Tyne & Wear Metro
Update 15 May 2002
As part of a Golden Jubilee trip to the region on May 7th. The Queen visited Park Lane Metro Station where she unveiled a plaque celebrating the inauguration of the Sunderland Metro. From the flagship Park Lane station, Her Majesty took the Royal Metro train, painted especially for the occasion, to a brand new station at Fellgate on South Tyneside.
To celebrate Nexus have commissioned two special gifts:
The first gift is a commemorative Golden Jubilee medal, complete with presentation box and a limited edition. It costs £7.50.
The other gift is a First Day Cover bearing a stamp from the special Golden Jubilee collection. It costs £4.00.
Nexus have also commissioned a First Day Cover to commemorate the first passenger service into Sunderland on 31 March 2002. This cover costs £4.50 and bears 5 steam locomotive stamps.
The special gifts are now on sale at any Nexus Travelshop.
Update 2 May 2002
The four Metro unions had accepted a revised pay offer which means that the industrial action planned during the Queen’s visit to Sunderland on May 7 has now been cancelled. The Queen will officially launch the £98m Sunderland Extension in her jubilee year, 20 years after opening the original Metro system.
Park Lane Metro station in central Sunderland opened as expected on the 28th April. The underground station, below the Park Lane public transport interchange, is the flagship station on the extension of the Metro, run by Nexus, to Sunderland. The light, airy station features modern passenger lifts to the concourse area which can easily accommodate wheelchair users and those with prams. The lifts are supplemented by an escalator from platform to concourse level. To aid passenger security a modern CCTV system is in place at Park Lane, with 43 cameras watching over passengers at all times. The multi-million pound state of the art station has proved incredibly popular with passengers according to Metro operators Nexus.
A groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the multi-million pound redevelopment of Gateshead’s public transport interchange was held on Tuesday (April 30, 2002). The interchange, which allows passengers to switch between bus and Metro, is to be redeveloped at a cost of GBP7.5m. Funding for the project has come from central Government through the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR). It will be the flagship project in a programme to redevelop the area of Gateshead town centre adjacent to the interchange, which will include redevelopment of the nearby shopping precinct. Work on the transport interchange will be done in four phases and is due to be completed in Autumn 2003.
Update 12 April 2002
The extension of the Tyne and Wear metro from Pelaw over Railtrack's metals to Sunderland and thence over the relaid line to South Hylton duly opened on Easter Day 31 March 2002. Park Lane station, under Sunderland's bus station was not sufficiently complete and will not open until 28 April, but everything else was ready. At many of the stations the fitting out with metro furnishings was not quite complete and many lack the laminated panels for the walls of shelters, but this did not prevent the stations opening for the new service. Nexus must be commended for how completely they have resigned the entire system to include mention of Sunderland and South Hylton on direction boards etc.
The new service operates approximately every ten minutes - there are slight variations due to the times of Railtrack workings. Services comprise two articulated metrocars and this represents a considerable increase in capacity over the former service. Arriva still run a half hourly fast service from Central Station to Sunderland and thence to Hartlepool or Teesside. The bi-hourly Transpennine service from Liverpool to Sunderland that was to be cut back to Newcastle continues to run though loads are light. The Metro service replaces Arriva's half hourly locals.
The volume of traffic originating at Sunderland is already much higher than that generated by the former service. The eastern of the two old island platforms has been widened and is used by all trains. The northern end is used by Arriva and the southern end by Nexus. A new entrance with a lift has been built at the northern end which means that the substantial pram traffic attracted by the Metro is at the wrong end of the station for the lift. Being totally covered over the station is inevitably something of a dark hole and a great deal more is needed to make it in any way attractive. Fellgate, the first new stop east from Pelaw, is an immediate success with steady traffic all day long. St Peter's in contrast is extremely quiet so far - perhaps BR's decision years ago to close adjacent Monwearmouth was justifiable after all! On the reopened section of the Durham branch, University is building up useful traffic and South Hylton is surprisingly busy. A nearby school is producing substantial traffic. Pallion is quite busy at peak hours but is quiet so far off peak.
The South Hylton services are already overcrowded significantly at busy times - not just the rush hour - and the question of three car trains is already being mentioned. The platforms at all of the new stations can be lengthened to take three cars easily, as can all the stations on the pre-existing parts of the system. The extension is off to a great start and there is so much potential for further growth when new car parks become fully used, and communities rediscover a convenient frequent service on their doorsteps.
Iain D.O. Frew. 11 April 2002.
Update 10 January 2002
In September 2001 a visionary plan for the future of public transport in Tyne and Wear was unveiled by Nexus.
Called 'Towards 2016', the draft plan has been developed to address the changing public transport requirements and to improve the quality of life for everyone by making it easier to live without the car. The key of 'Towards 2016' is the Orpheus Project, which would link in a series of road running trams to the Metro system across Tyne and Wear. These trams would create a comprehensive transport infrastructure which would give Metro access to half the people of Tyne and Wear.
It is also planned to improve the quality of the bus services and to add more stations to the rail network with more frequent local and inter-city services.
The 'Towards 2016' document can be downloaded from www.nexus.org.uk/pdf/Towards%202016.pdf but note that it is a large file (approx10Mb). It can also be purchased from Nexus for £15. The light rail section can be found on pages 25 - 28.
Although some routes are planned be built as tram routes initially and run in part on existing track it is intended that some (such as the Stephenson routes (5 & 6)) will be built as bus routes for conversion to tram at a later stage. It is expected that the Orpheus project would commence in 2008 and be completed by 2015.
Other rail items include Metrocar refurbishment (2002), a number of new stations and track dualling in South Tyneside (2005).
In addition to the above plans funding of £7.625m has been agreed for the refurbishment of Four Lane Ends Metro Interchange in North Tyneside. This will include an extension to the popular Park and Ride car park facility, with spaces for 430 cars in a planned multi-storey (four stories) car park facility on the site of the existing car park. The latest technology will be used to provide passenger information on Metro train and bus times, while a state of the art CCTV system will ensure passenger security. Access for passengers arriving at the Interchange on foot will also be improved. Passengers using the Interchange will find themselves in the comfortable surroundings of a fully enclosed glazed concourse, which will be built around the northern end of the Interchange.
The funding has been approved under the Government’s 10-Year Plan for Local Transport and work on the Interchange should be completed in time for a planned opening in 2004.
Note: The Sunderland extension is due to open on the 31st March 2002.
Update 6 April 2001
A visit on 2 April showed that there had been considerable progress with the task of upgrading the Railtrack line to be used by the Nexus Metro. At Pelaw major earthworks for the connections between the existing Metro tracks and the Railtrack lines had been completed and point work plus a short length of track had been laid at the Sunderland end of the links. A bridge over the Leamside branch tracks was to be rolled into place during two weekends in early April. From Pelaw much of the way to Brockley Whins mast foundations have been dug and about half of the masts erected. Site clearance work has been undertaken for the new station at Fellgate while at Brockley Whins a new platform for Newcastle direction traffic has been built opposite the Sunderland platform though until access pathways have been completed the old platform some distance down the line towards Newcastle will remain in use. Parts of the platforms at East Boldon and Seaburn have been demolished and a start made to build new platforms, and provide a long ramp to the Sunderland platform at Seaburn. Little has been done at the site of the new Stadium of Light station but St Peter's station was in use during parts of March and April. The four trains per hour local service from Newcastle has terminated at the Sunderland platform of St Peter's, leaving from the same platform to return to Newcastle. A short flight of steps leads down to the street where shuttle buses were provided for passengers heading for Sunderland city centre although many appeared to prefer to walk across the Wear bridge instead. St Peter's is immediately beyond the old Monkwearmouth station whose historic building houses a railway museum and whose platforms survive though appear to have a very substandard height today. The truncation of the Sunderland service to St Peter's was because of work in the tunnel immediately south of the Wear leading to Sunderland station. The roof of the tunnel required repair and the track has been lowered slightly to provide sufficient headroom for the overhead wires.
Iain D.O. Frew April 2001.
Update 21 October 2000
Work is progressing along almost all of the route and it is obvious that the work is being handled with great enthusiasm and a determination that the extension to the metro will open on time. At Pelaw work on the earthworks for the link lines passing down from the South Shields tracks to the Railtrack metals was more or less complete. The embankment walls were being consolidated and they appear to be relatively steep. Nearing the Fellgate area one overbridge was being rebuilt but work had still to start on the construction of Fellgate station although some tree clearing at the site had been done. A considerable construction site was in place immediately south of Brockley Whins station though the halt remained a prime example of the unattractive railway halt! A lot of earth was being moved to produce a level site which may be a new car park. At East Boldon the platforms were being extended at the Newcastle end while parts will be abandoned at the Sunderland end.
Half a mile north of Seaburn station a substantial bridge is being reconstructed with a new concrete deck now in place. At Seaburn itself both the footbridge and adjacent road bridge are being rebuilt to give additional headroom.
Monkwearmouth station, now a museum, survives but the rather low and uneven platforms will not see further use. The new station at St Peters lies immediately south of Monkwearmouth platforms in a tight site with the bridge over the River Wear immediately to the south. The platforms, access stairways, and shelter around the top of the stairs were well on the way to completion. This station will become the southern terminus of services from Newcastle early in 2001 when the short section of line over the Wear and through the tunnel into Sunderland station is closed to allow upgrading of the structure. St Peters will close again when this section reopens but will open as part of the metro when electric services commence.
Sunderland station is a bleak and dark hole though remarkably busy. The western half, long disused, is now fenced off with blue plastic netting and some materials for the imminent work are lying on the disused western island platform. The initial part of the old line to South Hylton (and Durham) is still used by dmus (diesel multiple units) working through from Leeds and Liverpool. Beyond this surviving track the deep cutting through the town centre has been filled in for several years and part has now been excavated particularly beside the town bus station where there will be a metro stop. Beyond this initial section the route has been cleared of vegetation and where appropriate of fill-in material. However in the Pallion area the decision has been taken to abandon the original right of way which includes the old Pallion station, and build instead a new route slightly to the north incorporating former industrial trackage. A new bridge is being built over the new route close to Pallion and the new route will avoid the need to undertake work close to a very busy road junction. Beyond the Pallion area the route passes through Clazheugh Cutting which is now cleared of the substantial amount of vegetation which had filled it. Construction lorries are now being driven through the cutting towards an underbridge at present being built a little short of the South Hylton terminus. The halt at South Hylton will be on the east side of the former level crossing over Hylton Bank rather than on the west side where the original station stood. This of course does away with the need for a level crossing at the point. If the route is ever extended west towards Washington either a level crossing will be required, or (more likely) the line will be reconstructed and taken over Hylton Bank on a bridge.
Iain D.O. Frew 21 October 2000.
Update October 2000
Work on the Sunderland Direct project has got under way very speedily with projects being tackled along the full length of the new route. Civil engineering work for the new connections between the metro and Railtrack at Pelaw were tackled during September and October and this necessitated the replacement by buses of metro services between Gateshead and South Shields, and of trains between Newcastle and Sunderland on Sunday to Thursday evenings from 2030,and Sunday mornings before 1000 throughout September and the first week of October. The works have involved digging a deep cutting for the "to Sunderland" link line but less movement of earth was necessary for the "to Newcastle" link line.
Tesco have built what they claim to be the largest hypermarket in the north east beside Kingston Park station and alternate name boards along the platform have been altered to read "Tesco Extra" instead of the station name. The car park on the north side of the track has at last taken off and was over 80% full on 2nd October. Callerton Parkway car park is also very well used but the small facility beside Bankfoot station is no longer shown on publicity although it is still used by 1 - 2 dozen cars each day.
Traffic along the St James - Wallsend - North Shields section is picking up after several years of being worryingly sparse off peak. Large new housing developments at Hadrian Road and Percy Main have contributed to the revival.
Iain D.O. Frew.
Update June 2000
With the confirmation of Government funding in January, Nexus commenced work on the Metro extension from Pelaw to Sunderland (over active Railtrack tracks) and onwards through the suburbs of the new city over the track bed of the abandoned Durham branch to South Hylton. There is a very tight timescale since civil engineering work is to be completed during the summer of 2001 and public services are expected to commence on 13 January 2002.
The scheme falls naturally into two parts - Pelaw to Sunderland, and Sunderland to South Hylton. Railtrack will be responsible for the upgrading of the track on the first segment and this will be used by a mixture of heavy and lighter rail vehicles.The TWPS warning system will be fitted along this first section. Nexus will have six paths per hour each way for metro trains. Railtrack will have three paths per hour for longer distance dmu worked heavy rail trains. Several freight services will operate over the section each day. The track connection from the existing metro services at Pelaw will be by means of a flying junction from the South Shields tracks ensuring that there is no conflict with the anticipated heavy freight traffic expected from the soon to be reopened Leamside route. Metro trains will call at the existing stations, Brockley Whins, East Boldon, and Seaburn, all of which will be upgraded and will then resemble the stops on earlier metro routes. Additional stops will be provided at Fellgate (an extensive housing area which has been crying out for a station for literally decades), Stadium of Light (close to the new Sunderland FC ground - the architecture here will reflect the style of the new stadium) - and St Peter's (adjacent to the former Monkwearmouth stop which is now a museum).
Sunderland station is a special case. At present the underground facility is dark and spooky. There are two island platforms, the western of the pair being out of use and unlit. The station will be rebuilt with a single much wider island platform, and the lighting will be greatly improved. Lifts and possibly escalators will take passengers to a greatly improved concourse and the surface building will be replaced by a much more stylish structure.
In mid June the most obvious signs of activity were the reconstruction of a major overbridge at Seaburn to give clearance for the overhead wires, and the erection of scaffolding within Sunderland station allowing repair work to the roof girders to be undertaken.
On the second section there was great activity in June. The right of way had not been built over to any significant degree but a footpath/cyclepath ran along parts near the University, material had been dumped over the trackbed at various locations to raise the level, and dense vegetation occupied the deep cutting beyond Pallion. One underbridge had been filled in but the structure of the bridge remained intact. Virtually the entire route had been cleared, and the dumped materials removed by June 2000. A description of what is now to be done along the second segment follows.
The route leaves the Railtrack tracks just south of Sunderland station and the first stop is to be atPark Lane, immediately underneath the city's bus station, thus ensuring excellent coordination of services. Work has begun on the foundations of this station. The route enters a shallow cutting past the University where there will be a key stop. A graceful footbridge will cross the line at this point taking people to the University, and the cyclepath is to be reconstructed alongside the Nexus tracks rather as has happened with Midland Metro. A considerable amount of earth moving has been completed here but work has not yet commenced on the station itself. Millfield will be in a densely populated inner suburb and handy connections will be possible with the bus services. The station will be in a deep cutting which has been cleared of dumped earth, and vegetation. The track bed then rises on to an embankment coming quite close to the Wear and Pallion station will be high up above a newish industrial area (in which the extension offices are located) though some housing is also nearby. A new road has eroded the embankment to some extent so a retaining wall is being built. Various services are being moved including a major gas main. Beyond Pallion the line enters a deep rock cutting - almost a canyon in places - which had been full of trees and shrubs. These have all been cleared and the track bed seems to be in pretty good condition. Eventually the route reaches South Hylton, where a single platform terminus will suffice. The community is not large but this will be a key park and ride facility for many workers seeking an alternative way to reach the heart of Sunderland without using the jam packed roads.
What will it cost? The total cost will be just £98m of which Railtrack will provide £40.4m. The Government grant is £35m, Nexus is spending £4m, and the remainder comes from the EU. The cost has been kept low because no additional rolling stock is required. Thanks (?) to the policies of an earlier Government the excellent bus: Metro integration of early years was broken up and traffic on the Metro fell. This has produced a surplus of rolling stock which was taken up partly by the Airport extension. When the South Hylton route is open, 90% of the fleet will require to be in service every day. The rolling stock is at present receiving a mid life refurbishment which will give it a further 10-15 years useful life.
The car park at Heworth is one of metro's success stories and is shortly to be enlarged again to meet growing use. Traffic here is expected to rise further once the metro runs to Sunderland. In the northern suburbs the car parks see poorer use. At Kingston Park the car park is busy only on Saturdays or during school holidays but some regular travellers prefer the Supermarket car park on the other side of the tracks and do shopping on their way home from work. Callerton Parkway park has modest use on weekdays but is again busy on Saturdays and during school holidays. An explanation for this varying use is that parents take their children to school, and are then far from a station so drive into work in the city centre. When the school run is not needed they head for the metro car park instead.
Iain D.O. Frew
24 June 2000.
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