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Updated 17 April
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Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is to take over the day-to-day running of the Midland Metro line from October 2018 when the current concession, held by National Express, finishes. The move to direct operation is due to the expansion proposals set to take place over the next few years which would have required a complex concession agreement which would have had to be continually revised under changing circumstances. According to TfWM, the preparation of a new concession tender would have cost several millions in itself and in due course any system profits will be ploughed back into future network expansion rather than paid as profit to a concessionaire. Existing National Express staff will be transferred over to a new subsidiary company – Midland Metro Ltd - which will be wholly owned by the West Midlands Combined Authority, TfWM’s parent. With proposed route extensions, passenger numbers are forecast to increase from around 6.5m at present to more than 30m which is expected to generate profits of around £50m over the first 11 years.
Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: “The end of the existing concession provides us with an ideal opportunity to change the way we operate services to better meet the needs of passengers, the wider community and ultimately the economy. If we didn’t do this and instead outsourced operations to a private company at a time of such major expansion then it would be extremely difficult to accurately define the scope of services required from the operator.
“That would lead to continuous and expensive commercial negotiations to agree the price for the delivery of those network changes. So while bringing operations in house is not without risk we believe those risks are far outweighed by the advantages and that ultimately the move is good for passengers, good for taxpayers and good for the future prosperity of the West Midlands.”
The planned expansion of the Midland Metro network includes an extension of the existing route from New Street Station to Centenary Square, with services expected to start running in 2019. At its meeting on 17 March the WMCA board authorised TfWM and the Midland Metro Alliance to submit a Transport and Works Act Order application for the Centenary Square line to be extended further along Broad Street, past Five Ways and on to Edgbaston by 2021 and confirmed funding of £59m towards the cost of the extension, part of which will be operated by trams in battery mode.
A Transport and Works Act Order has already been submitted for the extension from Bull Street via Albert Street and the forthcoming HS2 high speed rail station at Curzon Street then on to New Canal Street, Meriden Street and High Street Deritend, serving Digbeth Coach Station and the Custard Factory. It is anticipated this line could be open by 2023 and has the potential to extend further to the Airport and National Exhibition Centre in the northern part of Solihull Borough.
In Wolverhampton work is set to start on an extension through the city centre as part of the £51.8m Wolverhampton Interchange project. Trams will operate along Pipers Row servicing the current bus station and continue to the new railway station which is being redeveloped as part of the project. The line is expected to open in 2019. A business case is also being prepared for the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill line which has been part of expansion plans for many years.
The expansion of the line from Snow Hill to New Street Station has seen passenger figures jump from five million in 2015 to 6.6 million in 2016. Latest figures show that taking the trams through the heart of the Birmingham’s shopping district has had a dramatic effect on the number of people riding the Metro, helping to generate a 32 per cent increase on the line. The latest forecast for the 12 months between the start of June last and the end of May this year, shows the number of passengers is set to break the seven million mark.
As part of its investment strategy, the WMCA is supporting the development of Very and Ultra-Light Rail technologies and is bringing forward the development of the Innovation Centre for Light Rail jointly with Warwick University. This will be based in Dudley, but the Authority is currently investigating the development of a Very Light Rail line between Coventry city centre and the UK Central development area around the proposed HS2 station/Airport/NEC hub in north Solihull. This has been suggested following studies that have ruled out a bus rapid transit in this corridor.
A major £9m revamp of Dudley bus station, which has been on hold since 2014 is now to be carried out in five years time when it will be linked to the proposed Midland Metro line between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill which is expected to divert from the current rail alignment to serve Dudley town centre. The project is a joint venture between Dudley Council, the Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) and Network West Midlands. MMA, which is working on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority, expects work on the tram route to begin in 2019 and to be open for passengers by 2023, although it is currently only at business case preparation stage.
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