People-movers have been used before in the Welsh highlands and demonstrated in Brighton and on the Severn Valley Railway. However, the Stourbridge project is the only example currently operating. The vehicle is owned by Parry People Movers and operated by Kings Norton-based Pre-Metro Limited, a company licensed to operate passenger services on the UK rail network. The project is a being run on an extended trial basis with no end date stated.
The situation in Stourbridge demonstrates the 'problem' of lightly used rail lines where the provision of a rail link is publicly celebrated yet traffic volumes do not provide sufficient revenue to create a business case.
Privatisation of the railway separated the whole industry into many parts; companies who provide rolling stock, companies who run rolling stock and a company which maintains the track. This may be the proving ground for the market-driven contraption which has been put in place of British Rail. The position of the train operating companies as customers to the train leasing companies should, theoretically, enable the needs of the passenger to be central to the process of vehicle design.
The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) held a conference back in mid-2005 on just this topic, looking at how train vehicles can be designed to match their use in a bid to reduce costs (both start-up and running), as well as station standing time, whilst maintaining rail's position as the safest mode of transport.
The most significant feature of rail as a mode of passenger transport is its costs. High initial costs of infrastructure (stations, track and rolling stock), in addition to the cost of fuels, signalling and staffing, mean that there are barriers to entrepreneurs entering the market, and subsidies mean that the rail network is a burden to central government. The Parry People Mover is able to offer environmental benefits from its fuel use, quoted as a quarter of the fuel that conventional rail vehicles use, and the cost of each vehicle is two-thirds that of the vehicles used at present.
The methods of operating the Parry People Mover are where communities benefit most highly. Through reduced stopping distances crossings can be co-ordinated by traditional traffic light systems while the users of mobility aids are able to cross the track at level. Services can be run more frequently and stations can be closer together.
For these benefits to be realised however all of the 'agents' concerned with a rail route need to work together, maintenance of the track, signalling arrangements and station design will be needed in addition to the new vehicles. This is a start and there are a number of reports from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) which indicate that the necessary dialogue is taking place.