Mass transit system to be discussed by transport chiefs

30 January 2020

A third attempt at bringing a mass transit system to West Yorkshire is set to be discussed by regional authority leaders next week, writes Richard Beecham.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) is looking to ‘accelerate’ early plans to fund the building of a rail-based system, adding its research suggests a state-of-the-art battery powered service could be likely.

Early plans revealed in 2018 – dubbed as ‘the start of a conversation’ by transport chiefs – features a route that could run from Leeds city centre to Holbeck, Armley, Bramley and Pudsey before heading into Bradford and North Kirklees, ending at Dewsbury.

It’s unclear whether transport bosses are still considering the same routes in their latest plans.

It follows calls from regional leaders last month urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to commit £20m to help them develop a Leeds mass transit system he had promised after the December general election.

Previous attempts at bringing a tram system and trolleybus to the city were scrapped in 2005 and 2016 respectively. But a paper published by WYCA, which looks after large transport and infrastructure projects in the region, claims ‘early preparatory works’ must now take place for mass transit in West Yorkshire.

It added ‘further capital approval’ would be sought for such a scheme this spring.

The document stated:

“With announcements likely around future funding of mass transit during the next few months, the project team is now looking to accelerate work, with capital funding approvals likely to be sought at the April 2020 Combined Authority for further mass transit development.”

It later added:

“In a post-Brexit world, there is a need for a transport system worthy of a region that is seeking to compete on a global stage. There is a significant opportunity to truly transform the transport system over the next decade through blending best in class, innovative technologies to create a 21st Century mass transit system.”

The report claims WYCA has conducted market testing on future technologies for tram travel, concluding battery technologies were ‘likely to be the most viable option’, and that this could mean avoiding the use of overhead wires.

It also added autonomous cars were ‘not a solution to mass transit’, and would be ‘likely to make congestion worse’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the commons in December that his government would “remedy the scandal that Leeds should be the largest city in Western Europe without light rail or a metro”.

A recent Leeds City Region Transforming Cities Fund submission included a £20 million ‘ask’ for mass transit development funding as well as a commitment to see it delivered from central government.

In late 2018, WYCA raised eyebrows by discussing a ‘tube’-style map – featured at the top of this article – indicating the communities most likely to be served by mass transit.

In 2016, plans to build a £250m trolley bus network in Leeds were rejected by the Government, following a report from a planning inspector who said the scheme was “not in the public interest”.

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