The Midland Metro was opened almost 11 years ago and links Birmingham Snow Hill with Wolverhampton, ostensibly operating along the former Great Western Railway (GWR) track bed, which was lifted in the early-70s. Currently, on-street running only takes place within Wolverhampton centre, with the remainder of the 12.5 mile route operating over the former GWR route.
Invitations to tender are expected to be sent out in the autumn, with construction beginning in 2012, and completion expected three years later. The route will take trams south of Snow Hill, over an already-completed £9 million viaduct to Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street, Stephenson Street and terminating outside New Street Station - itself the focus of a massive facelift.
The legal powers required to undertake the works have been obtained by the West Midlands PTE, Centro, hence the speed at which tenders can be invited and work begin. It is understood that a change in operator is not going to happen, with Travel Midland Metro remaining at-the-helm (owned by National Express).
The Snow Hill terminus, a month after the network opened in 1999. Trams will head south from here, ultimately terminating at Birmingham New Street and forming an integral part of the facelift taking place there
LEYTR Comment: It would seem that yet another tram extension has been granted, albeit to less of a fanfare than others of late (Manchester, Nottingham). We've travelled on the Midland Metro on a couple of occasions and have been more than satisfied with the service and particularly the tram ambiance - we rated it the most comfortable of all light rail systems on which we've travelled. The extension to New Street Station will be most welcome for those in Wolverhampton and indeed along its route length, who've had to made the 15-minute trek across the city centre by foot to reach the city's main rail terminal.
It also brings passengers nearer National Express' new Digbeth coach station, cutting the walking time from a good 20 minutes to around 10. Not everyone sees the tram's extension as positive though. Passenger groups feel that the displaced bus services will force certain travellers to walk further for their service home and that the upheaval during the works will cause untold hassle. The intended frequency of trams south of Snow Hill has also yet to be revealed by Centro. Though such hyperbole should not be overlooked in the long-term, at this early stage surely the pros far outweigh the cons.