Tramlink Shortlist Announced: A Possible Tale of Two Cities

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Back in January, TfL began the process of tendering for additional Trams for the Tramlink. These are intended to be used for a Monday – Saturday service between Elmers End and Therapia Lane, a service that will require ten units (five of which will be in service at any time).

The shortlist of bidders for this tender has now been announced, and it makes interesting reading. As Pedantic has pointed out on LR before, the Croydon Tramlink is wider than many systems, meaning that dimensions-wise matching stock isn’t as common as you might initially think. This would obviously not be a problem if the tender was for new units (if it was, then Bombardier would certainly have featured on the shortlist – they provided the current stock), but it isn’t – TfL’s preference is essentially for “second hand” units from somewhere else.

The absence of Bombardier from the shortlist presumably means that there are no spare units lurking in Cologne, where the Flexity Swift stock currently used on Tramlink first debuted. The shortlist does, however, feature Stadler Pankow GmBH, suggesting that there may be a few spare units of the Flexity’s “sister” stock – Variotram – lurking somewhere.

Sister perhaps suggests too much of a similarity, but its true that both stocks have crossed paths before. Bombardier are the current pedlers of the Flexity and its heirs but it was originally an Adtranz product. By contrast the Variotram, which can be found in Helsinki and various areas of Germany, was originally produced by Bombardier, but the company was forced to sell it to Stadler by the Competition Commission when they bought out Adtranz.

Also on the shortlist are Polish firm Pesa, who are most notably visible in Warsaw.

Most interesting though, is the presence on the shortlist of the City of Edinburgh/CAF.

Edinburgh’s ongoing Tram debacle is a fascinating one – a story which would be worthy of a post of its own were it not well outside our designated London beat. The short version is that thanks to rising costs and contractor disputes, Edinburgh currently have a perfectly decent contract for Trams with CAF from spain (and indeed have already taken receipt of units) but no lines on which to run them – a situation that is not likely to change until 2014 at the earliest (well beyond the original July 2011 suggested opening date).

The possibility of some of those trams finding their way to London, albeit on a temporary basis or for testing purposes, has been raised before. The presence of Edinburgh/CAF on the shortlist suggests that they are now resigned to the fact that, to corrupt a perfectly good saying, a Tram on the line is worth two in the Depot – possibly suggesting that their currently unusable tram stock be devolved to London whilst they look to pick up more units in the series later on.

Just how amenable TfL would be to that deal remains to be seen, and presumably depends on just how sweet a deal is being offered. The Edinburgh stock has undergone some modification to support the city’s geography and thus is, to a certain extent, untested stock – something TfL had presumably been looking to avoid. If the price-point were right, however, it could ultimately represent a good deal for TfL and the best of a bad situation for Edinburgh – for at least it would see their stock “blooded” before it debuted up north.

Whether TfL feel this would represent better value that going with the other shortlisted companies, however, remains to be seen.

Thanks to Chris for the spot

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.