In what is bound to be a controversial decision in some quarters Nexus has announced that the contract to build new trains for the Tyne and Wear Metro network has been awarded to Stadler. The £362 million investment includes £337 million from central government and will see the original Metrocars replaced when the new vehicles are introduced, likely to start in 2022.
It is hoped that the new trains will “transform performance and passenger experience, deliver huge energy savings and secure and create hundreds of jobs in the UK supply chain”. 42 new trains will be introduced but this could be increased to 46 if Government funding is awarded to Nexus’ plan to increase frequency through the Flow Project. They will replace the current – and still original Metrocars – which were introduced when the Metro opening in 1980. There were 88 original trains but these can be replaced by a lower number as the new vehicles will be longer and improved maintenance should require shorter periods out of use.
The contract also includes the construction of a new depot on the site of the current depot at South Gosforth along with the new temporary depot at Howdon, which will be used not only whilst South Gosforth is worked on but also as part of the new train commissioning process.
At the same time as making the announcement designs and more details for the new trains have also been revealed. The “fully-realised” design has been based on the ideas and suggestions of more than 3,000 passengers and will have many modern features including wifi, charging points, air conditioning and a step-change in accessibility. This will see an automatic sliding step at every door of the trains, making travel easier for the 50,000 wheelchair passengers who use the Metro as well as those with pushchairs, luggage and bicycles. The trains will also cut Metro’s high voltage power consumption by 30% and they should be 15% more reliable than the current fleet. A short video (by short we mean 8 seconds short!) of the new planned new Metro trains can be viewed on YouTube.
The complete value of the partnership between Nexus and Stadler could rise to £700 million over 35 years. This would include the decommissioning of the old depot and a contract to maintain the new trains for up to 35 years; subject to performance. The Government will also provide revenue support to help meet maintenance costs of the new trains.
Stadler have beaten off competition from both Hitachi and CAF, and that is where the controversy will come in! Local politicians had hoped that Hitachi would win the contract as they would have been constructed locally at Newton Aycliffe where the Japanese firm have a manufacturing base where new trains for the UK rail network have been constructed including some of the Azuma’s for the East Coast Mainline. But Nexus have decided following the lengthy and robust tendering process that the best and most cost effective product would be from Stadler.
As part of the contract it is expected that Stadler will work alongside more than 30 new supply chain partners within the UK advanced manufacturing, technology and construction sectors of which half of them will be in north east England thus creating more jobs in the industry with around 100 people employed directly.
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council and Chair of the Joint Transport Committee for North East England, said: “We have a bold vision for transport in North East England, and a world-class Metro system is the key to unlocking this transformation. We have secured Government investment in our region for new Metro trains which will meet the needs of our people for decades to come, secure hundreds of jobs and help us tackle the climate emergency. These new trains will be rooted in our region – they are designed based what more than 3,000 passengers told us what they wanted from their daily journey. They will be built and brought into service by exploiting manufacturing excellence in new supply chains here in North East England and across the UK. They will be maintained and operated by the proud workers who make Metro happen.”
Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus, added: “Our passengers expect the best in the world when they travel, and that is what they will get from our new trains. Stadler has an excellent track record building new trains for cities and regions across the world. The company will put in place new supply chains here in North East England and the UK securing local jobs. I am delighted to welcome Stadler as we make this historic £362m investment in Metro’s future. We asked for the best trains for the best price – based on what local people said they wanted to see, providing excellent reliability for years to come, transforming the passenger experience and delivering huge energy savings. Stadler has delivered on all fronts, and we look forward to working with our new partner and the extensive UK supply chain which will support them not just to build new trains but maintain them over the next 35 years.”
Chris Heaton Harris, Rail Minister, said: “The DfT’s £337m investment heralds a new era for the Tyne and Wear Metro, providing passengers with greener, more reliable, and more comfortable journeys. Upgrading the Metro fleet will boost our economy, improve journeys for passengers and underlines our determination to level up opportunity and connectivity across the country.”
With the old Metrocars having suffered from reliability problems for a number of years this will hopefully be the light at the end of the tunnel which will see a major improvement in performance once all trains are introduced, but until then enjoy the Metrocars while you can!