Bob Fowler, Project Manager for Bristol City Council Rapid Transit, on 13 May 2003

This paper described the long history of this project. It is an epic tale of survival through persistence.

Definition of required vehicle:

During a thorough examination of all the available options for a 'Rapid Transit' system in Bristol, the conventional tram was the winner at every stage of the process - A low floor railed vehicle on 4' 8.½" (1.435m.) steel tracks with 750v DC electrical power from overhead wire - taking Croydon and Sheffield as examples.

History of the Project

1) Advanced Transport for Avon (1980s)

A comprehensive map was drawn up covering all of ‘greater’ Bristol with a network of lines, some in tunnels. It was originally to be an entirely private-sector funded initiative but there was no easy way for a private funder to capture a proportion of the increased land values. The ‘Section 56’ funding route was seen as a better way because it takes account of non-user-benefits (land values, employment, environment etc).

In 1988-9 powers were obtained for routes to Portishead, Bradley Stoke and the City centre by Private Bill in Parliament. It failed initially through lack of political support, which led to loss of funding support.

2) Avon Rapid Transit Study (later "the Westway")

This used public sector funding based on Section 56. A policy was in place because Avon had done a huge land use/environmental/transport study, which clearly showed a tram system was needed in the overall scheme. It comprised a network of 6 lines, including one from the Centre to Bradley Stoke and another around south Bristol.

The county of Avon was abolished before anything could be done.

3) Bristol Integrated Transport & Environmental Study (1990)

This identified the best way of meeting members’ objectives: Environmental, economic, strategic, local needs, accessibility and regeneration. The ‘Transport Plan for the Avon Area’, was based on the performance of strategies in a complex matrix to promote modal shift. The best performer was a combination of Rapid Transit plus road pricing (a revolutionary idea in 1990).


4) Bristol & S.Gloucestershire Rapid Transit

Methods of funding had changed (due to failure of the Sheffield tram system to achieve the promised payback). Instead of a Section 56 ‘lump sum’, the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) ‘mortgage’ arrangement was preferred. The private sector was involved from the outset to share the costs of initial planning. Railtrack became an ‘associate partner’ to avoid becoming a ‘railway/tram operator’.

The outline business case was submitted in August 1998. The City Centre to Bradley Stoke route running on a railway corridor from Temple Meads to Abbey Wood, with an extension north to the motorway junction cost £101m with 60% from private funding. This costing was very accurate because of involvement of the private sector and the business case was checked by the bank involved.

Central Government then turned pro-bus and stopped tram schemes. Only Nottingham could proceed – if successful, it would show the way but use all the money. South Hampshire and Leeds were both similarly delayed by 2.5 years and members of the Bristol consortium lost interest.

Finally a Govt White paper, ETRA and the 10-year transport plan all supported light rail, especially mentioning Bristol. The Bristol LTP offered simultaneously: transport provision, land use planning and traffic restraint – which appealed to Government, particularly having both ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’.

The plan got underway but because of the 2.5-year delay, the whole case had to be re-validated. The cost was now £194m but the benefit/cost ratio was positive and passed all Government tests. There were issues with M5 Junction 16 and the state of Railtrack but the money was available (March 2001).

At this point, faced with putting promise into reality, South Glouscestershire Council got ‘cold feet’. They wanted to reconsider the location of the northern terminus and the route to it. Instead of going east from Abbey Wood through the University of the West of England and then NE, they wanted to go west to the shopping mall at Cribbs Causeway. Bristol argued that the core route was viable and should go ahead but S.Glouscester could re-assess their alternative proposal. By Christmas 2002, the Bristol route to Parkway showed a positive cost/benefit ratio but the S.Glouscester route didn’t - so Bristol is going ahead, with an extension (ultimately to Cribbs Causeway?) safeguarded as a future possibility.

The Route

The key characteristic of a tram is predictability. Its pathway is predictable, its arrival is predictable, its routing is predictable. This gives confidence for long-term land use, business and domestic planning. Car use will become more difficult and locating near a tramway will become an increasingly important factor.

Whilst some people oppose a tramway, many people will welcome or even demand it. The University of West of England (UWE) put up a good case for relocating the tramway towards their campus, so that is the current plan.

From Bonnington Walk (near Filton Junction) to Temple Meads the four-line railway track has been reduced to two tracks. The project will replace the two missing tracks and use the western side with 750v DC overhead. Stapleton Road and Lawrence Hill stations will be equipped with separate platforms for trains and low-floor trams. The increase in rail demand may mean that the tram track has to be be shared with heavy rail but this two-track ‘Filton Bank’ bottleneck is only one of many in the area so may not be as strategically important as many people suppose. Studies show that trams will reduce rail demand on this stretch of track.

The City Centre of Bristol is an odd shape with stretches of water and few bridges. Nearly all of the City Centre track is street-running. Early in the project there were no suitable examples of modern street-running tramways in England and there was a great problem with perception. People believed that there would be a huge increase in cycling accidents, that ‘trains’ couldn’t go down streets, that pedestrians and motorists wouldn’t know how to react to a tram in traffic. Now there are plenty of examples that trams do not cause these problems.

The tram comes off the railway on the western side of Temple Meads station and crosses the Bath Road just east of the new roundabout.

The roads and junctions used by the tram have all been planned on a worst-case basis and proved to work ‘as they are’. All the street-running area is within the future traffic-restraint zone, so, in future, it will probably work much better than planned. Redcliffe Way already has reduced traffic compared with 5 years ago.

The existing bascule bridge is unsuitable and will have to be replaced, preferably with a ‘showpiece’ structure. In European practice, a diagonal tramway alignment across Queen Square would be seen as enhancing public accessibility of an open space by sustainable means, but Bristol sees it as architecturally unsuitable, so the tramway diverts around the southern and western sides.

The route along Princes Street has only light traffic. The (Tramways) Centre has already been designed for the tram with statutory undertakers equipment being diverted. This is now a big environmental improvement over its previous use as a traffic island.

Tram stops are usually spaced at 1 per Km on radial routes and a little closer near the centre. At the northern end of the centre is a scissors crossing leading into a loop through the shopping centre (Quay St, Nelson St, Union St, Rupert St), anticlockwise to suit existing traffic flows.

All this has been planned in great detail ready to put a case to government.

Next Steps:

1) The Council are currently waiting for a letter of Government Approval for the scheme as now constituted (this is not mandatory, but makes step 2 easier and more positive).

2) Public consultation

3) Apply for ‘powers’, public enquiry

4) Secretary of State grants an ‘order’

5) Choose partner

6) Construction

7) Opening (at earliest, late 2008).

Tips for Bath:

Tenacity and patience.

Money to support a convincing but prolonged argument

Be prepared for a change in attitude when people who support the scheme in principle are asked to support it in practice.

Adrian Tuddenham


Q: Has the ease of interchange (e.g. in Germany) which comes from through-ticketing been considered?

A: We would hope so, but have no control. A common operator for buses and trams would almost certainly see the benefits of this. Having the politicians with you is extremely important.

Q :Why is there a need for a northern route when there is a perfectly good motorway? Will more congestion result from increased Park and Ride(P&R) use?

A: This route shows greatest benefit from increased capacity; it is only the first line of several (6?) routes. It has the greatest decongestion benefit. Changes in roads and road use as a result of the tram will prevent additional congestion resulting from increased use of P&R. Brislington and Long Ashton P&R hold 1,000 to 1,500 cars and remove 650,000 trips a year, a tram will carry 5,000,000 passenger per year; it is more than just a P&R service. It also gives regeneration and reliable and accessible transport facilities which nothing else is capable of.

Q: Singapore has devised a comprehensive public transport plan, but this one is not comprehensive as it should be.

A; That would not be practical in this country for social and political reasons. This project has demonstrated the difficulty of pushing through even a small change.

Q: How are costs assessed? Payback period? Environmental costs?

A: Capital and operating costs include a charge based on identifying and costing all risks associated with the project with an 80% probability of things going wrong. We can model and predict factors like reduction in car mileage and apply an average figure for particulate reduction. It is difficult but we try to do it and there are now examples to work from.

Q: There has been some shift in public attitude over 10 years and you are right that ‘predictability’ is the most important factor in convincing people. This does not seem to have fully got through to either public or politicians, how do we educate them?

Q: How many councillors are here tonight? [none] So how long do you think it will be before there are trams in Bath?

A: It is no use appearing to have a solution without a problem. Make sure you are seen to be solving a problem. Many things don’t work until the circumstances are right - when there is money in it, it will work.

Put forward the problem and the solution to it, be prepared to look at the alternatives (technology & route) and show what will happen if they are followed and if nothing is done. Assess opinions and educate people by showing how this will solve the problem.

Adrian Tuddenham