The first of a £40 million fleet of new Midland Metro trams went into service today (Friday September 5) marking the start a major expansion programme for the light rail system.
Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council and Cllr Darren Cooper, Leader of Sandwell Council, officially launched the new trams by cutting a ribbon at Snow Hill Station in Birmingham.
The four new trams, which are bigger and offer a smoother, quieter ride than the existing models, are part of a 20-strong fleet coming into service over the next few months on the route between Snow Hill and Wolverhampton.
The deployment of the Urbos 3 trams marks the start of a bright new chapter for the Metro with construction already well underway of an extension through Birmingham city centre linking Snow Hill with a redeveloped New Street Station.
Preliminary ground works have also started on a further extension from New Street Station to Centenary Square and the Government has earmarked more than £90 million for two more routes – along Broad Street to just west of Five Ways in Edgbaston and to the planned high speed rail station in the city's Eastside district.
The business case for the Wolverhampton Interchange project, which includes a Metro extension to the city's bus and rail stations, has also recently been submitted.
Sir Albert, who is also a member of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, said: “Good transport links are vital for the West Midlands to compete globally and attract the inward investment needed to help secure economic growth and jobs.
“We also need to properly connect and feed into HS2 so we can secure the maximum economic benefits possible. The extension of the tram service, now agreed, will connect Wolverhampton and Sandwell, through Birmingham into the Curzon HS2 station.
“That's why these new trams and the forthcoming Metro extensions are such good news, not just for passengers but for our regional economy as a whole.”
The new trams, built by Spanish manufacturer CAF, are a third bigger than the existing 16-strong fleet of Ansaldo Trasporti models, carrying 210 passengers compared to 156.
As the number of new trams being deployed increases, it will also be possible for public transport co-ordinator Centro to step up the frequency of the Metro service to every six minutes throughout the day.
This will boost overall capacity by 40 per cent, easing the overcrowding that can sometimes occur at peak times due to the Metro's popularity.
Centro chief executive, Geoff Inskip, said: “Not only will these new trams bring immediate benefits for passengers they will also transform the Metro's profile when they become a common sight on the streets of Birmingham city centre.
“This is an important development for our region because the Metro can serve as a catalyst for economic growth, helping to unlock new areas of land for development, especially around the HS2 station in Eastside and the bus and rail stations in Wolverhampton.
“The extension between Snow Hill and New Street Station alone will boost the region's economy by more than £50 million a year and create 1,300 new jobs. The future extensions in Wolverhampton and Birmingham will build on that still further.”
At least one new tram is arriving each month at the Midland Metro depot in Wednesbury from CAF's factory in Zaragoza.
The vehicles then undergo extensive testing and commissioning before being put into service by National Express which operates the Midland Metro on behalf of Centro.
By early next year every tram running on the system will be a new Urbos 3.
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Notes to Editors:
The new tram fleet is part of a £128 million joint project by Centro and the Birmingham and Black Country councils which includes an extension through Birmingham city centre linking the Snow Hill and New Street stations, a £13 million extension of the tram maintenance depot at Wednesbury and modifications to existing Metro stops to accommodate the new trams.