Network Rail has published a strategy weighing up the benefits of tram, light rail and rapid transit systems.
The Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS): Alternative Solutions, designed to inform and influence industry decision-makers, has identified five main areas that may provide options for growing the network in the future other than by expanding heavy rail.
These areas include further use of trams, tram trains that can run on street tramway and rail networks, hybrid light rail that uses energy saving technology like flywheels, innovative ideas for electrification and further expansion of community rail initiatives to involve communities in their local railway.
It also considers the role that bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, which run for part of their route on a dedicated busway possibly built on a section of former railway line, and guided bus systems, which are similar but run on railway-like guided route rather than a busway.
The study also considers the potential of personal rapid transit (PRT), like the driverless pods running on rails currently used in locations such as Heathrow terminal 5, to increase access to the rail network by transporting travellers to stations.
Network Rail’s group strategy director Paul Plummer says: "To maintain the mandate to further invest in our railway, the industry has to demonstrate a clear commitment to greater efficiency and cost effectiveness.
“This means being open to alternative solutions and we hope that this new study will prompt fresh thinking and debate about the best way to deliver an improved rail network that meets the needs of all stakeholders."
The study was compiled following two 60-day consultation periods with industry representatives and providing there are no objections the strategy will be established by the Office of Rail Regulation after a further 60-day period.
The study was also able to draw on the practical experience of new developments like the Paisley Canal electrification scheme, in which the use of extended neutral sections beneath bridges has substantially reduced cost and complexity.
The introduction of flywheel technology-based hybrid light rail on the Stourbridge Town branch and the development of the Rotherham-Sheffield tram train pilot were also taken into account.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s head of policy Paul Davies says: "The IET welcomes Network Rail's work to define how alternative technologies can better serve urban and local transport in the UK.
“This is a field in which the UK is seeing considerable engineering innovation: for example in the development of people movers, guided busways and ‘tram trains’ and new generation trolley buses.
“Application of engineering skills and technologies is leading to more efficient and passenger-friendly public transport."
A copy of Network Rail RUS: Alternative Solutions is available here.