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Midland Metro tram shipped to Spain for battery fit-out ahead of OLE-free operation

The first of the Midland Metro light rail fleet has been shipped back to the Zaragoza factory in Spain, where it was made, to be fitted with batteries as part of trailblazing plans to introduce battery-powered tram in the UK – thus ruling out the need for overhead power cables.

Tram 18, the first of the Urbos 3 trams, will be fitted by CAF with two lithium iron cells and undertake exhaustive tests before returning it to the UK in the autumn. Further tests will then be carried out at the Metro depot before work begins in fitting out the rest of the 21-tram fleet.

Last year the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) approved plans by the transport delivery body Centro to make the Midland Metro the first commercial tram system in the UK to have catenary-free running, allowing the trams to operate in certain areas without the need for overhead cables.

Cllr Roger Horton, lead member for rail and Metro on the WMCA’s transport delivery committee, which owns the Metro system, said that the development will be “a major milestone” for the network.

“Battery technology is now so developed we can use it to get the tram through sensitive areas and overcome what would otherwise be expensive infrastructure works,” Cllr Horton said after the tram had been sent to Spain.

“This has got be good news as the Midland Metro continues to expand and provide an effective alternative to the private car, helping to ease congestion and support economic growth.”

It is hoped that the new battery-powered trams will help protect areas which are architecturally sensitive and prevent the need for disruptive and expensive installation works.

The total cost to the WMCA of fitting out the fleet will be £15.5m, but the authority says that it will save £9.24m on infrastructure costs on the first four extensions to the Metro network alone, with further infrastructure savings planned as future extensions take place.

The four sections currently planned for catenary-free running include extensions through Birmingham’s Victoria Square and Wolverhampton city centre, both due to open in 2019; one from Birmingham to Edgbaston two years later; and the Birmingham Eastside extension under the proposed HS2 Curzon Street station, due to open in 2023.

The WMCA is also evaluating a proposed Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension to identify the viability of catenary-free sections.

While Urbos 3 trams using supercapacitors already run catenary-free along some sections of the tram networks in the Spanish cities of Zaragoza, Seville and Cadiz, these would be unsuitable for Birmingham due to the steep hill on Pinfold Street leading into Victoria Square.

However, the WMCA has said that lithium ion batteries are robust enough to handle the steep gradients and can be fitted to the fleet in time for the opening of the Centenary Square extension.

The batteries will be fixed on the roofs of the Midland Metro trams and recharged by overhead lines situated along other parts of the route.

(Image c. TfWM)

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Mikeyb   23/01/2017 at 20:16

I only hope that the remaining 20 trams will be retro-fitted at the Metro depot and not all shipped back to Zaragoza.

Lutz   23/01/2017 at 21:16

Parts of the London tram network were catenary-free so what exactly is it first at?

Andrew Gwilt   24/01/2017 at 10:37

Battery-Powered trams could be the future for transportation and to be used in larger cities and towns that isn't required for overhead electrification. Same goes with trains that could be powered on batteries whilst working on shorter non-electrified routes. Few years ago the GA Class 379 Electrostar EMU that was tested on battery aswell used on usual 25kv Overhead on the Mayflower branch line in Essex that could be the future for EMU and DMU trains to have battery components fitted.

Craig   24/01/2017 at 13:10

This is sensible, particularly given the issues/cost that are faced with putting in OLE in Birmingham City Centre. But as the West Midlands traffic grinds to a stop can they not rapidly accelerate the timescales of the metro system and deliver a much larger network than currently proposed so its a genuine alternative/convenient for the public - its much needed. Its becoming a critical issue and will hamper economic growth if its not more urgently delivered (snail pace comes to mind). In the same period of time since metro line 1 was completed London's had £billions in public transport investment and Manchester has got their network...why is the West Midlands so far behind?

Andy   24/01/2017 at 14:51

Craig... It's taken manchester 25 years to get the network it has now... and it took 10 years between the eccles extension being finished and the next line being started... Thats snail pace :-)

John Grant   24/01/2017 at 17:21

@Lutz the original London trams got their power from a third rail in a channel between the tracks; you can still see a section of track at the north end of the Kingsway tram tunnel in Southampton Row. Maybe that system doesn't meet safety requirements now. The trolley buses would have had overhead wires, though. The first trams in Blackpool also had third rail, until they found it didn't work too well in bad weather, when the sea was breaking over the promenade.

Henry Law   25/01/2017 at 06:17

This sounds like a sensible development. It would remove the objection to running trams in historic areas or other situations where overhead could be difficult to install.

James Miller   15/02/2017 at 16:00

I rode the Class 379 demonstrator to Harwich and it worked well. Recently, I met a lady, who used the train to commute every day it ran and she said it was usually there. Battery power is the future. I suspect that Crossrail's Class 345 trains could have batteries as emergency power, in case the Russians hack the UK power system. Bombardier are being surprisingly quiet about battery technology, but they've announced a Talent 2 with batteries in Germany.

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