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Trams back in business

The first tracks of a street-running extension of the Midland Metro have been laid in the centre of Birmingham - 60 years after the last tram ran onthe city’s streets.

On track

On track: Balfour Beatty has a £20M contract to install tracks and overhead lines in the centre of Birmingham

It is 15 years since Line One of the Midland Metro light rail system opened, running on dedicated tracks between Wolverhampton and Birmingham Snow Hill. Now an extension is being built that will reintroduce street-running trams to Birmingham for the first time in 60 years, linking the city’s Snow Hill and New Street stations via 1.5km of track through the central business district.

Balfour Beatty has a £20M design and build contract with West Midlands integrated transport authority Centro for the new tram route. It is part of a £120M upgrade project that also includes alterations to the existing Line One, a new 20-strong fleet of larger trams with modern information systems (due to be introduced in June 2014), and an extension and upgrade of the tram depot at Wednesbury, which is being carried out by Morgan Sindall.

Once the work is complete and the city centre route opens in 2015, the frequency of services will change from eight to six minutes.

We must work towards linking to High Speed 2, and we want to tie in with business districts, the airport and Jaguar Land Rover’s site to the east

On the new section, trams will use ballasted track out of Snow Hill onto track slab over the Great Charles Street bridge, which takes the tram extension over the A38 Queensway. There is then a 200m section of grass track leading into the business district, followed by an on-street section of embedded track interfacing with pedestrians and vehicles along Colmore Row, Corporation Street and New Street.

“We have been working on the design of the extension for about a year now, and we are still completing some elements,” says Balfour Beatty project director John Daft.

“Within the street-running sections, we are replacing everything from building to building. This is a light rail and public realm project, including replacement of street lighting, furniture and paving; removing clutter; and improving the environment and public space.”

Overhead power lines are being suspended from buildings wherever possible, and kerb upstands will be reduced to 50mm as part of designs intended to create a feeling of open plan that encourages pedestrian use.

Traffic will be restricted to access only within Corporation Street, which was previously a main bus route.

We have aspirations for further Metro line extensions to Walsall and the Black Country

This is one of the changes being made to Birmingham’s bus routes as part of the tram extension project, which will also see buses removed from the city’s central business district, as well as the creation of five bus hubs linked by ring route services.

Further expansion is planned for the Midland Metro. According to Centro Metro programme director Paul Griffiths, funding has been secured for a route from New Street to Centenary Square and Symphony Hall, with completion scheduled for 2018.

Centro is also working with development partner Neptune on a project at the other end of the line to build a commercial development that includes extending the Metro on a street-running route between Wolverhampton’s rail and bus stations.

“We have aspirations for further Metro line extensions to Walsall and the Black Country,” Griffiths says.

“We must also work towards linking to High Speed 2, and we want to tie in with business districts, the airport and Jaguar Land Rover’s site on the east side of the city.

“All of this is in our masterplan, but at the moment we are focusing on getting everyone interested and used to using a modernised Metro system.”

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