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New West Midland Metro line back on track - but costs are up £100m

By Peter Madeley | Transport | Published:

A West Midland Metro line from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, serving attractions including Dudley Zoo and the Black Country Living Museum, is to go ahead – as it emerged costs have spiralled by more than £100 million.

Vision of the future – the Midland Metro extension would take in key attractions like Dudley Zoo and Merry Hill shopping centre

Work is due to start this year, after the West Midlands Combined Authority put forward a new funding package to pay for the biggest project it has ever taken on.

The line will now cost £449m – up £106m – with the shortfall paid for by profits from the Metro, which the WMCA has run since last year. It is set to open in 2023.

It will see 16 new trams operate on a 6.8-mile route, passing through Merry Hill, Dudley town centre, Tipton, and Dudley Port railway station along its 17 stops.

Regeneration

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: “This goes through the northern part of Sandwell and into the heart of Dudley, really helping the regeneration of Dudley town centre, and all the way to Brierley Hill.

“The idea is that those communities along the line’s 17 stops will be connected into the job opportunities in Birmingham city centre and in Wolverhampton. This is about linking as many people as possible to the economic opportunities on offer in the region.”

A new depot will be built as part of the scheme, provisionally in Sandwell.

The route, which has been discussed for decades, will run on abandoned railway line in the north and along road in the south.

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Bosses are set to sign off on the plans at a WMCA meeting later this month.

Andy Street: Metro line will fuel our economy

A new Metro line through the heart of the Black Country will fuel the region’s economic boom, according to Andy Street.

The West Midlands Mayor says the new £449 million line from Brierley Hill to Wednesbury will bring extra tourists into the region, as well as boosting jobs and house prices.

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It has gone over its budget by £106m, but bosses insist the extra cash will be paid for out of profits from the service, which has seen a boost in passenger numbers since the WMCA took over its running last year.

Andy Street sees the potential of the line

Construction work by the Midland Metro Alliance likely to start at Wednesbury’s Great Western Street Metro stop later this year, with the entire 6.8 mile-route open in 2023.

According to Mr Street, the route will give the Black Country economy a shot in the arm, allowing places including Dudley and Tipton to benefit from a new influx of visitors.

“If you think of all those attractions in Dudley – the zoo, the castle, the Black Country Museum – they will be served directly so the Metro can bring in tourists straight to those attractions,” said Mr Street.

Confidence

“There will also be new housing opportunities, new commercial opportunities, so we are expecting commercial developers, who are potentially investing in the centre of Dudley, will be given much more confidence by this investment being confirmed.

“This will definitely be happening, subject to it being passed, so businesses will know their investments are safe.”

He cited a new report indicating there will be “a far wider benefit” than improving transport links, with new jobs created and even a house price increase for residents along the route.

Mr Street says the line is the most ambitious, and most expensive, project the WMCA has ever taken on.

It involves significant strengthening work on 23 bridges and viaducts, including the listed Parkhead Viaduct in Dudley.

The budget for the project has seen a succession of hikes. In 2017 it was expected to cost £200m, but leapt to £343m due to “cost escalations”.

However, bosses are confident the route will pay for itself due to the growing popularity of the Midland Metro, which has seen a boost in passenger numbers since the WMCA took over its running last year. It will turn it into a network, instead of a single line from Wolverhampton to Birmingham.

Laura Shoaf, managing director of Transport for West Midlands, said the decision to bring the running of the Metro in house last June had paid dividends.

“We had some trouble in the beginning, with overhead lines and power failure, but since the first month we have had a really excellent service,” she said.

“Our focus has been about consistency, reliability, and making sure people know they can depend on the service. We can already see that patronage has increased.”

The bulk of the funding has come from £207m from the Department for Transport, with the WMCA putting in £103m. Preparatory works have been ongoing for some time.

Recent history of the route:

August 2008: The long mooted scheme for a Metro line between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill is thrown into doubt when Network Rail reveals plans to reopen the South Staffordshire Line for the use of freight trains.

October 2010: Serious doubts are cast on the timescale of the project, with bosses warning it may not be completed until 2026.

March 2011: Plans emerge for the reopening of the South Staffordshire Line between Walsall and Stourbridge, with trams sharing the line with freight trains.

January 2017: The former railway line is cleared of vegetation and disused track removed. Bosses announce they hope to have full scale work start by 2019, with a completion date of 2023. The scheme is given the green light by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

November 2017: Clearance work on disused railway track near Dudley Port station gathers pace.

August 2018: Bosses reveal the 11km route is likely to cost £33m more than originally planned, at £343m.

March 2019: The budget for the line goes up again – to £449m – but a deal to start construction work is finally set to be signed off. Construction work is expected to start in Wednesbury later in 2019, taking in Dudley Zoo and Merry Hill.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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