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10 stops on the journey of the Leeds Trolleybus

Artist's impression of the Leeds Trolleybus

Artist’s impression of the Leeds Trolleybus

by Hayley Longster

As a campaign group opposing the Leeds trolleybus scheme urges councillors to backtrack on the £250m plan, and Greg Mulholland MP labels it the ‘second-best solution’ to Leeds’ transport issues, we take a look at the history of this long-gestating decision.

1. In 1977 Leeds transport authorities (now known as Metro) first came to the realisation that people without cars existed. They decided, after a whole transportation study, that they should maybe link places within the city boundaries together… know, because it would be easier for people to get around.

2. A decade later someone found the memo about this under a plant pot in the office. Inspiration dawned. In 1989 the Metroline light rail scheme was announced, which would run down York Road to link various destination on the east side of Leeds.

Trolleybuses are not a new idea in Leeds. This one was transporting people round the city in 1912.

Trolleybuses are not a new idea in Leeds. This one was transporting people round the city in 1912.

3. Leeds City Council was not impressed and shelved the project. People who had been looking forward to Metroline bought cars.

4. Sometime during the 1990s someone else from Metro realised that people without cars still existed. Given the light rail calamity of several years earlier, they decided something more glamorous might be in order. Cue the SUPERTRAM!

…And a lot of comparisons with another 1990s phenomena, the Simpson’s episode ‘Marge vs. The Monorail’.


Not that Leeds was getting a monorail. That would be just too modern.

5. As we all know, John Major did not appreciate glamour. His government kept refusing to fund the supertram all throughout the 90s. Despite this, glossy plans and drawings were continually debated, updated and circulated. Glistening corrugated metal and shiny windows would eventually change Major’s mind, surely?

6. Nope. But luckily Tony Blair’s more image-obsessed government was around in 2002 to finally approve central government funding for the supertram. Two consortia of Momentis and Airelink bid on the construction and operation of Leeds Supertram and even began some construction work in 2003. It was intended to open in 2007 or 2008.

7. It didn’t. Alistair Darling decided that £1bn was just too much to spend on Northern fripperies and shut the whole thing down in 2005. People in Leeds bought more cars.

Gordon Brown: functional and traditional. Like a trolleybus.

Gordon Brown: functional and traditional. Like a trolleybus.

8. In 2007 Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. Let’s have no more talk of the shiny supertram, please, and let’s introduce the incredibly functional and actually quite traditional TROLLEYBUS!

9. Fast forward to 2012 and this seemed to have worked. The NGT Trolleybus scheme was provisionally approved, albeit with a reduced budget of £250m from its original £300m. Victory…?!

10. ….No. A six month public inquiry into the trolleybus scheme was concluded in November 2014 but we STILL haven’t seen any of its findings. Maybe they’ll start building it in 2017 as planned. Maybe they won’t. Maybe HS2 will get finished first.

In the meantime, I’ll be buying a car.

What do you think?