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The Midland Metro is a light-rail or tram line in the West Midlands of Englandmarker between the cities of Birminghammarker and Wolverhamptonmarker via West Bromwichmarker and Wednesburymarker.

It is owned and promoted by Centro, and operated by a subsidiary of the National Express Group (NEG) under the brand name Travel Midland Metro (TMM).

Midland Metro carries about five million passengers annually, about one third of that predicted by Centro in the planning stage.

History

In the mid 1980s, after a brief experiment with guided buses, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (Centro) planned a tram line between Five Ways, just west of Birmingham city centre, and the Clock Garage, in the eastern suburbs. It would have involved large scale property demolition, and was to have been the first of a series of tramways known as the 'Light Rail Transit' system. However, sustained public opposition led to its abandonment before construction had started .

Following the establishment of a new Passenger Transport Authority in 1986, the project was revived under the name 'Midland Metro'. It would be the "largest infrastructure project in the West Midlands to the end of the century and beyond", and 200 km of tram lines would "transform public transport". The first of up to fifteen lines would be operating by the end of 1993, and a substantive network by 2000.

To reduce opposition, Midland Metro Line 1 would not require large scale demolition, as it would link Birminghammarker and Wolverhamptonmarker using a former railway trackbed for most of its length. It was thought that Parliamentary approval and funding for demolition-intensive routes would be easier after approval and funding for Line 1 was in place .

The Clock Garage line was subsequently revived in modified form, still requiring extensive demolition, as Midland Metro Line 2, with a new eastern terminus in Chelmsley Woodmarker. The Act of Parliament for Line 1 received the Royal Assent in November 1989. In April 1990, an application for funding under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968 was made, and £1.5 million was granted to the project. It was announced in March 1992 that a further £3 million was to be granted by central government, increasing the funding total to £4.5 million.

In September 1991, proposals were published to extend Line 1 to the Bullring shopping centremarker and build Line 2. WMPTE's efforts to secure Parliamentary approval for Line 2 included providing free trips to Grenoblemarker for MPs through the lobbying firm Ian Greer Associates. The PTE Director General, Robert J Tarr, stated that there would be full consultation, but the Executive decided to use obscure Parliamentary procedure to try to stop people objecting. In spite of these measures, public opposition eventually forced the abandonment of Line 2 and Line 3 (Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Merry Hill).

Consultants for the project have included WS Atkins, Kennedy Henderson, and Maunsells.

Routes

Line 1, the 12½ mile (20.2 km) Birmingham to Wolverhampton route, was opened on 31 May 1999, and runs mostly along the trackbed of the former Great Western Railway line between the two cities (closed in 1972), thus stopping any return of the former mainline.

At the southern end, the terminus is Birmingham Snow Hill stationmarker in Birminghammarker city centre. Platform 4 at the station had to be taken out of use to allow provision of the tram terminal and access track, reducing the railway's capacity and operating flexibility.

At the northern end, trams move off the former railway formation to run along streets to a terminus at St Georges in Wolverhamptonmarker city centre. St Georges does not have interchange with other public transport, but the bus and railway stations can be reached on foot in a few minutes.

The depot, near Wednesbury, Great Western Street tram stop, occupies land once used as railway sidings.

A contract covering construction and operation of this line was awarded to a consortium known as Altram in August 1995. Construction began three months later, with a targeted completion date of August 1998. This was missed by nine months, which should have led to compensation being paid by Altram. Details of any payments made are not known.

The outturn cost of Line 1 is also not known. In 1990 David Gilroy Bevan, a prominent supporter of Midland Metro, told Parliament that it would cost £60 million. Centro stated that it cost £145 million at 1995 prices, but this does not take account of items (such as a wheel lathe) that were deleted to reduce the headline sum .

At the time of Line 1's opening, Altram was a for-profit company owned by John Laing, Ansaldo, and West Midlands Travel. Claudio Artusi, vice president of Ansaldo Trasporti, had stated that his company was "fully committed to successfully implementing Line 1", and Martin Laing, chairman of Laing, had stated, "we will deliver a high quality light rail system".

Soon after opening, it became evident to all three partners that Metro operating revenues would not cover costs. In 2001 Ansaldo decided it was "not prepared to invest further monies in a loss-making venture which showed no prospect of ever becoming profitable". Laing "felt there was no economic future in Altram and that to contribute further funds would only increase its loss in what it believed to be a failing project". In February 2003 it was reported that the Metro's auditors refused to sign off its accounts.

Ansaldo and Laing sought an exit, which was agreed some years later. Day-to-day operation of Metro is in the hands of TMM, with losses largely covered by cross subsidies from other parts of National Express's business.

NEG is supposedly responsible for Midland Metro losses until 2019. However, Centro intends to re-franchise the operation well before that date, as part of the 'Phase One' expansion. At a result, responsibility for future losses would transfer from NEG to the public purse.

Line 1's accessibility shortcomings led to its vehicles having to be exempted from the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998. In May 2009, Wolverhampton councillor Judith Rowley suggested that £40,700 had been wasted on a "flawed" access plan for Bilston Central tram stop.

Phase One Expansion

Although patronage is much lower than was anticipated by Centro, Metro expansion remains central to its strategy. In 2006 Councillor Gary Clarke, chairman of Centro-PTA, stated that Metro would "make a real impact on our campaign to cut congestion for everyone". However, fewer than 20% of journeys were previously made by car, there has been no noticeable relief of the adjacent A41 Birmingham to Wolverhampton road , and trams account for fewer than 2% of journeys made by public transport in the West Midlands.

Centro has been seeking government funding for its Phase One expansion, comprising the 2.8 km Birmingham City Centre Extension (through Birminghammarker city centre linking Snow Hill, Birmingham New Street Stationmarker, and Five Waysmarker), and the 11 km Brierley Hill Extension (a branch off Line 1, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hillmarker town centre). An order authorising the City Centre Extension was made in July 2005.

Line One (Birmingham City Centre) Extension

In 2005, Centro claimed that the Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) would cost £72 million, but a more recent estimate is £180 million.

Birmingham City Council's support has been less than consistent. At times it has favoured building Midland Metro in tunnel in the city centre and there has been uncertainty about the route itself.

Centro's public position remains supportive of a street tramway to Edgbaston Shopping Centre, Five Ways, 13 minutes from Snow Hill. At points such as Suffolk Queensway, trams would go over the road on a bridge. As part of a land redevelopment adjacent to Snow Hill Station, part of a viaduct has been constructed to carry the line from the current alignment into the streets.

In March 2009, a much-shortened version of the BCCE, terminating in Stephenson Street, adjacent to New Street station, was estimated to cost £60 million.

The BCCE would improve tram users' access to the shopping district around Corporation Streetmarker, but at the cost of worsened access for bus users, with up to ten stops having to be relocated away from the street. Re-routing of bus services as a result of the BCCE has been a source of friction between Centro and National Express West Midlands, with an earlier attempt to redirect buses to a new 'bus mall' adjacent to Moor Street railway station having ended in disaster. Following a spate of accidents, the mall was closed down before it had fully opened, and all evidence of its existence erased.

Line Two (Wednesbury - Brierley Hill)

From Line 1 in Wednesbury, Line 2 would follow the disused South Staffordshire Line, through Sandwell to the vicinity of the former Dudley Town stationmarker, then run on-street into Dudley town centre. It would leave Dudley using a route alongside the Southern Bypass to again access the existing railway corridor, leaving it once more for the approach to the Waterfront/Merry Hill area and Brierley Hill. The intended start of service date at one point was 2011.

Centro have stated Line 2 would offer 10 trams per hour, alternately serving Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Journey time from Brierley Hill to West Bromwich was stated as 31 minutes.In December 2000 the capital cost of the Brierley Hill Extension was stated as £114.1 million in 1999 prices. A Centro news release in March 2005 gave the cost as £139 million, but the following year the estimate had nearly doubled, to £268 million.

Some preliminary work was done in 2005-2006, with the reconstruction of the 50-year-old Tipton Road overbridge in Dudleymarker.

To avoid a "a reputational risk for Centro", its Director General, Geoff Inskip, proposed spending nearly £2 million on land for a car park at Dudley Port. The land for each parking space would cost about £30,000. As well as the land seizure at Dudley Port, another £10 million would be used to compulsorily purchase other land required for the Brierley Hill extension.

In 2008 Centro began repositioning the Brierley Hill Extension as a passenger and cargo tram-train project linking Wednesbury and Stourbridgemarker, linked to the re-opening of the South Staffordshire railway from Bescotmarker. It claimed, "Running freight trains on the proposed tram tracks will remove the need to build a separate track for freight alongside the Metro rails, cutting overall construction costs by around 20 per cent". However, no evidence of need, or cost saving, was offered. In the construction of Line 1, Centro took a contrary view of track sharing, having an expensive flyover built at Handsworthmarker to ensure segregation of trams from occasional freight trains.

Centro's 'Wednesbury – Brierley Hill – Stourbridge Rapid Transit' map shows that trams would cross into (and out of) the path of freight trains ten times, on each return journey to Stourbridge.

Phase Two Expansion

Other Metro proposals have been made by Centro at various times, including the following.

Birmingham city centre to Great Barr

A 10 km, 17-stop route planned from the City Centre through Lancaster Circus and along the A34 corridor to the Birmingham/Walsall boundary area, terminating near the M6 motorway junction 7. The route was called "Varsity North" by Centro, and "a white elephant" by Khalid Mahmood.

Birmingham city centre to Quinton

A 7.5 km route planned to run from the Birmingham City Centremarker Extension terminus at Five Waysmarker along the Hagley Road to Quintonmarker.

Birmingham city centre to Birmingham International Airport

A 14 km route from Birmingham International Airportmarker/ NECmarker and serving suburbs along the A45 road. Journey time from central Birmingham (Bull Street) to 'the Airport' was estimated at 29 minutes but the route map shows a terminus about 600 metres away, adjacent to Birmingham International railway station. Journey time by tram from the city centre to the Airport check-in would be similar to existing bus services, but not competitive with the rail service, as Birmingham International is only 10 minutes by train from central Birmingham.

Wolverhampton city centre to Wednesfield, Willenhall, Walsall and Wednesbury

This 20.4-km route, called "5Ws" by Centro, would connect Wolverhampton city centre to Wednesfield, Willenhall, Walsall and Wednesbury, as well as providing direct access to New Cross and Manor Hospitals, partially using the trackbed of the former Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway.

Wolverhampton city centre loop

A mainly single track loop-and-spur extension to Line 1 serving Wolverhampton's busmarker and railwaymarker stations, with an estimated cost of £30 million.

Current situation

Very large cost escalations encountered in British light rail projects, and doubts about economic and transport benefits have led to the demise of Centro's phased large scale development.

Recruitment of a director to look for ways of funding Midland Metro expansion was abandoned in January 2009. The job holder would have been paid £100,000 per annum by Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, and Dudley councils, and Centro.

Birmingham councillor Len Gregory said he would be prepared to "look seriously" at a proposal for an elevated monorail between New Street station and the Airport, instead of a Midland Metro line. Birmingham City Council's lead member on Centro, Councillor Len Clark, said he was "excited" by the Metrail AG monorail put forward by 'Birmingham Business Focus' (BBF). He thought that it would not take up as much space as a tramway, and would be less expensive. BBF director Neil Maybury envisaged monorails running along most of Birmingham's arterial roads.

In July 2009 it appeared that the New Street to Five Ways section of the Birmingham City Centre Extension had been discarded, along with the 'business cases' for both Phase One extensions. The Wolverhampton loop had gained funding preference over the Brierley Hill route.

If newly prepared business cases were 'acceptable', the Department for Transport would pay £25 million towards the diminished Birmingham City Centre Extension, and £53 million towards the Wolverhampton loop, and 'up to' 25 replacement trams.

Centro's 2009 draft Integrated Public Transport Prospectus claimed that light rail typically cost between £10-20 million per kilometre, which did not accord with the estimates for the Phase One Extensions (£64.28 million/km, Birmingham City Centre, and £24.36 million/km, Brierley Hill).

Vehicles and services

Tram 13 on former railway section.
Metro operates 16 T69 articulated two-section trams, which were built by Ansaldobreda, S.P.A. in Italymarker. Numbered 01-16, they have a top speed of 43 mph (70 km/h). Each tram has three entrances on each side, and 56 seats. Only the centre portion is wheelchair accessible. Carriage of bicycles is not permitted.

The trams are driven manually under signals. Safety equipment includes a dead man's handle.

Weekday services run at eight-minute intervals, with a longer weekend and evening spacing. There is no service in the small hours of the morning.

Reliability figures quoted by Travel Midland Metro relate to the 8-minute frequency, rather than the 6-minute all-day frequency promised by Centro in the planning stage, and never achieved . Writing in May 1999, Robert J Tarr stated, "The 6 minute frequency service required under Altram's concession is due to be implemented within a couple of months".

The fare scale was originally intended to be broadly comparable with buses, but this proved to be unfinanceable. In July 2008 the adult single fare from Birmingham to Wolverhampton was £1.50 by bus, £2.50 by tram.

List of Trams

Tram 06 in Wolverhampton city centre.
Newly refurbished tram 09 at Wednesbury Depot after an incident in December 06
Fleet Number Tram Name Tram Type Livery
01 Sir Frank Whittle T69 Midland Metro
02 T69 Midland Metro
03 Ray Lewis T69 Midland Metro
04 T69 Midland Metro
05 Sister Dora T69 Network West Midlands
06 Alan Garner T69 Midland Metro
07 Billy Wright T69 Network West Midlands
08 Joseph Chamberlain T69 Midland Metro
09 Jeff Astle T69 Network West Midlands
10 John Stanley Webb T69 Network West Midlands
11 Theresa Stewart T69 Midland Metro
12 T69 Midland Metro
13 Anthony Nolan T69 Midland Metro
14 James Eames T69 Midland Metro
15 Agenoria T69 Midland Metro
16 Gerwyn John T69 Midland Metro


Centro are planning a '£45 million' replacement of the entire tram fleet after less than 12 years of use - trams on other systems generally have a life of 30 to 50 years. In 2002 Andrew Steele, general manager of Midland Metro, said the Ansaldo trams were "crap", and had wiring like "plates of spaghetti".

Technical data

Tramway signalsImage:Tramway signalling - Proceed.png|Proceed.Image:Tramway signalling - Stop.png|Stop.Image:Tramway signalling - Caution.png|Caution and proceed.Image:Tramway signalling - Turning left.png|Turning left and proceed.Image:Tramway signalling - Turning right.png|Turning right and proceed.

Accidents and incidents

There have been several instances of trams colliding with road vehicles at crossings, and on the Wolverhampton street section. There has also been at least one collision between trams. Technical and maintenance failures, and vandalism, have led to many service disruptions. One of the most notable incidents took place in the summer of 2001, when electrocution risks forced closure of the Wolverhampton section.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch have a statutory responsibility to investigate any accident or dangerous occurrence.

Criminal activity was not effectively planned for during Metro construction. High levels of crime led to the removal of ticket machines from tram stops, and the fitting of closed circuit television to trams.

People living near Line 1 have attempted to obtain compensation for noise, vibration, and antisocial behaviour, but have received nothing.

In March 2009, fly-tipping and littering led campaigners in West Bromwich to call for action on cleaning up the system.

Policing is the responsibility of the British Transport Police in Wednesbury.

Publications

Midland Metro's customer publication is called Tram Lines.

Metro Pub Crawl

The publication of a Good Pubs Guide by Midland Metro has lead to some people (notably students) using the tram for a pub crawl starting at one end and winding their way down the line to the other, stopping off at pubs along the way, in a similar fashion to the Sub-crawl in Glasgow (using the Glasgow Subway) or London's Circle line crawl.

See also



References

External links




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