Government set to announce funding for light rail schemes

The government is expected to announce funding for light rail schemes within the next few weeks.

The government is expected to announce funding for light rail schemes in Leeds, Birmingham, South Hampshire and Bristol within the next few weeks.

After years of prevarication on light rail schemes, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is keen to get work started under its 10-year transport plan, which envisages the construction of 25 light rail schemes over the next 10 years.

The last completely new light rail scheme to be given the go-ahead was Nottingham’s four years ago. The first tranche of funding is set to be announced when the DETR responds to local authority transport plans early next month.

Leeds and South Hampshire are the front runners, having been through the planning process already. The other two may receive development funding, said an industry observer.

Leeds has had powers to build line one of its Supertram scheme — from a park and ride scheme near the M1/M621 to the city centre — since 1993 and a preferred bidder has been in place since 1996. A public inquiry into line two, to Headingley, and line three running east to the M62, was held in 1996, though no decision has been announced. Leeds Supertram project manager Steve Hemingway said. He expected the transport department to grant approval to the complete network of three lines, costing an estimated £434m.

The South Hampshire Rapid Transit phase one will link Fareham, Gosport and Portsmouth, and includes a new tunnel to be built under the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council expect an 18-month tendering process before construction of the £148m scheme can begin. They estimate it will take three years to build the line.

Centro, the West Midlands passenger transport authority, wants to build extensions to its existing Midland Metro through Birmingham city centre and from Wednesbury to Brierly Hill, at a cost of £193m.

Centro is hoping for a public inquiry decision by summer 2002, and to start construction in autumn 2003, with the lines entering service two years later.

Bristol and South Gloucestershire Rapid Transit line one, costing an estimated £120m, will run from Bristol city centre to Almondsbury, seven miles to the north. Bristol City Council expects to seek powers to build the line in 2001, allowing construction to start in mid-2002, with an estimated in-service date of 2005.