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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

Daft and you know it (part four)

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As mentioned in the previous post, on 30 May Centro chief James Aspinall told ITV Central News that trams will bring over three million extra people into the city and £50 billion of benefits to the region.

But Central News have now ‘updated’ the story to state that Mr Aspinall told them the metro system will bring over three million extra people into the city and £50 million worth of benefits to the region.

However, in the embedded video, Mr Aspinall can be heard saying “£50 billion”, not £50 million. “50bn” is also part of the story url, at least at the time of writing. Isn’t it a bit curious that Central News are apparently ‘bending over’ to rewrite history, on behalf of Mr Aspinall? Are they going to let him re-dub his piece on camera, replacing “billion” with “million”?

Central News story changed on 31 May 2016 from 'Trams will bring £50 billion of benefits to the region' to 'Trams will bring £50 million of benefits to the region'

One might also ask, how exactly would extending the tram to Stephenson Street bring “3 million extra people into the city”? Most of those ‘extra people’ would, no doubt, have previously travelled in by bus. Needless to say, most tram users on the existing line to Snow Hill previously came in on the number 74 and 79, etc.

Written by beleben

May 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Centro

The longest autumn

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Birmingham Mail story about the opening of the Midland Metro City Centre extension, 3 June 2015

In June 2015, the Birmingham Mail reported that construction work on the Midland Metro Birmingham City Centre Extension (BCCE) between Snow Hill and New Street was on time, ‘with full passenger service up and running by the end of year’.

Centro, and the Birmingham Mail, must surely have known that full passenger service was not going to be ‘up and running by the end of 2015’. That would have been obvious from a walk along Corporation Street, anytime during the summer of 2015.

Now Centro have issued a press release stating that the “go-ahead for a series of crucial safety checks has been secured, paving the way for a spring (2016) opening”.

[Centro press release: Spring opening for next leg of city centre tram extension, 18 Feb 2016]

[…] Centro, the region’s transport delivery body, has been given the green light by Network Rail to run essential overnight testing of the electrical systems along the new Midland Metro route on April 23.

The granting of the ‘possession’ will ensure that the Metro’s electronic systems do not interfere with those controlling trains using New Street Station. The work will also check that Network Rail’s systems do not interfere with the Metro.

Centro’s Metro programme director, Phil Hewitt, said: “The only way we can carry out this work is by getting a possession, when no trains are running, from Network Rail and we are grateful to them for speeding up the process and cutting the length of time you usually have to wait.

“This is a crucial piece of work because once done it clears the way for us to carry out the final testing, commissioning of, and staff training for the new extension. Once that process is completed we can start running trams down to New Street Station.”

Trams returned to the streets of Birmingham for the first time in more than 60 years in December when the Midland Metro started running to a new stop in Bull Street.

But work to complete the remainder of the route along Corporation Street and Stephenson Street to New Street Station was suspended for eight weeks in the run up to Christmas to provide a more attractive environment for shoppers. Work restarted in the New Year.

Centro press releases always seem to be fighting a losing battle with the truth. Did work really “stop for eight weeks” in the Christmas period? If so, what was the “stop” date?

Written by beleben

February 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Centro

Nothing like a metro

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In a January 2014 article for the Rail Engineer magazine, HS2 chief engineer Professor Andrew McNaughton stated that, “The first phase of HS2 will be most useful in releasing capacity to recast the south end of the WCML and the corridor through Coventry into Birmingham. The former will then accommodate the growth into London and the latter high frequency metro style services that Centro envisages“.

As can be seen from SLC Rail’s diagram of the passenger rail timetable structure on Coventry – Birmingham corridor, the year 2013 local (stopping) train service did not resemble that of a metro.

Coventry - Birmingham corridor, passenger rail timetable structure in 2013 (Source: SLC Rail)

Coventry – Birmingham corridor, passenger rail timetable structure in 2013 (Source: SLC Rail)

But in the late 2020s, with HS2 in operation, could a “metro style service” be provided on the Birmingham to Coventry line?

Coventry - Birmingham corridor, maximum capacity limit with the 20 minute Intercity West Coast frequency (Source: SLC Rail)

Coventry – Birmingham corridor, maximum capacity limit with the 20 minute Intercity West Coast frequency (Source: SLC Rail)

According to SLC Rail, the 20-minute Intercity West Coast (Virgin) frequency limits the realisable capacity on the Coventry – Birmingham corridor to 8 trains per hour overall. Apparently, HS2 Ltd envisage that the Intercity West Coast frequency would fall from 20 to 30 minutes.

Coventry - Birmingham corridor, capacity provided by changing the 20 minute Intercity West Coast frequency to 30 minute (Source: SLC Rail)

Coventry – Birmingham corridor, capacity provided by changing the 20 minute Intercity West Coast frequency to 30 minute (Source: SLC Rail)

As can be seen, SLC Rail’s diagrams suggest that changing the ICWC frequency to half-hourly would allow just one extra train to run each hour, and the local service would still be nothing like a metro. (Consider how one would make a journey from Stechford to Tile Hill, for example.)

Plainly, HS2 would be of very little value for improving local capacity or connectivity in the West Midlands — or Yorkshire, or Greater Manchester. But rail capacity is perhaps too complex a subject for the mainstream media (or Rail magazine), and government ministers.

Written by beleben

August 28, 2015 at 11:22 am

HS2 and ‘connectivity packages’, part three

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On 24 June a revised £1.6 billion HS2 connectivity package was presented by Laura Shoaf, ITA strategic director of policy and strategy, to a meeting of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority at Birmingham’s council house.

Several of the schemes can be traced back ten or more years, well before any mention of HS2. Presumably, some Centro staff hope that re-badging projects as HS2-enabling connectivity will make them more attractive to government. As might be expected, the case for most of them looks very shaky indeed. Given Birmingham’s disastrous over-reliance on diesel buses, a much better use of resources might lie in sponsoring electrification of city road public transport, and creating a safe cycling network.

According to the report, “HS2 will release significant additional capacity which will to help deliver transformational connectivity between our towns and cities, thus unlocking appreciable economic benefits and facilitating access to local jobs and training”. What that means, is anyone’s guess.

WMITA HS2 connectivity package (Jun2015), map

WMITA HS2 connectivity package (Jun2015), map

As can be seen, the largest single element in the ‘pre-HS2’ connectivity package is a circuitous £470 million tramway between Birmingham and Bickenhill HS2 station, routed via Chelmsley Wood. However, plans for a tram between Bickenhill HS2 and Coventry seem to have disappeared. The Chelmsley Wood Midland Metro is supposed to have a benefit/cost in excess of 2, which ought to trigger extremely careful scrutiny. Needless to say, no economic analysis seems to be available.

WMITA pre-HS2 connectivity package list, June 2015

WMITA pre-HS2 connectivity package list, June 2015

The ‘post-HS2’ connectivity proposals include various ‘Sprint’ bus rapid transit routes (such as on the A34 Walsall to Birmingham and between Bickenhill HS2 and Coleshill Parkway), extension of rail service to Aldridge, and Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton rail electrification.

Written by beleben

June 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Centro, High speed rail, HS2

When gumption is lacking

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Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Do not criticise Centro

Written by beleben

March 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Centro

Tagged with , ,

The wool over their eyes

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BBC News story (4 July 2001) about the Midland Metro electrocution risk caused by shoddy workSoon after the Midland Metro tramway opened in 1999, evidence of shoddy design and construction began to emerge. Ansaldo and Laing — the ‘A’ and the ‘L’ in the Altram consortium awarded the design-build-and-operate concession in 1995 — had effectively abandoned the tramway as early as 2002, leaving the remaining participant, Travel West Midlands, to pick up the operating losses (the Metro has never come close to carrying the 15 million passengers per annum originally expected).

In a desperate bid to stop TWM handing back the keys, Centro renegotiated the operating concession (the full terms of which have never been made public). The overhead lines had to be completely replaced, years early, at public expense, and the original “rubbish” trams are now being placed in store at Long Marston.

It has also transpired that the building of the street section between Wolverhampton and Priestfield was bodged, resulting in the need for early replacement of the track. During those replacement works in 2014, it was found the tramway had been built over unstable and potentially dangerous mine workings, which has resulted in continued closure of the northern extremity.

[Centro Press release]


Work progresses on replacing tram track in Wolverhampton

The laying of new Metro tram tracks over former mineworkings in Wolverhampton city centre has resumed after engineers devised a way of tackling the unstable and potentially dangerous site.

They were uncovered on the A41 Bilston Road between the junctions with Steelhouse Lane and Hospital Street in November as work progressed on replacing worn out tram tracks.

After intensive efforts to find a safe way of building over the mine, work is now underway with tram services scheduled to resume running into the St George’s terminus in March.

The old mineworkings were up to 40ft feet deep and filled with loose, uncompacted building rubble.

The old workings, which are up to 12m (40ft) deep, 55m (180ft) long and 20m (65ft) wide, are thought to date as far back as the Industrial Revolution, when coal and iron ore was mined extensively across the Black Country.

Centro, the region’s public transport co-ordinator which is behind the £4.5m track improvement scheme, consulted with specialist engineering consultants to assess how best to deal with them.

It also sought advice from other light rail systems in the UK and around the world to see if they had ever dealt with a similar problem and to identify the best solution.

Engineers have now devised a solution consisting of a geo-textile membrane and geogrid to stabilise the ground, in between layers of compacted hardcore and capped with a reinforced 5m wide concrete slab running through the 55m length of the workings.

Midland Metro programme director Paul Griffiths said at some point down the years the workings had been filled in with old building rubble then covered over without being marked on any known map or documents.

“The problem was that rubble was not compacted down, it was thrown in loose and covered over, and over time loose rubble shifts and creates voids,” he said.

“Having installed a modern new crossover south of The Royal we came to remove the foundation from the previous crossover and that’s when we found the mine workings.

“We had undertaken ground investigation in advance of the works including using ground penetrating radar, but this did not identify all the issues.

“It was only when we were able to open up the ground and make a full analysis that the sheer scale of the problem became clear.”

The timetable had already been hit by the discovery of unmarked public utility pipes and the discovery that the original track slab was not as strong as designed and required additional work to ensure it does not deteriorate in the future.

Originally planned to open in November, The Royal opened the following month.

However an announcement on when services would resume to St George’s could not be made until the evaluation of the workings and design of a solution was completed.

That happened this week (January 26-30) following intensive ground investigation and design work over Christmas and New Year.

Mr Griffiths said: “The design of the solution has been complicated by the location between the two carriageways of Bilston Road.

“This has prevented the material from simply being dug out as it could have damaged the integrity of the road.”

While this took place, rebuilding work of the new St George’s terminus was accelerated and new track laid heading out to The Royal.

Cllr Roger Horton, Centro lead member for rail, said: “The delays have been incredibly frustrating and we recognise the impact they have had on users of the Midland Metro for which we apologise.

“However these works have had to be done. An operational tram system has to have secure foundations, and now that this is being done the Midland Metro will provide Wolverhampton with a system it can be proud of for years to come.”

The original contractors pulled the wool over Centro’s eyes, resulting in huge costs for the public purse.

Written by beleben

February 12, 2015 at 4:08 pm