Freight trains could share tracks with trams

A JOINT study by West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, Centro and Network Rail into sharing the planned extension of the Midlands Metro tram system with freight trains is showing positive results.

Proposals are to utilise innovative European technology to eliminate the need for a separate freight line alongside the new Wednesbury to Brierley Hill tram tracks, saving millions of pounds – some 20 per cent – of construction costs, and opening the possibility of further extension of Metro to Stourbridge and Stourbridge Junction.

A number of cities in Germany, France and Holland already operate such track sharing schemes successfully.

Detailed studies are continuing into the concept, and consultants are putting together fresh costings. These will then be used to update the outline business case seeking government funding for the extension. Centro is continuing to work closely with regional partners to explore ways in which this could be supplemented through a range of local funding initiatives.

Freight operator EWS is interested in taking the project forward and is keen to participate in the next stage of the study due to begin this month.

Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip said: “Track sharing will speed up the delivery of the Midland Metro extension by reducing the capital costs and making it more affordable. It’s an exciting concept and we’re delighted that Network Rail and EWS share our view.”

A recent independent study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research found that proposed Metro extensions through Birmingham city centre and from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill could create up to 5.300 sustainable new jobs and boost the region’s economy by an extra £178 million a year.

It concluded that the extensions would bring significant and lasting economic benefits and that the boost to the economy would recoup costs within three years.

- A Transport and Works Order is being sought to allow work to begin on Midland Metro’s proposed Wolverhampton City Centre Metro loop extension.

The loop, which will link the existing St George’s terminus to the new £140 million Wolverhampton rail and bus interchange, is planned to run via Princess Street, Lichfield Street and Pipers Row, with a spur from Lichfield Street to the station and on through to Sun Street.

The existing route between Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton is set to benefit from a fleet of new replacement trams by 2012, enabling frequency to be stepped up to six-minute intervals and improving reliability, as well as meeting a predicted demand of eight million passengers a year – three million more than at present.

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