Home: October - November 2011 › Street spirit
01/11/2011 | Channel:
Infrastructure, Business Improvement, New Products & Services
London Tramlink is an essential public transport connection for the borough of Croydon and, over the last few years, has gone from strength to strength
In 1996, following years of discussions and proposals, Croydon Council in concert with local authority London Regional Transport awarded a contract to design, build and maintain a tram network that would serve the South London borough by replacing poorly used or redundant rail services and by providing new rail links. A private finance initiative (PFI) consortium by the name of Tramtrack Croydon Limited (TCL) won the bidding and continued managing it until 2008. This partnership consisted of: CentreWest Buses, a subsidiary of First Group, responsible for operations; Bombardier EuroRail, which built the trams; Royal Bank of Scotland and 3i, both of which financed the project; and a joint venture between Sir Robert McAlpine and Amey Construction, which built the tram network itself.
Three years ago, in June 2008, the current regional public transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), purchased 100 per cent of TCL’s shares, thereby transferring the tram network from private into public ownership. Today the company trades under the name London Tramlink whilst the network itself is commonly referred to simply as Tramlink. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL and stands alongside London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) as an integral part of Greater London’s public transport network serving a series of rail and bus interchanges.
“Tramlink is a 28 kilometre network that serves Croydon town centre via a one-way loop of mixed shared and segregated on-street tramway,” describes managing director Phil Hewitt. “There are 39 stops on the network providing level boarding to the trams. Branching away from the main loop are three different lines, one extending to Wimbledon, the second to New Addington and the third to Beckenham Junction and Elmer’s End. We provide interchange with national rail and Overground services at East and West Croydon, Beckenham Junction, Elmer’s End, Mitcham and Wimbledon; an Underground interchange at Wimbledon; and major bus interchanges at East and West Croydon and Addington Village.”
Since uniting with TfL, London Tramlink has developed and begun to implement a number of changes aimed at improving the entire Tramlink infrastructure, which began with a rolling programme of ongoing track replacement that started almost as soon as TfL took over. Currently being looked at for replacement are two worn curved sections in the centre of Croydon; at between 25 and 50 metre radii, both are sharp turns and demand reliable, high quality upgrades.
Effective track replacement
Track replacement, however, has been one of the main challenges faced by Tramlink’s operators and managers. “Over the last year we have been working with ALH and Colas on how to get embedded rails out of the grooves and slots in town. We’ve been working on a ‘pizza cutter’ as a means of breaking the bonds between the polymer typically used to embed rails. Our first rail replacement experience was a very testing event, proving to us how difficult it can be to remove the metals without causing significant damage to surrounding slabs. Together with our partners we seem to recently have made a breakthrough in methods of removing the rails quickly and effectively, so we will begin to use this in our replacement programme.”
This endeavour is just one in a number of initiatives laid out for Tramlink. The nature of PFI proposals is that a lot must be done for a limited investment, often leading to equipment that doesn’t have longevity coupled with less frequent than required maintenance. When TfL passed the Croydon network into public ownership, decisions were made to offer users the best possible service in the long-term as well as the short-term and investments were and are being made to ensure this happens. One such example was the bringing in-house of Tramlink’s maintenance teams. Although the private sector has been responsible for infrastructure maintenance since the beginning, maintenance was based on an outsourcing contract that meant Tramlink couldn’t always get the response it needed when it was needed and could not bring about improvements to maintenance standards in a cost-effective manner. In January this year the infrastructure maintenance team was brought in-house, therefore granting Tramlink a dedicated maintenance team with far greater availability.
“Reactive work is much easier to fit in now. We had track problems earlier this year, for example, and were able to schedule a relay within a matter of two or three weeks just by juggling internal resources and rearranging other planned maintenance activities. Because we have been able to get increasingly ahead of ourselves on preventative maintenance, we have the capacity to handle reactive work very quickly. Additionally, the maintenance people know the network really well – some have been here since 2000 – and they can make informed decisions, as well as aid our senior managers in making strategic decisions as to when where and how to take action in a well-informed and coherent manner,” Phil explains.
There have been two concrete examples of this during the past year. First was during the severe snowfall Britain experienced through the winter of 2010/2011, when the roads of Croydon were left gridlocked and normal rail services ran incredibly disrupted schedules. Despite this, Tramlink maintained an almost full service, allowing passengers to get to and from work with relative ease. Second, during the riots that spread across London in August this year, the fire from a furniture warehouse razed overhead cables responsible for traffic and tram signalling at Reeves Corner as well as affected damage on the road surface and 103embedded rails. As a result, 13 trams were stranded on the wrong side of the tracks, unable to return to the depot. Yet within 12 hours of the problem arising Phil had in place a plan to continue network operations for up to two weeks agreed between the managing director of Tram Operations Ltd, Bombardier’s depot manager and London Tramlink’s head of engineering.
More than just the benefits of London Tramlink’s latest re-organisation, however, Phil highlights how these two events illustrate the efforts of staff and the tram community. “We could only offer a full service through the winter due to the absolute dedication by everybody in the business: drivers who walked miles to work; maintenance teams that worked through the night to keep the trams running; my infrastructure guys, who were out there doing whatever was needed to keep the network free of snow. Other people were busy with shovels, clearing platforms and ensuring the public had a tramway to get to. Meanwhile, during the riots, we had great support from everybody in the sector, from teams in Nottingham and Manchester that offered support, equipment and personnel to assist in repairing the infrastructure. This meant that, in reality, we were up and running again within 48 hours of the site being returned to us by the police. There was immense dedication and a fantastic effort by all concerned, really showing a team spirit and reflecting very well on the Tramlink team and the tram industry as a whole.”
Continuing to deliver
With a strong collection of people, skills and ideas behind it, the future for Tramlink looks incredibly positive and already there are extension plans underfoot. Following encouragement by the Mayor of London, London Tramlink is looking again at the on-hold branchline to Crystal Palace, for example, whilst there is also a hope to extend the network to the neighbouring borough of Sutton. London Tramlink also hopes to twin-track the existing network and thereby increase the number of services it can run per hour. Over the next six months twin-tracking between Mitcham and Mitcham Junction will begin which will allow an increase in Wimbledon services from eight to ten trams hourly, with an eventual goal of providing
12 services every 60 minutes.
“It’s a good time to be working in Tramlink after difficult years of working with the PFI, fighting battles to get the trams on the agenda,” Phil concludes. “We have now achieved that goal and investment is coming forward so the longer-term strategic development of the network can really, genuinely be looked at. What we do isn’t sophisticated but we provide a good and reliable service and that is why the public like Tramlink – we continually deliver.”