Thursday, 8 February 2018

Bringing In The Old For The New

I was reading the Head Rambles blog earlier, as I do every day, and reading about the right fuck-up that has occurred in the city of Dublin since they introduced the 'Daniel Day Luas', or Dublin City Tram System to the rest of us.

It made me think about the scramble that seems to be happening everywhere to reintroduce old technology. It seems that City planners everywhere, in their rush to free up the clogged roads of the Cities, are introducing Trams all over the place. You can find them in Croydon, Manchester, Edinburgh, Sheffield - even Cardiff may well have a brand spanking new Tram system soon if the plans I have seen publicised by the Welsh Government come to fruition. And I am sure there are many more examples.

The thing they all have in common is that every one of them has cost eye-watering amounts to introduce, and every single one of them completely screwed up the Town/City centre arteries (roads) they were supposed to be relieving when they were first introduced. Then of course, they cost a similarly eye-watering amount to remedy the problems they caused in the first place - all paid for by the tax-payer naturally.

But it is not even new technology. If you look at most of the Cities mentioned above, they ALL had perfectly functioning Tram systems a 100 years ago. You can easily find pictures of them online with a simple Google search. Even my home city - Swansea - had a tram system at one time (there have even been suggestions to reintroduce trams in Swansea - despite the major failure of the so-called bendy-bus system that was aborted 3 years ago). I am sure that most of the major Towns and Cities of the UK had trams systems  a century ago.

What they all have in common is that they were all scrapped because they were old technology and the Towns and Cities were (supposedly) looking to the future. The same thing happened with the railways, though at least some of those survived into the modern age.

The irony is that we are now looking to the future in our major Towns and Cities by looking to the past. Or at least we are at the moment. Who is to say that in 10-15 years all these Tram systems will be being scrapped again as the same urban developments look to the next 'new' thing - which is probably from the past. I wouldn't be surprised to see Trolley-Buses making a comeback at this rate.

While we are talking about it, what is it about all these Towns & Cities that they have to name new things after famous people from those Towns/Cities/Country who, the moment they became famous, fucked off to live somewhere else. As far as I can tell, the majority of famous Irish people leave Ireland as soon as they become famous and settle down in the UK or USA. Meanwhile, famous people from the UK seem to leave to live in Ireland or America. It also seems to be a common theme amongst famous Americans these days too.

Anyway, to get back to the original subject, what is it about Town/City planners that they cannot come up with anything more innovative than to return to a system that was scrapped a century ago? 

Technology moves on at a staggering pace, yet transport seems to be going backward at a staggering pace. It is not just the trams. 50 years after Beeching ripped the guts out of the Railway Network, there are massive projects underway to reinstate or restore defunct railway lines all over the country (except in Wales because here you can only get funding for a Transport solution if it benefits Cardiff).

The proposed Swansea Tram system seems to have been kicked into the dust because the pen-pushers reckon there would not be the footfall. I am not convinced by that argument as the Swansea area has a population of around 220,000 people and the current road system in the centre of Swansea is attrocious and even if you get into the Centre it is hard to find somewhere to park and bloody expensive if you do. 

Personally, I would rather they had looked into introducing a monorail system in Swansea. It would have had the advantage of being elevated, so not interfering with existing transport and could have been developed as a loop system that feeds off to different surburbs at each end. The other advantage of the monorail system would be that the elevation would provide breathtaking views of Swansea Bay and be a tourist attraction. It would be the perfect replacement for the long-lost Mumbles Railway (the oldest passenger railway in the world) that was scrapped by an act of sheer vandalism by backward thinking Councillors 60 years ago. But nobody could ever accuse Swansea Council of being imaginative or innovative and I very much doubt anyone in the Council has the nous or the daring to take on such a project.

Yep, progress into the future seems to always be fuelled from the past.


  1. It was a lot less than 100 years since the trams. I remember constantly falling off my bike as a kid, when the wheels got stuck in the tramlines. I see exactly the same problem is back, with dire warnings to cyclists to watch out.

    My theory is that the "light rail" [i.e. tram] is back purely for status reasons. The Powers want to show off how progressive Dublin is. I notice that a lot of the filming done in Dublin invariably shows a tram in the background. Coincidence?

    1. I am sure you are right. After all, you know Dublin far better than I do. What I do know about Dublin is what I have seen on very old film of Dublin and that 100 years ago, there was a working tram system there.

      I am too young to remember the old tram systems myself, though I do remember the trolley buses. Even the Mumbles Railway disappeared long before I was born.

      I just find it ironic that for all the advancements in technology, the best ideas anyone can come up with for transport improvements is to reintroduce systems that first appeared in the 19th Century.