Over the coming year, members of the pteg Support Unit team will be getting out and about to visit and learn from key transport projects and organisations. First up, Matt Brunt, Assistant Director visits Midland Metro in Birmingham.
Before today’s trip, I had travelled on Midland Metro once, but for a short trip and in the middle of winter. This time I was accompanied on my journey by the Programme Director, Paul Griffiths, and Mark Ashmore, Metro Health and Safety Manager from Centro.
The current line, running from Snow Hill station on the edge of Birmingham city centre through to Wolverhampton, is unobstrusive and echoes the branch-line feel that the route presumably took over when it first opened in 1999.
Well used and well run, it has recovered from some early teething problems – not least of which the somewhat novel approach to vehicle assembly used by the suppliers of the first fleet, where trams were built in a series of separate Italian factories, resulting in sixteen slightly differently configured vehicles.
At present, the Midland Metro is perhaps one of the lesser known tram systems in the UK. However, this will change with the implementation of the second phase of its development. A £128m scheme will see the extension of the tramline onto the streets of central Birmingham, penetrating into the heart of the city, as well as a new fleet of trams and an extended depot facility. Final funding approval has now been given and plans are moving towards implementation over the next few years, with the city centre extension and full new tram fleet due in service from 2015.
The plans for the city centre route are impressive. Dovetailing with the New Street Gateway project (which sees New Street Station undergoing a £600 million transformation) the trams will bring a very different feel to the city centre. The route from the new station entrance will run along Corporation Street (one of the main shopping streets in the city) and then join up with the line at Snow Hill, making a huge impact on the area and bringing the ‘sparks effect’ to the centre of Birmingham. The Snow Hill tram stop itself is being moved to bring the trams ‘up’ to street level and run parallel to the nearby high quality office development.
Looking forward, thoughts are already turning to how the system can link to the proposed High Speed 2 station at Curzon St, and be extended in the other direction towards the civic quarter, conference venues and development at Brindley Place. A flythrough of the route can be seen here:
It is clear that the expanded Midland Metro will dramatically shift the visibility of the system and the profile it has. Moving ‘on-street’ into the city centre is certainly not without its challenges, but hopefully these developments will see Midland Metro come into its own.