INTRO: When Dresden hosted UITP’s seventh light rail conference on April 21-23, the underlying objective was to prevent cities in Central and Eastern Europe from making the same mistakes as their Western counterparts

’GOOD TRANSPORT is vital for attracting industry and investment’, insisted Dr Martin Gillo in his welcome to UITP delegates in Dresden. As a regular tram user, Sachsen’s State Minister for Labour & Transport said he was critically aware that ’economy and infrastructure are mutually beneficial’ from both the political and passenger perspectives.

Federal Transport Secretary Angelika Mertens endorsed his comments, noting that Germany had invested more than €30bn in public transport over the past 35 years, with the annual figure for rail investment now standing at €6·8bn. As a result, German rail, metro and light rail operators carried a total of 9 billion passenger journeys in 2003.

Nevertheless, the Chairman of UITP’s Light Rail Division Raymond Hue warned in his keynote address that ’cars still fascinate people’. Given the run-down condition of many tram networks in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, he feared there would be a strong temptation to follow the path of abandonment adopted by Western countries from the 1920s onwards.

Many cities have since discovered that modern light rail can contribute to the quality of urban living, and have spent considerable sums installing new networks to replace those so rashly abandoned. UITP President Wolfgang Meyer noted that West Germany pioneered the light rail revolution, and still leads the field, because it had retained many traditional tram networks that could be used as a basis for upgrading.

Dresden’s Lord Mayor Ingolf Rossberg noted that out of 27 tram networks in the former East Germany at the time of reunification, only one had been closed. Many others, such as Leipzig and Halle, were modernising rapidly. Rossberg was particularly proud to classify Dresden as a ’Tram City’, where the trams ’dominate the city and underpin the quality of life’.

According to UITP, there are 33 surviving tram networks in the 10 new EU accession states, another 19 in the remaining countries of eastern Europe, and over 110 in the CIS countries. Today public transport in these cities ’generally enjoys a high modal split’, and the local administrations ’should endeavour to maintain this in order to guarantee sustainable mobility and development’.

During the conference, delegates heard presentations on many aspects of light rail development, including details of local modernisation initiatives underway in Bucuresti, Lodz and Brno, amongst others.

Given that many networks face considerable problems in financing repair and upgrading work, a whole session was devoted to financing issues. Speakers from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development pointed out that funding was available from a wide range of public and private sources. Their principal requirements were that operators should put in place a robust business case and provide evidence that they were tackling issues such as overstaffing and rolling stock availability.

With Dresdner Verkehrsbetriebe held up as an excellent example, it came as little surprise that Ingolf Rossberg was invited to join Hue, Meyer and UITP Secretary-General Hans Rat in signing a formal declaration ’on the importance of keeping and upgrading long-established tramway systems’.

After a preamble that warns that ’the threat of system closures is a primary concern’ in the face of ’a galloping increase in car ownership, coupled with high renewal investment needs’, the declaration goes on to enunciate UITP’s long-held view that ’cities cannot be human nor liveable if they are exclusively designed for car travel.’

Applauding the flexibility of light rail, the declaration reminds its readers that where ’extensive tramway systems were removed in the 1950s and 60s’, re-introducing light rail incurs ’significantly higher costs’, and provides a list of key points based on experience in western Europe (right).

CAPTION: Following the success of DVB’s CarGoTrams which shuttle car parts between Volkswagen’s logistics depot and a city centre factory, Dmitrij Gorbatschov of Berlin-based consultancy büro+staubach has developed proposals for a containerised ’Stadtfrachter’ freight tram. The driver-only vehicle is designed to operate on a city tram network, delivering and collecting wheeled containers supplying retailers and other local businesses. Containers would be hauled on and off the vehicle using a winch behind the cab, with the cable passing around a pulley at the back of the platform

CAPTION: UITP delegates had the opportunity to visit DVB’s 1996-built depot at Gorbitz, where a new centralised maintenance workshop went into operation at the beginning of May

From the Dresden Declaration