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Midland Metro track-share proposals gather pace


Proposals to use innovative European technology to drive forward the Black Country's planned extension of the Midland Metro tram system are progressing well, the region's passenger transport authority has revealed.

The concept of sharing the proposed tram route from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill with freight trains, saving millions of pounds in construction costs in the process, is realistic and achievable, initial investigations by Centro have found.

The Centro and Network Rail joint study on Metro sharing the proposed Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension with freight trains is showing positive results. A number of cities in Germany, France and Holland already successfully operate such track sharing systems.

Running freight trains on the proposed tram tracks will remove the need to build a separate track for freight alongside the Metro rails, cutting overall construction costs by around 20 per cent. It would also allow the construction of the Metro beyond Brierley Hill to Stourbridge and Stourbridge Junction, connecting with heavy rail to Worcester and Hereford.

The concept of track sharing has also been raised with rail freight network operator EWS which is keen to take the project forward and become involved in the next stage of the study in October.

Centro's Chief Executive Geoff Inskip said: "Track sharing will speed up the delivery of the Midland Metro extension by reducing the capital costs and making it more affordable. It's an exciting concept and we're delighted that our partners Network Rail and EWS think so too."

Preparation work has also started on gaining a Transport and Works Act Order for the proposed Wolverhampton City Centre Metro Loop. This proposed extension links the existing St George's terminus to the new £140 million Wolverhampton Interchange project with its new rail and bus station. The Loop will run via Princess Street, Lichfield Street and Pipers Row with a spur from Lichfield Street to the rail station and onwards through to Sun Street.

Meanwhile major improvements are being lined up for Metro passengers using the existing route between Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton.

Centro is in the process of acquiring a new fleet of trams to replace the existing ones by 2012. The move will unlock massive, untapped demand for Metro as the new and bigger fleet will enable frequencies to be stepped up to every six minutes throughout the day while boosting reliability.

Recent research by Centro found that bringing in a new fleet would enable the system to meet a predicted demand by 2012 of eight million passengers a year compared to the five million carried at present.

The new trams would also be used on the two proposed Metro extensions between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill and through Birmingham city centre, both of which are among nine transport priorities for the West Midlands.

Mr Inskip added: "A significant amount of progress has been made in taking forward the planned development of the Midland Metro. The more cost effective solution of track sharing on the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension is looking extremely promising, while work is progressing on extending the Metro to Wolverhampton Interchange and replacing the existing tram fleet."

Detailed studies are continuing into the track sharing concept and consultants are in the process of putting together fresh costings for the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension based on the proposal.

These will then be used to update the Outline Business Case seeking Government funding for the extension and Centro is continuing to work closely with its regional partners to explore how money from Government could be supplemented through a wide range of local fund raising initiatives.

Centro is confident that with all regional partners working together a realistic funding package can be achieved. This has been boosted by the Government's decision to put in place a range of initiatives to help local areas identify resources to fund projects that drive economic performance.

A recent study by experts at the independent Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found that the proposed Metro extensions through Birmingham city centre and from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill could create up to 5,300 sustainable new jobs and boost the region's economy by an extra £178 million a year.

The study concluded that the extensions would bring significant and lasting economic benefits and that the boost to the economy meant the cost of the two projects would be would be recouped within just three years.


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