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Is Midland Metro ‘a proven catalyst for economic growth’?

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Midland Metro carries far fewer passengers than Centro forecast Transport for West Midlands (formerly Centro) is to take over operation of the Midland Metro tramway from October 2018, ‘to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network’.

[TfWM to take direct control of Midland Metro services, TfWM, Wednesday 22 March 2017]

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is to take over the day-to-day running of its Midland Metro trams from October 2018 when the current concession, held by National Express, finishes. The move will enable TfWM, which is the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to plough millions of pounds of future profits back into expanding the network.

Existing National Express staff will be transferred over to a new subsidiary company – Midland Metro Ltd – which will be wholly owned by the WMCA.

The combined authority is set to start a number of extensions which will see the network triple in size over the next decade, with passenger numbers forecast to increase from around 6.5 million at present to more than 30 million. That is expected to generate profits of around £50 million over the first 11 years which the WMCA will be able to channel back into the network for the benefit of passengers and the local economy.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: “Metro is a fundamental part of our future plans not only for transport but for the West Midlands economy as a whole. “It is a proven catalyst for economic growth and is critical to best connect and feed into HS2 so we can reap the maximum economic benefits possible from the high speed rail line. “That’s why Metro is embarking on an unprecedented period of expansion and we believe bringing services in house will provide the extra flexibility and adaptability needed to meet this exciting new chapter while generating millions of pounds for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers. “I’d like to thank all National Express staff for operating the Midland Metro for the last 18 years. Through their hard work and dedication, tram passenger numbers have grown significantly and they have been nationally recognised for the high level of customer service they provide.”

Cllr Lawrence said the move and the transfer of staff over from National Express would ensure existing skills and expertise were retained helping to ensure the Metro’s 99 per cent reliability and its other strengths were taken forward. Bringing operations ‘in house’ would also enable TfWM to introduce new lines, trams, technology and operational practices safely, efficiently and with best value to the public purse, he said. In taking the decision, the WMCA board was told that if it decided to continue outsourcing tram services from October next year then the tendering process alone to appoint a private operator would cost taxpayers several million pounds.

Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: “The end of the existing concession provides us with an ideal opportunity to change the way we operate services to better meet the needs of passengers, the wider community and ultimately the economy. “If we didn’t do this and instead outsourced operations to a private company at a time of such major expansion then it would be extremely difficult to accurately define the scope of services required from the operator. “That would lead to continuous and expensive commercial negotiations to agree the price for the delivery of those network changes. “So while bringing operations in house is not without risk we believe those risks are far outweighed by the advantages and that ultimately the move is good for passengers, good for taxpayers and good for the future prosperity of the West Midlands.”

Colin Saward, general manager of National Express Midlands Metro, added: “It’s disappointing we won’t get the chance to run the tram service when our current contract is up next year. But we appreciate TfWM’s reasons for taking services back in house when the network is about to change so much. “We will continue to work closely with TfWM to ensure a safe handover that is as smooth as possible for passengers and staff.”

The planned expansion of the Midland Metro network includes an extension of the route from New Street Station to Centenary Square, with services expected to start running in 2019. At its meeting last Friday (March 17) the WMCA board authorised TfWM and the Midland Metro Alliance to submit a Transport and Works Act Order application for the Centenary Square line to go further along Broad Street, past Five Ways and on to Edgbaston by 2021 and confirmed funding of £59 million towards the cost of the extension.

A Transport and Works Act Order has also been submitted for an extension through Digbeth in Birmingham, running from Bull Street via Albert Street and on to the forthcoming HS2 high speed rail station at Curzon Street. From there it would go along New Canal Street and Meriden Street into High Street Deritend, stopping at Digbeth Coach Station and the Custard Factory. It is anticipated the line could be open by 2023. In Wolverhampton work is set to start on an extension through the city centre as part of the £51.8 million Wolverhampton Interchange project. The route will take trams along Pipers Row, stopping directly outside the bus station before continuing on to the railway station which is also being redeveloped as part of the project. The line is expected to open in 2019.

Meanwhile a business case is also being prepared to extend the Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill. Forthcoming extensions of the tram network will be built by the Midland Metro Alliance, a new partnership set up by WMCA. The Alliance consists of the WMCA, rail construction specialists Colas Rail and a consortium of design experts from Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann.

The Midland Metro currently runs from Wolverhampton St Georges to New Street Station via Bilston, Wednesbury, West Bromwich, the Jewellery Quarter and Snow Hill Station.

Written by beleben

March 23, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, Politics

Who wood believe them?

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About four years ago, as part of the Midland Metro ‘Birmingham city centre extension’ to Stephenson Street, the council had all the trees cut down in Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street, and Stephenson Place. This morning (25 February 2017), as part of the advance works for a further extension of the tramway and ‘redevelopment’ of Centenary Square, contractors cut down one of the oldest remaining trees in the city centre.

[Birmingham council and Transport for the West Midlands (Centro) statement]

“We have looked long and hard at all the options to retain this particular tree but because the Metro extension and the Centenary Square development, with its in-built anti-terror measures, have been designed as one integrated scheme it has sadly not been possible.”

But who would believe them?

Everything points to TfWM and the council just wanting rid of the tree. There was, and is, plenty of room to run their boondoggle tramway between where the tree stood, and the Municipal Bank. And to claim that the destruction was necessary for ‘anti-terror’ purposes, is absurd.

The tree was surrounded by metal screens, presumably to limit people's view of what was going on

View of the tree destruction compound from above

Tree destruction in progress

A worker cutting down the branches

The tree succumbs to the chainsaw

The tree is attacked by a workman

A section of the doomed tree is lowered to the ground

Cutting down the trunk

The felled trunk of the tree

The  remains of the tree were loaded onto a lorry

Written by beleben

February 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm

The tramway in Stephenson Place

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With its abrupt bend at the foot of a steep gradient, the Midland Metro in Birmingham’s Stephenson Place must be one of the most hazardous sections of track in Great Britain. This month has seen the posting of wardens in hi-vis at the top and bottom of the incline, apparently to try to manage pedestrian flow in the busiest times of the Christmas period.

Street warden at top of Stephenson Place, December 2016

Street warden at top of Stephenson Place, December 2016

The curve at Stephenson Place is potentially as hazardous as the one at Sandilands on Croydon Tramlink, where a derailment on 9 November of a tram travelling at excess speed resulted in deaths and serious injuries. The Croydon derailment, which received extensive press coverage, is the subject of an investigation by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

Street warden at bottom of Stephenson Place, December 2016

Street warden at bottom of Stephenson Place, December 2016. The CAF trams used on Midland Metro are fitted with various types of glazing made in France, Spain, and the Czech Republic

In the view of the Beleben blog, there are questions to be asked about the crashworthiness of the vehicles used on Tramlink, and other GB systems.

Written by beleben

December 7, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Chose méchante

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The additional £12 million from central government, announced at the Conservative Party conference (2 – 5 October 2016), ‘will keep Midlands Connect – the transport partner of Midlands Engine – running until at least 2020’ (wrote Maria Machancoses, ‘programme director at Midlands Connect and director at Midlands Engine’).

[If the Midlands makes the most of HS2, the UK will get most out of the Midlands, Maria Machancoses, RTM, 2016-10-25]

These funds will enable Midlands Connect to implement its transport strategy beyond March 2017. Key to this will be ensuring the Midlands is ready for the arrival of HS2 in 2026. These measures include smart payment systems, additional coaches on trains and regeneration around HS2 stations. Prime minister Theresa May has already openly praised forward-thinking investments such as the £900m commitment to build 4,000 houses at a revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street station in Birmingham City Centre.
For one, HS2 will increase passenger capacity for rail journeys, and we plan to push for 10 extra carriages to each train, helping to relieve pressure on the Midlands motorway grid. Additionally, our recommended improvements for freight transportation via rail will be essential to business in the future.

We are working closely with HS2 and Network Rail to identify schemes that have the ability to unlock economic growth and network capacity. In terms of rail, it is not about the Midlands investing in miles of track. Actions of intent, such as building 4,000 houses at Birmingham’s revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street Station, need to be carried out.

Why is “building 4,000 houses” at Curzon Street station so important that it is mentioned twice in an article about regional connectivity? Is there even room to build “4,000 houses” at Curzon Street? And just how is it possible to “push for 10 extra carriages to each train”?

So far as can be established, ‘Midlands Connect’ is a motley collection of dud projects. It makes no sense to design local transport around ‘HS2 connectivity’, because the vast majority of everyday journeys in the Midlands do not involve travelling to London or Manchester by train.

LGC story from August 2016 about Midlands Connect

LGC story from August 2016 about Midlands Connect

'If the Midlands makes the most of HS2 the UK will get most out of the Midlands' (?)

Written by beleben

October 26, 2016 at 9:43 am

Posted in Birmingham, HS2

Tips for flying from Birmingham airport

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Birmingham airport, the UK’s seventh busiest, is still smaller than it should be, despite having nearly 80 per cent of the country’s population within two hours of it, wrote Conservative MEP Daniel Dalton.

Daniel Dalton, Birmingham can be a new hub airport for London and the UK

[Daniel Dalton: Birmingham can be a new hub airport for London and the UK, Conservative Home, 10 Oct 2016]

HS2, which will include a station at the airport, will make central London only thirty-five [sic] minutes away. This means that Birmingham will be, in travel time, closer to central London than Heathrow, Gatwick, or Stanstead [sic] airports.

By the same definition it will also be closer to Central London than Hong Kong, Singapore, or Melbourne airports are to the city centres they serve.

There is real potential for Birmingham to be a hub airport for London, which would take the pressure off runways in the South East and, just as importantly, air space which is already the most crowded in Europe.

More importantly, there is potential for the airport to expand without the huge problems of space and noise associated with airport expansion in the South East.

There is also potential for the airport to expand without the huge problems of space and noise associated with airport expansion in the South East. Although airport expansion anywhere is controversial, and the needs of local residents have to be a top priority, there is potential for a second runway at Birmingham.

What is the potential for the airport to ‘easily expand’?


According to Mr Dalton, it could be expanded over the HS2 railway itself, and the (recently-closed) Packington landfill site.

But perhaps there are examples of airports being built over rubbish tips. Does anyone know of them?

Written by beleben

October 12, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Birmingham, HS2, Planning

Mind the (two kilometre) gap

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Would Birmingham airport really be ’40 minutes from central London with HS2′?

Twitter, SmithTonyD, Birmingham Airport would be 40 minutes from central London with HS2

The journey time just from Euston to the ‘Interchange’ HS2 station site at Middle Bickenhill — 2 kilometres away from the airport — would be 40 minutes.

There are plans for some kind of ‘people mover’ to link the high speed station site, the existing ‘Birmingham International’ station, and the airport terminal. (Presumably, the existing Doppelmayr International-station to-airport-cable car would be demolished.)

Bickenhill 'Birmingham interchange' station site (HS2 Ltd)

On 6 June 2012, the Birmingham Post reported airport chief executive Paul Kehoe asserting that moving the passenger terminals more than half a mile east, to be closer to the planned HS2 interchange, “may sound daft but it has to happen”.

It does sound daft, but it looks like it is not going to happen. And Birmingham airport is not going to be 40 minutes from central London by HS2.

Written by beleben

October 7, 2016 at 9:18 am

A case of too little demand

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The government has “suggested cutting the number of fast trains between Coventry and London – just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, the Coventry Telegraph reported on 12 May.

[Coventry’s fast trains to London could be cut to improve journey times from Birmingham, Jonathan Walker and Simon Gilbert, Coventry Telegraph 12 May 2016]

Department for Transport is suggesting fewer trains should stop at “intermediate” stations to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding

Plans to chop the number of long-distance services that stop at “intermediate” stations such as Coventry and Rugby are revealed in a government consultation on the future of the West Coast Main Line.

It is another potential blow to the city which is already set to be bypassed by the controversial multi-billion pound HS2 project which will build a new high-speed line through Warwickshire to link London to Birmingham and the north of England.

[…] The document makes it clear that the focus of the service is long distance services “between London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, North Wales, Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

The recommendations have been described as ‘very worrying’ by one transport organisation which says the government should be encouraging increased services to smaller stations.

So are the recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London (a) “just to speed up journey times between the capital and Birmingham”, or (b) “to speed up journeys and cut overcrowding”? Are there recommendations to cut the number of fast trains between Coventry and London?

Control effing the consultation document produced zero mentions for “recommend”, and just one for “overcrowd” (in the phrase “dealing with overcrowding of the concourse and train boarding issues at Euston Station”).

[DfT consultation, May 2016]

[3.17] Whilst some services are highly used in the peak (the times in the morning and evening when most people travel), or just outside of peak hours, there are times of the day where the level of service might not reflect the level of demand at stations. In these cases we are interested in understanding whether there may be opportunities to adjust the level of service at stations which might enable wider benefits to be delivered elsewhere. For example reducing the number of stops required at intermediate stations (each stop could increase the overall journey time by several minutes) could enable reductions in the overall journey time to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow or for potential new journeys to be offered.

[3.18] Whilst providing a large number of end to end journeys, ICWC services also serve a number of highly used and important connections to local services at major stations such as Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly. We know that changing trains can make travelling by rail feel complicated and increase uncertainty for some passengers; discouraging people from using the railway.

At the start of the West Coast modernisation process, the intention was to run four 8-car Pendolino services each hour from London to Birmingham, and four from London to Manchester. Today, the service is generally three 11-car trains each hour to each city.

Why is there no appetite at Virgin to request a re-cast of the route timetable to allow four trains an hour to run? The likeliest explanation is that there is insufficient demand to justify a more intensive service, so costs would increase faster than revenue.

Written by beleben

June 3, 2016 at 10:12 am