Tram revival comes off the rails as five projects vetoed over costs
THE year 2005 could go down as the bleakest for trams since the last one disappeared from Britain's streets, in Glasgow, in 1962.
Despite something of a renaissance over the past decade, with trams reintroduced in five cities, three new schemes have come off the rails this year.
The government's rejection of plans for Liverpool, Portsmouth and Leeds follows last year's red light for an extension of the Manchester Metrolink and for the upgrading of Blackpool's ageing system.
Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, who is responsible for trams in England, launched Nottingham's scheme - the last one to be completed - in March last year. But he has halted every subsequent project.
He vetoed Liverpool's Merseytram proposals in June after being asked to increase the government's contribution from 170 million to 238 million. Its developers agreed last week to seek a judicial review.
The number of local authorities involved - compared with only one for Edinburgh's scheme - is understood to have been a factor in the cost increase.
Last month, the Leeds Supertram project suffered a similar fate, with Mr Darling ruling that its cost was "much higher than originally planned".
He said: "The value today is 486 million - compared with the approved figure in 2001 of 355 million. Clearly it does not represent the best value for money for the people of Leeds or the best use of public money."
The Transport Secretary had also commissioned a study that showed a rapid bus system could be cheaper and better value.
Two weeks ago, he announced he could not support revised plans for the South Hampshire Rapid Transit scheme, linking Fareham and Gosport with Portsmouth, as costs had "escalated considerably". The project had been slimmed down after being rejected by Mr Darling last year, but he said the latest costs were nearly 50 per cent higher than originally planned. That was, in part, blamed on the need for a deeper tunnel under Portsmouth harbour to accommodate larger warships.
Manchester is planning a new bid for funding for its Metrolink extension, while London is the only other city with tram proposals still being actively pursued: these include an extension of the Croydon line to Crystal Palace, a line between Shepherd's Bush and Uxbridge, and a cross-Thames route running through Euston and Waterloo.
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