Urban transport

24th June 2015

The future of passenger transport in Leicester

It took a bunch of designers to help me find out that a tram system for Leicester will be a non-starter. The designers came up with a schematic for how a possible tramway system might look in Leicester and posted it on social media sites. There were a lot comments about the idea, both for and against. ‘The Future of The Tram in Leicester’ evoked a debate; but it was one that I had seen before. The local paper had run a story on the subject when proposals were put forward in November 2008. The news report suggested that even a basic tram system would cost in the order of £300 million (at 2008 prices.)

Public transport is an important driven for the local economy. Leicester sits within a catchment area of about two million people. Those people can go to Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough, Lincoln or they can go to Leicester. Destination choice is important for jobs, commerce, entertainment, the arts and all the other key aspects of life and economic activity. It is easy to think that the private car is the answer to everything; but, with an ageing population its importance is declining. An increasing proportion of the population will become dependent on public transport. Public transport is, I would argue, a key driver in the economy of cities but it often placed too low down on the priorities of people who plan urban areas.

The trams idea did however get me thinking about what the city might develop to replace its present public transport system – the bus. If buses need replacing. Leicester is a relatively small and compact urban area. What it needs is a way of moving large quantities of people around from the outer suburbs to the inner city. The personalised transport unit – the car – as we know it, cannot last for ever; unless they are all converted to run on electricity. Fossil fuels will not last forever.

The main objection to the tram is that it mixes cars and pedestrians. The next objection is that it just could not work given the physical layout of the buildings and the streets as they are today in Leicester. Trams might work in Nottingham, Manchester or Sheffield, though some local people have disagreed that they are all that wonderful.

What kind of transport system would work given the layout of Leicester’s inner city? A variety of options have already been tried in various cities in this country.

Could we go underground? London, Tyne and Wear, Liverpool and Glasgow has underground with their passenger transport systems. Would this work in Leicester? To answer this we have to look at the geology of what the city stands on. Even with a favourable geological sub-strata, the cost of building an underground system would be prohibitive, in today’s climate of public funding.

Could we go up? That might be a more viable solution. Put your light passenger transportation system on stilts. That presents an option which avoids mixing conventional traffic and pedestrians with a transit system.

The way to go is the Automated People Mover (APM) similar to the elevated monorail systems that run on a single track (as opposed to the twin rails of conventional trains.) Some monorail system are suspended beneath the track and others ride on top of it (straddle-beam and suspended monorails.) To make such systems work, there are a lot of requirements.

Two requirements must be met: the infrastructure costs and the running costs. To build a raised system you have to be able to place the stilts (or piers) in a way that will not interfere with the existing road system. Neither must the resulting structures interfere with light; they must not put existing buildings into their shadow. This suggests some kind of piers that place the trackways in the middle of existing roads using supports that are placed either side of the system on the pedestrian walkways – the pavements. This suggests a shape like an arc, although in wider thoroughfares single piers could be used.

The tracks, if we can call them that, must not be heavy. That means we have to rethink the kind of vehicles that will run on them. The units that run on the raised system must be light enough. That means doing away with two things: wheels and engines. These weigh too much. The wheel is an archaic device for allowing vehicles to be moved along without too much friction. Engines are heavy items; if we can remove them from the wagons, that makes the passenger units much lighter.

A motive method should be electric. There is no point in designing a transit system based on fossil fuels. So out goes anything to do with diesel (a) because that requires heavy engines and (b) because it is a fossil fuel. The future of transport is not about wheels or fossil fuels.

Linear induction does away with wheels and runs on electricity. A maglev (magnetic levitation) system propels wagons (carriages) without the need to have engines to pull them – the movement is caused by magnets on the trackway itself and the carriages float above the tracks – hence no need for wheels. The single beam track carries the electricity supply without the need for cables and is light enough to be supported on single piers. Such systems are also very quiet – no noisy engines, no rumbling wheels and no noisy suspensions. They glide quietly along. People can be moved either in carriages about the size of a conventional single-decker bus or in small units about the size of a conventional large taxi or minibus. The trackways are light enough to require only single pillar support piers.

The carriages must be light. They must be made of materials that are tough, hard-wearing and light. Systems like these require very little maintenance. Units of up to 100 seats should be sturdy enough and light enough to float above the tracks (about one centimetre) above the trackways even when fully loaded with passengers and luggage.

Another advantage of the maglev system is that only the section on which a ‘train’ is running needs to be powered. There is no need to run the carriages at high speeds. Most journeys are going to be over short distances. Between the outer suburbs and the inner city stops, the longest distances are of the order of three to four miles at most. Conventional diesel-powered buses stop every few yards. Most of the energy consumed by transport is speeding up and slowing down. The one thing buses do well is their ability to stop every few yards. This is another reason why the construction of the carriages must be made from very lightweight materials to reduce the energy needed for acceleration.

Having this kind of system is possible because we now have the computing power to run the motors. maglev requires microchip technology that runs at very high processor speeds. That is a feature of how linear induction works. There is constant real-time interplay between sensors and the control mechanisms.

There will have to be two tracks: one for each direction of travel, so that carriages can turn round and go back. It assumes that there will be twin tracks, one for each direction of travel – in bound and out bound – unless it is possible to run the whole thing on loops. This would require routes where single tracks only are needed but where there is in-bound and out-bound directions of travel. Unless each track has only one set of carriages which turn round at the terminus and then travel back.

Would such a system need signalling to avoid carriages running into each other on the same section of track? In a twin track system, carriages pass each other on separate tracks. It should be impossible for two carriages to run in opposite directions on the same track simply because the linear induction would make this impossible – the induction allows only forward motion. Hence the need for a second track to allow carriages travel back in the same direction and to pass carriages coming the other way. In high-speed systems, the tracks have to be far enough apart to prevent air pressure problems when two trains pass each other. Or, the carriages have to be designed to funnel pressurised air away from the gap between passing carriages. But, in an short-journey urban system – a relatively slow-moving system – this would not be a problem.

When we think about the dense inner city environment, we have more problems in designing the supports than we would have on the long, wide thoroughfares of arterial routes. The tracks could be supported, at least in narrow streets, from the buildings on either side. Attach the supports to the walls of buildings – this kind of low-weight engineering should make that possible.

The tracks would need to stand at least as high above street level as a double-decker bus or as high as the tallest van or lorry. Even if the tracks can be placed in the middle of the thoroughfare, would there be enough clearance either wide of the trackway to allow large, high-sided vehicles to run on conventional roads?

To visualise the system, I imagined what the system would look like on some of the existing arterial routes, like London Road, Welford Road, Saffron Lane, Melton Road, Narborough Road, etc. Many of these existing arterial routes are quite wide.

Even in Narborough Road, there is probably enough width to place the trackways in the middle and allow enough clearance either side for conventional vehicles. Some bridges might have to be removed. Pretty much all the Victorian railway tracks have been removed throughout the city; so, there are no disused railway that could be used. One criterion for this kind of system is that it should not require the demolition of buildings. It should be fitted into the existing layout of buildings.

It would be necessary to build the supports from metal (or other strong materials) rather than from concrete. The supporting piers should be constructed from new materials that can take the weight, not rust or deteriorate over time and which can be thin enough not to get in the way of pedestrians. At some points the tracks would have to span wide sections – where the route crosses road junctions for example. I think all this will be possible with good engineering design. Concrete is relatively expensive and has a shorter life-span than new materials based on carbon fibre or plastic materials. Many of the flyovers that were supported on concrete piers have had to be demolished because the materials degraded with age.

Carriages with wheels running on rails are heavy and require concrete trackways and piers to support their weight. Linear induction tracks are much lighter and hence do not need rails (there are no wheels) and would look more like the trackways of rides at funfairs and amusement parks. Wheel-less carriages floating silently on single tracks raised above the level of existing traffic and powered by electricity – this is what I see as being the future of urban passenger transport. Makes the conventional twin-rail tram look archaic.

Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke has a masters degree in Urban Policy Studies

Leicester Writes

Sunday 28th June 2015

Literary finale

The Leicester Writes festival reached its resounding conclusion tonight with a showcase finale held at The Exchange. In the streets of the cultural quarter, the Indian Summer festival was in full swing. Large number of people were enjoying the warmth of a sunny afternoon the music, food and arts activities that were on offer.

As you would expect of the literati, they had put pen to paper and come up a compelling description of this event:

Join us for a spectacular finale as Leicester’s hottest literary talent takes over the floor per perform their latest work

Well that was enough to get me into the cool, shade of the Exchange’s cellar. Opening the show poet Lydia Towsey began with her poem ‘Baby’, a lively and amusing work that drew enthusiastic acclaim from the audience. When she described Nigel Farage as ‘toad of toad hall, the audience chortled and clapped; another absorbing work, this time about politics. The curiously named ‘Night Fishing’ was a reference to the said UKIP leader’s favourite hobby.

Truti Chauhan’s opening work was about experiences with online dating. A beautifully composed piece that was full of surprising witticisms and sharp metaphors.

Jenny Hibbert delivered her work from memory, enabling her to enhance her delivery with a variety of gestures and actions. She gave us a vibrant set complemented with a plentiful supply of imagery.

Tim Grayson is someone I have known for several years; a Leicester artist who had given us some ground-breaking work as a poetry and playwright. As the founder of the ‘Brothellian movement‘ he made a notable impact on our local literary scene.  Tim’s lyrical poems were ripe with verbal fruits. Reciting from memory, he also was able to enhance his performance with gesturing. A remarkable talent who delivered an engaging set.

Our next performing probably needs no introduction.  Carol Leeming was born in Jamaica but raised in Leicester. Her magnus opus  Choreopoem has been widely acclaimed, making her one of Leicester’s most celebrated literary figures. Having opened with her piece storm  Carol went to recite a couple of short works that focused on Leicester.

Comedian Ishi Khan-Jackson  appeared at Dave’s Leicester Comedy festival in 2012. She was dressed in her trade-mark colourful sari and enchanted the audience with her mad cap humour.

The line-up also included a number of open-mic artists some of whom proved to be discoveries.
A very enjoyable afternoon,  made this unusual event a successful and rewarding conclusion to the new literary festival.

Friday 26th June

Top Leicester author at launch event

Leicester Writes Festival got off to a flying start with a presentation by Jamie Mollart.

Author of The Zoo, Jamie Mollart read three extracts from his book and talked to the audience about how he wrote it.

Author Jamie Mollart at the launch event of Leicester Writes
Author Jamie Mollart at the launch event of Leicester Writes

The Leicester author answered questions from the audience.  Jamie talked about the nuts and bolts of writing and gave some insights into the world of literary agents and publishing.

In answer to a question from the audience, Jamie said his novel had been written in the present tense, in order to give a sense of immediacy.

You can find out more about Jamie Mollart on his website

23rd June 2015

Celebrate Writing

A new literary event will celebrate regional and diverse writing.

Leicester Writes will take place across three days on the last weekend of June in Leicester’s cultural Quarter. (26-28 June)

The festival of new writing, organised by small press Dahlia Publishing hopes to give home grown talent a platform to showcase their writing and connect writers living in the region.

The festival launch takes place at Phoenix Square with a Q&A with Amazon rising star, Jamie Mollart. Other highlights across the weekend include An audience event with Bali Rai, Nikesh Shukla’s home truths about being a contemporary novelist and Rod Duncan and Kerry Young sharing their invaluable insights about writing.

Festival organiser, Farhana Shaikh said: ‘The city’s literary scene is awash with talent but not everyone’s plugged in. This festival gives everyone an opportunity to find out more about the great writers we have living and working in Leicestershire.”

Leicester has a long history of producing successful writers, including Joe Orton, Sue Townsend, and Graham Joyce. A new wave of emerging talent is following in their footsteps. Writers Mark Newman and Rebecca Burns will perform at the festival finale while Mahsuda Snaith will share her secrets to writing success in a fun-filled interactive session.

The full programme is now available and tickets can be purchased online via the festival website.

See also:

Top comedian comes to Leicester

Our review of The Car Man at Curve

Find out about the spoken word

Reginald D Hunter in Leicester

Wednesday 17th June 2015

Reginald D. Hunter

at the De Montfort Hall

It’s always exciting when a well-known TV celebrity comes to Leicester to do a show. Prior to tonight I had seen Reginald D. Hunter on the television many times. He has appeared several times on programmes such as Have I Got News for You, Mock The Week, Live at the Apollo, 8 Out of 10 Cats, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He is an artist who is readily recognisable with this deep, American Georgia accent and his now long dreadlocks.

Poster image for Reginald D. Hunters UK tour

Tonight Reginald did the whole show – from 8pm to 10pm with a twenty minute interval. He had no shortage of things to talk about.

The auditorium was pretty full for tonight’s show and people warmed to the American comedian – I suspect a lot of them had seen him before. His style was relaxed and conversational and from time to time he would chat with people in the front row. Reginald does not shy away from controversial topics: he is a master of drawing humour out of ticklish subjects and seeing the funny side of things that might make us uncomfortable. Through the night he kept the laughter coming. He often used a play on words and I have to say some his material was very clever. Much of his material was direct, often graphic and dealt with topics that many other stand-ups would prefer to avoid. But he did this in a way which was not primitively provocative but instead challenging and insightful.

Born in the USA, he now lives in the UK, coming here initially (at the age of 27) to be a student at RADA. Since then he has toured Britain extensively. His current tour is called The Man Who Attempted To Do As Much As Such. He ran a promo for it – a tour that takes in 45 shows.

Poster image for Reginald D. Hunters UK tour
Poster image for Reginald D. Hunters UK tour

He appeared at the Leicester comedy festival in 2000.  I asked him if he remembered that; he just said “That’s blast from the past” adding “I remember not winning it.” Since then Reginald has been back in Leicester many times playing Jonglers, doing one-offs and shows at The De Montfort Hall. Reginald appeared at The Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2014. I asked him how this Australian festival compares with the one we have here in Leicester. He told me “There’s no comparison. They are completely different animals. Leicester is much bigger.” he explained that a comedian is not in a country for very long and this might not be enough time to pick up on local things that people find funny at that time.

Tonight Reginald talked about his experiences filming with the BBC, including the time when they wanted him to sit with an eagle on this arm. he also talked about the filming he did for the BBC. Recently, Reginald travelled back to his birthplace in America to film Songs Of The South, which first aired in March 2015. The three-part BBC2 series documenting Reginald’s epic road trip from North Carolina to New Orleans through 150 years of American popular song. He explores the rich musical heritage of Georgia and, as the programme’s blurb says ‘A beautiful, original and hot evocation of the cradle of American music.’

After spending a couple of hours listening to this guy, you can’t help but like him. You can’t help but respect him – he is funny but he also has a depth to his work, his material; an impressive intellect drives that humour and he delivers it in a way that most people can relate to. He doesn’t preach about race; he just talks about his own experience of it and that of his friends and people he has met. He does that in a way that makes you feel comfortable but not too comfortable. He can make you laugh but he can make you think. Reginald is a man that does his own thing. That is the quality of a truly remarkable comedian.

Watch Reginald on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in April 2006

Visit Reginald D Hunter’s website

See also:

Our review of The Car Man at Curve

Our review of Beautiful Thing

Our review of Bromance



Car Man

Tuesday 16th June 2015

The Car Man

comes to Curve

Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man: Bizet’s Carmen re-imagined

16th to 20th June

Our rating: *****

Music by Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin after Georges Bizet
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Sound by Paul Groothius
Designed by Lez Brotherston

The Car Man opened tonight at Curve. A dance spectacular in two acts directed by Matthew Bourne.

Subtitled ‘Bizet’s Carmen re-imagined’, this shows provided a delicious cocktail of modern dance, ballet and drama set to music based on Bizet’s opera Carmen. The two hour show, in Curve’s main theatre, was as surprising as it was thrilling.

The Car Man at Curve Photo: Chris Mann
The Car Man at Curve
Photo: Chris Mann

Set in a small town in the Mid West of the USA, the story is simple enough: a drifter called LUCA arrives in the town of Harmony (population 377 at the start of the show) and takes a job at the greasy garage/diner owned by the cruel and abusive Dino Alfano.  Luca becomes involved with Dino’s wife Lana. Luca murders Dino but puts the blame on Angelo, a guy who works at the garage; he is sent to prison for the crime.  When Angelo is raped by a guard at the prison, he kills him and escapes. Angelo returns to Harmony to seek revenge but, during a fight, Dino is shot by his wife.

Watch the trailer on YouTube

THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction - Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs - Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit - Johan Persson
THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction – Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs – Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit – Johan Persson

In directing this ‘dance thriller’ Matthew Bourne has come a long way since his iconic production in 1997 of Swan Lake, with its all-male dance cast. The Car Man provides the same lust, passion, murder and revenge as the plot of the opera by Bizet but there the similarity ends. Matthew Bourne takes us away from a cigarette factory in Spain and puts us down in America in the 1960s. The tiny mid-western town is ironically called Harmony. Tonight’s show provided more blood, sex and violence then we have seen at Curve in a long time. The show’s promo material does warn of scenes of a sexual nature and brief male nudity but not swearing – there being no dialogue or singing.

THE CARMAN by Bourne, Photo Credit - Johan Persson
THE CARMAN by Bourne, Photo Credit – Johan Persson

This is a production in which the dancers have to act and engage in moves that bordered on what we saw in Bromance. It was a piece of theatrical drama that used non-vocal acting, mime and lot of very vigorous dancing. The Car Man is an adult show. It carries a warning of scenes of murder, brutality and sexuality that are aimed at today’s sophisticated  audience of grown-ups and if it was a film I suspect it would get an 18 rating. In designing the costumes and the effects associated with the murder of Dino, Lez Brotherston has not left much to the imagination. Bear in mind that the show’s original sub-title was ‘An Auto-erotic Thriller.’ That gives a clue as to how much sexuality there is in the show. Had all this been part of Bizet’s opera (which was saucy enough) the 19th century audience would have been profoundly shocked. What we saw take place on the stage tonight stands in sharp contrast to the benign delights of the recent Curve production of The Sound of Music. Even the 2011 production of West Side Story punches well above the belt compared to tonight’s scenario.

THE CARMAN Photo:Johan Persson
Photo:Johan Persson

The pre-recorded music was based on a score by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin to which an hour of additional music was added by Terry Davies the British composer.  Whilst we heard the familiar melodies that we all know so well from Bizet’s Carmen, the score  had moved quite a long way from the 19th century opera. Variously described as being ‘after’ or ‘based on’, the music is perhaps more of a Bizet tribute. Tonight’s scoring was more appropriate to the kind of production it was and the period in which the show was set. But, I could not help being disappointed by it. In its transfiguration from opera to show, the music brings us to certain moments of magic  where we expect it to break into song – which of course it does not. It is of course not a musical. It is at these points of heightened expectation – where the great song or aria fails to materialise – that you wished it was a musical. The Car Man is all about dancing; in settling down to watch it, you have the leave your expectations about Bizet at the door. Take your seat at Curve and expect to be entertained with a thrilling theatrical experience that succeeds on its own terms.

Most of the production is set in the garage and diner combo of Dino Alfano. When Luca, a drifter, arrives in town he gets a part-time job at the garage where mechanics service and repair cars – hence the title. The show combines Bourne’s love of movies with his passion for theatrical dance. A TV film version of it was released in 2001.

The world premier of The Car Man took place in 2000 at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and premiered in London at The Old Vic. The production has been dubbed ‘dance noir’, its gritty realism heightened by plenty of sex and violence.

The Car Man at Curve 2015
The Car Man at Curve 2015

Matthew Bourne is an exciting choreographer. The sheet exactitude of the movements we saw tonight was exhilarating. Modern dance has moved on from the formalism of classical ballet in which the moves, routines and configurations conveyed expression and emotion in a stylised way and mimed rather than acted the emotions of a scene. Bourne’s approach to choreography retains many of the elements of classical ballet – in the way they dancers point their feet, the shape and movements of the hands and the synchronisations of the group. Today’s dance, in Western theatre, allows for much more fluidity of expression and allows a more elaborated freedom of expression. Bourne’s work had attracted a plethora of awards and he has been celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest choreographers and dance directors. He knows what dance is all about, having been a professional dancer for 14 years. His production of Swan Lake, in 1997, was showered with awards and was featured in the film Billy Elliott. Where dance is concerned, Bourne has become a legend in his own time.

The Car Man was an exhilarating experience. Dan Wright’s portrayal of garage owner Dino was highly commendable and Chris Trenfield carried the part of Luca very well. The roles of Lana (Ashley Shaw) and Angelo (Dominic North) were very ably presented. The company of mechanics gave spectacular performances and the set design by Lez Brotherston conjured up the look and feel of the period and place most successfully.

The Car Man runs at Curve from 16th to 20th June.

Tickets are available from Curve’s website

See also:

Spoken word in July

Our review of Beautiful Thing at Curve

Our review of Bromance at Curve

Spoken Word

Word in July

11th June 2015

This page forms part of our archives

This July Word! is excited to be launching another new season – and kicking off with one of our ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ specials. Complete with another of our all new workshops, the afternoon and evening will take poetry and animation as it’s inspiration…
Pay what you think it’s worth WORD!
Illustrated Special with Lawrence Mathias.
Tuesday July 7th. 7pm performers. 8pm start.
The Y Theatre, East Street, Leicester, LE1 6EY.

The polymathic, Lawrence Mathias.

Brightsparks’ Illustrated Words Showcase.

The Big WORD! Raffle – back again, with a selection of quality prizes…

Professional photography from Nathan Human.

'God's last acre' by William Mathias
‘God’s last acre’ by William Mathias

Lawrence Mathias is a north London based artist who likes to work across a range of media. He uses drawing, painting, film, music, models and words in much of his artwork, with poetry often the starting point for visuals. His artwork frequently has a social or political edge to its content, though not always. He values the community and collaborative opportunities which art projects can offer. In his own words ‘Poetry is one of the best creative ways of bringing people together, and can be combined in all kinds of exciting ways with other art forms’.

Workshop with Lawrence before the night, 4-6pm – to book your FREE place email, secretagentartist@hotmail.com.

Poetry in Motion WORD!shop

Join Lawrence Mathias for this illustration, animation and poetry focused workshop. Using a combination of poems and words written at the workshop, as well as pre-written material, we will illustrate and create simple, interesting films, using a combination of live film and images. An opportunity to create a soundtrack, using words and performance, will round the session off, and a short film featuring as much of the workshop material as possible will subsequently be made. Participants will be encouraged throughout to record their work and also make films.

See also:

Our review of Bromance at Curve

Our review of Beautiful Thing at Curve