Difficulties involved in utility / services diversion for street running trams

See also: https://bathtrams.uk/cms/wp-admin/post.php?post=5637&action=edit

Dear Dave,

                Relating to recent correspondence in the press I would like to make a point about Utilities in streets to be developed for tram services. I can agree with your correspondents that we as a nation need to do better; but having been involved in a survey of utilities myself (for a possible Greenwich Waterfront Transit) I think the problems are a bit more complex than some of your correspondents imagine.

It is suggested that before awarding a contract the tram promoters should undertake a full and thorough survey of what utilities exist in the streets. In theory the owners of every pipe cable and wire under any public highway are required to have accurate plans of all their apparatus under the highways. In reality many do not achieve that . One reason is that during times of war i.e. about 12% of the 20 century only urgent repairs were made to utilities and due to staff shortages; and proper records were not always made or kept. Also the obligation to deposit as built plans with the highway authority rests with private utilities companies and all too often they deposit the as agreed plans and not the as built, which can be different. Having the plans of where the utilities are in plan does not tell you anything about what condition 80 year old pipes will be in, nor in some cases their precise depth below the current road surface.

Actually what the tram promoter will end up paying for is a negotiated settlement which is only partly related to what is actually there. If you are certain the tram system will be built down a particular road because there is no other alternative route alignment and it is beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a large diameter old and leaking gas main there then you don’t need any additional information; that highway will have to be dug up anyway and there is no benefit in paying for “a full and thorough survey”.

What the tram promoter will pay depends on several  things :-

  • The evidence of as found utilities in situ
  • Who wins the arguments about betterment values. Meaning if a pipe is within 10 years of its expected end of life the tram promoter should only pay for 10% or less of the cost of a like for like replacement elsewhere; whatever the utility company actually constructs.
  • Whether the tram promoters can convince both the highway authority and the utility company the new shallow depth types of track, which your correspondents recommend,  will do what they claim to be able to do for 30 years. Some will have difficulty and will be called “unproven”; perhaps unjustifiably, but we don’t know for sure in all cases.
  • Most important is the fact that the many convoluted costly and delaying negotiations between all the involved parties and their expensive lawyers will be by reference to the rules of engagement . That is Government regulations and advice endorsed by Parliament.

There is widespread agreement among tram promoters that at the last attempt of Parliament to improve the regulations with “clarity”, they actually also loaded the dice against the tram promoters and in favour of the newly privatised utilities undertakers.

Therefore what I recommend to Bath Trams and to your readers of the press is that they should all write to the Minister for Trams urging her to review Government advice and regulations about which types of utilities need to be relocated, how betterment claims must be calculated, who must independently judge which track systems are proven and which not; and most important how costs are shared and which utilities relocations tram promoters will in all cases definitely not be required to pay for.

Regarding the last item in the list I suggest:-

                Any gas pipe which is constructed from cast iron or ductile iron pipes. Any water main which has caulked joints less than 20ft apart. Any sewer which has been visually internally inspected and found to be leaking. Any other apparatus which is more than 70 years old. For the very good reason that all such apparatus is, or will be, leaking before the tram rails will need to be replaced. The tram promoters should be empowered to require utilities companies to remove or abandon such failing utilities apparatus at no cost to the tram promoters.

Fortunately the Minster for Trams, Jesse Norman MP has just this week sent me and other tram experts a letter advising that he has launched a “call for evidence inviting views on how the public and private sectors can help to harness the opportunities for light rail …..” responses via weblink http://bit.ly/2t5PXhV. will be welcomed.

                                From R.I. Chard; M.Phil. (architecture) B.A. (technology) Dip.TP. Consents and approvals expert for rail based public transport.