Nottingham trams

UK: Further government funding has been agreed to ensure the continued operation of English urban rail services while ridership is severely reduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 20 the Department for Transport announced a further £33m to support operations in Birmingham, Blackpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Tyne & Wear for 11 weeks from the end of current agreements on April 5.

This follows on from more than £160m of support that has already been provided. A review of the need for further funding is to take place before the end of the latest agreement.

‘As the country opens up in line with the roadmap out of lockdown, we want light rail and tram services to be available to passengers and running as normal’, said Transport Minister Baroness Vere. ‘That’s why we’re continuing to fund these vital transport systems, ensuring that they’re available now and are ready for people to use when restrictions ease.’

On March 22 Transport for London announced that it had accepted DfT’s proposal to extend its current funding package, which began on October 18 2020 and was due to expire on March 31. The extension to May 18 on the current terms spans the period of the May 6 mayoral and London Assembly elections.

TfL is to receive two additional instalments of extraordinary grant support totalling £260m, and a periodic top-up payment under the existing terms of approximately £225m depending on actual passenger revenue.

TfL said it would ‘continue discussions with the government on our need for further financial support and a long-term capital funding deal. This is vital for us to support a strong and robust recovery from the pandemic and to provide confidence to our UK-wide supply chain.’

The Urban Transport Group said longer term funding for English light rail operations would be needed given the uncertainties around the course of the pandemic and future ridership.

‘We are currently in dialogue with government over the scale and duration of recovery funding that will be needed beyond this further tranche of emergency funding given that pre-pandemic levels of patronage are unlikely to quickly return and the need to ensure that light rail and tram systems can play their full part in a green and just recovery from Covid-19’, said Stephen Edwards, UTG lead board member on light rail and Executive Director of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.

The Railway Industry Association said supply businesses ‘require certainty over what the future looks like’, and its members would like to see longer term, multi-year, funding settlements similar to Network Rail’s five-year Control Periods for all regions of the UK.

‘RIA is bullish about rail passengers returning to the network over the coming years, as they always do following recessions and various crises, including pandemics’, said Chief Executive Darren Caplan. ‘But during this time, before passenger numbers return to longer-term trend, rail suppliers need funding certainty and visibility.’