Work starts on the Edinburgh tram scheme

Following the decision of the SNP-run Scottish Executive to abide by the Scottish Parliament's desire for the Edinburgh tram scheme to go ahead, work has started on the utility diversion work in preparation for laying the tracks.

As they are a form of electric street transit, trams have the desirable features of producing no fumes in the streets, being more efficient than vehicles powered by diesel engines, being able to run on renewable energy and being more attractive to passengers than diesel buses running on the same routes.

This site came into existence because a general lack of knowledge of trolleybuses, an alternative form of electric street transit to trams. Trolleybuses offer a more affordable and less financially risky alternative to trams but with many of their benefits. However, during the development of the tram scheme there was no cost-benefit analysis of trolleybuses carried out, and the official reasons for not investigating them were questionable.

For a while it looked as though Edinburgh might lose out on electric street transit because of the unwillingness of the SNP to pay for the tram and because politicians were not aware of the more affordable alternative of trolleybuses. In the event, trolleybuses were not required to save Edinburgh's electric street transit plans.

In the course of the debate on trams following the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections:

  • All MSPs and councillors were provided with information about trolleybuses
  • Trolleybuses have featured in a Scotsman article, and letters to the Evening News
  • A number of MSPs have engaged with the arguements both privately and in public, for example LibDem Cllr Phil Wheeler's letter to the Scotsman and SNP MSP Alex McNeill's mention of trolleybuses on Newsnight Scotland
  • Members of the public have engaged with the arguments, for example in comments on the Scotsman website, and on the tramfacts site.

It therefore seems fair to say that politicians were aware of trolleybuses as an alternative to trams.

Now that the Edinburgh tram scheme is going ahead, this site will continue promoting on-street electric transit in Scotland by raising awareness of modern trolleybuses.

Trolleybuses on BBC Newsnight Scotland

The tramfacts site reported that an SNP MSP had mentioned trolleybuses on Newsnight Scotland. Unfortunately I found out too late to watch the programme on the BBC News player, but this comment on the Scotman website reports that Alex Neill MSP mentioned the trolleybus system planned for Leeds.

In response to the comment made on the tramfacts site about trams still being investigated in Leeds, this is true, but the trams mentioned in the West Yorkshire metro site are really "tram-trains" which are designed to run on exsiting heavy rail lines for most of their routes. These are not the type of trams currently planned for Edinburgh, which will use no existing railway lines.

Response to Phil Wheeler's letter in the Scotsman

On Saturday, Phil Wheeler, Executive member for transport and infrastructure on Edinburgh Council, had a letter in the Scotsman. Here are responses to the points he makes:

  • In San Francisco, Seattle and Salzburg, passenger numbers increase by 10-18% whenever diesel buses are replaced with trolleybuses - this figure could be higher with the visually-appealing trolleybuses found in cities such as Lyon and Milan.
  • The trolleybus network currently planned for Leeds will indeed cost hundreds of millions of pounds, but far from having a "lower return on investment" than trams, the cost benefit ratio is over 2.5. This is significantly higher than for the Leeds "Supertram" scheme previously denied funding by the English Department for Transport.
  • Cllr Wheeler suggested that trolleybuses are not trustworthy because they can steer round obstructions and run without wires for short distances. Wires are a "permanent public transport solution" and trolleybuses would only be diverted from them when strictly necessary.
  • The benefits of trolleybuses may be "less-enticing" - but not by much. According to West Yorkshire Metro, the Leeds trolleybus network will "deliver many of the congestion-busting benefits that Supertram would have provided, with greater flexibility for future extension into other areas".

Evening News letter: Trolley good idea for city bus solution

In response to an article in the Evening News by SNP Cllr Steve Cardownie, this letter by David Sterratt of Scottish Electric Transit has appeared in the Evening News. Here's an exerpt:

IF Steve Cardownie is committed to eco-friendly public transport, why does he propose hydrogen buses (Tram plan just does not add up, Evening News, June 18), which are about as efficient as old-fashioned steam locomotives, and hybrid buses, which still emit unhealthy pollutants in our streets?

Read the full letter on the Evening News site.

The Times: Trolleybuses return after 35 years

Excerpts from a report in The Times on the Leeds proposals:

Trolleybuses are to return after an absence of 35 years in an attempt to rid cities of diesel fumes and tempt drivers out of their cars with the offer of smoother, faster journeys.

... modern articulated trolleybuses, which operate in dozens of European cities such as Lyons, Milan, Rome and Athens, have either batteries or small diesel engines that enable them to operate under their own power if the lines come down or the route is blocked. In normal service, they are much quieter than diesel buses and produce no harmful emissions.

Trolleybuses on TV

In Leeds, proposals for a modern trolleybus system are progressing. For more information, Click here to see a BBC TV report in BBC Media Player. The report shows modern trolleybuses at work in Lyon, France.

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