Tram-train in Germany.

UK: Five tram-trains are to be procured for trials on the Penistone line in Yorkshire, Britain's Department for Transport confirmed on March 18. The two-year trial starting in 2010 will 'establish whether tram-trains similar to those operating successfully in Europe are suitable for Britain’s railway network.'

The project is a partnership between DfT, train operator Northern Rail and infrastructure manager Network Rail, and will look at the environmental benefits, operating costs and technical suitability of the tram-trains. Industry watchdog Passenger Focus will lead research into user perception of tram-trains, which will replace conventional rolling stock on the 60 km unelectrified route linking Huddersfield, Barnsley and Sheffield.

An option for a second phase covers testing on Sheffield's Supertram network to see the benefits of extending services onto city-centre tram lines.

DfT will contribute £9m to the trials. Northern Rail will call tenders for and lease the vehicles, while parent company Serco-NedRailways will bring experience of tram-trains gathered by Dutch national operator NS.

Network Rail will spend £15m on track improvements and station modifications for the trials. Chief Executive Iain Coucher said he expects 'lighter vehicles will result in less wear on the infrastructure extending its lifespan, improve journey times and give the option of running future commuter services closer into city centres.'

The Penistone line was selected as it offers a mix of passenger-only and mixed passenger and freight operation. Northern runs one DMU service per hour in each direction on the route, which has 17 stations and carries 1·2 million passengers a year.

The announcement was welcomed by Councillor Ryk Downes, Chairman of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority, who said tram-trains could be a way of increasing capacity on the line from Leeds to York via Harrogate, and creating a link to Leeds-Bradford International Airport.