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News from the UK Rail Industry 28th March 2019

Posted by: Warren Drobac
Industry News

£450 million Midland Metro extension gets the go-ahead

Funds have been secured for the long-awaited new metro line connecting Dudley, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

The new scheme is expected to trigger 2,000 new homes a year, almost one million square feet of prime commercial space and 34,000 permanent jobs.

The original predicted cost of the project was £370m but the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has now approved an extra £80m, bringing the total spend to £450m. City leaders believe an increase in the number of people paying council tax from the extra new homes that could be built will bring in £580m over the next few years.

Transport in the area is currently dominated by bus travel but the 11km line will result in 17 new stops and a reduction of journey time of up to half.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “We’re investing billions in public transport networks to bring the communities of the West Midlands closer together. The Wednesbury to Brierley Hill line will be a true game-changer, bringing huge benefits to this part of the Black Country and acting as a catalyst for new housing, jobs and leisure opportunities.”

Roger Lawrence, portfolio holder for transport at the WMCA, added: “This will be the biggest light rail scheme in the UK when work starts, and is a scheme which has been talked about for a long time now. I am delighted the funding for this scheme has been approved by WMCA so work can get started, and the people of Dudley and the wider Black Country can enjoy better public transport links into the rest of the West Midlands, along with the new visitors and opportunities it will bring to their area.”

The Wednesbury to Brierley Hill route is being planned, designed and delivered by the Midland Metro Alliance, on behalf of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the WMCA and is expected to get off the ground later this year. Full story.

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Network Rail invest in the North

The north is set to benefit from a multi-million-pound investment from Network Rail, who are planning to improve stations across Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

As part of a larger £15m investment, £1.38m of upgrades will be carried out between now and late spring 2019 at Wilmslow, Wigan Wallgate, St Helens Central, Glossop, Cheadle Hulme and Heaton Chapel stations.

Upgrades include track monitoring, improved seating and waiting areas, new customer information screens and refurbished toilet facilities.

Anna-Jane Hunter, director for the North of England at Network Rail, said: “We are making improvements to station facilities, together with our railway industry partners, at well-used stations to help improve passengers’ experience. This investment will provide vital upgrades to key stations in Greater Manchester and Merseyside that passengers’ want and rightly deserve.”

Rail Minister Andrew Jones said: “It is fantastic to see Network Rail delivering more modern stations for passengers. This comes alongside our record £48bn investment to modernise the railway.”

The £15m project is being delivered by Network Rail, Northern and TransPennine Express at stations across the north. Full story.

Battery-powered trains that charge on the go

Hitachi are in discussions to run a Class 385 variant which uses underfloor batteries to generate power. New technology may see the batteries charged whilst under the wires or whilst stationary at the end of the route.

At a recent presentation given to the IMechE Railway Division, Hitachi explained that it would be relatively straightforward to fit batteries under a Class 385 to enable it to travel for 20 miles beyond the wires under battery power. Hitachi even suggested that the range could be tripled to 60 miles with sufficient battery modifications. 

The idea comes from Japan, where Dual Energy Charge Trains (DENCHA) operate both on battery power and under the wires. On non-electrified lines they can run for up to 25 miles without recharging.

A call for more environmentally-friendly modes of transport means developers and manufacturers are always looking for new ways to reduce their carbon footprint and battery powered trains could be a key path to success.

Hitachi’s proposal to operate battery trains is at an early stage. However, with their use being recommended by the rail decarbonisation task force, it may not be long before battery trains are operating. Full story.

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