Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) confirmed on 22 March that it is to take over day-to-day operations of the Midland Metro light rail system when the contract with current concessionaire National Express finishes in October 2018.
The plan will enable TfWM, the transport arm of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to invest an estimated GBP50m (EUR58m) in profits back into the network over the next 11 years to give best value to taxpayers, it is claimed. Existing National Express staff will transition over to a new wholly-owned subsidiary, Midland Metro Ltd.
The WMCA has begun work on a series of extensions which will see the UK light rail system triple in size over the next decade; this programme will be delivered by the Midland Metro Alliance partnership of Colas Rail, Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann.
Passenger numbers across the expanded network are forecast to increase from around 6.5m at present to more than 30m.
Laura Shoaf, TfWM Managing Director, 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 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.”
The planned expansion of the Midland Metro network includes an extension from New Street Station to Centenary Square, expected to open in 2019. On 17 March, the WMCA authorised the submission of a Transport & Works Act Order application for a continuation of this line to Edgbaston by 2021 and confirmed a GBP59m (EUR68m) contribution towards the cost of the project.
A Transport & Works Act Order has also been submitted for an extension through Digbeth to the forthcoming HS2 station at Curzon Street. From there it would continue into High Street Deritend, stopping at Digbeth Coach Station and the Custard Factory. It is anticipated that this line could be open by 2023.
In Wolverhampton, work is to begin on an extension through the city centre as part of the GBP51.8m (EUR60m) Wolverhampton Interchange project due for completion in 2019. The route will take trams along Pipers Row, with new connections to the city’s main bus and railway stations, also being redeveloped as part of the project.
A business case is also being prepared to extend Midland Metro service from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill.