Published: 7th August 2016
The well used Midland Metro network has just been extended to serve Birmingham New Street and a further extension of the line in Wolverhampton has obtained planning consent. The Transport & Works Act Order has just come into force after the statutory six-week pause in legal proceedings.
The extension has been estimated as costing £18million and will bring trams to Wolverhampton railway station via Pipers Row and the main bus station. The project is linked into the Wolverhampton Interchange scheme to be completed in three years time. The backers are Transport for West Midlands, Wolverhampton Council and Neptune Developments paid for by the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the city council and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
A team has been created under the banner of The Midland Metro Alliance who will plan, design and then build four light rail extensions in the West Midlands over the next ten years. The Alliance comprises of the owners of the Midland Metro Light rail network, the West Midlands Combined Authority, Colas the French owned infrastructure maintenance company, Barhale, Thomas Vale, Auctus Management Group, plus several consultancies - Egis Rail, Tony Gee and Pell Frischman.
The line was opened first to Bull Street and then to New Street. Despite only being recently opened, the tram line serving Birmingham New Street is now being extended to the nearby Centenary Square and ultimately on to Edgbaston to be operative in five years time. Much has been made of the lack of connectivity between HS2’s Curzon Street and New Street stations but the tram route has already been identified between the two stations and on to Digbeth Coach Station and the Custard Factory by 2023.
‘Since we started running to Bull Street, we’ve seen 23% more passengers on the trams’, said Peter Coates, Managing Director of operator National Express West Midlands. ‘Now the extension is open we look forward to passenger numbers continuing to grow.’
The extension took four years to construct and is just over half a mile long, originally due to open last year. It brought trams back to the heart of Birmingham after a break of 60 years and is part of a £128 million scheme which introduced 21new trams and will help carry three million passengers a year to Birmingham’s main shopping area.
The 49 route mile tram network linking Newcastle, North and South Shields and Sunderland that utilised much of the former British Rail network from 1980 in the northeast is operated by Nexus and its paymasters, the North East Combined Authority has decided to operate the services themselves rather than extend the existing contract with DBRegio by two years.
The German operators were awarded a seven year contract that expires in March next year and from then, the operation will be taken in house while the transport authority decides on a long-term plan including what a new operating contract might look like. The existing trams used by Nexus are now 36 years old which is why a new fleet is being planned at a cost of £300million.
Nexus are reported as saying that they and DB Regio Tyne & Wear Ltd were ‘dissatisfied with the structure and the financial and operational performance of the current contract’, and ‘passenger outcomes are not where either party would want them to be.’
The new fleet of trains is subject to Government funding and is hoped will commence opertions in the next eight or nine years with the business case and draft specification being finlised. Nexus will be deciding whether to contract for not only a new train build but for the ongoing maintenance and operation of them as well.
‘Managing Metro directly for a limited period will allow Nexus to
prepare the Metro business for the significant change that will come with further investment of more than £400m in a new train fleet in the coming years’, said Nexus Managing Director Tobyn Hughes.The RMT union boss Mick Cash expressed the hope that the two-year in-house operation would be made a permanent arrangement.’
The North East Combined Authority has developed a Metro & Local Rail Strategy which could see a million pounds a week spent for the next 20 years or around a £1billion investment in not only the Tyne & Wear Metro network but also to some main line operations as well.
Nexus‘ services has operated over Network Rail infrastructure for almst 15 years between Sunderland and Pelaw competing for track space with local and long distance passenger trains plus some freight services.
The billion pound investment could bring new stations and trams to new routes currently mothballed or lightly used by heavy rail as well as taking over some franchised services. A North East Rail Management Unit has been formed to co-ordinate local Northern Rail and metro services including ticketing and bringing a consistent standard for passengers for stations, information and customer service.
This investment will bring signalling upgrades costing £100million, the same amount on modernising the electrification systems while half as much will create new depot facilities.
The new trains will be specified to operate using the 1·5 kV DC system on Nexus infrastructure and at the normal 25KV overhead line used on Network Rail infrastructure and this could be extended to the section between Sunderland and Pelaw.
Light rail is a success which is why such heavy investment has been planned.