Cost of service diversion do not rule out trams, Edinburgh notwithstanding


Dear all,

                My expertise in this is that as part of the design and costing work for the proposed Greenwich Waterfront Transit (GWT)project (tram technology option) I did a desk top cost evaluation of the costs of utilities relocations in Woolwich. It was agreed that for that project utilities costs would be significant and that was a reason why the alternative option of an electronically guided busway was eventually preferred; but subsequently also abandoned for different reasons. There are some important facts about utilities costs which are not mentioned in David Rumney’s letter which are :-

  1. There are about 20 different types of “utilities”; some types are very costly to relocate and some have virtually no cost to relocate.
  2. Not every type of utility is found in every street. We do not know yet what we have in Bath.
  3. In virtually all new highways constructed since about 1960 no utilities are located under the carriageway at shallow depth; and therefore no relocations are necessary or required.
  4. Therefore because of 1-3 above the % of a tram project’s cost which goes to utilities relocations is very variable on a range from 0% to more than 25%
  5. Therefore in a city such as Milton Keynes which is entirely built since 1960 a tram system would have no utilities relocation costs at all.
  6. Therefore in a city such as Edinburgh, which has an abundance of every type of ancient and dilapidated utilities it is inevitable that utilities reconstruction costs will be not just above average but exceptionally high.
  7. Therefore the part of the proposed GWT tram route in old Woolwich had exceptionally high utilities relocation cost estimates and the part in newer Thamesmead had almost zero relocation costs.
  8. Legislation pursuant to the New Roads and Street works Act defines how the costs of any agreed, or not agreed, utilities relocation costs will be negotiated and “shared” between the tram promoter and the highway owners. Parliament can and has in the past, changed the rules of engagement. This applies whether public money is involved or not.
  9. Obviously Edinburgh could have negotiated poorly, underestimated the risks and signed up to a very poor deal. Some commentators say that they did just that, and set a new UK and world record for incompetence and high utilities relocation costs.
  10. MOST IMPORTANT; technology improves all the time and allows tram projects all over the world to do everything better and at lower cost. Tram track technology is no exception. All the above historic costs are now irrelevant because in future about 90% of what used to be “necessary” relocations are no longer “necessary” if LR55 track is used; and it can be used almost everywhere, including in Bath.
  11. Unfortunately even as the Preston Tram line 1 is being built with LR55 track for ULR tramcars, to eliminate all utilities relocation costs from that tram system, the WS Atkins report to Bath Council has assumed that Bath will only have old style slab track with costs similar to Edinburgh. That assumption is not inevitable and is therefore wrong and unhelpful.

Bob Chard,  Member of the ULR Group of UK Tram