The West Midlands Combined Authority, the design consortium of Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann, and contractor Colas Rail (supported by their suballiance partners Colas Limited, Barhale, Bouygues UK and Auctus Management Group) came together to form the Midland Metro Alliance in July 2016
The aim of the alliance is to provide continuity, learn lessons and apply them to future schemes to help drive down costs, improve efficiency and reduce disruption during the construction phases.
For example, the alliance can take a more holistic view of design, procurement and construction requirements across the programme enabling the organisation to work with the local businesses and education establishments to deliver a local supply chain and workforce ready to support this major investment in the region.
Each of the partner companies brings a complementary area of expertise to the alliance. The real focus, however, is on recruiting locally with the aim of leaving a legacy of skills and experience for the region, even after the extensions are complete.
Getting underway in 2017
Whilst the alliance was formed in 2016, its work became much more visible in 2017. One of the first projects undertook on behalf of Transport for West Midlands was the replacement of existing tram track on A41 Bilston Road in Wolverhampton in June 2017. This project, completed within budget and ahead of schedule in December 2017, saw over £750,000 worth of orders placed with Wolverhampton-based businesses.
The Metro Extension Programme
Midland Metro Alliance is currently working on five projects, each in differing stages of development, design or delivery.
The Wolverhampton City Centre Extension
A key project which got underway in 2017 is in the City of Wolverhampton.
As part of the £150 million Wolverhampton Interchange, the Wolverhampton City Centre Metro extension will branch off from the existing route just before the current terminus at Wolverhampton St. George’s. This branch of the Metro will stop at the city’s bus station on Pipers Row, before continuing to the railway station which itself is being rebuilt, allowing easy interchange between rail, bus and tram along with other modes of transport.
Work on the Metro extension began in Autumn 2017 and is scheduled to finish once the new railway station is complete in 2020.
Birmingham Westside Extension
Another Midland Metro Alliance project which commenced construction in 2017 was the Birmingham Westside extension will see the existing line, which was extended to Grand Central in May 2016, go even further into the heart of the city to a terminus on Hagley Road in Edgbaston.
The first stage of work currently underway will take the Metro from Grand Central, past Birmingham’s Town Hall to Centenary Square with tram stops serving Victoria Square as well as the Paradise and Arena Central developments. Trams will operate along this 840-metre section using battery power – a first for the UK. The second stage will further extend the Metro from Centenary Square, along Broad Street to Hagley Road in Edgbaston (just west of Five Ways), featuring intermediate stops at Brindley Place and Five Ways.
Trams are anticipated to operate to Centenary Square in late 2019 and to Edgbaston in 2021, ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Birmingham Eastside Extension
Plans to further extend the tram network to the east of Birmingham are well advanced, with a decision from central government on the Transport and Works Act Order expected imminently.
Once approved, the route will separate from the existing line at Bull Street in order to serve Digbeth and the planned HS2 terminus at Curzon Street, helping to attract further commercial and residential development in the area. The aim is for passenger services to commence ahead of the opening of the HS2 station in 2026.
Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Extension
The 6.8-mile Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension is a key driver for regeneration in the Black Country. The extension will branch off the current Metro line east of the Wednesbury depot to serve Brierley Hill via Dudley.
Around four miles of the route will be along an abandoned railway corridor and the route will help to regenerate the local area and substantially increase public transport accessibility across the Black Country. In addition, it will reduce journey times and decrease dependence on private car use in the area. Preliminary designs were completed in 2018 and utility works are planned for Summer 2019. The route is currently anticipated to open for passenger service in 2023.
East Birmingham to Solihull Extension
The most ambitious extension of all, the East Birmingham to Solihull extension will see an additional ten miles of tramway further eastwards from the Birmingham Eastside route. Serving east Birmingham and north Solihull and terminating at the core HS2 interchange, when open for passenger service in 2026, it will allow access by Metro to the airport, National Exhibition Centre and UK central development.
Building tram extensions in urban environments is a complex feat of engineering requiring considerable expertise, products and services. With more than one hundred categories of products and services required, there are many opportunities for local and regional businesses to get involved. The Midland Metro Alliance has tasked itself with achieving an 80 per cent supply chain sourced within the West Midlands. Efforts are continuing to ensure a truly local supply chain for the life-cycle of the extensions.