Midway through phase two of the £350 million Metro reinvigoration programme, Nexus continues to significantly enhance public transportation for passengers in the North East
Nexus is the trading name of the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive (PTE), a public body that plans and provides local public transport in and around the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, along with the districts of Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside. Unusually among the six PTEs in England, Nexus directly owns and manages the local light rail network, the Tyne and Wear Metro. Opened in stages from 1980, Metro is the busiest light rail system in the UK outside London, thanks to a network of 78km, which has 60 stations and is served by more than 450 train services a day.
Previously featured in Railway Strategies in June 2015, Nexus has continued with its £350 million Metro regeneration programme and is now halfway through phase two, as Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director for Transport Operations at Nexus, comments: “Our current arrangement with the Government has seen over £250 million invested since 2010, out of a total £350 million programme that is to be delivered through to 2021. We are preparing a business case to obtain funding for a further 15-year period, which will continue to be based on asset condition, as it has been throughout the renewal programme so far.”
The company has also enjoyed record passenger numbers over the last 12 months, with 40 million journeys reached for the first time in five years; a record number buoyed by the fact Newcastle was a host city for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the delivery of the North East Smart Ticketing Initiative (NESTI). “The numbers of passengers using Pop for Pay As You Go journeys is growing rapidly and we are now looking ahead to the next generation of smart ticketing, which is being developed through our participation in Transport for the North. There is no question that passengers have an enormous appetite for smart ticketing and the benefits it brings them, such as ease of paying for travel and the access of public transport. It is really flexible and saves people huge amounts of time.”
Discussing other developments that have taken place for the busy integrated public transport provider, Tobyn continues: “Alongside this growth, the new Northern and TransPennine rail franchises began in April 2016, heralding a new era of growth in, and devolution of, our local rail services.
“Regional devolution has the potential to deliver a great deal for northern city regions, with new powers and a greater say in transport spending on the table. The importance of investing in a new fleet of trains for the Tyne and Wear Metro has been underlined by the devolution deal, which highlights this project as a key priority for the North East England.”
Constructed in the late 1970s, the 90-car strong fleet used by the Tyne and Wear Metro is close to life expiration, with many components already life-expired, an issue that is resulting in a highly unstable operating environment as train failures lead to delays and trains being withdrawn from service. Because of this, Nexus has prepared an outline business case for investment into a new train fleet that will be presented to the Government in 2016, with a target date for the introduction of a new fleet set for the early 2020s.
“The cost of a fleet capable of replicating the current timetable is estimated to be in the region of £300 million,” says Tobyn. “An associated upgrade to the signalling system may cost an additional £100 million, while updated depot facilities could cost around £50 million and upgrades to the electrification equipment could add an further £100 million. Therefore, the total cost of a new fleet could be around £550 million. The rolling stock specification will focus on providing a new fleet of Metro cars that will provide a step change in customer experience and be future-proofed to provide reliable and affordable Metro services for the next 30 years. In order to achieve our policy objectives we must achieve high levels of reliability and comfort in order to build passenger satisfaction with the system; we will also aim to reduce Metro’s carbon footprint.”
The company will also future-proof the fleet for future developments, including specifying dual voltage to allow for running on lines electrified to Network Rail’s UK standard, non-electric variants to allow for running on non-electrified lines and the ability to procure additional vehicles to support route extensions. “However, given the Metro system’s reliance on public subsidy and, because of the important role Metro plays in underpinning the local economy our desire to maintain fares at affordable levels, we also need to keep on-going operating costs to a minimum and deliver value for money,” says Tobyn.
With the Metro operating a concession agreement that was signed with DB Regio in 2010 coming to an end in 2017, Nexus will soon be directly managing Metro operations for the following two years. In line with this development, Nexus is designing a new, different Metro operations contract that will be designed around the procurement and maintenance of new rolling stock, which is to begin in 2019. Looking to the future goals for Nexus and transportation in the North East, Tobyn concludes: “We believe that existing and disused local rail corridors can be combined with the Metro network to create a single Metro and local rail network, at a lower cost than new-build railways. However, the immediate focus is to secure funding for new trains, which means we need to make a strong case for Government money.”