A four car electric train. The £250m cost of NGT would buy 60 trains like this.
In practice the NGT scheme would produce nothing that could not be achieved by conventional double decker buses in well maintained condition, on good roads, and to a specification at least compatible with that of Yorkshire Coastliner and Harrogate and District (Transdev) vehicles. Bendy buses, diesel or trolley, increase congestion because of their 80% increase in length with no increase in payload and a diesel bendy bus is roughly twice the cost of the double decker. The trolley bus is dearer still, partly on account of the smaller production volume. Mainly used in former Russian and Eurasion states the penalties in this country of using small isolated fleets with regard to spares and operating costs should not be under estimated. There are none currently in Britain and relatively few in Western Europe.
I am amazed at the promoters’ claims that the scheme will result in a projected increase in the annual GDP of Leeds of £176million, creation of 4,250 jobs and a substantial reduction in the City’s carbon footprint. At best these figures are nebulous and at worst economical with the truth. Five years on from its conception and at least six years estimated before completion it should be rebranded Next Generation Transport. These timescales are ridiculous for the solution of a problem that exists now. Surely it cries out for some highway improvements and a small injection of new up to date off the shelf buses to give benefit now without dipping into and wasting the DfT funding which would better be transferred to a sensible light rail scheme on the right route as allowed for in the Early Day Motion submitted to Parliament on 4 July. Thorpe Park to Leeds City Centre suggests itself as an easily realisable cost effective high speed tramway from a catchment point with great park and ride and local development potential for which the major cost could come out of the trolley bus funding. Couple this tramway and park and ride facility with a railway station at Thorpe Park (not Micklefield) and the combined effect on relieving traffic congestion would be enormous. Thorpe Park, at Junction 46 on the M1 with existing and expandable access to the M1, is not only an already committed growth area in itself but is the one place most ideally situated to absorb traffic heading into Leeds from most other areas of high population. Motorists will leave their cars for a fast frequent tramway service into the city centre or for a train to other destinations but they will not do so for a bus, diesel or trolley, which then stops every few yards to pick up the locals or serve the local hospital. There is no such thing as a fit all solution as hinted at by NGT.
A sobering thought is that the cost suggested for the NGT scheme would alternatively buy 60 four-car (240 vehicles) 100mph electric trains. I know which would produce the best return on capital and the greenest footprint. Under present operating conditions to replace NGT the bus companies would provide the standard buses as a normal part of their everyday business and take the commercial risk.
There are more opportunities available now for easing the transport difficulties than have been possible for some time. What is needed is a more pragmatic approach.
As well as being a former Leeds Councillor and now an Honorary Alderman, Don Townsley is a Chartered Engineer and Transport Consultant with a proven track record over more than fifty years.