There may be a new name in town but the UK’s most problematic overhead has once again reared its head with a revised service having to operate on West Midlands Metro after an issue was found with the overhead late on Tuesday 3rd July. Coming less than a month since the last prolonged overhead problem passengers are once being forced to change trams to complete full length journeys between Grand Central and Wolverhampton St George’s.
The issue was first reported during the evening of Tuesday 3rd July and – at least this is an improvement under the new franchise – a full statement was released by West Midlands Metro to explain what had happened with them describing it as “a highly unusual set of circumstances”. It all started with a tram became stranded south of Handsworth Booth Street because of a component failure on the overhead line. At attempt was made to repair the damage and move the tram soon after this being reported but it was soon discovered that the damage was more significant than first thought. This led to the power having to be isolated to allow initial repairs to be made to allow the tram to be returned to depot. The tram was eventually able to head back to depot but the damage was too severe to be fully repaired straightaway.
A number of different services were offered to passengers whilst the issue was being investigated. At all times a normal(ish) service was offered from Wolverhampton St George’s with this initially running as far Winson Green Outer Circle along with a one tram service from Jewellery Quarter to Grand Central (with the section between the two without trams). After permission was given for trams to use the Wolverhampton bound line past the affected area the shuttle service was extended to Winson Green.
It was then planned to operate another variation of the split service from the start of service on Wednesday 4th July but this was also met with problems as a tram suffered a mechanical failure whilst leaving depot. This blocked the exit and prevented the required number of trams for the service to leave. Eventually it was possible to introduce this split service between Wolverhampton St George’s and Handsworth Booth Street with passengers than expected to change to the shuttle service from there to Grand Central. Both services were due to run every 10 minutes although in practice there have been many reports of severe delays in the service leading to extended wait times to change between trams. West Midlands Metro also reported that there were speed restrictions causing further delays.
It is now planned that repairs will be undertaken on the overhead after 1900 on 4th July – hopefully fully fixing the problem – which means trams will only run from St George’s to Handsworth Booth Street with passengers advised to continue their journeys via West Midlands Railway or local buses.
In a statement West Midlands Metro apologised for the disruption and explained what they are doing to prevent future incidents: “Following its appointment as Operator of the West Midlands Metro on 24 June, Midland Metro Ltd has embarked on a thorough review of the Metro track, signalling and power systems to identify any areas that need urgent attention. t will also be making a significant investment in the maintenance and renewal of the Metro assets to ensure it is able to deliver an increasingly high quality service to customers.”
The proof will be in the pudding we guess as it hasn’t got off to a great start under the new operator! The number of overhead line issues the system has experienced is clearly unacceptable and West Midlands Metro will soon get a reputation for poor reliability if they don’t solve their regular reoccurrence.