Light rail trains will share Railtrack infrastructure with heavy traffic for the first time in spring 2002 when services start on a Sunderland and South Hylton extension to the Tyne & Wear Metro. An alliance including Skanska, Grant Rail, Alstom, Ove Arup and Balfour Beatty Rail Power is building the Sunderland Direct scheme.
Around 5km of new infrastructure and five new stations are being built with refurbishment of existing stations for the concessionaire, a partnership between Railtrack and Metro operator Nexus.
When the work is completed, Metro trains will use 13.5km of main line between Pelaw near Newcastle and a new junction south of Sunderland station.
This will connect with two new dedicated urban routes running east and west along the alignment of the former Sunderland to Durham line.
According to chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association Mike Taplin, mainline sharing, pioneered in Karlsruhe in southern Germany, is attracting a lot of interest due to the potential for greater integration of rail networks. But the railway inspectorate needs assurance there will no conflict between services or safety risk for passengers.
Sunderland Direct alliance manager Neil Simmons says the Metro system will use the Induci train protection warning system (TPWS) to stop trains automatically if drivers fail to respond to a warning klaxon when approaching a stop signal.
'The whole system will also use Positive Tram Identification, which will relay tram position to the Metro and Railtrack control centres, and a TPWS similar to Induci is being installed on the Railtrack infrastructure, ' says Simmons. 'Railtrack will control Metro train movements on its line to ensure there is no conflict and thorough testing will be carried out under the auspices of the inspectorate before the opening next year.'