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Birmingham to introduce UK’s first battery-operated trams

The first battery-operated trams in the UK will be introduced in Birmingham to remove the need for overhead power lines.

The West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (WMITA) has approved plans by transport delivery body Centro to retro-fit its fleet of 21 Midland Metro Urbos 3 trams.

The battery-powered tram system, known as catenary-free running, will be used in architecturally sensitive areas, meaning the Metro line from New Street station to Centenary Square, which is due to be opened in 2019, can run through Victoria Square without having to attach overhead cables to the 182-year-old Town Hall.

Four new trams, which come with the batteries already fitted, have also been ordered to allow the fleet to keep running at the current level of service once the Centenary Square extension opens.

Cllr John McNicholas, chair of the WMITA delivery committee, said: “The application of battery technology on this scale in the West Midlands will be a historic first for the UK light rail industry and the modern era of British tramways.”

He added that WMITA had wanted the new fleet of trams to run without overhead wires when they were first ordered in 2012, but battery technology was not developed enough at the time. Back in December, passenger services started running to the Bull Street stop on Birmingham’s Midland Metro as part of the first step in the £128m city centre tram extension.

Urbo 3 trams, manufactured in Spain by CAF, already run catenary-free in parts of the Spanish cities of Zaragoza, Seville and Cadiz, but with supercapacitors to provide on-board energy storage. These would be unsuitable for Birmingham trams because they have to go up a steep hill on Pinfold Street between New Street station and Victoria Square. However, CAF says newly available lithium ion batteries are robust enough to handle the gradients.

The batteries, which are expected to require replacement at approximately seven-year intervals, will be fitted on the tram roof and will be recharged by the overhead lines along other parts of the route.

Negotiations have started with battery suppliers, but the final cost is not yet available. However, a £3.15m contribution will be made by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and £1m will come from industry association UKTram.

Catenary-free running is due to be introduced on four sections of the Midland Metro route, with predicted immediate savings of £650,000 and greater savings longer term because there will no longer be a need to make infrastructure changes to buildings and roads to accommodate overhead lines.

For example, the Birmingham Eastside extension between Moor Street Queensway and Digbeth High Street stop, running under the proposed HS2 station at Curzon Street, can be built without infrastructure work.

The other two proposed catenary-free lines will be built on the Wolverhampton city centre extension between the bus station and the railway station tram stops, and on the Birmingham-Edgbaston extension from Centenary Square to the Brindleyplace tram stop, and through the underpass at Five Ways.


Kevinr   16/02/2016 at 07:27

brilliant news for a brilliant city!

Mark Smith   16/02/2016 at 13:18

The second city proves it is the first city again

Mark Smith   16/02/2016 at 13:18

The second city proves it is the first city again

Roy   16/02/2016 at 14:09

Thomas Parker developed the first Battery-Operated Trams in Birmingham and an account of the first trial run on 7 Nov 1888 is given here. Parker a native of Ironbridge, then working in Wolverhampton had already developed a practical Electric Car by then. He was dubbed "the Edison of Europe" by Lord Kelvin and was one of the greatest Victorian Engineers that we have forgotten to remember. However the centenary of his death was commemorated at an event last year held in his home town.

Andy   08/03/2016 at 16:23

I would endorse the comments made by Roy. Thomas Parker designed battery powered trams for many towns and cities well over 100 years ago!

Ian C L Thompson   11/01/2018 at 14:58

Eliminating the need for overhead lines and pantographs will make double-deck trams possible in places where lack of headroom rules them out today.

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