A modern mode of transport

Having celebrated a productive and prosperous year in 2017, Nexus has begun 2018 in much the same way, delivering better public transport services to the Tyne and Wear area

2017 was a milestone year for Tyne and Wear Metro,” declares Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director for Transport Operations at Nexus – the integrated public transport provider for North East England. “It was last year that we successfully secured £337 million in Government funding towards our £362 million project to replace the original 1980 train fleet. This came after a sustained Nex 149 bcampaign by both ourselves and businesses in the region that recognise the vital role Metro plays in the economy. At the same time, we also continue to move forward with our ‘Metro: all change’ infrastructure modernisation programme, investing around £30 million in projects, from track and bridge renewal to overhead line replacement works.”

Nexus worked particularly closely alongside the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to show Government ministers that business views Metro as being an essential contributor to the local economy, to reducing congestion and increasing the labour market. “We had more than 100 major businesses, including household names like Intu, Greggs, Stagecoach and Formica speaking on our behalf,” Tobyn continues. “Ultimately, however, our case was based on hard numbers. We were able to show a benefit to cost ratio of 3.55 to one from replacing the fleet, which is much higher than some flagship rail infrastructure projects elsewhere in the UK.”

Central to Nexus’ fleet replacement plan is the search for a supplier to design, build and maintain a new fleet from a rebuilt depot at Gosforth, Newcastle. The direct grant support from the Government represents 93 per cent of the estimated cost of fleet and depot replacement, with Nexus having local provision in place to meet the remainder. The invitation to tender is due to be issued in May 2018, and it expects to award before the end of 2019, with the first trains delivered from the end of 2021.

“We are replacing trains built for Metro in the 1970s, but based on a 1960s design, so it is impossible to overstate the difference we expect to see in terms of performance, reliability and the passenger environment,” Tobyn states. “These trains will be built specifically for Metro, so we want to see design and innovation that will stand the test of time, in the years ahead. The people of North East England place enormous pride in Metro and will have high expectations of what we, and our supplier, will deliver.”

When it comes to the Metro: all change programme, two of the main focal points of the work will centre on infrastructure and on the refurbishment of stations. “Last year we began the replacement of overhead line across 60 kilometres of Nexus infrastructure and this will continue for the next few years in a project worth more than £20 million,” Tobyn explains. “This is an example of where our Capital Delivery Team have won the work, with specially trained staff, providing us with better value than we get from a very pressurised and complex market for this kind of work.”

The refurbishment of the network’s stations, meanwhile, sees Nexus working to bring them up to modern standards of accessibility and to improve their respective lighting, information and general appearance. “We have refurbished more than half of Metro’s 60 stations since 2010, and this year’s project is a continuation of that,” Tobyn says. “In 2018, we will be refurbishing three stations in the North Tyneside area that date from the 1880s to the 1930s, each of very different character and architecture. It is a challenge to reflect the heritage of the stations and the aspirations of the communities around them, while presenting a modern travel environment. I am particularly pleased that this £700,000 project has been designed in-house and will be delivered by our Capital Delivery Team, following a best value test.

“During the course of this year we will also be building and kitting-out a completely new, £100 million station at South Shields, a location that is not only the terminus of one Metro line, but also the gateway to a major town centre which itself is going through major redevelopment. We have worked closely with the local council and a large developer to fund a scheme, which will see a new transport interchange replace the existing Metro station, which will also be a hub for local bus services. This ambitious scheme will be a cornerstone of the new retail core of the town and will make transfer from bus to Metro seamless on what is one of our busiest commuter and leisure routes.”

As well as the economic contribution that Metro makes by carrying people around the region, it is also a significant employer in the railway engineering sector, with more than 1000 people working for it across operations, infrastructure and support functions. “Our new £8.4 million training centre is funded through the Local Growth Fund and will be built by Galliford Try over existing sidings in South Shields,” Tobyn reveals. “It will provide a new, single centre for excellence for all our future training and development needs, bringing together activities currently spread over a number of sites.

“Training could not be more important as we manage our own competency framework and seek to develop staff throughout their careers. We are proud to say that the backbone of our senior rail managers started as apprentices, and we want that tradition to continue. Investing in people also makes sound business sense, particularly when you look at the projects our in-house Capacity Nex 149 cDelivery Team are delivering and the estimated savings they are making, and gives us a skilled and versatile workforce upon whom we can rely.”

Having taken the delivery of Metro services in-house in April 2017, Nexus wasted no time in conducting a thorough review to identify where it could improve. In a matter of weeks, important steps such as the introduction of on-train cleaners, the freeing up of customer service managers to appear at unstaffed stations and the appointment of a new security manager had taken place, while a major training programme for all of its frontline staff last summer has been rewarded with a significant improvement in customer satisfaction levels. These efforts also resulted in Metro being ‘Highly Commended’ in the Operator of the Year category at the UK Rail Business Awards. As Tobyn goes on to conclude, 2018 has already brought, and will continue to bring, a number of exciting developments for Nexus, Metro and the travelling public. “This year we introduced Pop Blue, a smart card for 16-18 year olds, which reduces a single journey to £1 and all-day travel to £2, introducing a new generation to Metro travel. At the same t me, we have also increased the discount regular Pop Pay As You Go users get on day tickets to 40p, freezing the price of travel for people with the smart card.

“Alongside such new incentives, we have also begun to set some ticket machines to be card only, starting at the key gateway of Newcastle Central Station. Most ticket machine transactions are now by card, and the number by contactless has risen from 48 per cent to 68 per cent in the last 12 months. We are promoting this because i t is quicker and more secure for our customers, and is another way that we are working to improve the overall experience of travelling with Metro.”