Tramlink truimph, where next?

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Friday 15th February 2002. 6.30 p.m. in St Marks Church Hall.

Tramlink is already that rare phenomenon – a transport triumph. But where next? Does it herald a new age for the tram? If so, where else can it serve as part of London’s integrated transport system? When can we expect the much-needed loop to Abbey Mills and Mitcham? And should its fares still be geared to the railway – when surely it should be charged like a bus?

The distinguished panel included:

Steven Norris, ex Tory transport minister who recently quit Ken Livingstone’s advisory team:
Bob Dorey, chairman of Tramtrack:
Richard Rawes, head of Merton’s Environmental Services and
John Stewart, vice chair of Transport 2000.

A major new Merton initiative transport initiative which proposes a light rail tram loop linking Merton Abbey Mills, Mitcham and the Morden Civic Centre was launched at the last Transport Forum at St Mark’s Hall on Friday 15th February.

Author of the initiative is 17 year old Wimbledon Sixth Form College student Danny Brunt, who was unexpectedly introduced as a “mystery guest” at the meeting – and whose outline proposals have already been laid before transport executives at Merton Civic Centre. They enjoy the backing of John Parry Associates, a Birmingham company which constructs light tramway units, and have earned support both from Countryside Properties, who plan a substantial residential and leisure development at Merton Abbey Mills and John Hawkes, director of the Mills’ industrial heritage site.

The light railway loop - named the Wandle Valley Light Railway by the Forum - would replace a long-proposed extension of the present Tramlink link between Croydon and Wimbledon through Colliers Wood and Abbey Mills to Mitcham, a plan which now seems to have little chance of approval by Transport for London. Danny’s carefully detailed proposals are based on a tram track laid directly into or alongside the existing roads and incorporating a Parry People Movers fly-wheel powered vehicle which does away with overhead power cables. Danny points out that this would remove the need for unsightly overhead line electrification while the much lighter track would remove the necessity for major earthworks or railway construction, as is the case with Tramlink. He envisages a 50 seater vehicle operating at high frequency along roadside tracks which could be laid in stages.

Danny’s extraordinary proposals emerged after John Hawkes introduced Danny to Forum chairman John Ellison as the means to fulfill a long-felt lack of any adequate public transport facilities in the area. “I was frankly concerned at the Forum backing the proposals of someone so very young – but once I had spent half an hour with Danny with the plans out on the dining room table, I changed my mind” John says. A display panel illustrating the story of trams in Wimbledon over the past 50 years, was rapidly amended to include a display of Danny’s pioneering vision and Danny himself, introduced as a mystery guest, gave a 10 minute presentation to the 60 strong audience.

John Parry, chairman of Parry Associates, who had driven with his wife from his West Midlands home to support Danny at the meeting, said the light rail tram could be built and installed at a third the cost of Tramlink – and offered use of his vehicles if LBM was ready to agree to a short test-track for trials between Abbey Mills and Deen City Farm.

Danny’s idea was widely commended by transport experts on the panel. Former Transport Minister Steven Norris said: "I see nothing that would stop this scheme working in the kind of urban environment we've got here. It is worth serious consideration. John Stewart, vice chairman of Transport 2000, said “I think it is very very interesting and imaginative.

It enables people to move around their local area and link in with other forms of transport, such as the Northern Line.” Richard Rawes, Director of Merton’s Environmental Services, said he was pleased his colleagues had discussed the proposal with Danny. “It seems to me it covers Colliers Wood, Mitcham and Morden town centres, and these have been the aims we were trying to achieve through an extension of Tramlink” he said. Since the meeting, panellist Bob Dorey, soon to retire as chairman of Tramtrack Croydon, said he was ready to help Danny with advice.

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