Just a few thoughts
Solving congestion may be a rather tall order. If anyone claims that any form of WLT scheme
[tram, trolleybus or whatever] is going to 'solve congestion across West London', they are to
quote [a polite version of] the phrase: 'talking through their hat'.
Congestion affects a widespread area and is not simply a function of east-west traffic along the
Uxbridge Road itself. What is needed is a whole package of measures which will improve both
the actuality and perception of public transport in this area and thus reduce the use of cars as
much as possible. WLT as a tram scheme does not give any greater benefits along the Uxbridge
Road than a trolleybus scheme would but costs very much more. This implicitly implies less [or
possibly no] resources available for schemes away from Uxbridge Road itself. Also the very
nature of the WLT tram scheme proposed is likely to worsen flows by buses which are not
simply along the Uxbridge Road [by creating a greater requirement to change - which is
universally unpopular and thus often causes modal shift the wrong way].
The advantages of trolleybuses are that they are non-polluting on street. This is very important
on a corridor where there are very frequent bus services. If for instance you doubled the 207
frequency with diesel buses, you have double the air-borne pollutants. Double a trolleybus
service and you still have none.
The ability to steer trolleybuses across [both] the carriageway[s] and the design of the vehicles
means that they can be better integrated into the overall bus provision along the corridor.
There is no need to curtail services as will be done in the proposed tram solution. This will
therefore be beneficial in the general area around the Uxbridge Road. The lesser capital costs
will allow funding to be available to improve these services further [including possibly
electrifying many of them into trolleybus routes].
Along the Uxbridge Road itself, the fixed route of a street tramway is very susceptible to delay
if running with other traffic on the kerb side of the carriageway. For this reason tracks are
usually aligned in the centre [as in much of the proposed tram based WLT]. This requires
centre islands as tram stops. As the design of WLT as a tramway does not integrate bus stops
with trams stops, this makes great demands on narrower parts of the carriageway where buses
are stopping at kerb side stops close to where there are centre islands for tram stops are
located. This is likely to cause congestion rather than remove it [unless of course you remove
the bus services concerned]. This is exacerbated by the proposed length of the trams which at
40 metres is longer than anything that has regularly operated on UK roads.
High speeds are not likely to be a problem along the Uxbridge Road [the proposed mean speed
for the tramway is 13 M.P.H.!]. There is no reason why artic trolleybuses of 18 metres
cannot traverse the route [diesel versions have already been used along the route] and even a
25 metre double artic would describe the same swept path. There is no experience whatsoever
of 40 metre trams in UK streets, so we have no knowledge of how they will fare even with their
Dewirements of trolleybuses are a much overstated problem when there is discussion in the UK.
In both western and eastern European mainland experience, they are extremely rare and with
the very simple layouts along the Uxbridge Road [virtually no overhead junctions] should be
almost non existent. It should be remembered that even if such a likely rare event occurs,
rewiring a modern trolleybus is quick and easy and damage to the overhead is unlikely. Even in
that rarest of all situations that the overhead were damaged, trolleybuses could still operate
using auxiliary power. When highly sprung tram pantographs have problems with the tensioned
overhead [as has not been that uncommon on the Croydon system], the overhead is often
damaged such that the tram route has to be suspended until repairs are effected.
The MORI survey [the one where the one line 'support for the scheme' headline is usually
quoted] does not indicate that 'everyone' is in favour of the scheme - very far from it. If the full
MORI report is read it will be found that it made it quite clear that the more people knew
about the tram version of the scheme, the less they supported it [no options other than tram
were of course offered to them], Conversely many of those who 'supported' the scheme stated
themselves that they had only limited knowledge of it. As more of the precise details are
released, it is likely that even more people will oppose the scheme and not because they are
all NIMBY drivers of gas guzzling 4 X 4 cars as is often disingenuously argued by pro-tram
supporters but because they can see that the tram is not the optimum mode for this particular
corridor and represents a very costly experiment by the Mayor with the people of West London
as the guinea pigs and the London taxpayers as the funders.
It is worth noting that trolleybuses have misleadingly been described by TfL as 'unproven
technology' [tell that to the citizens of those cities who have been travelling on them
throughout almost all of the 20th Century!], whilst the trams have been likened to the [totally
different] systems in both Croydon and Nottingham. There is a small outbreak of honesty on
the current TfL website
press release of 22 September 2005 which includes this statement:
TfL is bringing forward detailed modelling work to undertake it before an application for a
Transport and Works Order. Some of this work would more usually be done later in the project
This change is a reflection of the complex nature of the West London Tram project, which
would be the first modern fully street-running tram in the UK and of likely needs for
information that have become clear in the light of recent public inquiries.
So what really is the answer as to which mode is 'tried and tested'? Is it trolleybuses that
operate successfully in and out of traffic on their own rights of way and on both lesser used and
congested streets in over 300 cities in the world or 'the first modern fully street-running tram
in the UK' [TfL's own words] using the largest vehicles ever on a UK street?