Based on a visit made on 16 July 2012.
The Department for Transport recently announced a trial of tram-train technology in Sheffield. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is closely following the trial with a view to introducing tram-trains on the Mid-Cheshire railway line between Manchester, Northwich and Chester.
The proposal is that tram-trains operate on the Manchester Metrolink tram network as far as Altrincham where they would then join the existing Mid Cheshire line.
Tram-trains are tram like vehicles, capable of operating on both city tramway networks and conventional railway lines. They are built to a higher specification than standard trams to comply with railway safety and operational requirements.
To find out more my son Stephen and I visited the city of Kassel in central Germany where tram-trains have been used for 6 years.
Kassel, like many German cities, has an extensive tram network. In 2006 the network was extended onto four regional railway lines using tram-trains.
The vehicles were built by French company Alstom and come in two versions: all-electric and a dual mode diesel-electric model for use on non-electrified railway lines. It is the latter type that would be deployed on the Mid Cheshire line.
To try out the system, we took route RT4 from the centre of Kassel to the town of Wolfhagen, 20 miles west.
The journey started in the centre of the city where the tram-train runs on the city tram network alongside local services. The most noticeable difference between the tram-train and a conventional tram is the more substantial construction to comply with railway crash worthiness standards. They also have a higher top speed of 100 km/h (63 mph) compared with 80 km/h (50 mph) for city trams.
The tram-train runs through the city streets using electric power from the overhead wires to the main railway station where it enters a short subway emerging to join the main lines in the platforms.
Here the driver starts the roof mounted diesel engines and lowers the pantograph (current collection device) for the onward journey to Wolfhagen sharing the tracks with regular trains.
On the main line performance is excellent. Acceleration is rapid and the ride smooth. While the noise of the diesel engines is obvious, the vehicle is much quieter than the current trains on the Mid Cheshire line.
The interior of the vehicle is spacious, comfortable and fully accessible for people with disabilities.
Since tram-trains were introduced in Kassel, services operate at higher frequencies than the former rail service. Such is the popularity that track work is currently being carried out to increase capacity to provide a 30 minute off-peak frequency on all four routes.
I was impressed with the service, and it is certainly well used. I believe that tram-trains would be ideally suited to a route such as the Mid Cheshire line with frequent stops. The extension of the service onto the Manchester Metrolink tram network would provide direct services from Chester and Northwich to a variety of destinations in Manchester such as Old Trafford and the main shopping district without the need for change.
At the Chester end, the tram-trains could again run on existing roads into the city centre, but this would require considerable investment to install tracks.
18 July 2012 (date of visit to Kassel 16 July 2012)