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Update

July 2004

New West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority (WMPTA) chairmanL-R Members of Mr. Webb's family, Tony Depledge, Councillor Judith Rowley

Walsall Conservative councillor Gary Clarke has been unanimously elected as Chairman of the PTE with Wolverhampton Labour councillor Paul Allen as Deputy.

Despite the Birmingham Conservatives pressure for an underground system in the city Coun Clarke has reaffirmed the WMPTA's desire to see street-running Midland Metro tram lines extended throughout the area.

Tram naming: On the 17th July Midland Metro tram number 10 was named 'John Stanley Webb' in a ceremony at Snow Hill station. Walsall-born John Stanley Webb (1920 -2002) was one of the West Midlands' most renowned authorities on trams and author of a number of books, including A History of the Black Country Tramways. The naming was carried out by Tony Depledge, President of the Light Rail Transit Association, Councillor Judith Rowley of the WMPTA with members of the Webb family in attendance.

May 2004

Tram 13 was named "Anthony Nolan" after the little boy whose grave illness led to the creation of the world-wide bone marrow transplant bank at a ceremony on 20th May 2004. A party including celebrity marrow donors and patients who have benefitted from the scheme gathered at St George's terminus in Wolverhampton.

November 2003

Future lines consultation
Centro has revealed details of the GBP875 million Metro expansion scheme including new lines to Walsall, Bartley Green, Birmingham International Airport, Digbeth and Great Barr. Leaflets setting out the proposals are being delivered to more than 100,000 homes, and there will be over 20 staffed exhibitions in local community centres and libraries, as well as visits from the Centro Exhibition Bus. The Consultation period runs from the 3rd November 2003 and continues for all these routes until 31 December 2003.

The consultation covers:

October 2003

Future lines consultation
A consultation, focusing on which corridors to take forward to the Department for Transport for funding, has commenced. It will also address the thorny question of whether future routes should run on the surface or underground through the central area.

The suggested West Midland routes for consultation are:

West Midlands appoints 'Transport Champion'.
Coun Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, has been chosen by the seven districts to focus the region's fight to win the £2.4 billion identified in a transport blueprint submitted to the Department for Transport in July. He will work with the leaders of the six other authorities, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, to champion the debate on region-wide transport infrastructure needs with a view to securing greater funding from the DfT and the Strategic Rail Authority.

INQUIRY INTO MIDLAND METRO ( BIRMINGHAM CITY CENTRE etc) ORDER - TRANSPORT AND WORKS ACT 1992
The Inquiry will be formally opened on Tuesday 2 December 2003 at the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Birmingham. It is expected to last approximately 3 weeks.
The Inspector will hold a Pre-Inquiry Meeting on Friday 17 October 2003 at the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Hurst Street, Birmingham starting promptly at 10.00 am, lasting approximately 2 hours. The sole purpose of this meeting is to allow the Inspector to explain the conduct for the Inquiry and procedural matters to be followed before and during the Inquiry. All interested parties are welcome to attend, but those respondents who wish to appear at the Inquiry may find it particularly useful.

July 2003

Mixed Messages in West Midlands
Darling casts a dampener and Underground proposals surface - see News item for details

April 2003

Midland Metro (Wednesbury to Brierley Hill and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order - Transport and Works Act 1992
Submitted on 16 April 2003. Public enquiry due early 2004

March 2003

MIDLAND METRO ( BIRMINGHAM CITY CENTRE etc) ORDER - TRANSPORT AND WORKS ACT 1992
Submitted on 14 March 2003 - see News item for details

March 2002

Reliability has improved significantly recently and trams appear reliably every eight minutes, with an occasional extra working. There is supposed to be a tram every 6-7 minutes but three trams are out of action long term because of difficulties in obtaining spares from Italy. The car park beside The Hawthorns stop is at last attracting significant usage, while the new car park at Priestfield is full every day from 10.00 am. Wednesbury Parkway's large car park is now nearly full each day but the smaller facility at Black Lake remains quiet because of fears of vandalism at this lonely site. The substantial new bus station at West Bromwich across the ring road from the tram stop is now nearly completed.

Iain D.O. Frew
March 2002

March 2001

The three new car parks are showing encouraging usage. The 40 space Priestfield facility is now full every day with extra cars parking in any unofficial space they can find on site. The much larger park at Wednesbury Parkway contains around 50 cars every day and the number is rising gradually. A few are vehicles which used to park on the street at the Great Western Street stop 1/2 mile away. Surprisingly the Black Lake car park is less well used and generally only about 10 cars use it daily though the number is rising. The older park at The Hawthorns is also becoming busier with around 70 cars there daily. Conductors are now present on most trams and the flawed ticket machines have been withdrawn from use at all stops except the two termini, West Bromwich Central, and Bilston Central.

Iain D.O. Frew
March 2001

December 2000

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, formally opened the 137 place car park at Wednesbury Parkway on 12th December, and the car parks at Black Lake and Priestfield, 85 and 40 spaces respectively, opened at the same time. All three new car parks include spaces for disabled drivers and mothers with children. The car parks are not staffed but are very well illuminated. At around 1300 on the following day there were 33 cars using the Wednesbury facility, with 9 and 4 at Black lake and Priestfield. The older 187 space car parks at The Hawthorns which have been slow to attract custom, contained 68 cars. Mr Prescott announced that the Government were to give support towards the planned extensions to Brierley Hill and Five Ways, the financial details to be given on the 14th. By the morning of the 13th trams displayed a poster announcing the extensions which are to open in 2005. One is shown as a continuation of the present route from Snow Hill serving new Street, Broad Street, and ending at the Edgbaston Shopping centre (which is at Five Ways). The other runs from Wednesbury Great Western Street to Great Bridge, Tipton, Dudly, Merry Hill Shopping Centre to terminate in Brierley Hill.

Centro has at last admitted that its ticket machines will not work adequately. Recently an individual was before the courts charged with deliberately damaging 37 machines. Conductors are now being introduced to protect revenue and the first started service on the trams early in December.

Iain D.O. Frew
13 December 2000

July 2000

Improved reliability of the trams over a period of several weeks has allowed the Metro to issue a new timetable from the beginning of July showing services to operate "every 6 - 7 minutes" between 0700 and 1900. Earlier and later services, and all day on Sundays, operate every 10 minutes. The end to end journey takes 37 minutes.

Construction of the three Park and Ride facilities is making excellent progress with that at Black Lake the most advanced. The Wednesbury Parkway facility has involved substantial earth moving since it is on a sloping site. The Priestfield Park is a good 120m from the platforms alongside the adjacent main road but if needed can be extended back to just behind the platforms.

The most useful park beside the system, at West Bromwich Central, is being converted by the Council to a Pay and Display short term park with the area closest to the platforms reserved for disabled drivers. There will be a maximum three hour stay at the car park which is meant to serve the adjacent shopping centre and there is no immediately obvious alternative for those wishing to park all day and take the tram to the city.

Iain D.O. Frew
18 July 2000.

June 2000

Despite continuing gaps in the 6 minute frequency service owing to trams being out of service, and the ongoing irritating problems with ticket machines, the Metro is still building up traffic. The writer had to stand on his last five consecutive trips on Saturdays. There is a new procedure to check whether passengers hold valid tickets. During a slightly extended stop at Wednesbury Great Western Street a team of inspectors examines all tickets and those with none are removed from the tram and surcharged. A police officer is usually in attendance. Some fares are to rise on and from 25 June 2000. Single off peak fares for trips of 9km or over rise by 10p, returns by 20p, and child fares by half these amounts. The 1.80 peak single for a distance of over 13 km is unaltered. Travel card charges for one week are unaltered at 10, but four week cards rise 1 to 33, and yearly tickets 6 to 348. Monthly tickets paid by Direct Debit rise 50p to 29. many of the through tickets to WM buses, and to railway stations beyond the Metro, rise by 10p. The Day Ticket remains 3.00.

The construction of large car parks for Park and Ride customers has commenced beside Wednesbury Parkway and Priestfield stops, and quite close to the Black lake stop. The land alongside Wednesbury great Western Street stop which was expected to become a car park has been sold and an Asian Community Centre is to be built there instead. This location has been decided because the Metro will provide excellent transport. Adequate street parking exists beside the stop.

Iain D.O. Frew
24 June 2000.

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MAY 2000

With nearly a year of operation now completed, Midland Metro has not made as much progress as hoped for. Following public opening on 31 May 1999, traffic rose quickly and the initial 10 minute frequency service was increased to 6 minutes after only a couple of weeks. However tram 3 had been struck by lightning on 28 May and suffered severe damage to its electrical equipment. Spares were slow to arrive and this tram did not move again under its own power until mid January 2000. With tram 3 out of action there was only one tram spare if a 6 minute service was worked and minor problems with other trams did occur on many days so gaps in the service became a feature. The next problem was the occurrence of excess wheel wear and derailments happened on pointwork, especially affecting the bogie under the central section of the tram. This was solved partly by imposing a severe speed restriction on trams passing through points but wheels did have to be reprofiled and since a decision had been taken not to install a wheel lathe on the system, bogies had to be taken by lorry to British Rail's Tysley Depot where a lathe was available. Reprofiling takes time and on one day in mid December only eight trams were available for service owing to a combination of wheel and other deficiencies. This has had a significant effect on the growth of traffic and in mid January it was announced that traffic had failed to climb significantly above 15,000 per day, or about one third of the level required to break even. It is of interest that at the same time the operating companies of the new metros in Bangkok and Manila were similarly commenting that the traffic on their new lines was only one third on break even level.

Another major problem creating difficulties during the early months was the unreliability of the ticket machines. Many passengers have found these difficult to use and it can take nearly a minute to decide which button to push, insert money, have a ticket printed, and then issued. With just one machine for each direction except at the termini this means that it is impossible for the passengers waiting for a tram at busy stops to obtain a ticket before the next tram arrives. When a machine is out of order, passengers are meant to use the machine on the other platform which may however be busy enough with passengers going in the other direction. The problem has been especially difficult at West Bromwich Central, the busiest intermediate stop, where it is impossible for every passenger to obtain a ticket without some missing one or more trams. Several machines are likely to be out of use on any day and a team of trouble shooters is based at Wednesbury Depot and works continually to keep most of the machines in use.

OTHER PROBLEMS

The level crossing with Swan Lane, near Black Lake stop, has been the scene of two collisions with motor cars which had run through red traffic lights. On December 29 1999 a passenger in a car was killed, but fortunately there were no fatalities in the second collision on 6 March 2000. The crossing has no barriers and there have been calls for barriers or gates to be fitted. Drivers now approach the crossing very slowly keeping a sharp look out for motor vehicles running the red lights. The car park at The Hawthorns stop has been a failure despite the erection of very large signs alongside the M5 nearby advertising the park and ride facility.There are usually no more than 30-35 cars parked there daily, little up on the level before the metro opened. About 35 cars park in the street beside Wednesbury Great Western Street stop and a proper car park is to be provided here in the coming months. Wednesbury Parkway stop is adjacent to a health club and some metro users use the club's extensive car park.

BUS INTERCHANGES

Much was made of the possibility of interchange with local bus routes, most of which are operated by the same company as works the tramway. At Bilston the tram stop and bus station are adjacent and a lift is provided to take passengers up from the tramway to the street level. A fair number of passengers do use this interchange facility. At West Bromwich the bus station is to be moved to adjoin the tramway but at the moment only a few bus routes connect easily with the tram. Significant interchange is made with buses at Wednesbury Parkway but elsewhere few passengers seem to change between the two modes.

GROWTH AT LAST

Traffic has begun to move upwards since February as tram operation began to be more reliable and people discovered that the tram gave a pleasant journey. Initially traffic at the Birmingham suburban stops (Soho, Winson Green, Handsworth) was very low but now reasonable numbers of commuters heading for both Birmingham and West Bromwich crowd the trams. There is steady traffic there throughout the day. The numerous local stops within West Bromwich were especially poorly used at first but again local residents have at last found the trams and traffic is rising. West Bromwich is by far the busiest intermediate stop with numbers as large as 3 dozen both joining and leaving a tram during each stop there. The problem about everyone getting a ticket from just one machine on each platform is obvious. Black Lake and Wednesbury GW Street have always had moderate traffic while Wednesbury Parkway, initially usually producing no traffic for hours on end, is now generating traffic at nearly every call. Bradley Lane and Loxdale serve low density housing areas but a steady traffic has built up. Bilston was the second busiest intermediate stop after West Bromwich but although it remains the source of steady traffic it has now been overtaken by Priestfield where surprisingly brisk traffic is generated in both directions along the route. The Crescent in Bilston is a suburban stop usually fairly busy. The only stops not mentioned apart from the terminals are St Pauls, and The Royal, both serving decayed industrial areas and producing little traffic. Once the closed Royal Infirmary is demolished and the site redeveloped, that stop may find a new use. Snow Hill in Birmingham is busier than St George's in Wolverhampton as befits the difference in the size of the shopping areas and office space.

PASSENGERS DO NOT WISH TO STAND

An interesting sight can be seen every day at Snow Hill. Because the tramway is reduced to single track as it squeezes past platform 4 a departing tram usually must await the arrival of an in-coming tram before leaving. There are usually some standing passengers since the trams seat only 52 people and most of these immediately leave the about to leave tram to obtain a seat in the newly arrived tram. A seat is more important than an earlier arrival time at destination! There is clearly a problem here for the operating company. With ten services each way hourly, if all run, there are only a little over 1000 seats per hour on the system. A desired total of 45,000 passengers daily to break even must mean very many short distance travellers, a lot of standees, or many more hours in the day than 24!

IRREGULAR WORKINGS

When the service slips behind schedule, it has become the practice to turn occasional trams from Birmingham at Priestfield, and Priestfield is a destination which can be displayed on the trams. Traffic to Priestfield is sufficiently important that if possible trams are not turned at an earlier point.

SOURCES OF TRAFFIC

No passenger figure totals have been issued lately but it seems that the numbers now carried are above 20,000 daily. The source of traffic has been announced in January as 38% from parallel bus routes, 21% from heavy rail services, 14% from private cars. The remaining traffic is mostly completely new travel.

Iain D.O.Frew, May 2000.

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