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Magenta magic in Birmingham

Midland Metro’s new magenta trams have entered passenger service between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, ticking off the first major milestone in the system’s relaunch.

When the New Street link opens in 2015 – returning trams to Birmingham City Centre for the first time in 60 years – service frequencies will increase from every eight minutes to every six minutes. By February 2015, the operator hopes to be running a full CAF fleet.

‘We saw this extension as a way of relaunching the service and really raising the profile of Midland Metro,’ said Centro’s metro programme director, Paul Griffiths, ahead of the launch on 5 September. Griffiths also said a decision to procure the final four trams under the original framework contract would be made by the end of the year, by which time all 21 of the current order are expected to have been delivered.

The trams, which began arriving from CAF’s plant in Zaragoza, Spain, in September 2013, are longer and wider than the former AnsaldoBreda T69 stock. To allow the new vehicles to be introduced into service, Centro has had to modify platform edges along the route. The authority has also had to spend around £25 million doubling the size of its depot at Wednesbury.

DSC_0694 [online]

Altogether, £128 million is being invested in the network. As well as new trams, Line 1 is being extended further into the city centre, firstly to a rejuvenated New Street station in 2015, from there to Centenary Square in 2018/19 and eventually to a new HS2 interchange on the site of the former Curzon Street station by around 2022. As well as planned extensions to Edgbaston and Wolverhampton railway station, Centro wants to eventually establish metro links to Birmingham International Airport, Solihull, Dudley and Walsall.

Tram tracks have already been laid along Colmore Circus Queensway where services from Wolverhampton will pass by Snow Hill station across a new bridge over Queensway to a new on-street stop. When the New Street section opens, Centro will hand the two platforms at Snow Hill back to Network Rail, which plans to potentially reinstate platform 4 for main line rail services.

Unlike Nottingham, which is running a combination of ADtranz and Alstom vehicles, Midland Metro opted to completely replace its existing fleet. Griffiths said the decision was partly driven by the fact that the older trams would have been unable to cope with the gradient difference on the extension to Centenary Square.

The remaining AnsaldoBreda T69s will be gradually withdrawn from September. One of the original units, which entered service on Line 1 in 1999, has already been decommissioned and given to UK Tram and Future Railway for the Light Rail Test Fleet. The rest of the T69s will be taken into long-term storage at Long Marston.

In 2016, Centro will begin the tendering process for the new operating concession, with the current agreement with National Express set to expire in 2018.

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