Tram-train technology to be tested in UK

Britain is to have tram-trains for the first time, with a trial planned for a railway line in Yorkshire.

Five new tram-trains, which can run on both railway tracks and tram lines, will replace conventional trains currently used on the 37-mile (60km) Penistone Line between Huddersfield, Barnsley and Sheffield. The line, which has 17 stations, is not electrified.

Because tram-trains are lighter than conventional trains, they use less fuel and cause less wear and tear on tracks, therefore reducing the need for maintenance works and increasing asset life. With faster acceleration and deceleration rates they can also offer passengers better journey times.

The trial, which starts in 2010 and will take two years, will look at the environmental benefits, operating costs and technical suitability of the tram-trains as well as testing how popular they are with passengers on the route.

Talks are still under way about a possible second phase, which would see the tram-trains run into the heart of Sheffield on the Supertram network. That would provide an opportunity for on-street tests of the vehicles and the concept, including an assessment of whether city-centre running would persuade people to switch from private car use. A new link would have to be created between the heavy rail and tramway networks.

The project is a partnership between the Department for Transport, the train operator Northern Rail and rail infrastructure owner Network Rail and seeks to establish whether tram-trains similar to those operating successfully in Europe are suitable for Britain's railway network.

Northern Rail, which is owned by Serco-Ned Railways, will run a competition for manufacturers to build the vehicles, which Northern will lease. Network Rail will spend £15m on track improvements and alterations to stations as part of the trial, representing a significant investment in the route. DfT will contribute £9m to fund the operation of the trial while Northern will bring experience from Europe through Ned Railways who operate tram-trains in The Netherlands.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said the tram-trains would bring faster journeys and offer a greener travel option for passengers in Yorkshire. Passenger feedback would be a vital ingredient in determining the success of the trial, she said.

Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, said: "This trial gives us a fantastic opportunity to see whether the types of technologies used in Europe can be adapted for use on our systems. We expect the lighter vehicles will result in less wear on the infrastructure - extending its lifespan, improve journey times and give the option of running future commuter services closer into city centres.

"We want to use the trial to get evidence about the practicalities of the tram-trains and assess how beneficial they will be to the UK. The partnership between Network Rail, the DfT and Northern Rail ensures that the needs of passengers, operators, the infrastructure operator and the local and wider community are all represented."

The Penistone Line, one of the most successful Community Rail Partnerships, has been chosen for the trial because it offers the chance to test the tram-trains on a route that in part is for passenger services only and in part for passenger and freight trains.

Image: A tram-train in Kassel, Germany

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