The not so super tram

Transport chiefs are looking at plans for a son-of-supertram for Leeds.

West Yorkshire passenger transport executive and Leeds City Council are investigating a tram-train system to crack congestion in the city and boost economic growth.

The system, able to run on tracks as well as streets, could provide a much-needed link to Leeds/Bradford airport.

The revelation comes more than 18 months after the government refused to fund Supertram.

Details were disclosed in a review published by the Department of Transport yesterday.

The Yorkshire region planning assessment highlighted tram-train as being an option with "the potential to meet wider policy objectives" but which requires "more detailed study".

But it will only win government backing if it proves "value for money for the taxpayer".

The document said the Leeds City Region Development Partnership had suggested a tram-train might provide a value-for-money way of increasing capacity and improving "connectivity".

It added: "This proposal is currently subject to further investigation by West Yorkshire PTE and Leeds City Council."

"The proposal will also need to demonstrate its affordability, deliverability and value for money for the taxpayer, before government support for implementation is considered." Other options include improvements to the rail network.

Coun Mark Harris, Leeds City Council leader, said: "The Government recognises we have the lowest per capita investment in public transport of any region in the country.

"We want to work constructively with the Government to address our transport needs. If that includes innovative ideas like tram-trains then we welcome that."

Plans are also being drawn up for an ultra-modern bus system serving roughly the same areas as Supertram, connecting the city centre with Lawnswood in the north, Seacroft in the east and Stourton to the south.

The cost of the "bus rapid transit" network – likely to be powered electrically by overhead wires – would be between 200m and 300m.

It was not clear today whether Leeds might eventually look to win Government funding for both the bus and the tram-train schemes, or would have to choose between them.

Tram-trains were pioneered in Karlsruhe, Germany, and have been adopted at the RijnGouweLijn in the Netherlands, and in Kassel and Saarbrcken, both in Germany.

Unlike regular trams, which use narrow gauge track, most tram-trains are standard gauge, which allows them to share track with standard gauge mainline trains.

A West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive spokesman said tram-trains were a key element of the region's 25-year transport vision and investigative work was continuing. He said officials were planning to visit Germany to see the system in use.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott gave the 500m Leeds supertram scheme the green light in 2001. But Transport Secretary Alistair Darling withdrew funding for the scheme in 2004 amid concerns costs were spiralling closer to 1bn. Revised plans brought the costs back down to the original 500m estimate but this too was rejected by the Government.

More than 40m of taxpayers' cash has been spent on the project.