More details released on future of Midland Metro 16

Last November we reported on an unexpected tram move which saw former Midland Metro T69 16 moved from its long-term storage home of Long Marston to the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre in Dudley. Although it was known that it would be moving to be used as a test tram little else was publicly revealed at the time but now the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) have released more details about what has happened to the tram so far and also what the longer term plans are for it.

16 – which was the last of the T69s to operate in passenger service on 14th August 2015 – had originally been retained by West Midlands Metro for possible use as an engineering tram but would eventually move to Long Marston for storage on 19th August 2019 and at this time was owned by UKTram who had plans for it to become sort form of test tram. It remained there until 24th November 2023 when it was moved to Dudley and work is now well underway in giving the tram a new lease of life as part of BCIMO’s Clean Futures Accelerator programme. Upon its move to Dudley the tram was donated by UKTram to BCIMO.

Work on converting the tram to its new use has undergone two distinct phases. In phase one the interior was stripped out and received a deep clean before an electrical assessment took place. This revealed corrosion to the roof mounted high voltage cabinets and so this was repaired alongside insultation and resistance testing.

After this attention was turned towards the exterior of the tram. This will see the tram receive a new livery (which will take the form of a vinyl wrap) which has been designed to include both the BCIMO and Clean Futures branding, whilst also recognising UKTram’s donation and also leaving further space for future projects and sponsorships.

Phase two of the project will then see 16 converted from its original grid-based power source to an off-grid battery system. This will allow there to be greater flexibility in its deployment and also help the region to reach net-zero. The conversion work is expected to be completed by late Summer/early Autumn and currently work is underway on selecting suppliers for the new equipment.

It is planned that 16’s first appearance with its new look will be at the end of April as the centrepiece of a high-profile Clean Futures event. This will showcase innovations from the first cohort of SMEs to complete the programme and will host key industry stakeholders, including UKTram, who have supported the programme as part of its “Challenge Setters” Board of Industry experts.

Three innovations will be specifically demonstrated at the event which will highlight the potential to be used as both an individual and collaborative test platform for the programme, as well as for sector-based organisations who can utilise BCIMO’s test facilities at the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre.

The event will also mark the launch of the second year of the Clean Futures programme with any SMEs able to submit their interest in being involved from this date.

Naomi Arblaster, Head of SME Development at BCIMO, said: “With the opening of applications for Cohort 2 of the Clean Futures programme and launch of the new industry challenges for the coming year on 30th April, we are really excited to see the innovations our regional SMEs can bring to rail. As such, the potential to showcase these on Tram 16, both honours the history of rail in the Black Country and focuses on its future, as we transition to net-zero as part of the broader West Midlands’ decarbonisation agenda.

“There is a real opportunity for innovators to work together too – as we have seen in Cohort 1 – to offer collaborative solutions to the challenges the industry faces, and again the tram is an ideal demonstrator, so we are really grateful to UK Tram for donating it to BCIMO.”

James Hammett, Managing Director of UKTram, said: “As the trade body for light rail, we’re delighted to see Tram 16 transforming into a test vehicle for tram innovation, and the fantastic way it has been given a new lease of life. This collaboration ticks more boxes than we could have envisaged, for the Clean Futures programme, the BCIMO’s goals, and our vision for the wider light rail sector. We’re also looking forward to continuing our support for the BCIMO and its light rail innovation activity while playing a key part in the Clean Futures programme moving forward.”

Pete Buckingham, a former T69 driver, had this to say: “When I found out via UK Tram that Tram 16 was to be brought back to life as a test vehicle it was very welcome news, as since we at West Midlands Metro bid farewell to the T69 Fleet back in 2016 with me being the last driver to move one under power, no-one at our company expected that we would ever see a T69 Tram alive, ever again! It has been a pleasure to be able to offer assistance with the project too, as we retained a lot of paper and digital documentation which has been officially passed on to BCIMO to help the team understand the complexities of these vehicles, along with verbal assistance from our very own Technical Support Engineer Gavin Lloyd too. I look forward to further involvement with this project as it progresses, including driving it once again!”

A peek inside the workshop at the Very Light Rail Innovation Centre shows the progress being made on rubbing down the exterior of the tram ahead of the application of a new livery. (Photograph by Andy Walters)

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