Sunday 22 May was the day that the extension of Midland Metro from Snow Hill to New Street, part of a £128 million upgrade should have fully opened to passengers.  But there are no trams running to New Street as the extension needs "track alignment work".  Centro have said the need for this work to take place is down to checks following test runs of the trams conducted last month.

The latest delays are frustrating, but they are the latest chapter in a long running saga of dithering, delay and disappointment.  The extension of Midland Metro through Birmingham City Centre was originally proposed back in 1999 just after Line One from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton was opened, with a route from Snow Hill via Corporation Street and New Street Station to terminate at Five Ways.  Centro undertook a public consultation in 2001, applied for a Transport and Works Act Order in 2003 and obtained powers to build the line back in 2004, subject to work being undertaken to divert bus routes from Corporation Street and Bull Street to other termini.  The line was scheduled to open to trams in 2009.

Then delay number one happened; the election of a new administration on Birmingham City Council which decided to initiate a feasibility study costing £150,000 into diverting the Metro underground.  This concluded that it was technically "feasible", but building the route underground would push up the cost considerably.

28 May 2016

Metro Slow Slow Not Go Go

The failure of Centro to deliver has led to a complete collapse of public support for further extensions - whilst the improvements in Manchester have had backing from businesses and the wider community with calls for extensions elsewhere in the area.  In Nottingham a group has been set up calling for an extension of trams to Kimberley, Eastwood and Amber Valley.  

Having failed to deliver the Metro network the West Midlands needs and deserves, Centro are now promoting its latest "pet project", the Sprint "bus that thinks it's a tram".  It was claimed delivery of Sprint would be quicker, but the first route has not yet been built and development seems as slow as that of Metro.  We do not support Sprint, we think it is a white elephant and the money that is being sucked into this scheme could be much better spent on the conventional bus network instead.  It is notable that one area that tried a project similar to Sprint, Swansea, has gone back to using conventional buses.  Instead of pursuing Sprint, Centro should do what its counterparts in Manchester have done, get a package in place to complete the Metro network and get on with it; not saddle the second city with a second best public transport network.  

The Government wants the Combined Authority to have an elected mayor.  Whoever takes on this role should expect their transport planners to deliver and get improvements on the ground, not continually generate studies, consultations and bits of paper.  It is an absolute disgrace that Birmingham and the West Midlands conurbation does not have the high quality light rail network offered elsewhere in the UK and a small scheme in the city centre has taken so long to build.  We thought the City of Birmingham's motto was "Forward".

Further delays came from the Department of Transport dithering over providing funding for the scheme, thanks to the mixed messages being sent from Birmingham.  A funding package was only agreed in early 2010, prior to the General Election of that year; but the package would only allow construction of the Metro as far as New Street Station.  The extension onwards to Five Ways would have to wait.

Having received the cash, one would have expected Centro to have put in place a programme to enable rapid construction and instruct its contractors to work safely but speedily.  Progress has been glacially slow, not helped by deciding to suspend works during the annual German Christmas Market (even though a sensible planner would have concentrated works in this period on parts of the route not affected by the Yuletide event).  

In 2014 contractors were moved to Wolverhampton to undertake track replacement work on the route there.  This particular project was scheduled to take sixteen weeks.  The discovery of an old mineshaft under the Metro tracks did not help progress, although one wonders why this was not picked up by surveys when the original Metro Line One was built in the late 1990's.  The Metro line between Priestfield and Wolverhampton St. Georges end up being closed for nearly six months - meaning no trams into Wolverhampton during the busy Christmas Shopping period in 2014.  Thousands of commuters and leisure travellers were lost - how many have gone back to using the trams?

The Birmingham Extension should have opened to New Street in April 2015.  Then it was delayed to September 2015, to tie in with the opening of the expanded New Street Station concourse and Grand Central Shopping Centre.  The opening day of New Street came and went, but the trams were still terminating at platform 4 at Snow Hill.  Work to divert the Metro line to the new formation was scheduled in October 2015, but with yet another closure and trams terminating at St. Pauls some distance from the city centre.  Again, the sensible planner would have scheduled this phase of work for the summer holiday period where the nights were lighter and people would have felt happier walking through the back streets of Birmingham - not in autumn as the clocks were going back.

Once again, work was completed late and the new temporary terminus at Bull Street opened on the 6th December 2015, the first time trams had run on-street in Birmingham since 1953.  It was announced the extension to New Street would be completed in early 2016, then April 2016, then would open on the 22nd May 2016, but now it looks as if the extension will not open until Centro has been subsumed into the new West Midlands Combined Authority which is to commence operations on the 10th June.

The delays have led to huge anger from businesses along the route who've been disrupted and were hoping business would pick up with tram operations; the extension has been built at the rate of 32 inches per day since construction started in 2012.   To put this into context:

Councillor Victoria Quinn of Birmingham City Council has said the Birmingham City Centre project should be scrutinised following its snail like progress.  We agree - but the Metro failures are not just confined to Birmingham, or Wolverhampton.

At least Birmingham City Centre will see trams - eventually.  At the same time as proposing the extension in Birmingham Centro obtained powers to build a Midland Metro line from Wednesbury, via Dudley Town Centre and the Merry Hill Shopping Centre to Brierley Hill.  This was supposed to have opened in 2010 and there has been some construction extension to the car park at Dudley Port station (which was to have been a heavy rail interchange).

There has been no other work and this abandoned railway rots away, with the ongoing damage to the formation and structures likely to push up costs further when work does start.