West Midlands Metro
|Owner||Transport for West Midlands|
|Area served||Birmingham, Wolverhampton|
|Locale||West Midlands county|
|Transit type||Tram/Light rail|
|Number of lines||1|
|Number of stations||
(9 more awaiting construction)
6.2 million (2016/17)|
|Began operation||30 May 1999|
|Operator(s)||Midland Metro Ltd|
|Number of vehicles||21 Urbos 3|
|System length||13 miles (21 km)|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||Overhead line (750 V DC)|
|Top speed||43.5 miles per hour (70.0 km/h)|
West Midlands Metro is a light-rail/tram line in the county of West Midlands, England, operating between the cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton via the towns of West Bromwich and Wednesbury. The line operates on streets in urban areas, and reopened conventional rail tracks that link the towns and cities. It is operated (through Midland Metro Ltd) and owned by Transport for West Midlands. The Midland Metro Alliance brings together TfWM as well as various engineering and consultancy firms in a long term framework agreement to design and construct future expansions. The system was known as Midland Metro prior to June 2018.
The line opened on 30 May 1999, mostly using the former disused Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level Line. The line originally terminated at Birmingham Snow Hill station at the edge of Birmingham City Centre. An extension into the streets of the city-centre as far as Birmingham New Street station was approved in 2012, and became operational in 2016, with a further extension planned. Various other extensions, including entirely new lines, are currently under construction.
- 1 History
- 2 Line One
- 3 Rolling stock
- 4 Current extension works
- 5 Extension proposals
- 6 Historic planned extensions
- 7 Accidents and service disruptions
- 8 Evaluations of success
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
There had been proposals for a light rail or Metro system in Birmingham and the Black Country put forward as early as the 1950s and 1960s, ironically at a time when some of the region's lines and services were beginning to be cut back. However, serious inquiry into the possibility started in 1981 when the West Midlands County Council and the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive formed a joint planning committee to look at light rail as a means of solving the conurbation's congestion problems. In the summer of 1984 they produced a report entitled "Rapid Transit for the West Midlands" which set out ambitious proposals for a £500 million network of ten light rail routes which would be predominantly street running, but would include some underground sections in Birmingham city centre. One of the proposed routes would have used part of the existing line as far as West Bromwich.
The scheme suffered from several drawbacks, one being that three of the proposed routes, from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield, Shirley, and Dorridge would take over existing railways, and would have included the conversion into a tramway of the Cross-City Line, between Aston and Blake Street, ending direct rail services to Lichfield. The northern section of the North Warwickshire Line was also to be converted as far as Shirley station, leaving a question mark over existing train services to Stratford-upon-Avon. Tram tracks would also run alongside the existing line to Solihull and Dorridge, with local train services ended.
The most serious drawback however, which proved fatal to the scheme, was that the first proposed route of the network, between Five Ways and Castle Bromwich via the city centre would have involved the demolition of 238 properties. This invoked strong opposition from local residents. The scheme was spearheaded by Wednesfield Labour councillor Phil Bateman, but was eventually abandoned in late 1985 in the face of public opposition, and the Transport Executive was unable to find a Member of Parliament willing to sponsor an enabling Bill.
Following the abolition of the West Midlands County Council and establishment of a new Passenger Transport Authority in 1986, a new light-rail scheme under the name "Midland Metro" was revived with a different set of lines. The first of up to 15 lines was intended be operating by the end of 1993, and a network of 200 kilometres was planned to be in use by 2000.
In February 1988, it was announced that the first route, Line 1, would be between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, using much of the disused trackbed of the former Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level Line, a route not included in the 1984 recommended network, partly as at that stage the section between Wednesbury and Bilston was still in use, not closing until 1992. The Wednesbury to Birmingham section had closed back in 1972, and the section between Bilston and Wolverhampton was last used in 1983.
A three-line network was initially planned, and powers were also obtained to build two further routes. Firstly an extension of Line 1 through the city centre to Five Ways, then a second line, Midland Metro Line 2, running to Chelmsley Wood, and then Birmingham Airport. A third line, Line 3 was also proposed, running from Line 1 at Wolverhampton to Walsall, using much of the disused trackbed of the Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway, and then, using the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill trackbed of the South Staffordshire Line (which would close in 1993), running southwards to Dudley intersecting with Line 1 along the route. This would provide a direct link with the new Merry Hill Shopping Centre, which was built between 1984 and 1989.
Some 25 years later, Line 2 and Line 3 have not been built. In 1997 Centro accepted that they were unable to get funding for the proposed lines, and therefore adopted a strategy of expanding the system in "bite-sized chunks", with the city-centre extension of Line 1 as the first priority. The intention was that the first decade of the 21st century would see the completion of the first of these projects.
Work on the Birmingham Metro tram extension began in June 2012, launched by transport minister Norman Baker. The dig was begun at the junction of Corporation Street and Bull Street, with work to move water pipes and power cables.
On Sunday 6 December 2015, trams entered service on the extension to Bull Street.
A contract for the construction and operation of Line 1 was awarded to the Altram consortium in August 1995, and construction began three months later. The targeted completion date of August 1998 was missed by ten months, leading to compensation being paid by Altram.
The estimated construction cost in 1995 was £145 million (approximately £236 million in 2012 prices). Of this, loans and grants from central government accounted for £80m, the European Regional Development Fund contributed £31m, while the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority provided £17.1m and Altram contributed £11.4m.
Line 1, the 12.5-mile (20.1 km) Birmingham to Wolverhampton route, was originally opened on 31 May 1999, and runs mostly along the trackbed of the former Great Western Railway line between the two cities which was closed in 1972. Of the 23 tram stops, 11 roughly or directly match former railway stations. Originally, the line terminated at Birmingham Snow Hill station, using the space of one of the former rail platforms. However, in 2015-16, the line was extended across Birmingham city-centre to terminate at Birmingham New Street station.
At the southern end the terminus is Grand Central tram stop, which allows interchange with the National Rail network at Birmingham New Street station, it then runs on street through the city-centre to Birmingham Snow Hill station. From there, the line runs north-west, and for the first few miles it runs alongside the Birmingham to Worcester railway line, before the two diverge. Two stations on this stretch (Jewellery Quarter and The Hawthorns) are also tram/railway interchange stations.
At the northern end trams leave the railway trackbed at Priestfield to run along Bilston Road to St George's terminus in Bilston Street, Wolverhampton city centre. St George's has no direct interchange with other public transport, but the bus and railway stations can be reached on foot in a few minutes.
Mondays to Saturdays, services run at six to eight-minute intervals during the day. Evening and Sunday service is at fifteen-minute intervals. Trams take roughly 45 minutes to complete the route.
Cash fares are distance-related. The scale was originally intended to be broadly comparable with buses, but this caused the system to run at a significant loss and fares rose. In January 2013 the adult single fare from Birmingham to Wolverhampton was £2 by bus and £3.60 by tram, although the tram journey is much quicker even when the bus routes are congestion-free. By 2016 the tram fare had risen to £4. In November 2013 Birmingham City Council indicated plans to introduce a smart-card system (similar to Transport for London's Oyster Card) to improve access, alongside a range of measures including a new Tube-style map and electric bus networks. This has now launched and is called the Swift card.
From opening in 1999, usage averaged about five million passengers annually, and this number had reached a plateau. Following the opening of the extension into Birmingham city centre in June 2016, passenger numbers reportedly increased sharply. According to official figures, passenger numbers rose to over six million for the first time during 2016/17.
Track, signalling and depot
Line 1 is a standard gauge double-track tramway. Trams are driven manually under a mix of line-of-sight and signals. Turnback crossovers along the line, including in the street section, have point indicators.
On the trackbed section Birmingham to Priestfield, signals are at Black Lake level crossing, and Wednesbury Parkway and Metro Centre. The street section has signals at every set of traffic lights, tied into the road signals to allow tram priority.
The tram stops are unstaffed raised platforms with two open-fronted cantilever shelters equipped with seats, a 'live' digital display of services, closed circuit television, and an intercom linked to Metro Centre.
The West Midlands Metro is operated by a fleet of 21 Urbos 3 trams, constructed by the Spanish manufacturer CAF. The present fleet was introduced into service during 2014-15, replacing the original fleet of 16 Italian-built Ansaldobreda T-69 trams, which had entered service in 1999.
In February 2012, Centro announced that it was planning a £44.2-million replacement of the entire tram fleet. CAF was named preferred bidder for 19 to 25 Urbos 3 trams. A £40 million order for 20 was signed, with options for five more. The new fleet provides an increased service of 10 trams per hour in each direction, with an increased capacity of 210 passengers per tram, compared with the 156 passengers on the former T69 trams. The Urbos 3 trams are 33 metres long; 9 metres longer than the former T69 stock, and have a maximum operating speed of 70 km/h (43 mph).
Current extension works
An extension of Line One into Birmingham city centre has been approved, with an extension through Wolverhampton city centre also approved.
Phase one expansion
Line One (Birmingham City Centre) extension
West Midlands Metro Line 1
Centenary Square Extension
The fact that the existing line did not run into Birmingham City Centre was identified as one of the reasons why it failed to attract the predicted patronage. The Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) has extended Line 1 into the streets of central Birmingham. Originally it was planned to terminate the extension at Stephenson Street, adjacent to New Street railway station. In September 2013, Centro started consultation on proposals to extend the city-centre extension from New Street station to Centenary Square. This would be another stage towards extending the line to Five Ways the original planned destination. The plan was approved by Birmingham City Council in October, allowing the line to add an additional stop at Birmingham Town Hall.
The extension diverges from the previous line between Snow Hill and St Paul's stops. A viaduct has been constructed that carries the line into the streets. The existing terminus at Snow Hill has been closed, which has allowed a fourth platform at Snow Hill to be reinstated for railway use. It was replaced by a new stop further west near Snow Hill station's second entrance on Livery Street, allowing continued interchange with National Rail services.
From Snow Hill the tramway runs along Colmore Circus, Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street and Stephenson Street, with three stops. The second phase of the extension to Centenary Square will then run from Stephenson Street along Pinfold Street, turning into Victoria Square where a new stop will be located alongside the Town Hall. It will then run along Paradise Street to Paradise Circus then turn onto Broad Street, where it will continue to its terminus on Centenary Square.
An order authorising the BCCE was made in July 2005. Government approval was given on 16 February 2012 for the extension, a new fleet of trams and a new depot at Wednesbury; the sanctioned sum is £128m, of which £75m was be provided by the Department for Transport (DfT). The first new tram is scheduled to come into service on the existing line in February 2014, while the enlarged depot will be available in August 2013. The extension as far as New Street station and the full new tram fleet were scheduled to be in service from March 2015 (although the service had still not commenced by 19 November 2015 when The Queen visited Birmingham and named one of the new trams), with the further extension to Centenary Square in operation from 2017. On 14 June 2012 works on the extension officially began. Initial works include the relocation of underground services on Bull Street and Corporation Street.
West Midlands Metro Line 1
The first section of the extension to Bull Street tram stop was opened on 6 December 2015. The rest of the extension to Grand Central was due to open on 22 May 2016, but this was delayed to allow further track alignment work. The extension eventually opened on 30 May 2016, with revisions to the timetable. The track extends past the New Street Station tram stop, almost to the junction with Pinfold Street, providing a spur to allow empty trams arriving from the Wolverhampton direction to reverse and switch to the opposite track for the return journey.
The stated aim of Line One has always been to terminate at Five Ways. In July 2014 it was announced that a local enterprise partnership would supply over 88% of the funding needed for the Edgbaston extension to the new terminus on the south side of Hagley Road adjacent to the 54 Hagley Road office building, all but guaranteeing its implementation after 2015.
Previously, Birmingham City Council looked at the possibility of constructing an underground railway. Mike Whitby, leader of the council from 2004 at one stage spoke in favour of an underground railway, which he claimed would be faster and much cheaper to operate. In February 2005, Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Tilsley, who became deputy leader of the council later that year, stated that a proper underground was needed, and that people would not stand for the mayhem that building a street tramway would cause.
The council commissioned Jacobs Engineering and Deloitte to look into the feasibility of underground trams, but in June 2005 the Birmingham Post reported that tunnelling would be unaffordable and not meet government funding criteria. Mr Whitby stated that he would challenge the way the studies had been carried out, but the eventual outcome was acceptance of a street tramway. By September 2008, the council's interest had shifted from the full BCCE to a shortened version between New Street and Snow Hill stations, which do not have connecting trains.
In September 2017, the DfT allocated the remaining £60 million required for the extension to be fully funded. The extension will open in 2021 with stops at Town Hall, Centenary Square, Brindleyplace, Five Ways and Edgbaston. Work commenced on 5 September 2017.
Line One Wolverhampton City Centre loop
West Midlands Metro Line 1
An extension from the existing terminus in Wolverhampton running through Market Street and Lichfield Street and then serving Wolverhampton bus station and Wolverhampton railway station, part of the Phase Two Extensions, was made a separate project following stagnation of the project to build a line to Walsall. It was to take the form of a mainly single-track loop-and-spur extension to Line 1, with an estimated cost of £30 million. By July 2009, the loop had gained funding preference over the Stourbridge route via Dudley and Brierley Hill, and a leaflet gave basic details of the proposal.
Centro hoped to complete the scheme by 2014, but in May 2010 Wolverhampton councillor Paddy Bradley stated it was "on the back burner". Although the 2009 leaflet included a route plan and stops, Centro's spokesman Steve Swingler said "We expect to announce the preferred route later in the summer".
The plan entailed southbound trams from Wolverhampton first going around the city centre to the railway station. In July 2010, Centro Director General Geoff Inskip hinted that the scheme would be reworked by taking it to "places people need to go, such as the University", and not taking passengers to the railway station and back "if they don't actually need to go there". The reworked scheme, costing £50 million instead of £30 million, might be routed over part of the ring road. In 2012 Centro announced that they would be pressing ahead with a cut down version of the original scheme, which they hoped would take place before 2015. The cut down version would create a branch running from the existing terminus at St. George's, connecting the bus and rail stations, with the creation of a loop through Market Street and Lichfield Street happening at a later date.
In March 2014, it was announced that the Wolverhampton Extension would go ahead as part of a £2bn connectivity package. The new line would see two new stops built at Piper's Row and Wolverhampton Railway Station, which will see trams terminate alternately at the Rail station and at the existing St George's stop. The new stops will be constructed between 2015 and 2019. Though the Extension to Wolverhampton railway station has been said to be completed by the end of 2015. The Transport and Works Act Order was approved by Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin in 2016.
Piper's Row tram stop
Piper's Row is a proposed stop for the Midland Metro tram service in Wolverhampton. The possibility of extending the Metro from its current terminus at St George's in the city centre to the town's railway station, via its bus station has long been a priority of Centro. In March 2014 it was announced that the extension would go ahead as part of a £2bn connectivity package for the whole region. Early discussions have suggested that existing services will continue from The Royal up to Piper's Row and Wolverhampton station, missing out St George's completely, except for busy periods of the day, but this is as yet unconfirmed. The layout of the town made the initially-envisaged 'loop' behind St George's uneconomical, and now services stopping at the old terminus will have to drive in and wait for the driver to switch ends before backing out again to continue the journey.
Line Two eastside extension
West Midlands Metro
Line Two Eastside Extension
In November 2013, Birmingham City Council leader Albert Bore announced that a task group was considering the construction of a second metro line from Birmingham City Centre, along Fazeley Street to Birmingham Airport and terminating at Coventry. Simultaneously, Centro released a proposed map of the route, taking in a loop between the interchange at the airport, Small Heath and Lea Hall. The line would spread the benefits of integrated transport beyond the centre of Birmingham and was part of a wider initiative to better connect both cities to the proposed High Speed 2 interchange at Curzon Street.
In February 2014, it was announced that funding had been secured for the first phase of Midland Metro's Line Two extension to Eastside, including three new stops at either Moor Street or Albert Street, and Curzon Street, before a terminus at Adderley Street. Centro are currently undertaking public consultation of two proposed routes, with both proposals aiming to join the existing Line One at a junction between Bull St and Corporation St. The main aim of the consultation is to establish whether commuters would prefer a shorter, and therefore quicker, route through to Curzon Street from New Street, or if a slightly longer route with a tram stop directly outside Moor Street station would be more agreeable. If the latter option were favoured, it would mark the achievement of what has long been regarded as a major aim for the Metro, namely to connect all three (four when Curzon St reopens) city-centre stations by rapid transit. Any extension would have to be completed before the projected commencement of High Speed 2 services in 2026.
Present confirmed expansion plans
The extension projects with confirmed funding will produce a network as follows:
Wednesbury – Merry Hill extension
West Midlands Metro Line 2
From Line 1 in Wednesbury, the Brierley Hill Extension (WBHE) would follow the disused South Staffordshire Line, through Tipton to the vicinity of the former Dudley Town station (which closed in 1964 and was later the site of a freightliner terminal), then on-street into Dudley town centre. It would leave Dudley alongside the Southern Bypass to access the railway corridor, leaving it at the approach to the Waterfront/Merry Hill area and Brierley Hill and then on to Stourbridge.
Centro has stated that the WBHE would provide 10 trams per hour, alternately serving Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Journey time from Brierley Hill to West Bromwich was stated as 31 minutes.
However, these plans have been complicated by the desire of Network Rail to reopen the South Staffordshire Line for the use of freight trains, which last used the route in 1993. Various proposals have been put forward as to how trams and freight trains could coexist on the same corridor, early proposals involved trams and freight trains using different tracks. But since 2008 Centro has favoured the use of tram-trains, which can share the tracks with freight trains.
In March 2011, the business plan for the reopening of the South Staffordshire Line between Walsall and Stourbridge for the Midland Metro was submitted to Network Rail. Trams would share the line with freight trains, and a decision from Network Rail on the scheme between Stourbridge and Walsall was due in the summer. In December 2012, Centro stated that they intended to build the line in phases to make the scheme more affordable, with the first stretch running from Wednesbury to Dudley.
In the latest developments, the former railway line was cleared of vegetation and disused track was removed in early 2017, with full scale work set to begin by 2019 and the Midland Metro line from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill to be completed by 2023. It is unclear whether the line will re-open to goods trains at the same time or a later date.
Currently, the expansion is being discussed between Network Rail and Transport for West Midlands on how they will go about the boundary maintenance as recently Dudley Council have applied for a Very Light Railway Depot to test light rail on the 2 km (1.2 mi) track between Dudley and Blowers Green but Network Rail have allowed a lease to use it but they have the right to break the clause when freight traffic is allowed to run the corridor.
Horseley Road tram stop
Horseley Road is a proposed stop on the planned Line two of the West Midlands Metro expansion. It will be the fourth stop on the proposed route from Wednesbury – Brierley Hill. The line was expected to be opened in 2013 but is on hold due to lack of funding.
Sedgley Road tram stop
Sedgely Road is a proposed stop on West Midlands Metro Line Two being planned by Network West Midlands between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill.
Historic planned extensions
In 2004, the proposed Phase Two expansion included five routes:
Birmingham City Centre to Great Barr
Birmingham City Centre to Quinton
Wolverhampton City Centre to Wednesfield, Willenhall, Walsall and Wednesbury
This 20.4 kilometres (12.7 mi) "5Ws" route would connect Wolverhampton city centre to Wednesfield, Willenhall, Walsall and Wednesbury, and provide direct access to New Cross and Manor Hospitals, partially using the trackbed of the former Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway. This link was officially declared dead in the Express & Star on 23 October 2015.
Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport
- (A45)- A 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) route from Birmingham Airport/ National Exhibition Centre and serving suburbs along the A45 road. Journey time from central Birmingham (Bull Street) to the airport was estimated at 29 minutes. This proposal has now been incorporated into the proposals for Line Two.
- (A47)- In September 2010, the Birmingham Post reported that a "£425 million rapid transit system" between Birmingham city centre and the airport "could involve a new light rail scheme". Centro strategy director Alex Burrows stated "the Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport Rapid Transit plan will deliver connectivity between the city centre, Birmingham Business Park and Chelmsley Wood".
Accidents and service disruptions
There have been several instances of trams colliding with road vehicles at crossings, including one collision in February 2003 in Wolverhampton where the car driver was killed. There has been at least one collision between trams, including one in December 2006 near Benson Road station, in which 16 people sustained minor injuries.
Technical and maintenance failures, severe weather and vandalism have led to some service disruptions. In summer 2001 the Wolverhampton section was temporarily closed because of a risk of electrocution posed by drooping power cables.
For most of 2017, the line between Priestfield and Wolverhampton St Georges was replaced, forcing passengers travelling up to Wolverhampton to change at The Crescent for the replacement bus service.
On 2 June 2018 a man was found on the tracks at the Trinity Way stop at approximately 5 AM after being struck by a tram, according to British Transport Police, and was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics from West Midlands Ambulance Service. At present, the man has not been identified.
Evaluations of success
Since its opening in 1999, the Metro's existing line has not been as successful as hoped, attracting far fewer passengers than initially predicted. At the planning stage it was projected that the line would carry 14 to 20 million passengers per year, but it has actually carried around five million.
Numerous reasons have been suggested for the relative under performance of the line, including that the line has lacked visibility, being confined to Snow Hill station at the edge of Birmingham city centre, and is therefore relatively unknown. Other grounds for the line's underwhelming performance include the fact that there are quicker trains running between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and that the line did not serve New Street station, or any of Birmingham's major visitor attractions except for the Jewellery Quarter, which is already well-served by suburban trains. Nonetheless, overcrowding has sometimes occurred on trams at peak hours. It is hoped that the extension of Line One to New Street will greatly increase the number of passengers using the tram service to other destinations between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
At Line 1's opening, it was operated by a for-profit company Altram owned by John Laing, Ansaldo, and National Express. Soon after opening it became evident to all three partners that operating revenue would not cover costs. In February 2003, The Times reported that the Metro's auditors had refused to sign off its accounts as a going concern.
Ansaldo and Laing decided to withdraw from involvement in the Midland Metro, which they felt would not be profitable, and had ceased practical involvement as early as 2003, but their official exit took place in 2006. Day-to-day operation has since been in the hands of National Express Midland Metro, with losses largely covered by cross-subsidies from other parts of National Express' business.
The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) gave an overall cost estimate for British systems of £3.79 per light-rail vehicle-kilometre in 2003–2004, compared with £0.94 per bus kilometre in 2002–2003, according to Rapid Transit Monitor 2004. CfIT estimated that the fare required for Midland Metro to break even was twice that of Manchester Metrolink, London Tramlink and the Tyne & Wear Metro.
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