Rail Industry Focus


A game changer for Midland Metro

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) updates RTM’s Luana Salles on the latest projects taking place across the growing Midland Metro network.

The expansion of the Midland Metro tram network continues to gather pace, with a flurry of major announcements and activity over recent weeks.

Within days of the DfT giving the green light for a £60m contribution in September, West Midlands mayor Andy Street officially got work underway on the £149m Westside extension through central Birmingham.

The mayor, who chairs the Metro’s owner and developer, the WMCA, gave the signal for two cranes to remove the city’s iconic Iron: Man statue. Created by renowned sculptor Antony Gormley, the statue is in the direct path of the new Westside tram tracks but will be returned to Victoria Square in 18 months’ time.

Flanked by historic buildings such as the Greco-Roman-style Town Hall and the Victorian-built Council House, the Westside extension will be one of the first in the UK to use the latest battery technology to avoid any impact on the surrounding architecture from overhead wires.

The 2km-long route will take trams from New Street station, through Victoria Square and a redeveloped Paradise Circus, past Centenary Square and its architecturally acclaimed new library, then along Broad Street before stopping in Hagley Road, Edgbaston.

In addition to the government contribution, the extension will be paid for with £84m from the WMCA’s transport arm, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and the Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone. The remaining £5m will come from third-party developers.

Preparatory work is also underway on another extension at the other end of the Metro network in Wolverhampton, which will serve the city’s bus station and a redeveloped station.

This is due to be completed in 2019-20, which is when trams are also expected to start running along the Birmingham Westside extension to Centenary Square and to Edgbaston in late 2021.

That will be perfect timing for the city if it succeeds in winning the race to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games – Birmingham is the UK’s bid city.

Commenting on the Westside extension, the mayor said: “Extending the Metro through the city centre to New Street station has already proved a tremendous success. People like the trams and want more of them.

“That’s why we will be tripling the size of the network over the coming decade so our towns and cities are not only better connected to each other, but also to the HS2 high-speed rail line.”

3D-New-Canal-Street edit

The 2026 Delivery Plan

Yet the Birmingham and Wolverhampton city centre tram projects are dwarfed by the scale of the next phase of extensions. These were given a resounding endorsement by the WMCA in September with the approval of the region’s 2026 Delivery Plan for Transport. This sets out £3.4bn of tram extensions, new suburban rail lines, cycle routes and motorway improvements to be built over the coming decade.

The blueprint, which follows extensive public consultation, is aimed at ensuring the region is ready for the arrival of the HS2 line in 2026 and is able to maximise the significant economic benefits it offers.

The delivery plan sets out the transport links needed to best connect and feed into HS2, directly linking two million people to the region’s two high-speed rail stations.

The Midland Metro plays a critical role in this, with two key routes set to be built:

  • From the existing Birmingham city centre line to the Curzon HS2 station in the Eastside district, and then through Digbeth and north Solihull to Birmingham Airport/HS2 Interchange;
  • Between Brierley Hill, Dudley and Wednesbury, connecting to the existing Birmingham-Wolverhampton line.

The route between Brierley Hill and Wednesbury in particular has generated keen support locally, with TfWM making significant progress in recent months in developing the 11km link. This will serve the giant Merry Hill retail and business complex and the new DY5 Enterprise Zone, both at Brierley Hill. It will run through Great Bridge, Horseley Heath, Dudley Port, Dudley town centre, the Waterfront and Merry Hill, before terminating at Brierley Hill town centre.

Importantly, it will link the Black Country to the HS2 network, putting Dudley town centre just 40 minutes by tram from the HS2 terminal at Curzon Street.

The business case for the route was presented to government by the mayor this summer and, subject to approval, could be open by 2023. It will run on part of the old South Staffordshire railway line, which closed more than 20 years ago, and preliminary clearance works started earlier this year.

The faith being put in Metro by the WMCA and TfWM appears to be well founded, and builds on the success generated by the opening last year of an extension through Birmingham city centre to New Street station.

Since then, the Metro has, according to an independent survey by Passenger Focus, seen the biggest rise in passenger satisfaction on any tramway in the UK. Overall satisfaction rose from 81% in 2015 to 92% last year, while passenger numbers have soared from around five million to an all-time high of just under eight million.

The real game changer has been the tram using the extension to go all the way to New Street station and its Grand Central shopping complex, opening the Metro up to many more people than before.

Having it launched by Ozzy Osborne probably didn’t hurt either, but TfWM chiefs say that running on-street through the heart of the city has given the Metro a high visual profile, with tens of thousands more people now seeing the trams compared to when they only ran into Snow Hill station.

Broad-Street-at-Five-Ways edit

The Midland Metro Alliance

Meanwhile, more high-profile Metro work is underway in Wolverhampton with a major track renewal programme being undertaken by the Midland Metro Alliance (MMA), which has been tasked with building all of the Metro extensions over the coming decade.

The MMA has been set up by WMCA and includes a consortium of design experts from Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann and rail construction specialists Colas Rail, along with its sub-alliance partners Colas Ltd, Barhale, Bouygues UK and Auctus Management Group.

The track renewal work by the MMA also includes preparatory work for the junction needed to take the trams onto the forthcoming extension serving the bus and rail stations. The extension is part of the wider Wolverhampton Interchange Programme which includes the new railway station with improved access for pedestrian, car and public transport users.

Explaining the tram renaissance underway across the West Midlands and the rationale for it, Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA lead for transport, said: “Transport is key as we work to ensure the West Midlands punches its weight nationally and globally. HS2 will bring us closer to London and the UK’s other big city regions, and that will help cement our position as a world-class place in which to do business.

“But we need a transport system that can support and build on the significant growth and development that is already being generated by HS2. Metro has a fundamental role to play in that, and these exciting expansion schemes will transform transport in our region and help steer investment here, creating new jobs and homes.”

W: www.metroalliance.co.uk


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