Options for a mass transport system around Valletta’s two harbours will be analysed in a study the government is expected to commission shortly.

Three bids were submitted when the tender for the study closed last month, according to the Transport Ministry.

“The tender was published in July, and the procurement process is now in its adjudication phase,” a spokeswoman said. She added that the purpose of the study was different from the Halcrow report of 2008, which analysed the introduction of a tram service.

The fresh study is expected to have “detailed options and full cost-benefit analysis” that will analyse three different routes, including an underground option.

The debate was rekindled last month when Opposition leader Simon Busuttil mentioned both a train and tram service as part of the Nationalist Party’s forthcoming proposals to address traffic congestion. He said the party would soon release a detailed document for an alternative transport system.

Transport Minister Joe Mizzi later said the tram option was being studied.

The only publicly available study on a mass transport system was done in 2008. The government commissioned the UK-based Halcrow Group to prepare a study on the introduction of a tram service.

The report identified two potential routes, which would have required a capital investment of €206 million to €325 million and an annual operating cost of €7.5 million. Based on the Halcrow findings, then transport minister Austin Gatt shunned the tram option and the government shifted its focus to revamping the bus service, which later turned out to be a massive failure.

With trams making it back onto the agenda, this newspaper asked the Transport Ministry and the PN whether their plans took into account the Halcrow study, but both said today’s approach was different. The ministry spokeswoman said the study would examine the area around Valletta and its approach roads.

“It will look at three suggested route options, including an underground option, and will analyse the transport mechanics and traffic arrangements of the whole area,” she said.

The study will also look at how the service can be extended to other routes. “If it proves feasible, this project will be carried out as a pilot project to study possible future extensions.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the PN said a detailed presentation of its proposal would be made public in due course.

“The proposal responds to today’s realities, where traffic congestion has become alarming and needs a serious long-term vision that this government lacks,” the spokesman said.

He said it would offer an alternative to a public bus system, described as having “failed to deliver under both administrations”. A different approach was needed from eight years ago, when the Halcrow report was drafted, the PN noted.

“The proposed tramway would respond to the need for a long-term vision. The plan is a for a state-of-the-art environment-friendly system that would ideally connect Malta and Gozo, should geological studies confirm this, and be efficient to the point of making it more worthwhile to leave your car at home,” it said.

Malta had a train and tram service at the turn of last century, but both ceased to operate in 1931 in the wake of harsh competition from the buses.

The service used to depart from the City Gate tunnel in Valletta and re-emerged at Porte des Bombes in Floriana, with the last stop at Mtarfa.

 

The 2008 tramway study

In 2008, the Halcrow Group presented its preliminary findings on the introduction of a tram service along two principal routes. The results were largely overlooked, since the emphasis at the time was on reforming the bus service.

The following are the findings from the study.

Cost to build and operate

■ Capital investment ranging from €206 million to €325 million.

■ Annual operating and maintenance cost between €7.2 million and €7.5 million.

■ Ten years to build.

Operating times

■ Study based on operations between 6am and midnight.

■ Peak hours considered to be between 7am and 9am and 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

Vehicles

■ Halcrow found that 14 trams would be required to deliver the service and another two to serve as spares.

■ Trams would operate with 10 minutes of headway on each route and five minutes of headway at peak hours.

■ Vehicles would be up to 35 metres long, electrically powered, lightweight, with a low floor and articulated.

■ They would have a capacity of up to 250 passengers.

■ Power supply would be an overhead electric cable.

Route 1:

Valletta to Sliema

This would have passed through Floriana, Pietà, Msida, Ta’ Xbiex and Gżira. The last stop was set as the Sliema Ferry.

Along most of the route, the tram could follow a segregated path along the waterfront. However, Halcrow identified constraints at Marina Street, Pietà, and the Ta’ Xbiex section. In these two locations, Halcrow suggested the tram share the road with cars, with priority given to the tram.

Journey time would be 15 minutes.

A map of route 1.A map of route 1.

Route 2:

Valletta to Ta’ Qali

This would pass through Floriana, Ħamrun, Santa Venera, Birkirkara and Attard. The last stop would be at Ta’ Qali.

Halcrow said precise routing through the built-up areas was subject to a detailed assessment since urban landscape made it harder to have a segregated line – the tram would have to share the road with cars.

Journey time would be 21 minutes.

Route 2 as proposed by the 2008 study.Route 2 as proposed by the 2008 study.

Challenges

Design of on-street running sections requires significant trade-offs to be made in available road space along the route.

General acceptance of giving public transport priority over the car; implementing positive traffic management measures to speed the tram.

Meeting the operation and maintenance costs from farebox income.

Business case has to be made for each route and the network as a whole.

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