As a proud Brummie, Railfuture member Michael Tombs has always been disappointed to see the city lagging behind others in the country in terms of transport planning. However, Monday 30th May 2016 was a rare occasion to hang out the bunting, to collect the promotional ‘goodie bag’, and celebrate the long awaited trams, much delayed, running to New Street station – better late than never!? New CAF-built tram leaves New Street station for Wolverhampton. Photo by Michael Tombs for Railfuture.
It has been painfully slow progress since the original line opened from Wolverhampton St Georges to Snow Hill, utilising much of the ex GWR trackbed between the two cities in May 1999. Plans were eventually approved for the Birmingham extension to New Street, and despite a total length of less than ¾ of a mile, was opened in two stages, to Bull Street in December 2015 and finally, after several false starts, to New Street in May 2016.
What next for Midland Metro? The first step is to fully complete, the New Street extension....... let's rewind a second, didn't the headline say it was completed? No, the title says ‘Metro reaches New Street’. When construction work started, the first phase was to close the Metro platform in the Snow Hill main line station, which would be replaced by a dedicated Snow Hill Metro stop adjacent to the main line station. On a recent visit the new stop appeared almost complete apart from one minor facility – the passenger ramp/stairway link between Metro and main line station! At present the recorded passenger messages advise getting off at Bull Street if they need to catch a train at Snow Hill.
Railfuture is campaigning in support of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority’s expansion plans for Midland Metro. Construction of the next extension beyond New Street/Grand Central has already begun. This takes the line up a very steep & narrow Pinfold Street, through Victoria Square, Paradise Circus, along Broad Street toCentenary Square. Through Victoria Square this extension will not include any overhead wires and the trams will operate using batteries, preserving the architectural integrity of the Town Hall – the first tram system in the UK to do so. It is planned to extend further, eventually terminating in Hagley Road Edgbaston.
At the ‘other end’ of the line a link to Wolverhampton Station is planned – together with the extension to New Street, this will provide the connectivity which is essential for the Metro to achieve operational profitability.
Discussions are still ongoing re the viability of a branch to the Merry Hill Shopping Centre, which will return a rail service to the town of Dudley.
When the line to New Street was built, the foundations of a junction at Bull Street in the city centre were laid. Subject to a business case, funding is available to take a line from this junction via Birmingham Curzon Street (for the City Centre HS2 station), EastSide (linking with the coach station), to Adderley Street. A further extension eventually terminating at the HS2 Interchange Station near the M42 is also being considered. With so many delays having been encountered in such a short ¾ mile extension, the planning coordination for the links to the HS2 stations will be challenging for Transport for West Midlands, the transport arm of the new devolved West Midlands Combined Authority. Ten years may seem a long time, but it is essential for the City of Birmingham that passengers are welcomed off the very first HS2 service in 2026 by Midland Metro, rather than by a sign saying ‘Footpath to City Centre’. Time for the City of Birmingham to live up to its own motto - “Forward”.
Battery operated trams a UK first