FOE
At present, trolleybuses are too risky. Modern tram schemes now have an established track record in England: Manchester, Sheffield, Croydon, the new Nottingham scheme which opened in early 2004, and others are under construction. Modern trolleybuses do not have any track record [no pun intended!] in England so far.

 

TfWL
England is not the world. If a similar attitude had been taken in Manchester, there would be no modern light rail systems in the UK. The number of trolleybuses and tram systems in use in the world is very similar [depending on what you define as a 'tram', there are probably slightly more trolleybus systems]. What the tram systems listed have as 'a proven track record' is not at all clear. They actually have very little in common in regard to physical segregation, financial performance, usage, modal change or vehicle type. Birmingham Metro [almost universally regarded as the least successful in virtually all aspects] is interestingly missing from the list. There are [as at November 2005] no tram schemes actually under construction in the UK at all. There are only plans.

FOE
The optical guided technology is new and has not yet been demonstrated to be able to cope with the demanding traffic flows and layout of a road like the Uxbridge Road.

 

TfWL
Trolleybuses do not require guidance [optical or otherwise]. Only a handful of the hundreds of successful trolleybus schemes in the world have any form of automatic guidance. This was an unnecessary 'bolt-on' to the trolleybus option which enabled the trolleybus option costs to be artificially increased and to make the claim by TfL [dutifully repeated here] in regard to 'unproven technology'.

FOE
Nor have trolley buses demonstrated that they can achieve the modal shift from cars that trams have been proven to do.

 

TfWL
A transport system which is reliable, frequent, speedy and attractively priced will achieve modal shift. The highest modal shifts in UK tram experience are on routes such as the Croydon Tramlink New Addington route. This is almost totally segregated and operates at high speed [up to 50 mph]. The tram option for WLT is proposed to be slower than the 607 bus for longer journeys, not noticeably faster than the 207 bus for short journeys and is unlikely to ever exceed 30 mph at any point.

Trolleybus systems have achieved modal shift [which is why Arnhem, Athens and Salzberg for instance have renewed and extended their systems and why Rome has introduced a new system]. Some tram systems have failed to achieve any significant modal change [for instance Birmingham in the UK, Charleroi in Belgium]. So 'Modal Shift' is not just about steel wheels on steel rails. This really is a myth generated by tram enthusiasts and those with a financial interest in building tramways.

FOE
So, realistically, no politician is going to risk an untried system in London - especially with the success of the Croydon Tramlink becoming more and more evident. You have only to think of the political capital that could be made of such a guinea pig scheme to realise the force of this argument. How about "Ken's off his trolley" just for starters?

 

TfWL
Trolleybus technology has been around for about a 100 years and is in use across the world. London once operated over 1600 such vehicles (1931-1962), as did many other cities across the UK. It is hardly 'untried'. The current price tag of WLT as a tram is over £600 million which can only just be justified on the most optimistic of traffic forecasts [the current benefit/cost ratio is only just over the minimum 1.5 required to get the go-ahead from the DfT].

If any of the stated benefits prove to be over optimistic, Ken will be held to account for the most appallingly profligate waste of tax payers money. He will also be guilty of misallocating the scarce resource of public transport money on one flawed scheme rather than using it for a whole raft of improvements as would be possible with a trolleybus option. This surely is a more serious possible indictment.

FOE
Furthermore, because to be effective a trolleybus would need priority over the other traffic and hence enforceable dedicated space on the Uxbridge Road, just like the tram, it would be equally unpopular with the "Save Ealing's Streets" campaign. And how enforceable would a trolley bus lane really be?

 

TfWL
It is self-evidently true that the more segregation that can be achieved the better. This is as true for a trolleybus as for a tram or for a motor bus for that matter. There is no intrinsic reason why lanes cannot be allocated as effectively for rubber tyred vehicles as for trams. There are many places in the world where this happens. Both Turin and Milan in Italy have many kilometres of successfully reserved roadway. The problem with bus lanes in London, and elsewhere in the UK, is not the principle but often the actual design on the ground which has often been less than optimal. The lane can in reality be as 'enforceable' as you wish to make it.

Segregation is not the complete picture. With a tram, the entire street width can be clear except for a couple of metres in the swept path of the tram along the track and the tram will be unable to pass. Trolleybuses always have an advantage where long sections of mixed street running are involved, as in the Uxbridge Road, in that they can be steered around obstacles [including buses, parked cars, delivery vehicles, broken down vehicles etc.]. A blockage anywhere on a street tramway [however caused] completely suspends the service over a large area until the blockage is cleared. If there were a major problem, trolleybuses could even be diverted off the Uxbridge Road using auxiliary power [the new Rome trolleybuses run for over 10 km on battery power]. This is not possible for the tramway option. Trolleybuses could even operate the night N207 service beyond the wires into central London, which trams could not.

FOE
Because buses cannot pass each other with the limited clearance that trams running on rails can, buses make less efficient use of road space. For the same reason, trams going in opposite directions can pass each other at speed. Buses can't do this so are by definition slower than trams.

 

TfWL
This is very much theoretical and whilst it would be true in practice on a NARROW high speed reserved alignment, in a street running context it is irrelevant. All traffic is constrained by the overall road speed limit and in practicality by the actually lower general speed of traffic along the road. [The average proposed speed for the WLT as a tram is less than 13 mph!]. Width of carriageways [including those for trams] is affected in a much greater degree by the need to place raised level stops. This is a problem for a street tramway in that stopping on the kerb side [which generally does not require the stops to impinge on the general carriageway width] requires the track to adopt the nearside lane and makes the tram even more vulnerable to delays from other stopped traffic.

However utilising a centre of the road alignment immediately requires the width of two raised section stops [or one island type] to be included within the overall carriageway width. Centre running of trams implies delays to trams whilst vehicles wait to make a right turn or such right turns have to be forbidden and suitable alternative routes provided. All of these factors are noticeable in the TfL proposed carriageway layouts.

Trolleybuses can use the full width of the carriageway [including the other direction, if clear]. In terms of static space occupied by the vehicle, this is totally dependent on seating layout [whether tram, trolleybus or motor bus]. To achieve the high capacity that TfL state is required for WLT, the tram is planned to be 40 metres long. This is over 5 metres longer than Sheffield's trams and is four metres longer than TWO artic [bendy] buses one behind the other. No vehicles of such length have ever operated in streets in the UK and this therefore genuinely is the use of something 'untried'.

It remains to be seen what the implications of vehicles of such length are, particularly in regard to junctions and stops and particularly when due to disruption two or more trams are immediately following each other. The users of the Uxbridge Road [inside the trams or elsewhere] will be the guinea pigs!

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