£1bn Metro strategy includes new £550m fleet and service expansion

A new rail strategy for the Metro system, including £1bn investment over the next 20 years and plans to kick-start an expansion scheme, has been approved by the North East Combined Authority (NECA).

The ‘Metro and Local Rail Strategy’ identifies a network of disused or under-used rail routes across the region that could potentially benefit from new or better services, “putting whole towns and communities back on the national railway map” and creating new links into business parks as a result.

These under-used routes, which thread across Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear, could be “brought back to life” for passenger services, and would provide a “starting point for detailed evaluation to see which might deliver the highest benefits from investment, and what the construction challenges would be”.

The plan, approved by NECA’s Leadership Board, also argued that a new fleet could potentially operate on lines beyond just its traditional electrified Metro system due to advances in train technology – thus creating opportunities for local service expansion and better rail integration.

The intention is to replace the original Metro fleet in service since 1980 with new trains at an estimated cost of £550m, including power supply upgrades and depot facilities. The strategy aims to introduce this new fleet in the early 2020s.

Cllr Nick Forbes, transport lead at the combined authority and leader of Newcastle City Council, said the “ambitious” strategy will develop and expand the “iconic and world-famous” Metro system in the north east.

“We are building a business case for major investment in Metro and local rail to improve journeys for passengers and provide cleaner, greener and attractive travel choices,” he said.

“Local rail brings huge economic and social benefits to the communities it reaches today but we need to extend those benefits into new areas. To do that it is essential we secure funding for a new fleet of Metro trains, acting as a catalyst for the expansion of local rail and better integration across North East England.”

Cllr Forbes argued that the “well-publicised problems” with reliability on the Metro “underline how essential it is” to bring in a new fleet, but said the NECA wants to “look far beyond that immediate goal” to maximise the growth of all local rail services together.

Metro owner and manager Nexus has already kicked off talks with the government about funding routes and hopes to submit a detailed business case before the end of this year.

Tobyn Hughes, managing director for transport at NECA, commented: “We believe some existing and disused local rail corridors can be combined with Metro to create a single network at a lower cost than new-build railways. By fusing local rail and Metro together we can create something new and better than the sum of those two parts.

“There are also areas where the existing Metro system can be upgraded, and the system is badly in need of a new fleet. This opens the possibility of a new Metro fleet working seamlessly alongside regional trains depending on the route and stations being served.”

He added that Nexus will have invested £350m by 2021 renewing track and other infrastructure on the light rail system, but needs to “continue that investment over the next two decades” as well as focus on trains.

Interestingly, the strategy builds on Sunderland’s reputation as the first place in the UK to see local Metro services share track with regional and national trains when the metro route was inaugurated in 2002. This included new stations opening on existing tracks between Sunderland city centre and Pelaw, as well as part of the disused railway line between Sunderland and Durham being re-opened for the Metro trains.

The strategy also follows this year’s creation of a new North East Rail Management Unit through which the combined authority plays a key role in the devolution of rail services from Whitehall.

NECA said it would now “like to see this develop” so Metro and local rail can work alongside each other with a common set of passenger standards and ticketing, including the potential to see some routes transferred between Metro and local rail in either direction.

(Top image c. Phil Thirkell)


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Nonsuchmike   22/07/2016 at 15:01

This is nothing new. When we met up with Tim Runnacles (30+ years experience of Transit systems including Hong Kong) some years ago @ Railtex, he ventured that this was the obvious use for under used (allegedly) lines throughout UK, but these needed commitment and well thought out strategies, including possible re-alignments or new lines, closer stations, and investment in new rolling stock, not just same old, same old, tracks and DMUs. Perhaps his words will come true. The pity is that it has taken so long for the Powers that Be to wake up to these facts, so let us applaud softly for this gentle foray into the unknown. FWIW, my opinion is that Newcastle/Sunderland, Nottingham, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester etc have embraced a vision, but what is hindering Bristol, Leicester or more spread out regions like Cumbria, the Western peninsular, mid/west Wales or East Anglia?

Jb   22/07/2016 at 17:45

...Metro to Stanley, Annfield Plain and Consett?

Jb   23/07/2016 at 01:16

Add Beamish to that. Hundreds visit Beamish Open Air Museum from all over the country. Many would probably prefer to go by train thus reducing road traffic and emissions, etc.

Andrew Gwilt   23/07/2016 at 12:33

New rolling stocks to be manufactured if the preffered bidders do win the contract to build the new Tyne & Wear Metro rolling stocks and also the network could see it extended to other areas including Newcastle Airport.

Ralph Holmes   08/08/2016 at 15:11

Metro extension to Killingworth, Dudley and Cramlington ought to be considered. Presently Cramlington has an hourly rail service to Newcastle Central (about ten miles and not near the city centre) and buses every few minutes. Surely the potential traffic exists for a service to Newcastle centre.

Chris Lowery   05/09/2016 at 18:05

when local people were consulted about the new Tyne tunnel it was pointed out that there were rail corridors on either side of the new proposed tunnel and wouldn't it be a good idea to add in that missing link for the future this was poo poo'd by Nexus should have deen done would cost to much now

Gee   28/03/2017 at 11:58

Serious thinking and some financial input around the Tyneside area is drastically needed. Brief suggestions: Make Blyth & Tyne route fit for passenger trains. The P. Way exists. Shouldn't take too much to get up to passenger standards. A couple of sensibly located park & ride stations would take a massive amount of cars off the heavily overcrowded roads. Would be very easy to link into ECML at Morpeth to reinforce the Cramlington services. T&W Metro must run to Washington to complete the loop. Money being spent on modernising stations and stock now should be funded to complete vital links to Newcastle & Sunderland. T&W Metro should run under the Tyne, alongside existing road tunnels, to complete another loop ie. North Shields to South Shields.

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