This page contains media comment about, or relevant to, PPM technology and developments. See also Environmental Comment, Industry Comment, Passenger Comment and Political & Government Comment.
“With many rail services across the country stopped in their tracks by the snow and icy conditions, Stourbridge’s revolutionary gas-powered tram has been proving a runaway success. Amid the chaos which has prevented many commuters from venturing into work, the Parry People Mover has been working its way up and down the line between Stourbridge Town and Junction stations with no disruption to its service – despite the heavy snow and chilly temperatures.”
‘People Mover beats the cold’, Stourbridge News, 30th December 2010
“The PPM [Class 139 railcar] seems ideal for a short branch with a 20mph speed restriction – it is quiet, comfortable and does the job with little fuss. ... I wonder: if the PPMs can provide capacity, reliability and economy – where else might they appear in this future age of austerity?”
PAUL BIGLAND, RAIL magazine, 3rd November 2010
||"Unless someone comes up with a much cheaper lightweight diesel train, or there is rapid further development of more innovative concepts like the Class 139 Parry People Mover, community lines will have to rely on increasingly hard to come by hand-me-downs from the big railway for many more years to come. That is not something that many activists relish ..."
ALAN WILLIAMS, Modern Railways, November 2009
"With Parry People Movers vehicles set to take over the Stourbridge Junction-Stourbridge Town branch from December 2008, interest has revived in whether this truly lightweight and efficient vehicle can restore passenger services over relatively short distances, thereby lowering the cost of operations whilst at the same time providing an appropriate quality service. According to Parry People Movers itself, this could be the solution to providing regular passenger services on lines which currently carry very few passenger trains, or only the very occasional freight, or even 'heritage' lines which do not operate daily but which usefully could if an economic, light rail solution (but not an intensive fully-fledged, urban-type tram operation) could step into the breach.
"The entry of Parry People Movers into the national franchised rail operation is significant. The two PPM 60 railcars ... will reduce considerably the daily cost of operating and maintaining the short branch and release a Class 153 for London Midland to use elsewhere."
'Reinstating rail routes in England - any progress?', Today's Railways UK, March 2008
"It has taken years but at last the potential value of this type of technology [lightweight rail] is being recognised. The Department for Transport has decreed that Britain's shortest branch line, the shuttle between Stourbridge station and the town centre, should be operated by Parry People Movers, which use energy stored in a flywheel for traction and are incredibly efficient. Two are being purchased and will undoubtedly attract attention from around the world."
CHRISTIAN WOLMAR, Transport Times, December 2007
||"'Tram-trains' could be used in cities and on rural railway lines, under plans considered by Ministers. The lightweight vehicles, which can run on railway tracks and tram lines, are popular in Europe. They are seen as a potential solution to easing congestion in urban centres and providing a cheaper alternative to conventional trains in country areas.
"Tom Harris, a junior transport minister, confirmed that the Government was interested in trams-trains. He went to Karlsruhe in Germeny two months ago to see them in action. Network Rail has run trials of one design at Stourbridge, Worcestershire [a reference to experimental operation of a PPM railcar in 2005-06].
"Neil Buxton, of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships, said: 'We see them as a way of moving the rural railway into the 21st century. We may well be able to increase services if they are brought into Britain.'
"Passenger transport executives in Leeds and Manchester are considering tram-trains. A DfT spokesman said it was looking at 'at the benefits and experience of other European countries in using lighter trains.'"
'Tram-train could revive rural lines', Sunday Telegraph, 11th November 2007
"In its recent high-level output specification (HLOS) for heavy rail, the Government said it would investigate the development of tram-trains. Of course, we already have seen the good news that Parry People Movers will operate the branch services on the Stourbridge Town-Stourbridge Junction line full-time as part of Govia's new West Midlands franchise operation... This innovation in DfT thinking could open up many possibilities across the country. The full-time use of PPMs in Stourbridge may not be the final word in the West Midlands."
MIKE KATZ and JOE FORTUNE, 'Fresh ideas may soon turn the tide in light rail's favour', Tramways & Urban Transit, October 2007
||"As far as the movers and shakers in the rail industry are concerned, 'lightweighting' is the future. The train builders, Network Rail and the Department for Transport have all been seduced by the idea of lighter trains... The benefits of lightweighting are tangible - less power is needed to shift the train, so the carbon footprint is smaller; there is less wear and tear on the tracks and the maintenance costs are reduced; and the production costs are likely to be much less than for a conventional train... Tram-trains tick the boxes for an industry desperate to shout its green credentials from the rooftops.
"Yet there is already a rail vehicle that can boast emissions four times lower than the average diesel multiple unit, with punctuality and performance figures rarely seen on today's railway, and which is cheaper to run... [It is Parry People Movers'] belief and hope that [PPML vehicles] could be a shot in the arm for that Holy Grail of the English rail scene - a line reopening. If anything, it's a sure fire bet for getting people to move to [PPML's] banner.
"Parry is winning friends and influencing people in the higher echelons of the industry. Both current Rail Minister Tom Harris and his Tory counterpart, Chris Grayling, have made the trip to Stourbridge to see the PPM for themselves, and came away impressed. Network Rail is also very interested in the PPM. [Network Rail's Chief Engineer Andrew] McNaughton says the results of a year-long trial were impressive. He believes the PPM and bigger equivalents could form part of a family of lightweight trains, with the IEP [InterCity Express Project] at the top and then another high-speed train.
"While the 12-tonne PPM deputised for the 40-tonne-plus Class 153 on the half-mile trip from Stourbridge Junction to Town station for a year of Sundays, it was able to prove it was well ahead of the traditional trains in terms of emissions [and] cost efficiency."
MARK FORSTER, 'Moving on up', RAIL magazine, 6th June 2007
||"Transport is often the most obvious of a city's shortcomings. From Beijing to Tehran to São Paulo, streets are choked with traffic and pedestrians are choking with fumes. The solution to this is clear: good public transport ... Rail transport generally does better [than buses].
"A folly can be seen in those Chinese cities that are responding to clogged roads by building carriageways one above the other. Such places would do better to emulate Seoul, whose last mayor tore down an elevated freeway in the middle of the city and thus restored to view a long-buried river seen by the locals as a source of spiritual health. This, and his improvements to public transport systems, have done wonders for his popularity.
"The filthy cities of the urbanising [i.e. developing] world can, and will, clean themselves up, just as the squalid cities of the rich world have done."
'Thronged, Creaking and Filthy',
A Special Report on Cities, The Economist, 5th May 2007
"Their [slum dwellers'] first need is to get out of poverty - and the slums. Yet technology, if it brought cheap and reliable commuting, might help: they could then afford to live on less expensive land in the suburbs."
'Et in Suburbia Ego',
A Special Report on Cities, The Economist, 5th May 2007
||"The Department for Transport's Review of the Community Rail Development Strategy has endorsed the principle of improving local rail services by using lightweight rail technology or 'Ultra Light Rail'. The report follows a successful year-long trial Sunday service at Stourbridge in the West Midlands, which used a 50-passenger railcar.
"The DfT review appears to confirm the desirability of lightweight rolling stock and lists several benefits, including reductions in infrastructure costs, fuel use and running times. It also suggests that it is Network Rail's responsibility to develop lightweight solutions for community rail.
"The document singles out the Stourbridge trial, pioneered by Cradley Heath based parry People Movers. It states that 'the use of a lightweight vehicle on the Stourbridge Town branch has shown that the vehicle can run reliably and there may be scope for all-week operation."
PETER PLISNER, BBC Midlands transport correspondent, in the Rapid Transit page of Bus & Coach Professional, 13th April 2007
||"The establishment of light rail in cities helps to reduce car ownership more than buses do, according to research from the University of Wuppertal in Germany. Professor Carmen Hass-Klau led a team that looked at 17 cities internationally and found that light rail corridors tended to attract higher income households to their immediate vicinity - within 300 metres of a carriageway - except in the USA, where low income households tend to be found nearest to any form of public transport. The study included London, Brighton, Manchester and Tyne & Wear. Speaking to the Light Rapid Transport Forum at a conference entitled Light Rail & Urban Regeneration, Hass-Klau said: 'Most public transport corridors have a car-reducing effect. Light rail and tram corridors have a much stronger effect on reducing cars than other forms of public transport.'"
'Light Rail Cuts Car Ownership', Rail Professional, January 2007
"It would be truly interesting to see if a new generation of secondary route trains, coupled with some imaginative treatment of the routes they operate over, could repeate the trick of the late 1950s. Then, passengers flocked to use new generation diesel trains as a complete contrast to the grimy and dowdy steam-powered local services they had lost confidence in. Could a new generation of road commuters be tempted by a train that looks sexy and brings with it journey-time improvements and other benefits? Instead of trying to preserve secondary lines in aspic, there is a case for taking a small number and trying a few radical ideas."
ALAN WHITEHOUSE, Transport Correspondent for BBC North, writing in the October 2006 Rail Professional
"While better marketing often leads to higher passenger numbers [on railway branch lines], controlling costs isn't so easy, particularly when you're running heavy rail vehicles. And that's where the Parry People Mover comes in. ...
"The Sunday service [on the Stourbridge Town branch] is operated by the PPM 50, a lightweight railcar that can carry up to 50 passengers at a time. It's the brainchild of Parry People Movers, a West Midlands-based company that has been experimenting with the concept of ultra light rail for several years. The trial at Stourbridge is being seen as a major breakthrough, not just for the company, but for the concept itself. ...
"The stage now appears to be set for a revolution on the railways where many branch lines under threat of closure could get a much-needed reprieve."
PETER PLISNER, BBC Midlands transport correspondent, writing in the October 2006 Rail Professional
||"The financial viability of the country's beleaguered rural railway lines could be transformed if the government agreed to introduce lighter, faster trains, a senior figure at Network Rail has said. Iain Coucher, deputy chief executive, said the company, which owns and operates the rail infrastructure, was speaking to ministers and safety authorities about the potential move, which would require an easing of rules on trains' ability to withstand head-on collisions. Protective structures are heavy, slow trains down and increase energy consumption and wear on track. The government is keen to reduce the cost of running rural lines, which require heavy subsidies because the high maintenance and train-operating costs are nowhere near covered by the modest fare revenues."
'Lighter, faster trains could transform rural lines', Financial Times, 19th September 2006
"Stourbridge Junction, south west of Birmingham, is worth a visit. Here ... the flywheel-driven Parry People Mover is working the short branch to and from Stourbridge Town - with the active support of local Passenger Transport Executive Centro. Admittedly, the People Mover only operates on Sundays. But Centro is impressed that, despite the fact that a Sunday service has never been provided before, patronage has been good and reliability virtually 100%. Operationally, the cost is claimed to be about half that of the single-car Class 153 normally employed, and negotiations are now underway to extend usage to the rest of the week. In its present form the Parry vehicle would be unsuitable for longer branch lines, but its lightweight construction and easy level access point the way for community lines, especially where only one train is normally in use."
ALAN WILLIAMS, Modern Railways, September 2006
"The technology works, is certified, and is in operation on a full-size, operational railway... PPM is starting to become a seriously realistic, cost-effective option for public transport and it deserves to succeed.
"It is, by far, the best compromise between conventional light rail and bus operation I've yet seen and given the trend for making new trains heavier and heavier must be the only sane game in town for a cost-effective Pacer replacement."
ANDREW RODEN, Associate Editor, International Railway Journal, July 2006
"One way of improving things would be to spend railways' existing cash more rationally. Stephen Grant, a rail consultant, points out that rural services receive 60% of the subsidy but account for only 16% of passenger kilometres travelled. 'A lot of these trains are maintained to the same standard as 90mph main-line services, he says. "But all they do is potter up and down a branch line all day.' ... Old lines can be re-used as cheaper light-rail systems."
THE ECONOMIST, 8th July 2006
"... By applying light rail philosophies and technology to Community Railways, and having regard to the need to replace a substantial part of the multiple-unit fleet that provides these services, a win-win situation can be created. More attractive passenger services with local focus and marketing, accessible to all but integrated into the National Rail network, can be provided cost-effectively. Revenues will be increased, and both costs and subsidies will be reduced. Such an approach would be sustainable and environmentally friendly and be more attractive to the public than service withdrawals or bustitution."
D SCOTT HELLEWELL FCILT FCMI, 'Pacers, Sprinters, tram/trains and Community Railways', Railway Strategies, April-May 2006
"Our frequent support of transport initiatives that widen choice and help pull the North-East together will be well known to readers. So one might think backing for the proposal to link the East Coast main line to Alnwick with an ultra-modern tram would be a given.
"But, while The Journal does support it, it does so only because the plan really is a corker.
"It advantages are many, but none more so that that it would improve access to the popular market town for tourists and commuters without boosting traffic on the A1. At £1m it is also cheap, thanks to the new tram being able to use old rail lines that are still in place. And the local railway society has most of the money lined up too.
"No wonder then that we say: let it roll."
'Let the Good Times Roll', leader article in The Journal (North East England), 24th March 2006, referring to plans for a PPM lightweight rail system between Alnwick and Alnmouth
"As I waited on the platform at Stourbridge Junction for the Parry People Movers railcar, I was almost deafened by the roar from the diesel engines that erupted as a commuter train left the platform opposite. On seeing the arriving railcar moments later I had to check that my hearing was not permanently damaged, because it approached in apparent silence. ...
"The railcar's design philosophy has had green credentials at the top from the outset. The innovative propulsion system stores kinetic energy using a spinning flywheel ... When the brakes are applied, instead of a friction brake causing wear to brake pads and loss of momentum, energy is essentially taken from the vehicle's forward motion and changed into rotational motion to spin the flywheel. This is effective right down to zero [speed].
"Much of the design is based on standard automotive technology ... As automotive components are made in much greater quantities than are train components, this cuts costs significantly. Use of the railcar on an existing line also promises to reduce track maintenance costs. A lighter vehicle helps to limit the hammer blow dynamic effect on the track when running at speed. If building a new line, less heavy-duty tracks would be needed, reducing start-up costs and making construction easier and quicker."
JUSTIN CUNNINGHAM, 'Travel by flywheel', Professional Engineering, 22nd February 2006
||"We sometimes don't appreciate the innovations taking place in our midst. The
Wensleydale Railway together with Parry People Movers are collaborating to
showcase the potential of a new way forward for public transport in the UK and
abroad. They are working together on the development of a new generation of
railcars suitable for use on community railways. The railcar took us, invited
'media' plus a few rather surprised chattering tourists, from Leeming to a small
halt at Springwell Lane just short of Northallerton (with bus link). It's a
smart vehicle which can carry about 50 people, not all seated, and has had
trials in various parts of the country and is about to be put into full service
in the Stourbridge area (West Midlands).
"Now, frankly, it was a bumpy ride
in parts, because of the freight-only track and because the four wheels, close
together, are not on a sprung bogie, but the next development, specially planned
to be trialled on the Wensleydale line will be a bit like a 'bendy bus' with
"And consider this! It runs on a LPG gas cylinder, with a
horizontal flywheel energy store which means extremely efficient running,
recapturing braking energy for re-use when accelerating: literally pence per
mile! There is no step to climb; your pram or wheelchair runs straight
"And what a wonderful chance timing, as people are freaking out over
petrol shortages. We really do need new thinking, and here it is taking place
under our noses in the dales."
ALAN WATKINSON, 'A Rail Treat', The Upper
Wensleydale Newsletter, October 2005
"An academic has reignited the light rail v buses debate by claiming that trams are better at reducing congestion. Professor Richard Knowles of the University of Salford also told the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society last week that when used at capacity light rail is cheaper to run per passenger kilometre than buses.
"Around 20% of peak period passengers on the 7 existing tram and light rail systems previously used cars compared with just 6.4% on bus schemes, his research showed. Light rail is also faster, shifting passengers at speeds up to 22km/h compared to buses at 10 to 14km/h in ordinary traffic.
"Prof Knowles said: 'Light rail schemes outside London were scrapped by the British Government on the grounds that they are too costly and require more public sector funding than the Government is willing to pay. This has only highlighted the need to both find way of reducing the high cost of building and operating light rail routes and buying trams and to become less dependent on Government for capital funding'"
'Light rail vs buses argument reopens', Transport Times
| August 2005
||"One less-publicised conclusion of the [National Audit Office's report 'Improving public transport in England through light rail' (April 2004)] was its recommendation that funding should provided by the government for 'innovative light rail' to be developed and demonstrated. So it is strange that the [Department for Transport] has never given serious attention to a concept that is gaining credibility and seems a very obvious way forward:
Ultra Light Rail."
"Much of the high cost of light rail schemes is in installing the infrastructure to provide a continuous supply of power for the whole length of the route. What, instead, if you had self-powered vehicles that would not require the whole hassle of so much street-work and which could be powered by relatively 'green' methods?"
"[The PPM 35 vehicle operated by Bristol Electric Railbus] carried 50,000 fare-paying passengers and the tram proved highly popular with the public.
The six-ton vehicle, with capacity for 35 passengers, was powered by 'green'
electricity and ran on energy stored in a flywheel. It therefore had zero emissions, no pantograph or overhead wires and no electric current to be earthed through the rails."
"The whole idea of self-powered trams seems an obvious one. The metal-on-metal of rail systems is far more fuel efficient than rubber-on-road, and trams have all kinds of advantages over buses in town centres."
"... It seems obvious that the idea of self-powered trams should be considered in the light of the huge infrastructure costs of providing new lines and the lack of money available."
CHRISTIAN WOLMAR, 'Rail ultra-lite! A powerful case for self-powered trams', RAIL magazine, 31st August 2005
"Car users are notoriously difficult to persuade on to buses. But they will get on board a train or tram if the price is right and the service does what it says on the tin - or at least on the timetable."
ALAN WHITEHOUSE, Transport Correspondent for BBC North, writing in the July 2005 Rail Professional
"The most urgent need for these [Community Railway] lines, to give them any real chance of long term survival, is a major relaxation in the requirements that govern their operating environment ... with the object of achieving what might be called 'light rail' operating rules, similar to tramways, on many lines.
"There needs to be a DfT-led review of rolling stock availability and engineering resources for Community lines. It should encourage the establishment of a separate, 'Community Railway' fleet of rolling stock ... specifically for such lines, with stock restricted in speed and mileage, and with in return suitably less onerous operating and maintenance regimes."
"Only by radically reducing costs, with a simpler, more appropriate operating environment, can such lines now hope to survive."
ALAN WILLIAMS, Modern Railways, July 2005
''There were no perceived exhaust emissions, no noise pollution whatsoever, and the livery was smart and in keeping with a modern form of transport. On board the seating was comfortable (the PPM can carry up to 50 people, seated and standing), the all round visibility was excellent, and there was no noise at all to interrupt conversation.'' JOHN WORKMAN, Journalist, Black Country Bugle
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