Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


December 2001 



Bremen, the smallest LAND in Germany, has demonstrated to the world the advantages of maintaining an efficient tramway network, a network that saw 4 route extensions during 1998 (1). one extension in particular, combined with a route diversion to Flughafen (its busy airport), has been praised by many transport experts because of its relative simplicity and effective service. one prime advantage is its availability, not only to airline passengers but to aircrews and airport workers alike, made possible by servicing the complex of airport buildings with carefully located stopping points that eliminate unnecessary walking. By keeping infrastructure costs down, no fare penalty needed to be passed on to the passenger.


Tri-Met's Airport Max line was scheduled to open during September 2001, the first light rail line to an airport on the West Coast of America (2). As in Bremen, this new light rail branch is expected to not only improve access to the airport but cater for other types of passengers as well. Known as the RED line, it will have its down-town terminal close to the Central Library whilst its airport terminal point will be in the new south lobby on the baggage claim level. The Airport-Max service will operate every 15 minutes from 5 am to 11.30 pm daily and when inter-running with the BLUE line from Gateway, albeit with limited stops, will provide a very frequent service into down-town Portland.


The RED line branches off the existing 33 mile (53-km) East-West Gresham to Hillsboro BLUE line close to the Gateway Transit Centre. Then runs for 5.5 miles (8.8-km) mostly along the I-205. The new line will eventually have 4 new stations : Airport (Portland International Airport or PDX for short), Cascades, Mt Hood Avenue and Parkrose/Summer Transit Centre. With a one-way fare of USD 1.55 the line is expected to be carrying 7500 passengers per day by 2015. Passengers will have the benefit of "real time" displays giving train arrival times. This innovative cost-sharing method between Tri-Met, City of Portland, Port of Portland and a Development Company means that no federal or state funds will have been used to build the line.


Just as the success of Bremen's airport tram service can be attributed to a through service from the far side of the CBD combined with good and convenient connections from intersecting lines, Portland followed a similar pattern by extending its Blue line to Hillsboro in 1988, details of which and the more recent down-town distributor tram line were given in Fact Sheet No 126 (September 2001). This is not the full story though because just as Bremen has almost fully replaced its older trams for a fleet of high performance low-floor vehicles, Portland has undertaken a similar exercise. An additional difficulty for Portland though was its fairly large fleet of high-floor LRVs with many years ahead of them. Passenger uncertainty was allayed by the skilful arrangement of multiple-unit sets such that each train had at least one or more low-floor entrances.


One very elaborate but risky project came alive during April 2001 when the Queensland Premier became the first passenger to travel from Brisbane CBD to the airport on the Airport City Link (3). Built by a private consortium as a BOOT (Build, Own, Operate & Transfer) scheme with a 35 year concession, the first of its kind in Queensland, it does not receive any Government subsidies. The new 8.5-km long bridge structure (elevated viaduct) was constructed by Transfield Constructions to current QR (Queensland Railways) standards, 1067mm gauge, 25kv, 50Hz and QR standard signalling. Currently, more than 8000 people work full time at the airport, a figure expected to rise to more than 42 000 by 2018. The AUD 9.0 single fare for adult passengers covers the 17km to the CBD. There are cheaper fares for airport workers but the devious route with few access points will probably act as a deterrent. Patronage so far has continued to disappoint the operators (4), nearer 6000/week as against the 6000/day forecast.


CENTRO, with its stalled Royal Assent for a Midland Metro line to Birmingham International Airport no longer valid, will now have some breathing space to rethink strategy. Greater Manchester appears to have got it right with the BIG BANG proposals that include a light rail line to Manchester Airport. The suggestion in South Yorkshire for a Supertram extension to its new airport is only at "drawing board" stage. West Yorkshire PTA has suggested that extensions to its Supertram system could include a link to the Leeds & Bradford Airport. Mersey Travel has plans to introduce a tram network in Liverpool with a possible line to the airport. Blackpool is now looking at possible extensions which could include a tram service to the airport.


With some places in Britain still pondering over light rail or Supertram access to airports, there is still the opportunity to study overseas trends and learn from the mistakes of others. A high cost rail link has certainly been shown to be very much high risk which ironically could eventually involve some public money, not to subsidise the service but to provide more road space for airport workers not happy with the high fares. It is also somewhat ironic that a little over 30 years ago the tram system in Brisbane, then regarded as a very efficient network, would have needed only a very short track extension to take it into the airport site.


  1. Dipl-Ing Georg Drechsler - Director Bremen Strassenbahn A G - METRO REPORT 1999 - page 35 - Railway Gazette International.
  2. THE OREGONIAN - Sunrise Edition August 30th 2001.
  3. Brian Webber - TRANSIT AUSTRALIA page 157 - July 2001.
  4. TRANSIT AUSTRALIA page 269 - November 2001.
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