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Metro News

Sorry about the lack of news over the last three months but little has happened. The opening date of 18th January came and went without anything happening; more recently it has been announced that the line should open on the 14th June but no year has been given! Trams are now running regularily and you can photo them on most days including Sunday. I accept no liability if you turn up an no trams are running; it probably means that the Health & Safety Dept have found something else that is wrong.

1st December. All running of trams ceased at the end of last week when water leaked into a vehicle and is reported to have caused a short circuit. This has obviously put back the driver training programme further and it is now doubtful if the system will open on the 18th January 1999.

26th November. A night-time mock derailment took place on the Bilston Road this evening at about 21.30. Altram and Health & Safety Officials were present but West Midlands Police complained that they had not been informed. The test was not on the actual street track section.

17th November 1998. There seem to be about 14 vehicles now on site. testing is taking place up to 22.00hrs with the result that on the 10th November I went tram spotting in the dark between 18.30 and 20.00. Testing took place on Saturday, 14th November on part of the system. The stop lights are lit up at this time.

A 21ft high, 45ft long sculpture of the mythological Norse eight legged horse Sleipnir, part of the public art associated with the metro project, has now been mounted on the hill to the south of the O & M centre. The project was sculpted by Steve Field, a Dudley artist and made by several local firms including Apollo engineering and Watsons. More controversial is the announcement that 40,000 is to be spent on a piece of music to commemorate the opening of the system. The issue reached national level when it was debated on BBC's Radio 4 flagship news programme "Today" by Phil Bateman and Councillor John Lines. The Birmingham Post came up with their "top ten" of suitable songs, most of which were not suitable as they referred to trains, i.e. something that is towed behind as opposed to something that is the motive power. Having see a tram with "Winson Green" (the local gaol) on its destination I would opt for "Midnight Special". Bearing in mind the proximity to Armistice Day and the fact that one First World War song was written by a local lad my other choice is "Its the wrong way to Tipperary".

15th October 1998. Railway Inspectorate agree to testing of vehicles over the whole of the line, including the street track section. Vandals put object on line near West Bromwich.

2nd October 1998. Centro are looking at the possibility of purchasing land for the metro extension to Merry hill. There has been no approval for this route as yet by the Government and final appraisal to use build the line will take place when the passenger figures for line 1 have been ascertained.

1st October 1998. Problems with a level crossing. It appears that Altram have failed to apply for powers to operate over the level crossing at Swan Lane and this will delay the opening of the service.

Press reports dated 29th September 1998 state that Alan Chaney, chairman of the Altram consortium, has given Centro assurances that the full service will be operational on the 18th January 1999. However Centro are not at all confident that this will happen and Cllr Richard Worrall, Chair of the PTA told him "The problem is that people don't believe you and that is not our fault, it is yours."

It is hoped that a limited service will be in operation by Christmas (1998 we think!) but further problems occurred over the weekend of the 26/27th September 1998 when lightening struck "one of the control systems". A partial service would exempt the system from legislation concerning disabled that is due to come into force on the 1st January 1999.

Application to use the level crossing at Swan Lane has only just been lodged although trams have been using it during testing.

24th September 1998 Hampton Trust, which is hoping to redevelop the area around the former Central Television studios in Broad Street, pledged to invest 5M on building a tram stop outside its site and also 2M on highway safety. As yet planning permission has not been given for the development.

Mike Ballinger

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