All for one and one for all

With the social and economic regeneration of the West Midlands at its heart, the partner companies that make up the Midland Metro Alliance share a full commitment to delivering the best light rail outcome for the travelling public and the local community

For decades now, successive governments have been accused of failing to deliver the same amount of economic growth and prosperity that is enjoyed by London and parts of the south of the UK when compared to cities and communities in the northern half of the country. While countless initiatives have come and gone with varied degrees of success, the flagship project for the current MMA 147 bpolitical establishment is the construction of the High Speed 2 (HS2) railway.

As most will be aware, Phase One of the multi-billionpound development, connecting London to the West Midlands, was granted Royal Assent in February 2017, kick starting a range of preparatory works. This event has shone the rail industry spotlight back upon the West Midlands, a part of the UK with a long public transport legacy, dating back to the trams that ran through Birmingham in 1872. Today, this legacy continues in the form of the Midland Metro, a tram line operating between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, via West Bromwich and Wednesbury.

With the arrival of HS2 on the horizon, Midland Metro currently finds itself in the throes of an intense modernisation drive, one which is being led by the Midland Metro Alliance, a team of planning, design and construction specialists responsible for building a number of new tram extensions over the next decade, expanding the network by approximately 32 kilometres. Backed by a total project budget of £1.34 billion, the partners comprising the alliance are the West Midlands Combined Authority, the design consortium of Egis, Tony Gee and Pell Frischmann, and contractor Colas Rail, supported by its sub-alliance partners of Colas Limited, Barhale, Bouygues UK and Auctus Management Group.

“The partner companies that have been brought together to form the Midland Metro Alliance each possess specialist skills and disciplines, which when brought together makes us better able to deliver our remit, which is to take best practice from past projects and across the globe to facilitate social and economic regeneration across the region,” begins Midland Metro Alliance Director, Alejandro Moreno. “By collectively embracing a single vision and a set of core values our aim is to deliver a modern, quality integrated transport system for the future through a portfolio of six tram extension projects in East and West Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Dudley and Sandwell.

“The key to all of this is connectivity. By driving forward public transport improvements in the in the West Midlands to reduce journey times, improve punctuality and introduce a more environmentally friendly light rail infrastructure, we will be helping to bring huge benefits to the region, its communities and visitors.”

A particular passion of Midland Metro Alliance, and indeed the companies that make up the alliance, is social responsibility, especially when it comes to the development of local employment and skills. At the heart of this is its commitment to creating a trained, enthusiastic and committed workforce to meets its resource plans over the next ten years.

“One of the things that I am most passionate about is engaging with people who are not currently working, especially young people,” states Rose Rees, Midland Metro Alliance’s Training and MMA 147 cDevelopment Manager. “One of the issues we have in the West Midlands is that we suffer from high pockets of unemployed young people, many of which come from deprived areas. Our aim is to meet this challenge head on by building a sustainable workforce using local labour. To do this we have partnered with four local colleges, Dudley College, City of Wolverhampton College, Birmingham Metropolitan College and Solihull College, to deliver a bespoke, six-week Sector Based Work Academy (SBWA) in light rail.”

For the delivery of its projects, the Midland Metro Alliance requires specific skills, including mandatory accredited qualifications such as Construction Skills Certificate Scheme (CSCS) cards, excellent customer service skills for working in an urban environment, and practical skills in areas like concreting and carpentry. The SBWA offers candidates an opportunity to achieve accredited qualifications, develop personal skills and gain practical experience in key competencies needed to begin a career in the light rail sector.

“Of the 56 candidates to start the programme, 50 completed the process, all of whom then received formal interviews by panel, with each alliance partner represented, and all participated in group celebrations of success where the Project Director and college principles issued certificates,” Rose continues. “Twentysix candidates have since been offered and accepted roles within Midland Metro Alliance, which has greatly exceeded even our own expectations at this early stage.”

With this initial success under her belt, Rose hopes to use it as an example to encourage more employers in the rail, construction and infrastructure sectors to engage with young people and local colleges, universities and institutions, in order to make the most of local resources. “The average age in construction and rail is 45 years old, meaning that you have missed almost two generations of young people who could have forged successful careers in these industries,” she adds. “Collectively, we need to be taking a much more proactive approach towards the need to redress the aging workforce in the sector. This requires us to find ways of future proofing businesses and one of the ways of doing so is to proactively publicise the amazing breadth and wealth of opportunities that exist within rail, especially those that will be connected with the construction, delivery and operating of HS2 over the coming decades.”

Working in the West Midlands over the next decade, the Midland Metro Alliance is keen to leave behind more than just new tramways, rather it also wants to leave behind a legacy of knowledgeable light rail and construction experts that can export their skills to projects around the world.

“In the immediate future, by which I mean over the next 12 months, we expect to be extremely busy indeed as we work towards completing some of our schemes ahead of time and within budget,” Alejandro reveals.“The months ahead will also see the alliance focusing more of its efforts on what it will need to be doing post- 2020 in terms of preparing the network for the arrival of HS2. This work will involve a great deal of innovation and ingenuity as we identify new technologies and techniques that will allow our nine partner companies to get the most out of their operations. What we believe this will do is assist the Midland Metro Alliance in providing the West Midlands with not just the infrastructure it requires, but also a head start when it comes to innovation. Coupled with the talent bank we want to help create, we feel this will give the people of the region the light rail network their future needs and deserves.”

To find out more about the Midland Metro Alliance and its projects in the West Midlands, visit www.metroalliance.co.uk