10th February 2020

The tram network is one of the UK’s most historic transportation systems. But, in 1950, ‘Operation Tramaway’ obliterated most of the UK’s networks. Car ownership has since soared in the UK and bus usage has significantly declined. 

With passengers now more concerned than ever with environmental issues and congestion rates, is it time to return to our tram network? 

Why did we stop? 

Electric trams boomed in the UK in the 1900s. However, the dawn of the car saw Britain turn its back on the light rail. The amount of people using their cars to get from A to B has since increased on a massive scale. Light rail also found itself competing with the bus network which had the flexibility of no rails or overhead electrical wires. 

The decline of the tram really began in the aftermath of the war. Urban planners were suddenly much more focused on a car-centric redevelopment of cities. Even now, while tram use is at a record high of 268 million journeys, they only account for 3.1% of all public transport journeys made

Despite the evidence of success from other countries leading the way in tram travel, UK urban planners seem to remain solely focused on road and rail infrastructure. 

Environmental Benefits

According to Metrolink, making your journey by car produces approximately 123g of carbon emissions per kilometer versus the tram at just 54g. With those figures in mind, passengers who are looking for a more sustainable way of getting to where they need to be may find the tram a more green alternative. 

Tram systems boast a number of environmentally friendly features. First and foremost, they’re powered by electricity, which is now being produced by more modern, cleaner and greener sources. Even the tyres are more sustainable; trams have steel wheels which, once worn down, can be recycled more efficiently than their rubber car tyre counterparts. 

Aside from the energy benefits, trams are highly unlikely to cause you a headache. The light railway causes almost no noise to a city centre apart from their warning horns to pedestrians and traffic, cutting the noise pollution levels dramatically. 

The Edinburgh Network

Edinburgh lost nearly all it’s suburban rail system in the 1960s, but as bus usage was high and car ownership low, it seemed all was well. However, large redevelopment of the Leith Waterfront and increasing car ownership (meaning increased congestion) put higher demands on the public transport infrastructure. The city decided that reinstating the trams was the only viable solution.

The project hit many hurdles during its construction. There was a level of scepticism about whether it had all been worthwhile. However, after some teething problems and a new timetable, the tram network in Edinburgh began to prove itself. In recent years, customer satisfaction with light rail has skyrocketed (Nottingham’s network received 96%!). Despite the bumps in the road, other cities across the UK are now exploring the possibility of further networks being built.

With the carbon footprint high on both the political and social agenda, it will be interesting to see what the future holds when it comes to the light railway.  Electric cars will undoubtedly become a worthy competitor to the tram, but with frustrations around road congestion on the rise, who will ultimately come out on top? 

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