Posted 8th June 2016 | 6 Comments

Tram users are happier than those on trains

THE number of people using light rail trains and trams in Britain rose by an average of 5.8 per cent last year according to new figures from the Department for Transport, which has recorded a total of 252 million journeys in 2015-16 and revenues of almost £337 million. Light rail passengers seem quite happy, too: their satisfaction has risen and is higher than recorded on National Rail or buses.

The DfT's light rail statistics cover the Docklands Light Railway in London and Tyne & Wear Metro. They also include six tram systems in England.

All recorded increases apart from London Trams, where usage fell by 12.1 per cent to 27 million. However, tram services in the Croydon and Wimbledon areas were disrupted by track improvements and highway works last year, which will have affected usage.

Even so, London claimed the lion's share of passengers, with 57 per cent of all light rail journeys in England being made on the DLR and the capital's trams. Nottingham recorded the largest growth of 50.2 per cent to 12.2 million journeys, following a virtual doubling in size of the Nottingham Express Transit network when two new routes opened in the south of the city.

Blackpool also recorded high growth, with a rise in passenger totals of 20.3 per cent, to 4.9 million journeys annually. The line along the Fylde Coast between Blackpool and Fleetwood was served by various ‘heritage’ trams for many years, but the towns now have a modern fleet which provides the main service, although heritage trams are still used during the peak holiday season.

Blackpool's total was slightly ahead of Midland Metro, which recorded 4.8 million journeys and a rise of 10.4 per cent. However, sharper rises have been reported recently by Centro since trams started to reach Bull Street in Birmingham last December, while the rest of the extension from Snow Hill to New Street station was opened on the late May Bank Holiday.

Manchester Metrolink usage rose by 10.1 per cent, to 34.3 million journeys. The new airport line is thought to be one cause, although trams also started to run between Victoria station and Exchange Square on the first part of the Second City Crossing last year. The rest of this new route through central Manchester to St Peter’s Square is expected to open in 2017.

Sheffield Supertram showed little growth with a total of 11.6 million – a rise of just 0.6 per cent. However, the network is due to get its first extension next year, when it is hoped that tram trains will start linking Sheffield city centre and Rotherham via a new connection to Network Rail infrastructure at Tinsley.

The two segregrated light rail systems in England both recorded more passengers. The Docklands Light Railway total was 116.9 million – up by 6.1 per cent – while Tyne & Wear Metro figures have also started to recover with a total of 40.3 million – an increase of 5.7 per cent.

Revenue rose or fell more or less in line with passenger totals, but Sheffield Supertram's total was £11.4 million – down by 10.2 per cent. However, along with London Trams, Sheffield services were also disrupted by road works last year.

In all, light rail and tram passengers paid £336.9 million for their journeys in 2016-17, a rise of 9.3 per cent. 

Light rail passengers were mostly pleased with their journeys. Transport Focus reported that on the five tram systems outside London overall journey satisfaction increased to 92 per cent from 90 per cent, which was higher than the National Rail Passenger Survey (83 per cent) and also the Bus Passenger Survey, which scored 86 per cent. 

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • David Cook, Broadstone, Dorset

    It's not really comparing like with like though. For a starter, most trams journeys are relatively short, and commuter train journeys are relatively long. Standing for 10 minutes is not a great problem. Standing for over an hour every way each day is a real pain. Add the fact that railway tracks are generally quite old and need constant repairing and maintenance, tramways are all relatively new and have not needed many closures for renewal yet. Trams are also tend to be smaller and more frequent, meaning less problems when trams get delayed, whereas a problem at, say, Clapham Junction, can have repercussions in Southampton and Bournemouth more than an hour or so later.

  • Roshan, Leeds

    Trams are a great way to encourage public transport in a city and improve connections, particularly if there is a large proportion of dedicated tramway. In Leeds we need either a tram or metro system, as our buses are poor and there is a lot of congestion during rush hour on the roads. The Trolleybus scheme has been proposed but I'm not a fan. It uses the roads, not dedicated tracks. This means it won't really improve congestion, and people will not be as enamored with it and will not be as keen to travel on it. We need a tram system with a lot of dedicated track. If Nottingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle have them then surely Leeds deserves one too.
    [A minor point: Newcastle has wholly segregated light rail, rather than trams.--Editor.]

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    The Eccles Line services which go via the MediaCityUK are set to be disrupted from 26 June onwards due "compulsory" track maintenance works. The passengers on that line WON'T be happy with that as replacement buses aren't the most convenient and the buses which have replaced cancelled Metrolink trams in the past have annoyed the Manchester travelling public. 🚫👎🏻

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    It doesn't really matter if there's no first class seating or a refreshments trolley on trams. They're still HAPPIER than heavy rail passengers. I've been on the Manchester Metrolink to MediaCityUK before, and the experience is greatly better than what you get on a train.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I don't think you can compare a short Tram Journey of say 5 to 10 minutes with a National Rail one which will easily be over 1 hour. I know my dissatisfaction rises the longer the Journey, and small things like loos out of action, dirty windows or no drinks trolley suddenly become more and more annoying.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    For starters, they're more punctual. Trains don't understand the meaning of "on time".