Cottbus, Brandenburg & Frankfurt an der Oder
The author stands next to Czech built Tatra K4D type 215 at the loop terminus of Route 6 of Frankfurt an der Oder tram system in 1995.
What do these three medium size towns in the east of Germany have in common? They are all in the German Federal State of Brandenburg, they all have tram systems, they are all needing to replenish their tram fleets with new low floor cars - and they are combining to place a joint order with a single supplier for a standard design common to all three systems. This important coordinated contract is attracting financial grants from the State Government as well as individual contributions from each of the municipalities.
This poses interesting economic value to emerging and expanding light rail systems in the north of England where so far each UK light rail operator has gone their own individual way in ordering trams from the relatively small number of tram manufacturers (none of which are building or assembling product in the UK). Each one of the current light rail operators in this country have managed to pursue wholly individual designs to date. Blackpool being no exception.
Whereas in Germany (the largest tramway operator in Europe) and France (fast catching up) have benefitted strategically from domestic suppliers capable of designing and constructing excellent new models which dominate their own manufacturer's markets with Alstom in France being an especially successful example going so far as to extend their sales to new systems in North Africa and the Near East, as well as Dublin's expanding network.
The UK having no indigenous tram manufacturer is entirely dependent on foreign imported units with no local value added content or development input. Witness the substantial and continuing contracts awarded by Metrolink to a single supplier in Germany, and the enormous potential of the West Midlands system on the verge of similarly expanding its network in a major conurbation.
Blackpool can in no way compare to such demographics but in conjunction with Preston's new tram scheme and the latent potential of Merseyside and the Wirral - a combined approach allowing of course for subtle styling differences and internal fit out - merits a similar collaborative approach to what are sizeable contracts likely to be sustainable over successive decades.
Ironically in the United States, the US Federal Government, which bankrolls capital spend on urban transport projects in a market now significantly moving towards light rail growth, has mandated that tram manufacturing requires more than 50% of local value content in new contracts. A consequence is the creation of new US assembly plants and design staffing by companies such as Siemens and others - benefitting from a burgeoning market.
The green climate change agenda of governments globally underlines importance of these trends and impact on light rail procurement - in this case in the UK. Announcements this week of plans by the Paris City Government to ban through road traffic entering the centre of the Paris Region - with exceptions for residents and locally based business: whilst similarly increases in charges to be imposed by the London authority on road vehicles that are not electric powered or hybrid power, provide evidence of the move away from carbon fuel - actually far away as this decade progresses.
Blackpool and the Fylde coast have yet to grasp meaningful restrictions on petrol and diesel emissions. A start will be mandating all public agencies convert their fleets immediately to electric or hybrid power, together with private hire and taxis (the latter being the highest polluters on the roads). Similarly the explosion of supermarket delivery fleets and contractors need to be limited to all electric vehicles, along with the Royal Mail and Post Office. Followed by bus and coach firms operating into the Fylde using only similar power sourced fleets or otherwise being charged increasing penalties for carbon fuel use. Joined up local authority involvement together with the County Council under its newly appointed Leader, needs to face up to these new realities with an 'Environment Czar' or 'Commissioner' getting a grip of ordinances and regulations Lancashire wide.
* For what it is worth the Writer was economic development and investment consultant to the OstBrandenburg government during the 1990s. And at the same time assertively supports the ongoing move by Blackpool Council and Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. to all electric operation of its bus services. Plus understandably extensions to the present tramway set up.