Track Sharing & Route Sharing

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Many images are "clickable" - run the mouse over them and if a "hand" appears then click & a larger version will open in a new window! .
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Illustrated "index page" image information (starting from the top left and working clockwise):-
A montage of images showing examples of buses + trams + trains which share tracks (fixed infrastructure) and / or operate side-by-side along the same transport corridors. .
Click image - or here . - to see a larger version.
A Zwickau, "Train-Tram" track sharing with the street tramway; trains and trams route sharing near Nottingham, underground and mainline trains track sharing in north London; a Karlsruhe "Tram-Train" on the mainline railway; a mainline train and light rail vehicle route sharing near Manchester; a diesel train and dual-mode diesel-electric "Tram-Train" track sharing near Nordhausen; a kerb guided bus and tram track sharing in Mannheim [centre].
Mannheim image & license: LennartBolks / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

What do the terms Track Sharing & Route Sharing mean?

In its simplest form the phrase Track Sharing means where different types of guided transport operate over the same physical infrastructure. Note that this only applies to guided transports which are operating over their own private rights-of-way, thereby excluding the public highway (ie: roads) which are usually open to all-comers and where the transports are usually steered by the driver. (For where light rail services operate over the public highway the usual term is street running) discover more.

As a contrast Route Sharing means that services will generally operate side-by-side, and although they may interact at stations the transports will use their own physical infrastructures discover more.

Generally the significance of Track Sharing & Route Sharing only applies when light or urban (métro) railways share with either each other or mainline railways, as freight / rural / suburban / regional and InterCity trains have always shared infrastructure.

Two allied topics to both Track Sharing & Route Sharing are Fares and Accessibility.

For Fares the question is what happens if different operators charge different fares for similar journeys between the same stations, possibly even travelling over the same sections of track? Would passengers need to choose which companies' transports to use when buying their tickets? and if so, what happens if the first transport to arrive is from another company, and they board it? Unfortunately experience with British railway privatisation and the consequent fragmentation of services into a myriad of competing businesses has proven that for some routes this situation is commonplace - especially (but not exclusively) for longer distance services - and it can happen that passengers who make a mistake (honest or otherwise) can find themselves being asked to pay a lot more money for their journey than they originally anticipated. In most cases however there are 'full' fare tickets that can be used on any train.

In Southern England on the route between Central London and Gatwick Airport the ultimate nightmare does exist of two train operators providing interleaved local / regional services, but charging different fares (Thameslink & Southern) - this situation was deliberately created at the time the railways were privatised by a government which wanted to increase on-track competition between the various railway operators - Fares and Ticketing Systems are looked at in greater detail on the Fares & Ticketing Systems page.

For Accessibility (on transports which share tracks but could be of different physical dimensions and consequentially have varying vehicle widths and / or floor heights) the issues are looked at on the Accessibility page.

Track Sharing

Passengers like track sharing because - from the same platform - they can benefit from a wider range of through services and a better, more frequent service.

Track sharing between different types of train is well proven in Britain, with almost a century of safe operation.

Technical challenges - is Human Politics the hardest issue to solve?

Introducing new track sharing systems can and sometimes does involve technical challenges - such as ensuring that the transports are physically compatible - however the most complex issues to be faced are usually best described as "human politics" with the various vested interests being - at best - sceptical but sometimes even showing outright hostility towards what is trying to be achieved.

Unfortunately this appears to be the situation here in Britain, not just with some transport operators but also with our Health and Safety people seeming to be far less than enthusiastic and making life very difficult for possible new British examples of this passenger - friendly facility and even trying to close down existing services which feature it! (Maybe they would prefer yet more people to travel by car - that is where the real danger is to be found.) In some other countries the various authorities seem to be more open-minded, seeing the significant advantages which can be gained. This especially applies to Germany where the concept has been introduced with tremendous results.

Experience even here in Britain!!! has found that when vested interest hostility is set aside the whatever it is that is trying to be achieved can be very successful. For instance, hostility was experienced in London towards the "Thameslink" mainline railway plan which linked services that entered London from the north and the south but did not meet in the middle. Here it was found that by re-opening a very short section of extant but disused railway line in Central London that last carried regular passenger services in 1916 a new service was created which proved to be an overwhelming success, the likes of which even its most fervent advocates had not expected. The sum of the two parts proved to be significantly greater than the parts were worth individually.

Track Sharing between 'Heavy' and 'Light' Rail

The coming of the 'Tram-Train'

The German city of Karlsruhe had a problem in that its main railway station was (and still is) about 2km from the central business / retail district and although there were (are) excellent tram services linking the two many passengers still found having to change modes to be somewhat inconvenient. What was needed was to find an affordable way of diverting the local rail services to serve the heart of the city. They took the view that it would not be desirable to run mainline trains through the city streets & the pedestrian zone but as - in common with many German cities - Karlsruhe retained a thriving tram system it was decided to use this as a basis for development.

The first stage saw the creation of an outer-suburban light rail service which included operation over a little used freight line. For safety the light rail had exclusive use of the line during the day whilst freight trains used it at night. Apart from simply providing a better service to local residents the idea was to prove the compatibility of the two modes and see if any problems arose. One issue they did anticipate was caused the difference in wheel profiles - despite 'looking' similar tram and railway wheels are cut to different profiles and they had to find a solution that would enable the special light rail vehicles to run on both types of tracks - without derailing.

For these first trials the railway line was electrified at the tramway standard of 750V dc; but they still had to resolve how to power the trams while on a main line electrified at 15,000V ac. Ruling out diesel traction, and after unsatisfactory trials with battery power they developed a dual voltage light rail vehicle that is equally happy running in the city streets at tramway voltages (750V dc) and on mainline tracks at the far higher railway voltage (15,000V ac).

Track sharing Karlsruhe Stadtbahn. LRV and local train pass at Durlach Karlsruhe Stadtbahn.
Where the light rail joins the quiet freight-only line in Karlsruhe's northern suburb of Neureut.
Since this image was taken route A has been renamed as route S1 and S11.
Local train and dual voltage LRV pass at Durlach station on the south-eastern outskirts of Karlsruhe. NB: The clickable large image has been sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and is a little fuzzy.
Since this image was taken route B has been extended very considerably and been rebranded as route S4.

At about the same time as the first dual-voltage LRV's were being delivered the mainline railway developed a shortage of rolling stock for local trains, so to 'help out' some LRV's were lent to the mainline railway to provide local services between Karlsruhe and the nearby town of Pforzheim. This line was (and still is) also used by international express passenger & heavy freight trains and all services continued as if nothing special was happening. However, much to the various transport authorities surprise an increase in patronage was noticed that could only be attributed to the nicer environment of the more modern LRV's.

Local main-line train at Ersingen station. Dual-voltage light rail vehicle replacing local main-line train at Ersingen station.
February 1992, and due to a shortage of 'heavy' trains some light rail vehicles replaced main-line local services between Karlsruhe and the nearby town of Pforzheim. International, InterCity and freight trains continue to use this line - which is fitted with Automatic Train Protection signalling.

click me for videoClick either the projector icon or this link . to watch a short film on 'youtube' showing local trains, heavy freight trains, international InterCity express trains and even steam trains as well as the light rail calling at this station (or passing through without stopping). The video was sourced from two trips in the summers of 1992 and 1994.

Since the pictures above were taken Karlsruhe has greatly expanded its track sharing.

In 1994 they took a poorly performing line which in Britain would have been closed ages ago, electrified it (at 15,000V ac), added a few new 'local' halts and replaced the local trains with through services (using dual-voltage light rail vehicles) direct to the heart of the city. Much to their utter astonishment the increase in passengers was over 500%!

At first overcrowding became a problem which initially was solved by running 3-unit trains, although as soon as possible the timetable was recast with increased services to meet the high demand. Then they drew up plans to extend the system to other routes too.

Nowadays the 12 route network of the 'Karlsruhe Stadtbahn' (regional lines) requires more than 220 'Stadtbahn' tramcars, extends to over 500km 310 miles in length - and is still expanding.

Included in the network are some inter-urban and InterCity services to nearby towns such as Heilbronn in the neighbouring Neckar region and Baden Baden, which is on the mainline towards Switzerland. Some services share tracks with all manner of (international) freight and passenger trains - including sometimes the very high speed ICE (InterCity Express). Typically the LRV's provide the all-stations local services whilst heavy rail trains provide the long distance non-stop express services, although on some routes the LRV's also operate semi-fast and 'Sprinter' (mostly non-stop) services. In some towns the services have been extended beyond the mainline railway, in the process requiring the construction of new sections of urban tramway. This helps facilitate 'seamless' journeys between town centres and the pre-existing mainline railway routes.

Because many services use the tracks through Karlsruhe city centre these have now become so congested that an underground section of tramway is currently under construction below the city centre pedestrian zone (Dateline: 2013). Until this open some services still terminate at the main railway station.

Track sharing Karlsruhe Stadtbahn. See destination and route number blinds on vehicle's front.
Light and heavy rail services meet at the main railway station. This LRV is one of several which are owned by the mainline railway company. An InterCity LRV on route S7 heading for Baden Baden awaits its departure time at Karlsruhe's main railway station.
Track sharing Karlsruhe Stadtbahn. Track sharing Karlsruhe Stadtbahn.
View out the cab window of just one of the many high speed freight and passenger trains passed en route. Inside one of the special dual voltage light rail vehicles. An express InterCity train travelling in the opposite direction can be seen through a side window.
The above images are sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and the clickable large images will be a little fuzzy.
Strassenbahn Karlsruhe Stadtbahn. Murgtalbahn Karlsruhe Stadtbahn S41.
LRV's travelling in 'urban tramway' mode through city streets near to the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). Both units have central sections with panoramic windows that reach right up to the roof. "Eilzug" means semi-fast train / express over part of the route.

Route S4 is the longest on the system, travelling between Achern and Öhringen via Baden-Baden, Rastatt, Karlsruhe, Bretten, Eppingen and Heilbronn, with complete journeys taking three hours.
LRV's travelling in 'railway' mode on route S41 cross the Murgtalbahn Tennetschluchtbrücke (Murg Valley Railway Tennetschlucht Bridge).

The Murgtalbahn is 58km (36 miles) in length and is located in the northern part of the Black Forest.
Image & license: MCMC / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC-BY-SA-2.5
Karlsruhe Stadtbahn Voltage Change. Karlsruhe Stadtbahn Voltage Change.
System change in the overhead wiring: the wire is replaced by ceramic rods to islolate the two systems from each other.
Both images & license: Reinhard Dietrich / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain

The dual-voltage Karlsruhe light rail vehicles are often called Tram-Trains. This has become a generic term for what effectively are trams that venture on to the mainline railway. Conversely trains which venture onto urban tramlines within the street environment have become known as Train-Trams.

In addition to Karlsruhe..

Spurred on by Karlsruhe's success many other cities have investigated track sharing too. It is not intended to list every proposed such scheme, however coverage of the locations featured below should provide sufficient information to understand what the concept is about and some of the possible options for its wider implementation - especially here in Britain.

It should also be noted that whilst the original ethos in Karlsruhe was primarily to provide better and through transport links between rural mainline services and the city's central business district the concept has moved on to include being seen as a cost effective and affordable way to help revitalise under-performing passenger services and to introduce new passenger services over little-used existing freight-only lines.

More 'Heavy' / 'Light' Rail Track sharing solutions..

In 1995 and 2001 Kassel, Germany extended its urban tramway services over two outer-suburban little-used freight lines in the south-east and the south-west of the city. Both services have proven to be very successful; for instance passenger loadings on route No. 5 soared from 2800 to 5800 daily - an increase of 110%. At most these lines carry just a handful of freight trains, which run during the day. The lines are fully signalled, as per normal mainline railway lines.

Kassel Strassenbahn tram. Kassel Strassenbahn tram.
Kassel trams operating on former freight-only lines which now carry passenger services too.

Encouraged by this success Kassel has introduced twin fleets of tram-trains for a range of services which were gradually introduced during the period of 2005 - 2007. 18 of these 36.7m long, 2.65m wide, 100km/h light rail vehicles are of the dual voltage variety (15,000V ac and 600V dc) and 10 are twin system diesel electric, with diesel mode being used on non-electrified mainline railway routes. The aim has been the creation of a Karlsruhe-style regional light rail system with through services combining mainline railway and street tramway operation. These operate under the banner of "RegioTram".

Kassel RegioTram. Kassel RegioTram.
Regiotram at Hofgeismar station.
Image & license: Pedelecs / Wikivoyage Shared. CC BY-SA 3.0
RegioTram in diesel mode approaching Wolfhagen station.
Image & license: Eastpath / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Track sharing has also proven successful in eastern Germany too.

So far three locations are involved - each of which has seen the successful application of a different solution.

In Chemnitz a new link was built from the tramway to the mainline railway to Stollberg, which was also electrified. Passenger services re-started in December 2002 and have been a tremendous success. When mainline services ceased this route saw just 900 passengers a day, yet within a few years of reopening it was carrying over 6500 on weekdays, 3000 on Saturdays and 1500 on Sundays. The line still carries some mainline freight and diesel multiple-unit passenger trains.

Chemnitz Stollberg Strassenbahn.
The Stollberg services use a dedicated fleet of bright red multi-articulated trams which operate at street tramway voltage only. This example is seen outside the main railway station next to a local transport authority tram.

In 2004 a fleet of innovative trams fitted with an auxiliary fossil fuel (diesel) traction package commenced operation in the town of Nordhausen. These operate as regular electric trams on the city streets and as fossil fuel powered trams when travelling over the (not electrified) privately owned HSB's (Harz Narrow-Gauge Railway - Harzer Schmalspurbahn) to Ilfeld, where they supplement services already provided by the railway's own diesel trains. .Incidentally, this line also operates some tourist - orientated steam trains, and the relevance is that the combination of tourist and local community operations shows how tourist services can generate income which both benefits the local economy and helps to sustain otherwise potentially uneconomic local services. Britain has many rural rail lines which serve areas which are (or could) be attractive to tourists too.

Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train. Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train.
Tram-Train (left) and ordinary city tram (right) at the tramstop which serves both the HSB and the DB (German mainline railway) stations. Passing through (part of) the freight yard outside the HSB station.
Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train. Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train.
Traversing a level crossing. Calling at the rural Ifeld station.
Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train. Nordhausen Combino Duo tram-train.
Because of their innovative twin-system traction package the Nordhausen tram-trains have special "DUO" branding on their fronts. This vehicle is seen running in diesel mode whilst passing alongside the HSB station on the linking track between the railway system and the street tramway system. The advertising board promotes the HSB's steam train services. Being of the "low floor" design the only way in which space for the diesel power unit could be found was by (slightly) reducing space within the middle section of the passenger compartment (the grey box on the right with the red arrowhead pointing towards it!)

In Zwickau some regional services provided by modern diesel multiple-unit trains have been extended to share part of the urban tramway, travelling through city streets to the heart of the town centre. To conform to the regulations for use on the public highway the diesel trains (which are of a type known as Regiosprinter) have been equipped with lights and mirrors.

Because the urban tramway uses 1 metre (1000 mm) track gauge and the diesel trains use standard gauge (1435 mm) an extra (third) rail was installed, with the trams and trains each using one common rail and one exclusive rail. Zwickau is part of the Vogtland region, this being served by the Vogtlandbahn regional railway which provides train services in an area comprising not only the Bundesland Saxonie but also parts of Thuringia, Bavaria and even the Czech Republic.

Zwickau train-tram.
Zwickau train-tram arriving at the Zwickau Stadhalle stop immediately after splitting from the tramway and before rejoining the railway. Could a similar themed sight one day be seen in Britain too?
Zwickau train-tram and tram. Zwickau train-tram.
Zwickau train-tram and a local tram pass on the transit mall near to the town centre. On arriving at the town centre a Zwickau train-tram leaves the transit mall.

Despite introducing more diesel powered vehicles to urban streets Zwickau's 'train-trams' have proven to be a successful solution to bringing local railway services closer to the town's central core. Anyway, since most British transport advocates and "green" lobby groups see wider use of diesel motor buses within even the largest of British towns and cities as "highly desirable" (even though diesel exhaust fumes are a known hazard to human health) then maybe there could be a case for steel-wheel based urban transport solutions here in Britain to use a similar traction package???

International travel - from Germany to France

Another German city which has combined regional and urban transport making use of modern multi-system light rail vehicles is Saarbrücken. As in the Karlsruhe area this system has also seen the replacement of local mainline trains with tram-trains, with services also extended to travel through city streets. However as Saarbrücken no longer had an urban tramway system the street tracks had to be installed from new (similar also occurred as the Karlsruhe system expanded and tram-trains started to serve nearby towns which did not have street tramway installations). Where Saarbrücken's system is unique is that it is an international service which extends over the border into France.

Saarbrücken Tram-Train. Saarbrücken Tram-Train.
A Saarbrücken 'Tram-Train' in railway mode at Sarreguemines Station in France.
Image: The transport operators' website
A Saarbrücken 'Tram-Train' in street tramway mode.
Image & license: Jens Haupert / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Having seen the success of this system the French have been looking at more locations where the use of tram-trains could be beneficial. The ethos behind this includes introducing / restoring passenger services to goods-only lines and seeing if the conversion of lightly loaded heavy rail passenger services to light rail, perhaps with services extended beyond the mainline railway tracks and into the centre of nearby towns can provide a cheaper, more cost effective and passenger-enticing way to operate the services - and even 'save' a rail line which otherwise would be threatened with closure.

Several of the new French tramway / light rail lines which opened in 2006 involve track sharing, with (limited) freight services remaining possibilities...

  • Line T4 in Paris where the mainline railway (RFF) still owns the tracks and uses tram-train light rail vehicles rather than heavy rail trains. Despite using street-compatible rolling stock this service only operates in railway mode.
  • Line 2 in Montpellier which for several km in the Saint-Jean-de-Vedas both shares its right of way with RFF as well as including some actual sharing of tracks - where there are even notices by RFF welcoming the tram line to the RFF network.
  • In Mulhouse where the 22km interurban route between Mulhouse and Thann-Saint-Jacques includes both street tramway and tramtrain portions. The tramtrain portion begins at Lutterbach, where a connection is made to the existing railway line to Thann and Kruth. So far only the line far as Thann St Jacques (the former Thann Nord) as been electrified. Comprising a single track with passing loops both the tramtrains and the SNCF diesel railcar service to Kruth share tracks. At night the route is also used by freight trains. Future plans include extending the electrification from Thann-Saint-Jacques to Kruth, when this has been done tramtrain services will be extended to there and the SNCF will be able to replace the diesel trains with electric trains. The tram-trains travel at up to 70km/h (45mph) on the tramway, which is also used by other street trams and is energised at 750V DC, and 100km/h (62mph) on the railway line, which is electrified at 25kV 50Hz AC.
  • Two tram-train services are planned for Nantes. The Clisson service opened in 2011 and so far is running in a 'preview' mode which supplements the existing local services. In 2014 it is planned that the tram-trains will provide local 'all-stations' services whilst other trains will operate longer distance services. Many other trains also use this route, including express trains to Bordeaux and TGV trains to Paris.
    The second service is planned to open in 2014 and will involve the restoring of passenger services on the route to Chateaubriand. Most of the closed stations are being reopened.

By way of contrast in Lyon the ligne de l'Est (LEA) completely took over a former RFF route with all connections with the mainline being severed in a similar fashion to what was done with Manchester's Metrolink - except that the LEA hosts two distinct services which use different rolling stock and meet different transport needs, these being a local 'all stations' light rail service and an express light rail service which links Lyon with its airport.

Also in France, planned extensions to the existing street tramway systems in Strasbourg, Grenoble and Nantes might include either track sharing or the complete conversion of existing heavy rail routes to light rail operations.

Lyon T3 tram-train. Paris T4 tram-train.
Codenamed "LEA" (Ligne de L'Est de l'Agglomération - urban line of the east), Lyon's route No. T3 is an express tramline which uses a portion of the historic mainline railway CFEL (Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Est de Lyon). It is electrified at tramway 750V dc voltage. The route includes passing places for the Rhônexpress airport railair link which with it shares tracks. This image shows the former Villeurbanne station.
Image & license: Smiley.toerist / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Located just outside the city limits the Paris route No. T4 is a tram-train line which is operated by the French National railways (RFF). It operates over dedicated mainline railway tracks which have been electrified at the mainline railway voltage of 25,000V on a route which links Bondy RER station with Aulnay-sous-Bois station. Although the trams are also capable of operating under wires energised at 750V dc route T4 does not include any sections of track energised at this voltage. This image shows a tram-train at Crécy-la-Chapelle station.
Image & license: Smiley.toerist / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Track Sharing In The Netherlands

Between 2003 and 2009 the Dutch experimented with a Karslruhe - style track sharing solution. This was on the RijnGouweLijn (RGL) light rail project in South Holland.

Initially tram-train services used the mainline route between Gouda and Alphen aan den Rijn, but the longer term plan was that RGL services would be extended through Leiden Centraal railway station and then travel over new track to Katwijk, with a branch to Noordwijk.

For the tram-trains the existing heavy rail track was adapted, existing stations were fitted with new low level platforms - either as extensions to existing high level platforms or by building them on the opposite side of the track to the high level platforms - and seven additional stops added.

However various concerns, especially over the cost of the new construction resulted in the tram-train scheme floundering.

Although the tram-trains generally proved popular there was some adverse comment because the tram-trains lacked provision for first class passengers and did not have toilets.- these being standard features on the mainline trains One feature which the tram-trains included that the mainline trains did not was the forward view through a window behind the driver's cab.

This experiment was formally ended by the provincial government in January. Instead there will be more frequent trains, more stations and more buses.

RijnGouweLijn tram-train. RijnGouweLijn tram-train.
Dutch tram-train crosses the swing bridge across the Gouwe river
Image & license: Johi / nl Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Approaching Waddinxveen Noord station showing high and low level platforms.
Copyrighted Wikipedia encyclopædia image licensed for unrestricted use.

Two other instances of Dutch track sharing which involve metro / light rail / trams are looked at below. This includes the RandstadRail system which includes converted heavy rail and other sections of line.

Track Sharing In Italy

Slowly evolving on the Italian island of Sardinia, the Metrotranvia / Metrosassari (Sassari Light Rail) includes a single track street tramway which was built to the same track gauge (950mm) as the existing suburban narrow gauge railway operated by the Ferrovie della Sardegna (Railways of Sardinia). Street tramway operations began in 2006 and in 2009 the trams were extended over a small portion of the suburban railway. This system is still very much in its infancy, with much of the tram-train network still under construction or in the advanced development phase.

Also on Sardinia, the Metrotranvia di Cagliari / Metrocagliari (Cagliari Light Rail) sees tram-trains using a section of reconstructed railway which became unable to cope with the numbers of passengers using it. Electrified at 750V dc the line is mostly single track with two short sections of double track. This system is also planned to be expanded.

Sassari Metrotranvia Metrosassari tram-train. Cagliari Metrotranvia di Cagliari Metrocagliari tram-train.
Tram in Sassari
Image & license: Gunnar1m / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Tram Škoda 06T of the light railway of Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) and diesel multiple car ADe of Ferrovie della Sardegna waiting in the halt of Monserrato Gottardo, terminus of the line 1 of the light rail and of the railway for Isili.
Image & license: Alex10 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Track Sharing In Spain

Inaugurated in 2003 and slowly evolving, the Alicante TRAM (Metropolitano de Alicante [Spanish] / Metropolità d'Alacant [Valencian]) comprises a group of services which operate in the Spanish city of Alicante and its surrounding area. Most services use modern electric light rail vehicles which outside the city centre travel over specially electrified heavy rail tracks, where they replace narrow gauge diesel trains. However since electrification works are still underway so the diesel trains still operate on a section of line which feeds into one of the light rail services. As with the other narrow gauge railways of the Valencian Community, the Alicante TRAM service is operated the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV).

Benidorm Station Alicante TRAM.
TramTrain and diesel train services meet at Benidorm - both services arrive from different directions and terminate here, so until electrification has been completed passengers wanting a through service need to interchange.
Image & license: Pixelat / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

And here in Britain?

Here in Britain many transport advocates saw the triple digit increases in passenger numbers in Karlsruhe and began to wonder if similar could become part of the wider British transport scene. As might be expected the reasons were (are) similar to those in Europe, as well as trying to find ways to improve passenger loadings on under-used rail lines - especially those with infrequent services and / or where the stations are not conveniently located (with the light rail using short street-based deviations to better located stations) and restoring local passenger services on routes currently only used by freight trains.

In 1994 the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation proposed a tram-train system featuring track sharing with local mainline trains on the Cardiff Valley lines, with services then extended through urban streets to reach central and southern areas of the city. However the HMRI (Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate) who at the time were the body concerned with railway safety proved to be unwilling to give their approval and the scheme died.

Whilst both the Manchester Metrolink and Croydon Tramlink systems have been very successful in revitalising formerly closed and open but under-used mainline railway routes it should be noted that they were both complete conversions from heavy rail to urban tramway / do not involve any aspect of track sharing.

Croydon Tramlink tram.
A Croydon Tramlink tram at Wimbledon station, where it uses part of a platform also served by Thameslink mainline trains.

Transport "experts" seemed surprised that when the trams took over the former mainline service between Wimbledon and West Croydon there was a very significant 700% increase in passenger loadings.

Perhaps it was because the tram service took people where they wanted to go (ie: into the heart of Croydon) without additional travelling? Or maybe that a mainline train at the somewhat bizarre frequency of every 44 minutes was just plain 'passenger repelling' whilst a tram every 10 minutes (or even more frequent) is 'passenger enticing'?

Now there is a shortage of trams and at busy times overcrowding has become a problem.

There is a vast untapped market for rail travel here in Britain - we just need decent, affordable, frequent services which go where we want to go.

Not all rail lines can be fully converted to light rail - freight and other services should not be displaced - but with track sharing the benefits are still achievable.

Track sharing was proposed for part of the Nottingham NET tramway but instead it was decided to use route-sharing, which is not quite the same (see below). In Manchester most of the original sections of Metrolink saw existing heavy rail trains completely replaced with the light rail vehicles, with (on the Altrincham route) some longer distance mainline passenger services being quite literally 'thrown off' their existing route and forced to take a longer, slower detour. With track sharing this would not have been necessary - although admittedly it is possible that sometimes the non-stop heavy rail services would have been delayed behind the all-stations trams. But that is a different issue...

The first British location where light rail and heavy rail vehicles share tracks is on part of the Sunderland extension of the Tyne & Wear Metro - but here the situation is different because although the Metrocars follow some light rail philosophies they were designed at the 'top' end of the light rail gamut being as much 'heavy' light rail vehicles as 'light' heavy rail vehicles. Furthermore, the service they provide is more akin to what is known as a light metro than light rail. Unlike the tramcars used in Blackpool, Manchester, Sheffield, West Midlands, Croydon, Nottingham and on the Wirral, the Tyne & Wear Metrocars are not street compatible - which means that (unless modified) they are not suitable for use in the street environment - either using street tracks shared with other traffic or unfenced right of ways alongside the roads / footpaths.

As yet it seems that the Tyne & Wear Metro's Sunderland extension has not been an immediate rip-roaring success of the type seen in locations such as Karlsruhe and Croydon. To be fair however, it could be that even comparing with these other locations and their triple digit percentage increases in passenger numbers is an act of folly. It needs to be bourne in mind that simply introducing a new service is not always in itself enough to ensure that passengers flock to them. Whilst people do like travelling by rail transports (of all kinds) they still have to offer benefits which are tangible. Otherwise they become mere joyrides for tourists and transport enthusiasts - which is not what urban transport is about. The question of 'success' is complicated by government policy which seems to be only really interested in financial results - which need to become apparent 'asap' (and not other longer term socio-economic benefits). This latter point is relevant because the lack of apparent and instant success for the service to Sunderland (as well as the Manchester Metrolink Eccles extension and the Midland Metro) seems to have served to poison the water with respect to obtaining government investment funds for tram / light rail schemes elsewhere - especially Leeds and Liverpool / Merseyside - where large sums of money were spent preparing for the trams, only to have matters financial cause the proposed systems fall over at the last hurdle. It did not help however that the governments' onerous financial criteria made the proposed systems cost more to install than they otherwise would have. Indeed the situation is such that the financial equation even has to include the treasury's loss of tax revenues from people not buying motor fuels (petrol / diesel) because they have switched to the new public transport!

Manchester's Eccles line shows what can happen when the transport runs unreasonably s-l-o-w-l-y; Birmingham (Midland Metro) shows what happens when government penny-pinching means that the 'starter line' fails to reach a logical traffic destination (yet despite being incapable of doing so is still expected to wash its face financially) whilst Sheffield shows how people can be 'price sensitive' and that it is crazy to install the transport at the same time as demolishing the residential estates the transport was installed to serve! Experience in Nottingham shows that when the trams serve logical destinations, complement with (instead of compete against) local buses and include park & ride facilities then even in Britain trams can be successful - even when judged by onerous (hostile) government / treasury financial benchmarks!

Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland. Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland.
Left: On the track shared route to Sunderland the mainline trains follow the circular speed limit sign (with speeds varying according to type of train, which is usual practise on the railways) and the Metro follows the lozenge shaped sign.

The 30mph (50km/h) speed limit would be for certain types of freight train where only some of the freight wagons are braked whilst the higher 70mph (120km/h) limit will be for fully braked freight trains and passenger trains. The Metro's 80km/h is about 50mph, which means that Metro trains are permitted to travel at a top speed that is almost 30% slower than the mainline trains. Even allowing for their faster acceleration this is still significant speed reduction!

Right: Mainline and Metro trains pass at East Bolden station.
At one time this station was served by semi-fast mainline trains; now it is only served by 'all stations' Metro trains. This means that passengers benefit from a more frequent service, but in a 'swings and roundabouts' situation they also lose out from journeys which take quite a bit longer. Whereas journeys to Newcastle Central Station previously saw trains calling at just a couple of intermediate stations they now call at 7 intermediate stations. Possibly however when the time saved from no longer having to change between trains in Newcastle is taken into account so through journeys to destinations in the heart and north side of Newcastle are easier.

When looking at converting lines to light rail and introducing track sharing it needs to be bourne in mind that replacing fast services with slower services is not necessarily the excellent, passenger-enticing solution which some advocates suggest it could be. Whilst the faster rates of acceleration of the newer light rail vehicles will usually help plug the top speed gap the overall journey times may still be slower. It may be that the people who no longer need to change trains to reach their ultimate destination will benefit from the new service (especially if the time taken to change trains is included in the equation), however people travelling to ultimate destinations within walking distance of stations served by the mainline trains (in this case Newcastle Central and Heworth) are, if anything, more likely to lose out. So for them any benefit from a more frequent service (if this is applicable) has to be counter-balanced with the disbenefit of longer overall journey times. This especially applies to the people from whose local stations the faster service has been withdrawn. Of course passengers using any of the brand new intermediate stations will benefit from new services nearer to where they live, but that is a different issue. It is also worth remembering that there may be faster (and competitively priced) road transport alternatives.

It should be noted that the Karlsruhe, Saarbrücken and Kassel tram-trains are all capable of 100km/h (62mph) whilst the Metrocars have a maximum speed of just 80km/h (50 mph). Also, in Germany & France the mainline routes are electrified at mainline voltages - not only is the 1500V dc of the Metro system simply incapable of benefiting freight or other mainline services but it even precludes the introduction of same. Maybe however when the Metro's rolling stock is renewed so the replacements will be of a dual voltage design, so that the mainline railway can be re-electrified at the standard mainline voltage, which here in Britain is 25,000 v ac.

The section of line beyond Sunderland to South Hylton is mostly a closed line which has been reopened. As such it could be that expectations of instant passenger number surges are unrealistic? Maybe - as with the reopening of closed lines which form part of London's Docklands Light Railway - the South Hylton line's primary initial expectations should be to act as a catalyst to spearhead local inward investment, creating the employment and housing which will eventually bring in the passengers? As a local person suggested, at present this line does have minimal traffic potential... this line is a route from the edge of an industrial estate to the middle of nowhere.

As an aside, in the specific case of transport in the Tyne & Wear region, it could be that it would have been better (in the long term) if in the 1960's the 3rd rail electric railway had not been de-electrified. The city centre tunnels which were built for the Metro could still have been built, albeit as part of an existing electric mainline suburban railway system - as in Liverpool / Merseyside. Many of the other benefits of the Metro could still have been achieved, including new stations, bus integration, airport extension, new style trains, etc., - indeed as with the Metrocars the LNER's electric trains of 1937 were also of an articulated design. The extension of electric services to Sunderland would still have been possible, in the same way that the Merseyrail system (as it is now known) has been extended to Chester and other destinations. The retaining of mainline trains would also have had other benefits too. Until the creation of the Metro the routes involved were open to all trains, whether passenger or freight. The total handover of the Tyneside loop from British Railways to the Metro (without track sharing) resulted in services such as the summer specials which travelled from locations 'far and wide' elsewhere in Britain (heading for destinations such as Whitley Bay) no longer being able to make these journeys. Excluding these services actually harmed the wider railway network. With track sharing there is no need to split off individual lines for dedicated services in this way. Passengers also lost out because through ticketing to other destinations outside the local area was withdrawn.

Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland. Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland.
Sunderland station features a single long island platform which is split into 4 sections (two per direction) with mainline trains using platforms 1 & 4 at the northern end and Metro trains using platforms 2 & 3 at the southern end. This makes it easier for passengers to be at the correct part of the platform for the train service they wish to use.

These images show the dividing point and a signal partway along the line.

This station and its brickwork could be said to be noteworthy for its passenger environment. It was not always like this - the station was rebuilt in this way in 1965. As of spring 2008 it is undergoing a refit to make it a more visually attractive place to be.
Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland. Tyne Wear metro track sharing Sunderland.
Mainline train bound for Hexham calls at Sunderland Central station. Metro train bound for Airport calls at Sunderland Central station.

The first British 'Train-Trams'

In March 2008 it was announced that there would be a trial of train-trams on the rural British railway route known as the Penistone Line which links Huddersfield with Sheffield. Two of the reasons why this line was chosen are that it creates a possibility for phase 2 of the trials to include extending the train-trams into Sheffield city centre by sharing the tracks of the Sheffield Supertram system and that this line has a Community Rail Partnership designation, with there being a well-informed highly active local rail user group.

The justification for the experiment was stated to be that tram-trains...

...are lighter and 'greener' than conventional trains. They use less fuel and weigh less, which reduces wear and tear on tracks therefore decreasing the need for disruptive maintenance works. They have faster acceleration and deceleration rates so they can also offer passengers better journey times.

Among the (technical) issues to be faced are:-

  • How to ensure safety with regard to the gap between platform edge between light rail vehicles which are 2.65m in width at mainline stations designed for trains which are 2.8m wide
  • How to ensure accessibility for light rail vehicles which (most likely) will be designed for 'low' level tram style platforms but also need to call at stations with the traditional British 'high' platform.
  • How to ensure wheel compatibility of light rail vehicles so that they can operate on both mainline and tramway style tracks, which although similar in theme are very different in detailed technical standards.

In some ways it does seem that what is being proposed here is primarily about finding ways to make existing railways cheaper to operate (which in itself is a worthy cause) with any potential benefits from better rolling stock or services being of secondary importance (fortunate spin-offs). That said, it was a fortunate and unexpected spin-off when passenger numbers increased after the shortage of heavy rail trains resulted in a temporary use of light rail vehicles on the German route between Karlsruhe and the nearby town of Pforzheim.

At present many services on this route are provided by class 144 'Pacer' trains, which are of a design built by the former state owned British Railways with the primary aim of being as cheap as possible, with their intended use being on socially necessary routes which were not deemed to be financially viable. As such they already fulfil some of the requirements for 'lighterweight' mainline trains - indeed it is not for nothing that some transport pundits have (rather unkindly) asked whether these Pacer trains are 'light' heavy rail or 'heavy' light rail. Similar trains serve (or have served) many areas in Britain with many of the passengers who use them frequently being less than wholesome in their praise of their antiquated basic design (eg: the single wheel / no bogie design dates from the very early days of the railways and results in a lower quality of ride). Therefore many passengers would be happy to see their replacement with more modern and attractive 'light rail style' rolling stock.

Class 144 Pacer at Meadowhall.
Seen at the station which serves the Sheffield Meadowhall retail complex, the class 144 'Pacer' train provides many of the services on the Penistone Line. Since being built this train has been refurbished, a process which included replacing the vary basic bus-type seating with more comfortable high-back seating.

In Europe several such designs of lighterweight trains already exist. The train-trams of Zwickau are just one example. Here in Britain there are many routes where such trains would represent an improvement over what is currently used.

It could therefore be asked whether what is being proposed for the Penistone Line will prove to be little more than an evolutionary process downwards from heavy rail? To a large extent this will depend on the type of rolling stock which is used. Perhaps rolling stock of the type seen below would be more appropriate for this route?

Bombardier Talent in Salzburg, Austria. Inside a Bombardier Talent train.
Modern articulated lighterweight trains such as this operate in several countries in Europe as well as in Canada. The train seen here comes in a number of variants, including high-floor, low-floor (as seen in these images), diesel-mechanical, diesel-hydraulic, diesel-electric, electric, and tilting, and in lengths of two, three, or four carriages. As with most multiple-unit trains, they can run individually or be coupled together to form longer trains. However because of our smaller loading gauge so only some of the various manufacturer's designs would be compatible with the British railway system. Note that most of these designs are only suitable for railway use, and not train-tram / tramway type operation.

Change of plan: Different Route(s)

In September 2009 it was announced that the tram-train trial would be switched to a different route. The new proposals are for the service to start at Sheffield city centre and travel over the existing Supertram tracks as far as the Meadowhall Interchange where they will switch to mainline railway (Network Rail) tracks and continue on to the nearby town of Rotherham. The stated reason for this change of plan is that electric tram-trains were found to be more economically viable.

The section of mainline railway route to be served in these trials will need electrifying before services could commence. It this will initially be at the tramway voltage of 750V dc and then converted to the mainline railway voltage of 25,000V ac when the Midland Main Line railway route is converted to electric traction. Once converted to the higher voltage this route will then be accessible to other electric trains too - something which is not possible on the section of shared track used by Tyne & Wear Metrotrains heading towards Sunderland.

In June 2013 this tram-train trial finally passed all the human politics hurdles and the government gave it a green light. It is being seen as a two year trial (2015 - 2017) during which time it will also act as a proof-of-concept so that the rail industry can understand and assess the technical issues involved in such operations.

In all the Supertram fleet is to be boosted by seven new double-articulated tramcars. Whilst they will all be tram-trains designed for both 750V dc and 25,000V ac operation only four are destined for the tram-train project. This is because it requires three tram-trains, plus a maintenance spare. The other three new vehicles are required to boost Supertram service frequencies.

The tram-trains destined for operations on both Supertram and Network Rail metals will have a special wheel profile designed to be compatible with both mainline railway and tramway operations and will only be able to travel over sections of the Supertram network which has compatible track infrastructure. For this all sections of Supertram that will used by the tram-trains had to have the embedded rails replaced. This is from the Cathedral tramstop to where the mainline and tramway systems separate. This task was completed in 2015. It remains to be seen if the rest of the incompatible tracks on the Supertram network is also replaced.

If this pilot scheme is deemed to have been successful then similar schemes may be adopted elsewhere.

December 2015 update: The first of these tram-trains arrived in the UK towards the end of November 2015. The plans had been for the tram-trains to be running in 2015, but this slipped to 2016 and and since the link between tramway and mainline railway still needs installing plus the mainline railway needs electrifying so 2017 seems more likely. On the mainline railway these will be known as Class 399 with individual vehicles being numbered 201 updwards.

Therefore it is likely that when they initially start carrying passengers it will be solely in tramway mode - and where the tracks are compatible. Through services on mainline railway tracks will come eventually.

Planned Sheffield tram-train.
Press release image of a planned Sheffield tram-train.

In October 2009 a second tram-train trial was announced. The idea was for tram-trains to replace mainline passenger trains on the branch line between Watford Junction and St Albans. Watford is just outside London (to the north) and the line is electrified at 25,000V ac using overhead wires. It is assumed that the plan included permitting the freight trains which use this line to continue to be able to do so. The official press release announcing these proposals included the following:

The proposed improvements would enable passengers to travel between St Albans and Watford on a regular half-hourly tram and allow for the possibility of an even greater frequency of three trams per hour. The trams would replace the existing train service link, which currently operates on an irregular schedule with just one train every 45 minutes, providing a better service for around 450,000 passengers a year who currently use it.

In May 2013 the government announced that it was pulling out from the proposal to convert what is known locally as the Abbey Flyer into a tramway. The plan would have included ownership of the rail line being transferred from Network Rail to Hertfordshire County Council (the local government for the area) but it was said that the legal hurdles were too difficult to overcome* [Quote: "very complicated to unpick" Unquote]. So instead for the time being the service will remain as part of the franchise operated by London Midland. But the door has been left open for the line's status to change when the London Midland franchise is renewed, and the local government is looking at new street tramway services extending from both termini stations into the local town centres.

*It sounds bizarre but what is being blamed is the set-up of the rail industry and fare structures which date back to the days of British Railways. So, in other words, the quite reasonable desire of existing railway passengers to retain the ability to buy through tickets which include travel over this route as well as other parts of the national railway network was seen as an insurmountable hurdle. This suggests that the politicians and their civil service underlings are totally out of touch with the features that make for passenger enticing public transport.


Track Sharing between different
types of 'Light' Rail and Light Rail & Métro

These two examples come from Holland.

The first solution is about how the Dutch were able to improve transport between the town of Amstelveen and its neighbouring city of Amsterdam.

The chosen methodology involved extending Amsterdam's tram line No.5, and creating light rail line No.51 which uses a fleet of special twin system LRV's that in Amsterdam share part of the (3rd rail) métro (both underground & at surface level) and in Amstelveen share a reserved section of track with the (overhead wire) street tram route No.5.

Amsterdam tram in street.
In Amsterdam route 5 is a normal street-based tram.
Amstelveen light rail tram routes 51 and 5. Amsterdam metro light rail.
In Amstelveen routes 51 and 5 share a reserved-track right of way which is mostly located in the median of a dual-carriageway. In Amsterdam route 51 shares trackage with the métro. (Both at surface level and underground).

Although the shared 5 + 51 route is within the 'street environment' different wheel profiles (and the lack of 'high level' platforms at stops) makes the dedicated fleet of twin system LRV's incapable of travelling over the street trackage shared with road vehicles. They may be light rail vehicles but they are not trams!

To maintain 'easy access' for the trams on route 5 (which are designed to call at kerb height platforms) and the LRV's on route 51 (which use high floor platforms) the stations on the joint route feature extra long dual height platforms with the different types of vehicle calling at separate portions.

LRV dual height platform Amstelveen tram dual height platform Amstelveen.
A 'high platform' LRV on route 51 passing through the 'kerb height boarding' section of a station platform. Also visible here is the footplate in the lowered position (see below). A 'kerb height boarding' tram on route 5 passing through the 'high platform' section of a station platform.

When operating on the shared métro tracks the LRV's on route 51 are supposed to follow close behind the much larger (as in "longer and therefore higher capacity") métro trains. This is to prevent overcrowding.

Because of the width difference between the LRV's and métro trains it was felt desirable to find a way of plugging the gap between the vehicle and station platform edge. This has been achieved by means of a step plate which is raised when travelling over sections of track where the stations were constructed to be suitable for metro rolling stock.

Amsterdam LRV footplate.
A study of the footplate in the raised position so that it fills most of the gap between the LRV and the station platform.
Amsterdam LRV. Amsterdam LRV.
Comparative views of a LRV on route 51 calling at a platform which is also suitable for the wider metro trains, showing the step plate in the lowered position left and the raised position right.

Whilst the dual-height platform solution works it can be inconvenient for passengers who are travelling to another stop along the route so therefore just want the next service. What makes life even more complicated is that following the introduction of the OV-chipkaart electronic ticketing system the sections of platform are treated differently. Since the light rail is partially integrated with the metro it has to follow the metro's ticketing system which means that passengers must swipe their electronic tickets (ie: check in/out) using platform-mounted card readers before commencing their journey and after it has finished. Meanwhile, passengers using the street tram must check in/out eat each end of their journey using the card readers inside the tram. This even applies to passengers with season tickets and day tickets. The OV-chipkaart is looked at on Fares & Ticketing Systems page 2

The other Dutch system is the RandstadRail network which connects The Hague, Zoetermeer and Rotterdam. RandstadRail mainly uses former railway and existing tram tracks, with a new flyover in The Hague and a new tunnel in Rotterdam. Between The Hague and the suburb of Zoetermeer the system uses low-floor tram-train style rolling stock whilst between The Hague and Rotterdam it uses high-floor light metro style rolling stock. Stations used by both sets of rolling stock feature extended platforms with high and low segments.

RandstadRail RandstadRail.
Randstadrail / Rotterdam Metro train near to Nootdorp station on the former Hofpleinlijn railway line which in 1908 became the first electric railway in Holland.
Image & license: Mauritsvink / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY 3.0
Randstadrail RegioCitadis tramtrain using former mainline railway tracks in The Hague.
Image & license: Mauritsvink / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain

The Randstadrail networks includes the architecturally distinctive 400 metre Netkous viaduct which the tramtrains use when travelling between The Hague's tramway and the former mainline railway.

Often likened to a fishnet stocking, this viaduct features a load-bearing structure in the form of a mesh sleeve. The aim was to create a very strong structure with large spans that could be as much as 50 metres in length and thereby reduce the number of support pillars.

The viaduct also includes a tramstop which serves the Beatrixkwartier business district.

RandstadRail RandstadRail.
RandstadRail lines 4 (a tramtrain) & E (a Rotterdam light metro train) near Station Den Haag Laan van NOI.
Image & license: Tukka / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
The RandstadRail netkous viaduct in The Hague
Image & license: Tukka / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.

A French example of different types of light rail sharing tracks can be found in Lyon, where what was originally known as the LESLYS (Liaison Express Lyon-Saint Exupéry) airport railair link (now known as Rhônexpress) shares tracks with urban tramline T3. These services also use a portion of former historic mainline railway CFEL (Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Est de Lyon) which is no longer used by mainline trains and has been electrified at tramway voltage.

Lyon T3 tram-train. Lyon T3 tram-train.
Tram on line T3 and a Rhônexpress LRV at Meyzieu Z.I.station. As this station is the terminus for the T3 so this station has four platforms with the T3 trams using the central island platforms and the Rhônexpress uses the outer two platforms.
Image & license: Florian Fèvre / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
Meyzieu station also features four tracks, the trams on T3 use the outer (platforms) tracks whilst the Rhônexpress uses the central tracks, albeit at low speed, for the safety of pedestrians using the foot crossing.
Image & license: Claude villetaneuse / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0

Track Sharing between different types of 'Heavy' Rail

Track sharing between different types of heavy rail is not new, after all passenger and freight trains have shared the same tracks for many years. But, there is a significance in London with its underground railway which comprises two different 'types' of train, a small profile (often called 'tube' train - because part of their route network involves running through small circular 'tubes' deep underground) and a larger profile which uses trains of similar dimension to mainline trains.

In addition to underground trains of these different profiles sharing tracks there are several places where the underground and mainline services share trackage. These services date back to before the formation of London Transport in 1933 and are more accidental historical survivors rather than sensibly planned joint services.

Track sharing London Underground. Track sharing London Underground + Overground.
A Piccadilly line 'tube' train passes a Metropolitan line 'subsurface' train at the historic Ruislip station on the route to Uxbridge. A Bakerloo line train sharing with the north London mainline local services which nowadays only link Watford Junction with Euston.
Track sharing London Underground + Overground. Six language poster at Kew Gardens Station which exhorts passengers to take the correct train for their destination.
The Richmond branch of the District Line shares with the North London Line Overground trains to Stratford. These views were taken at Kew Gardens Station, which is close to the globally renown botanical gardens of the same name.
As the picture above right suggests, passengers need to be aware of the various destinations available from the same platform - otherwise they could end up in parts of London where they (especially tourists) very much might not want to be.
(Although the trains look slightly different the situation remains the same).

The Metropolitan Line was originally planned as a mainline railway and in addition to its own steam trains also carried other companies' InterCity expresses between London (Marylebone) and Manchester via Aylesbury, Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. British Railways killed off the longer distance trains in the 1960's, but outer-suburban Chiltern Railways services to Aylesbury via Amersham still use London Transport's tracks for part of their journey. For many years the Metropolitan also served Aylesbury, but the line beyond Amersham was given to BR when the last Metropolitan locomotive-hauled trains were withdrawn from service.

Although very rare InterCity 125 trains have been known to have used this line.

Track sharing London Underground + Chiltern train DMU. Train pulled by a Steam locomotive and Sarah Siddons electric engine pass a Chiltern 165 DMU during Steam On The Met.
A Chiltern 'Turbo' 165 train heading for Marylebone leaves Chorleywood station. The smoke above the train clearly identifies it as being diesel powered. The Metropolitan line was originally built as a mainline railway and can still be used by steam, diesel & electric locomotive hauled trains, as well as the diesel Chiltern 'Turbo' trains (as seen leaving other platform).

The other location where mainline trains use trackage owned by the Underground is on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line. Until railway privatisation in the mid 1990's these tracks were actually owned by British Railways although since 1939 only the Underground provided a regular (local) passenger service over them.

Track Sharing between computer and human driven trains

For a number of years London's underground railway used to host an instance of track sharing between automatically (computer) driven trains and manually (human) driven trains. This was on the Hainault - Woodford section of the Central Line, and its reasoning was as part of the development of the automatic train control system which eventually became used on the fully automated Victoria line which opened in the late 1960's.

On the Central Line test-bed the automatic trains provided a local shuttle service whilst the human driven trains were peak hour extras (and depôt journeys) which added to the base service. Although more recent resignalling of the entire line and introduction of new trains means that this form of track sharing no longer exists, while it lasted it proved that computer and human driven trains can safely co-exist.

Track sharing between different transports - Rail and Bus

Apart from all-rail track sharing there are / were places where buses run on special tracks shared with trams. Both examples come from Germany, and involve kerb guided buses, this being a bus-on-rails technology which is also known as O-Bahn. There is no reason why similar could not be achieved here too - as ever 'human politics' is the biggest hurdle to overcome. (Guided buses are looked at on this page.)

Essen spurbus O-Bahn guided bus sharing tracks with a tram strassenbahn. Mannheim spurbus O-Bahn guided bus sharing tracks with a tram strassenbahn.
In Essen buses used to share a tramway tunnel; due to problems with the experimental bus 'trackage' only the trams still travel underground.
(Seen on a tunnel entry ramp). NB: The clickable large image has been sourced from S-VHS-C videotape and is a little fuzzy.
click me for video
Click either the projector icon or here to see a 12 second video clip named 'Essen_sharing320.mpg' showing the above location. .
In Mannheim city-bound (inbound) buses share a tram private right-of-way to side-step congestion leading up to a busy road junction. Country-bound buses do not suffer from traffic congestion so continue to use the public roadway.
Since this photograph was taken the buses have been replaced and the kerb guidance system replaced with a normal tarmac road surface - but still only for buses for travelling in this direction.
Image & license: LosHawlos / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0

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Route Sharing

With route sharing the transports will operate alongside each other whilst retaining their own tracks. Compared to track sharing this has both advantages and disadvantages. Route sharing will be the only option for locations where the trains have incompatible physical or operating characteristics.

The advantages include:-

  • A delay on one service will be less likely to also affect the other line.
  • Where the trains have different operating characteristics (such as some use fully automated 'computer driven' trains whilst others require a human driver at the front) route sharing is easier to manage.
  • It is easier to arrange full accessibility for trains of different physical dimensions which require station platforms to be of different heights.
  • For busy services with different stopping patterns (ie: not all trains call at all stations) it may be easier to operate 'fast' and 'slow' trains if they are kept apart.

The disadvantages include:-

  • Can be inconvenient to passengers if they have to choose at which platform to wait for the next service, and they make a wrong choice!
  • Extra tracks, station platforms, etc., require more land space plus cost more to build and maintain.

Examples of Route Sharing

Route Sharing is used so much here in Britain that it is possible to show six different examples - all of which come from within these shores!

The suburban rail line out of London's Fenchurch Street station demonstrates both route sharing with light rail and different types of types heavy rail.

Route sharing with light rail involves the Docklands Light Railway, which features high frequency computer driven trains. When it was built the DLR "took over" one pair of the mainline railway's tracks (at the London end of the route) with the mainline railway retaining the other pair. At the time there was some criticism of this, but it should not have adversely affected the mainline services because with so many former destinations no longer served the mainline railway was considered to not be making full use of all four tracks and, anyway, much of the remaining route only features one pair of tracks. Furthermore it is worth noting that the DLR needed the pair of tracks because it effectively re-opened some of those formerly closed lines which many years ago used to be served by trains from Fenchurch Street station.

Further out into east London the Fenchurch Street services route-share with the London Underground. In the days of steam locomotives the mainline trains also used both pairs of tracks here too - in the process sharing tracks used by the electric underground trains - but when (in 1962) the mainline was electrified the two sets of trains were totally segregated with services being recast so that the underground had exclusive use of one pair of tracks for the local 'all-stations' service whilst the mainline trains retained the other pair of tracks for longer distance services - cutting out all except one intermediate station (Barking) - which was rebuilt to provide a convenient cross platform interchange facility between the two services. As an aside the opening of the Jubilee Line in 1999 saw the creation of brand new platforms (at West Ham) to facilitate interchange with the new underground line. This is a station which the mainline railway had previously not served.

Incidentally, until the start of WW2 this route also hosted some through trains (which were named the Southend Corridor Express) and ran from Ealing Broadway in west London along the District line through central London to the seaside town of Southend-on-Sea, changing between electric and steam locomotive haulage whilst calling at either Barking or East Ham stations in east London (not illustrated)

Route Sharing examples on the route out of London's Fenchurch Street Station.

Docklands Light Railway train and C2C mainline train side by side on shared route in East London. District line Underground train and C2C mainline train side by side on shared route in East London.
There is no way that London's Docklands Light Railway - with its 'computer driven' trains - could share tracks with mainline services (as seen through a passing mainline train's open window). District Line train using 660V dc 3rd & 4th rail electric system and mainline train using 25,000V ac overhead wire electric system.

A Route Sharing example from elsewhere in east London.

Also in east London the 1999 extension of London Underground's Jubilee Line to Stratford created another instance of route sharing between underground and mainline trains - this being the easternmost section of the North London Line. Although the mainline service here was very infrequent (so infrequent that it actively deterred many would-be passengers) and exactly the same mainline trains (class 313) already track share with London Underground trains in two other locations (District and Bakerloo lines) it was decided to keep the services on their own independent tracks. The reasons for this included:-

  • The legal requirement for the underground railway (being a brand-new installation) to be fully 'accessible' which would have seen the need for extra long dual height platforms with different sections for the different size trains.
  • The known dislike by the health & safety people for track sharing between London's small profile tube trains and mainline sized trains - of any operator, including the services provided by the London Underground.
  • A future desire for the Jubilee Line to use automated (computer) driven train control systems.
  • To avoid delays to the mainline service caused by Jubilee Line trains queuing to enter Stratford station (which for them is a terminal station).
  • To "future proof" the services because long term plans included replacing this section of the North London Line with Docklands Light Railway services - and the DLR's third rail power system is physically different (incompatible) with that of the underground.

That last point is perhaps the most significant, because in late 2006 the mainline services were withdrawn from here, and at the time of this update (April 2007) the section of railway which route shares with the Underground is poised to be converted to become part of the DLR's branch to Stratford International station (for 2012 Olympics and Eurostar trains to France & Belgium).

For the record there are several more examples from the London area which could be mentioned (featuring mainline trains and either London Underground services or Croydon's trams) but these examples should suffice as demonstrations with respect to what Route Sharing is about.

Apart from London.

Outside of London there are four systems which include instances of route sharing between light and heavy rail:- The Midland Metro. The Nottingham Express Transit, The Manchester Metrolink and the Tyne & Wear Metro. (The latter is in addition to the track sharing elsewhere on the system).

The Nottingham and Greater Manchester systems include level crossings on the route shared sections of line and for safety reasons it was decided that in such circumstances there should have be one organisation with ultimate authority over all railway operations at the crossing - this being a duty undertaken by the mainline railway track authority, Network Rail.

Midland Metro route sharing with mainline trains. Nottingham NET route sharing with mainline trains.
In Birmingham (West Midlands) the Midland Metro has exclusive use of its own tracks which parallel the mainline for the first 5km after Snow Hill Station. Although track sharing was initially proposed in Nottingham this did not happen; instead the trams and mainline trains route share. In places the lack of space also means that both lines are reduced from the two tracks each (as seen here) to a single bi-directional track each.
Manchester Metrolink route sharing with mainline trains. Tyne and Wear Metro route sharing with mainline trains.
On Metrolink a short section of track near and through Navigation Road station was converted into twin bi-directional single lines as an alternative to track sharing between two different types of rail services. Here a heavy rail service heading towards the city of Chester and a light rail service for Manchester Piccadilly pass on the level crossing next to Navigation Road station. Route sharing on the southern section of the Tyne & Wear Metro.

Track and Route Sharing Issues & Comparisons - In A British Context

Whilst the introduction of the light rail services seen above has proven to be beneficial to the local communities served it could be considered to be unfortunate that because track sharing was not used there has been a certain amount of disbenefit to some mainline services too (especially non-local services which originated from elsewhere in Britain).

On the Manchester Metrolink's Altrincham route other mainline services which originated from beyond this line were forcibly evicted, although fortunately it was possible to find an alternative (albeit slightly longer) railway route in to Manchester which was able to accommodate the displaced services.

When it was first opened some locations on the Tyne & Wear Metro included bi-directional sections of single track, so that on twin-track sections of former mainline railway freight services could route share using the other track. However, because (at the time) track sharing was not permitted the total handover of the Tyneside loop from British Railways to the Metro resulted in services such as the summer specials which travelled from locations 'far and wide' elsewhere in Britain (heading for destinations such as Whitley Bay) no longer being able to make these journeys. With track sharing these services could have continued to operate - OK it could be that with the changing travel patterns these trains would have been discontinued anyway, however that is a different issue.

What IS being suggested is that the complete isolation of sections of the railway just to create urban rapid transit systems (using any of the possible transport technologies) is of questionable benefit if it also disbenefits services from elsewhere. As was found during the time of Dr Beeching, 'chopping off' the branch lines can result in harm to the mainline too. (By means of reduced passenger flows because of the breaking up of the previous seamless journeys). This is also a fares & ticketing issue - wherever possible through ticketing should also remain - preferably not just for people travelling from afar to the route being shared, but also for local passengers travelling away from the shared route. This is to avoid financially disadvantaging the passengers...

With track sharing it is possible to maintain the unified railway, even for the occasional longer distance passenger service from outside of the area. Track sharing also means that freight trains can be accommodated too - even if only at night, when light rail passenger services are not running.

A Track and Route Sharing Comparison - With The Roads

It is understood that when prohibiting instances of track sharing the various officials are concerned about safety - so even though some of their decisions may prove to be detrimental to better local passenger rail services their reasons could be said to be for the highest good. After all, with rail-based transports the theme is one of 'safety first', and no matter what else (trains which run late, are overcrowded, expensive, etc) passengers have an expectation of absolute safety.

However, all this makes a stark contrast with the situation on the roads where there are no similar restrictions on mixing very heavy, and demonstrably dangerous, freight trucks / heavy goods vehicles with small, light, vulnerable passenger cars, motor cyclists etc.

The roads are where the real danger lies - and it is very possible that there will be occasions when by refusing to permit the far safer mixing of light and heavy rail so the various railway / railroad safety officials are de facto adding to the danger on the roads - because people who would have used the public transports / transits, had they been allowed to operate, are instead travelling by road.

Similar double-standards apply to level crossings - for the roads just about any vehicle can cross the tracks, and although there are usually warning lights, bells / sirens and sometimes some sort of lifting barrier or gate which provides for physical obstructions motor vehicles still frequently manage to break the rules, very often causing accidents as a result - which (in the news media and public perception) are almost always blamed on the railway, even though it is usually totally innocent of wrong doing. As a contrast, where tramways / light rail services cross tracks belonging to heavy rail services so the most stringent restrictions are applied with signalling system interlocking to ensure that collisions are avoided.

Track and Route Sharing Issues & Comparisons - The USA

San Diego light heavy rail track sharing.
Image & license: Akselx / en Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0
San Diego light heavy rail track sharing.
Image & license: The Port of Authority / en Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Track sharing between freight trains and light rail services has proven very successful in in San Diego, USA, where they use the temporal separation (ie: time sharing) principle which sees the light rail having exclusive use of the line during the day whilst freight trains use it at night.

In the USA all attempts at promoting track and route sharing are being pro-actively resisted by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the various private US railroads. Partly this is because their lawyers are very 'risk aware', which means that they just do not want to allow anything that might even remotely involve a risk - even where none exists.

However the FRA looks more favourably upon the idea of temporal separation ("time-sharing") of trackage which means that the different types of train (tramway / streetcar and other light railway or heavy rail intercity freight) have exclusive use of the tracks within clearly defined time period. This is how the San Diego Trolley is able to use a freight railway line between central San Diego and San Ysidro (Tijuana) - the trolleys (trams) run until late night, then freights take over and run in the middle of the night. The different types of train are not on the same lines at the same time. But temporal separation only works for fairly lightly used freight lines, and it rules out any kind of 24-hour LRT service on the line.

The following information comes from a US based transit advocate. It more deeply explains some of the issues.

Mike is absolutely correct. Just so European rail advocates and professionals are fully aware, this is a very serious issue here in the USA, and it is becoming more so. The FRA imposes severe restrictions on common shared usage of trackage that virtually prohibits "tram-train" service on the European model.

Lately the FRA has been expanding this rule to restrict even joint shared usage of right-of-way, even if it is on separate tracks. In Raleigh (North Carolina), this has meant dumping of a tramway (LRT) scheme in favor of a "heavy" DMU railway alternative; then the parallel railway imposed severe spatial separation stipulations (although the rail transit service was proposed on separate tracks). The costs eventually were driven so high that the benefit-cost ratio was jeopardized, so that the Bush-controlled Federal Transit Administration saw an opportunity to demand a recalculation of ridership under much more arduous rules - and voila! The proposed service failed to meet the FTA criteria. Sound like the "poor value for money" line of the UK's DfT? Hmmm...

Most recently, this policy has been further expanded, and adopted by major privately owned railroads. For example, in Denver, the BNSF is refusing to accept an LRT (tramway) alignment in its right-of-way, forcing the Regional Transit District to propose a "heavy" DMU scheme which it is now finding difficult to justify.

Meanwhile, transit advocates here continue to use Europe's example of safe, efficient operation of the "tram-train" strategy to pound away at the absurdities of US transport policy.

In Portland, the MAX LRT runs alongside the Union Pacific's track for a stretch along the Banfield Expressway alignment. The LRT tracks are shoe-horned in between the freeway lanes and the railroad - there's a rather good photo on . I'm not sure about the degree of separation (i.e., how many feet/meters) between the LRT and the railway ... but FRA (and private railroad) rules here are becoming more and more onerous, so that I would doubt transit planners will have such routing opportunities available today in most cases.

Two other services in the USA which use street-compatible lightweight diesel light rail vehicles are the Camden - Trenton New Jersey "River Line" which follows the River Delaware along the New Jersey / Pennsylvania border and the Capital MetroRail in Austin, Texas.

Both of these involve sharing tracks with freight trains and street trackage in the downtown (which in proper English means the city centres).

Austin Texas Capital MetroRail.
Austin Metrorail at Downtown Station, July 2010
Image & license: Michlaovic / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
River Line New Jersey Transit NJT. River Line New Jersey Transit NJT.
River Line train passing a level crossing near Hiway 73.
Image & license: Sanoyes / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
The Cooper Street / Rutgers University station, which is in the section of track that travels along city streets; unfortunately not filmed when a train was passing by.
Image & license: Adam Moss / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 2.0
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