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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 07:25 GMT
Supertram test to ease traffic
People sitting in an ULTra car
The ULTra system is said to be the first of its kind
A test track for a revolutionary new transport system is being launched in Cardiff Bay on Thursday.

The ULTra (Urban Light Transport) scheme involves driverless cars taking passengers around the capital on a dedicated track.

The project is the brainchild of Professor Martin Lowson of Bristol University who previously worked on the moon-landing space programme.

ULTra Facts
Battery operated
Top speed 25mph
Driverless cabs
Fares around 1
Smart cards to select destination
CCTV security
Street level and elevated tracks

If the tests are judged to be a success, funding would be sought for a 45m project linking the city centre, the civic centre at Cathays Park and Cardiff Bay starting in 2004.

Cardiff County Council is keen to promote the scheme as an environmentally friendly transport system which can help boost the profile of the Welsh capital.

"This will have enormous benefits for the travelling public and give Cardiff something totally unique," said Deputy Mayor Christine Priday.

"Successful cities innovate, and position themselves at the forefront of developments in technology and knowledge.

"That is why we are actively exploring how our transport system might take advantage of some of the brightest ideas that the world's transport community has to offer."

ULTra car on the test track in Cardiff Bay
A test track has been built in Cardiff Bay
Advanced Transport Systems Limited has been set up by a team at Bristol University to develop the project.

The company said the trials would last for about a year before the first routes would be started in Cardiff Bay.

"This scheme is science fact and not science fiction because it uses existing technology," said ATS chairman, Trevor Smallwood.

Nearly 3m of Government funding has been provided to build a test circuit of just under 1km, on which three vehicles can be tested on ground level and elevated tracks.

Various aspects will be examined, including passenger comfort, levels of automation and mobility access.

In the final scheme, passengers would use the vandal-proof vehicles as personalised taxis, using a smart card to tap in their destination and pay the fare.

Multi-million plans

Each station would sit in a bus-style layby and have a CCTV camera for extra safety and to deter vandals.

The first phase including building costs will be around 30m with the whole scheme linking the city centre, civic centre and Bay to cost 45m.

ULTra car above a road
The scheme would link the city centre with the Bay
Funding will be sought from the National Assembly and Europe if the project proves feasible.

The developers claim that the costs of the system would be between one-third and a half that of an equivalent light railway system.

A number of English cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield already have light rail or modern tram-style schemes which are commonplace in continental Europe.

Others including Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and Portsmouth are hoping to follow suit as a means of tackling congestion on the roads.

Transport campaigners in Wales have frequently called for a larger light rail system serving Cardiff and the south Wales valleys, claiming it would be an improvement on the current rail network.

BBC Wales' Laura Jones
boards the ULTra tram
The BBC's Ania Lichtarowicz
"The idea is proving popular with potential users"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | UK
Do trams beat the jams?
11 Dec 01 | England
Train plans on track
19 May 01 | Scotland
Tram plans are discussed
20 Apr 01 | UK
Could the UK go car-free?
11 Jan 02 | England
New CCTV for vandal-hit metro
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