More letters supporting trams following John Carson’s anti-Edinburgh and anti-Bath Tram letters in the Bath Chronicle

Plain text versions of letters:
Dear Sir,

John Carson,  misreports the intent of the Letter last week mentioning Edinburgh trams. The letter he takes issue with was not (as he implies) upholding Edinburgh as a good example of a tram system, but merely pointing out that trams  encourage the use of park and rides compared with when served by  the previous bus service and furthermore that Edinburgh trams are now extremely popular. In other words trams by being acceptable to car drivers have much greater “pulling-power” than buses to attract car drivers thereby cutting congestion and pollution.

The problem that has held back British Trams is precisely because heavy rail engineers  with little knowledge of short stage urban passenger transport design or requirements, have installed rail systems that could accommodate heavy freight trains, ignoring continental experience and  modern track systems that do not require service to be diverted.  It is taking the heavy rail approach ( and not using the correct off the shelf standard contract, or doing a proper utility service survey before hand)  which is why Edinburgh cost £70m / km, whereas in Europe its about £13m/km. Bath Trams advocate the same approach, by people with knowledge of light rail, which do not require large scale utility diversions.
Christine Sparrowhawk

Dear Sir,
I read with interest the letter from John Carson last  week condemning the Edinburgh tram, but it was not held up as a model example of a well planned & constructed tram system.

But the simple fact that it has become an increasingly attractive mode of public transport with ridership rising year on year and as such, pressure to extend the tram network in Edinburgh.

The lessons learnt from the Edinburgh tram project were:

The Edinburgh tram route was built using traditional train / track design for axle loads of say 19 tonnes whereas a typical tram car axle exerts about 3 tonnes per axle so the incorrect design solution led to significant additional costs in the build, not least excessive service diversions & the delays that solution ultimately inflicted on the project.

Alternative purpose designed, prefabricated tram track systems mean tram track systems can be laid at shallow depth, reducing the time to lay the infrastructure & removing the need to shift and or reinforce underground services & other issues like vaulted basements ( encountered in Dublin)  en-mass
Equally, they did not thoroughly survey the route and consider the extent & cost of service diversions before awarding contracts.

Edinburgh Council set up an arm’s length company, originally chaired by the head of social services, not an engineer.
The management team used a complicated and expensive contract which enabled the contractor to pass responsibility & costs back to the Company

It is also worth stating that trams & infrastructure have a life of 40 years, so the costs can be financed at lower rates over the long term and future users also pay their fair share.- Unlike other forms of public transport.

From what I can glean from the Bath Trams website there is a wealth of information & data there that has been compiled from tram projects across the UK & Europe & which underpins the vision to re-introduce trams to Bath & suggest that you arrange to meet with them to discuss your specific concerns & reservations

G Charman


Dear Sir,

John Carson, ( letters last week) may well be an expert in heavy rail and a chartered engineer, however his letter contains a number of errors or distortions.

He takes issue with holding up Edinburgh as a glowing example of a tram system, but in fact trams have much greater power to attract car drivers and encourage them to use park and ride sites compared to buses. The Edinburgh system is now extremely popular with users whatever the initial problems, the main P+R site is full during business hours and would benefit from being extended.

The airport service he decries has been a great success and is very well used, the  route also takes in many financial office areas, large retail parks and  interconnects with heavy rail at 4 locations. Also the passenger numbers  are 1m more than forecast last year with the service now at 7 minute  frequency for much of the day, something a bus service with its high  perational costs cannot match. I use the service most weeks and  standing loads are not uncommon even at non peak times. At peak hours  the conductors cannot move to check tickets and often escape into the  back cab to avoid the crush. This system is working well and apart from  the dreadful contractual debacle is a great success.

He ignores that fact that because a tram system lasts for 40 years, it makes sense to borrow money over the life of the scheme at low interest rates to ensure that future generations who will benefit pay a share. Buses are normally financed over 5 years and have to be correspondingly financed at higher interest rates over the short term.

John Carson ignores the “Oslo” effect which proves that motor road based transport in built
up areas is very heavily polluting from not only poisonous exhaust emissions, but additionally rubber tyre  wear, clutch and brake particles in atmosphere. Steel tram tyre wear is  heavy and washes away and is not present in the air we breathe.

The key takeaways from Edinburgh are:

  • Do not as install a quite unnecessary Heavy Rail solution, ( Edinburgh tram could carry a 2000 tonne mineral train!) but use some of the modern methods of tram installation which do not require deep excavations and service diversion.
  • Do not use complex bespoke contracts, but use one of the many standard well understood contracts.
  • Carry out a proper and thorough buried services survey before letting the contract.


George Murray