A quarter of a century after plans for a West Midlands-wide light rapid transit system were first proposed, work has finally begun in Birmingham on the region’s second Metro tram line.
The city centre extension will take the existing Wolverhampton to Snow Hill track on to Bull Street and the central shopping district in Corporation Street with a terminus at the refurbished New Street Station.
Plans to extend the route to Five Ways in Edgbaston were curtailed after Centro, the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, and Birmingham City Council failed to convince the Government of the case for funding. However, council leaders remain confident that a long-term plan to run the metro to Eastside and Birmingham Airport is achievable.
Centro first proposed a series of tram lines stretching out from Birmingham to Black Country towns in the late 1980s. A separate line was also planned for Coventry. But the proposals fell victim to public spending cuts and only one line – from Wolverhampton to Snow Hill – was ever built.
Work on the one-mile Birmingham city centre extension began this week at a ceremony attended by city cabinet member for development, jobs and skills, Tahir Ali, and Transport Minster Norman Baker. They were accompanied by Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip and vice-chairman Coun Jon Hunt.
The scheme will create more than 1,500 new jobs and boost the regional economy by more than £50 million a year, according to the city council.
Councillor Ali said: “The economic advantages of rapid transit networks are well documented yet Birmingham remains the only city of its size in Europe without one.
“This extension will start to put that right and serve as a platform for further routes to key locations like the airport and the forthcoming high speed rail station. That will help Birmingham and the West Midlands compete for jobs and investment in an increasingly fierce global marketplace.”
Mr Baker said: “This scheme is great news for Birmingham and the West Midlands and will provide a new, greener transport choice for those wanting to reach the city’s shopping streets as well as the emerging business district in Snow Hill.
“The Metro extension will also cut congestion, improve air quality and be a real boon for the local economy by creating 1,300 new jobs.
“This is an example of the kind of infrastructure project we need to help boost growth around the UK and that is why I am pleased that we have been able to contribute £75 million towards the cost of the scheme.”
The extension will not only link Birmingham’s two major rail stations to the historic Jewellery Quarter and beyond to the Black Country, but will also deliver more than 3.5 million passengers a year directly into the heart of the city’s shopping district, according to official forecasts.
Trams will follow a route from the existing Metro terminus at Snow Hill, along a £9 million viaduct already built by developer Ballymore, down Upper Bull Street and Corporation Street and on to Stephenson Street. It is due to open in 2015 coinciding with the completion of the £600 million Gateway rebuild of New Street Station with trams stopping outside the station’s new entrance in Stephenson Street.
The extension is part of a wider £127 million joint project between Centro and the Black Country and Birmingham City councils which includes a larger Metro maintenance depot at Wednesbury and a fleet of 20 new and bigger trams that will increase passenger capacity and frequency of service between Birmingham and Wolverhampton to every six minutes throughout the day.
Work on the extension will see Corporation Street permanently closed to traffic later this summer with bus stops switched to new locations no more than a five minute walk away.