The West Midlands Metro is a tram line running on a 13 mile long route between Birmingham and Wolverhampton via West Bromwich and Wednesbury
Owned by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and operated by Midland Metro (MML), the West Midlands Metro opened in May 1999 and ran on a previously unused section of line that was part of the Great Western Railway – the Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level Line.
Rebrand and expansion
MML was awarded a 15-year operations and maintenance contract for the Metro system by the WMCA starting on 24th June 2018.
Working with Transport for West Midlands, it expects to grow the £12 million turnover to £50 million by 2030. It currently employs 200 staff and carries eight million passengers per year, it is expected this will grow to over 400 staff and 30 million passengers by 2030.
The West Midlands Combined Authority and Transport for West Midlands is spearheading a £1.3 billion investment programme. The project will add new control, communications and passenger information systems and an upgraded depot, control room and maintenance facilities.
Currently, there are 21 Urbos 3 model trams operating on the regional network. The first of those to be fitted with batteries was launched into operation in April 2018. The other 20 existing trams are being retro-fitted with batteries in a rolling programme designed to ensure passenger services remain unaffected.
The battery technology removes the need for overhead electrical wires. This will help engineers meet various challenges constructing the new network extensions – for example, the battery-powered trams will be able to travel underneath the Five Ways roundabout and the new Curzon St station.
Once a supplier is awarded the contract, around May 2019, there will be a two-year design and development process. The first of the new trams are expected to be in action by Summer 2021.
In 2016 the tram line was extended into Birmingham city centre. Work on five new stops started early in 2017 in a £150 million extension project, £60 million of which comes from the Department of Transport and the rest coming from Birmingham City Council and other local authorities and developers.
The line is being extended by 1.2 miles from New Street station to Hagley Road and is currently predicted to start operations by 2021/22. In order to maintain the aesthetic of the buildings along the extension parts of the route will not have overhead lines and the trams will instead run on batteries. The single line currently stops at 26 stations with four more under construction.
On 20th November 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a £250 million grant which would create eight thousand jobs as part of the Government’s ‘Transforming Cities’ initiative. The total size of the fund is £1.7 billion, with £207 million of the grant being allocated by the West Midlands Combined Authority towards the extension to Brierley Hill.
Preliminary works for this line are under way and it is expected to open to Dudley Town Centre in late 2022 and Brierley Hill in late 2023. The line will branch out from Wednesbury station and run for just under seven miles, mostly along a disused freight line.
Services will operate every six minutes during peak times and every ten minutes at other times with a journey time of 24 minutes between Wednesbury and the terminus at Brierley Hill Town Centre.