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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Leeds Loses HS2 and Whoopee Gets Another Tram 'Study'

John Woodman

The latest twist in the HS2 saga announced this week involves the deletion of the HS2 link to Leeds in favour of yet a further permutation in the high speed rail (north) scheme. As a sop to the good citizens of that Yorkshire metropolis the Department of Transport has indicated that funding will be made available for a study on a light rail in Leeds. This will be the latest in a long line of handouts to consultants on the ever perennial Leeds tram revival - no doubt ending with the same thumbs down result of data filled paperwork benefitting house trained 'experts'.

Both Leeds and Liverpool have both shared loser prizes in on again off again sweepstakes for new light rail networks. Liverpool even got so far as purchasing rights of way and new rail for a first phase line; whilst Leeds played cat and mouse games following funding proposals for trolleybus and guided busway schemes - with abortive studies sanctioned by metropolitan jobsworths, plus the not inconsiderable cost of installing concreted guideways for intended bus operations promised but not delivered.

Blackpool should be grateful for the crumbs allowing the short on street connection to its main railway terminal (now a work in progress); whilst the mirage of a Fylde light rail or tram train service linking Fleetwood and the north Fylde with Blackpool town centre (and possibly beyond to St Annes) remains just that. The failure of successive UK governments and politicians in grabbing the nettle of electric powered urban transport investment stands in contrast to the achievements of counterparts, not only throughout Europe, but also across the United States. The latter, not known to be sympathetic to urban light rail systems, and wedded to highways, cars, trucks and buses.

Possibly the hard realities of the warming of the earth's climate has stirred, if not shaken, politicians to join the flow in reviving electric powered transport and now finally underway.

Leeds had the foresight to develop a network of reserved track tramlines serving key urban corridors running out of the city's commercial centre. Not all districts were so endowed, but the routes running east from the Corn Exchange and south to Middleton were on a par with Blackpool's seafront and Liverpool's own extensive reserved track lines. I was fortunate enough to sample the Middleton circular line and its extended route as well as the final services out to Temple Newsom and Halton - all on centre reservations with once fast running operation. This was at the tail end of the Leeds system in the late 1950s. Unfortunately proposals to introduce single deck cars with advanced 'Vambac' control technology trialled at the beginning of that decade were foiled by intransigent politicians of the Left, determined to do away entirely with 'old fashioned' trams. So the capital investment (by taxpayers) in new tramway reservations built during the 1930s and immediate postwar period was junked in favour of bog standard open platform rear entrance double deck buses - bringing with them emanating contaminants.

Above : a sampling of the neat side reserved track installations created for several urban corridors running out from Leeds city centre. Sadly a less than modern tram provides the service. Below :

One of two sample single deck models purchased in the early 1950s to offer Leeds citizens a taste of modern tram design - Yorkshire style. Unfortunately the low seating capacity and few in number examples were not endearing to a public at large - more used to 1920s designs of the type above.

Number 602 built in Leeds by the Charles Roe firm is fortunately still with us, preserved at the National Tramway Museum, Crich, Derbyshire. Sister car 601 was unfortunately scrapped after succumbing to vandalism. Image : John Woodman

I suspect that at some point in this century both of these northern cities will finally claw back steel wheel on steel rail transport along many of the same urban corridors traversed by first generation trams. But not as a result of churning out reams of amazingly obvious recommendations cocooned amid 'consultant speak' terminology - but by public demand and environmental pressures. In the meantime, like many of us old enough to have savoured the realities of tram travel in Britain's declining systems, I fall back on my brief excursions east over the Pennines well over a half century ago sampling the lingering remains of a once great tramway - then held in public affection. Leeds Leads

A final week view of the Leeds 'standard' type tram then making up most of the service - seen here at Temple Newsam terminus in typical November conditions - grey and dismal.


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