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Midland Metro Line One is open at last!

Midland Metro inauguration -TWM 18.3KB

On Sunday 30 May 1999 Midland Metro Line One received its civic inauguration. Banner breaking ceremonies and civic launches by local mayors were held at the Birmingham Snow Hill, West Bromwich Central and Wolverhampton St. George's stops. Two severe thunderstorms in the preceding days (a pretty unusual event in the West Midlands) put the inauguration on a knife-edge and one Midland Metro tram was struck twice by lightning on Thursday night (27 May) and some damage to the upper body fairing was caused.

The Wolverhampton "Atlantis" night-club adjacent to the St. George's stop was the venue for the civic reception. Speeches were given by Alan Chaney, Chairman of Altram (the concessionnaires) , Peter Snape MP, Chairman of Travel West Midlands (the operators), Rob Donald (Director General of Centro) and Richard Worrall (Chairman of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority).

Alan Chaney said that tram 13 which had been struck twice by lightning would be renamed "12a" to avoid future problems.

Peter Snape appealed to the local authorities to take public transport seriously in their planning and in particular called for priority to be given to Midland Metro over other traffic, instancing the roundabout at the Wolverhampton ring road, where Metro has no priority. He said that without priority journey times of 35 minutes would not be achieved and the full benefits of Metro would not be realised.

Both Rob Donald and Cllr. Worrall detailed the advantages of this high quality form of public transport and made very positive statements about the necessity of many further developments in the Midland Metro network of which Line One is just the embryonic beginning. Cllr. Worrall said he had travelled on the Metro every day for the last three weeks. From what he said he had clearly become a light rail/tram devotee in the process. He said that the attention given to the look of the new system, the public art and design of stops and stations, landscaping etc. meant that Midland Metro was the first British LRT system to achieve the quality ambience of the best systems world-wide. Rob Donald reminded the audience that nearly £3.5bn had been spent on extending just one Underground line in London (the Jubilee Line) and that, with that sort of money, the whole West Midlands conurbation, which he said had the greatest need for improvement in public transport, outside London, could be enjoying the benefits of Midland Metro, not just one line costing only £145m. He also pointed out that Altram's concession of 23 years, including construction time, was now down to a little over 19 years - it having taken Altram nearly a year longer to construct than was intended.

On their return to Birmingham Snow Hill the invited guests received an unexpected confirmation of the revolution that Midland Metro may and should engender (along with other policy initiatives to foster public transport use). Some 12,000 free tickets for a return trip on Midland Metro had been distributed to homes in the Line One corridor and more were being handed out at stops en route. Judging by the standing room only on the trams running both ways in early afternoon, it looked as if all or most of those households were taking the opportunity to sample the new service.

Metro Line One entered full fare-paying service today (31 May 1999) with a Bank Holiday Monday/Sunday service.

Overall impression? Midland Metro has, as Cllr. Worrall claimed, achieved a transformation in the look of a very run-down area through which this travel corridor passes. The new system has a very high quality look and feel to it and one hopes that the "waitless travel" slogan which adorns the opening literature will be the experience of passengers and that breakdowns and delays will be unheard of - they weren't yesterday - aside from the delays to the "civic trams" on the outbound journey, the first tram boarded for the return trip had to be taken out of service due to some failure and passengers had to await the next service. The initial service being offered is only every 10 minutes - hardly "waitless" if you happen to arrive as the previous service has just passed. The 6 minute frequency service required under Altram's concession is due to be implemented within a couple of months but even this is hardly "waitless" compared with two, three or four minute frequencies on central sections of London Underground at peak times. Hopefully, passenger numbers will justify the purchase of additional trams to change publicity hype into reality as soon as possible.

Line One of Midland Metro was considered, when it was chosen in early 1988, to be the quickest and easiest to achieve - almost all of it being disused heavy rail formation and no demolition of homes being required. Even selecting only the most heavily trafficked travel corridors, there are at least another 20 lines needed to serve the Birmingham and Black Country conurbation reasonably well. Sadly the powers to build and operate all of Line 2 and of most of Line 3 have been allowed to expire and expansion will initially be by "bite-sized chunks" on part of Line 3 (Wednesbury to Dudley and Merry Hill terminating at Brierley Hill) followed by on-street extension in Birmingham city centre and out to Broad Street and Five Ways and, possibly, the Wolverhampton town centre loop. Centro is also keen to establish "Karlsruhe" style joint running with heavy rail trains on existing lines in various parts of the conurbation. For this, and for further lines, new powers will be required, an even more time consuming, uncertain and expensive process than it was when the original parliamentary powers were obtained for Lines 1, 2 and 3.

It is very, very good to see Midland Metro running and in public service at long last and one hopes it will fulfil its promise and be expanded as rapidly as possible.

Bob Tarr, Secretary General, LRTA.

31 May & 1 June 1999

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