Tram-trains: a European Comparison of Regulatory Solutions, Appraisals and Effectiveness.

Tram-trains: a European Comparison of Regulatory Solutions, Appraisals and Effectiveness.


Karol Tyszka, WSP UK Limited


This paper compares regulatory, appraisal and effectiveness issues surrounding tram-train projects in France, Germany and the UK (Sheffield-Rotherham).


Since the implementation of the first project in Karlsruhe in the beginning of the 1990s, tram-trains have been advertised as one of the most important developments in rail-based transport in Europe of recent years. Where implemented, tram-trains have mostly proven to be a very effective tool in the competition with the motor car for the suburban commuter and leisure markets. Tram-trains combine the advantages of both heavy and light rail, as they allow the same vehicles to run both on-street mixed with road traffic, and to share rail lines with conventional trains. They offer a seamless journey by getting customers within walking distance to their actual destination in the city centre, rather than just the main railway station.
In recent years, there have been many instances where disused heavy rail alignments have been converted to pure light-rail operation, thus playing to light rail’s key strengths – the ability to accelerate and decelerate rapidly, and to operate both on- and off-street. However, such schemes have only been possible in situations where there is a redundant alignment. Many other rail lines which are still active could benefit from the advantages that light rail has to offer, without the need for a costly complete conversion of the heavy rail line to light rail, which also causes a loss of heavy rail custom and an overall loss of network flexibility. Tram-train schemes also benefit the heavy rail network by reducing pressure on capacity at congested rail terminals.
However, the number of implemented schemes has been much lower than would be expected of a solution with so many apparent advantages. Since 1992, only 14 tram-train systems have opened, with a further one in Sheffield, UK, due to open in 2015. Aside from Sheffield, these have all opened in only three countries – Germany, France and the USA.
This paper examines three aspects of selected tram train projects in Germany and France, and draws comparisons between these schemes and the proposed scheme in Sheffield. The three aspects of the schemes are as follows:
■ the resolution of regulatory differences between tram and heavy rail. It examines the solutions adopted to enable vehicles to share their right of way with cars and pedestrians on one hand, and with heavy rail on the other hand.
■ the issue of appraising such schemes: how are costs and benefits classified? How is the scheme compared against other transport schemes?
■ the question of effectiveness. What are the ridership figures of the scheme and how do they compare with figures achieved by rail/tram operating separately along the routes in question?
This paper is a piece of primary research, which is ongoing and will be completed by the end of the first half of 2014. The author has 7 years’ professional experience of working as an economist and timetabling specialist in the UK rail industry. He also has an in-depth understanding of the regulatory and safety requirements of light rail and heavy rail operations both in the UK and in Germany.


Association for European Transport