THE concession to operate trams in Birmingham and Wolverhampton will not be awarded again when the present contract with National Express Group ends in October next year.
Instead, control of Midland Metro will pass to Transport for West Midlands, which said the change to public control will save taxpayers ‘millions of pounds’, especially as the system is planned to triple in size over the next decade, boosting passenger figures from the present annual total of 6.5 million to a predicted 30 million or more.
The change will also mark the exit of National Express from any form of rail transport in Britain, because the Group sold its last heavy rail franchise c2c to the Italian operator Trenitalia earlier this year. However, NXG will still be running trains in Germany.
TfWM said profits were expected to reach £50 million over the first 11 years of direct control, which TfWM’s parent the West Midlands Combined Authority ‘will be able to channel back into the network for the benefit of passengers and the local economy’.
The WMCA board was told that if it decided to continue outsourcing tram services from October next year then the tendering process alone to appoint a private operator would cost taxpayers several million pounds.
TfWM managing director Laura Shoaf said: “The end of the existing concession provides us with an ideal opportunity to change the way we operate services to better meet the needs of passengers, the wider community and ultimately the economy.
“If we didn’t do this and instead outsourced operations to a private company at a time of such major expansion then it would be extremely difficult to accurately define the scope of services required from the operator.
“That would lead to continuous and expensive commercial negotiations to agree the price for the delivery of those network changes.”
Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: “Metro is a fundamental part of our future plans not only for transport but for the West Midlands economy as a whole.
“It is a proven catalyst for economic growth and is critical to best connect and feed into HS2 so we can reap the maximum economic benefits possible from the high speed rail line.
“That’s why Metro is embarking on an unprecedented period of expansion and we believe bringing services in house will provide the extra flexibility and adaptability needed to meet this exciting new chapter while generating millions of pounds for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers.
“I’d like to thank all National Express staff for operating the Midland Metro for the last 18 years. Through their hard work and dedication, tram passenger numbers have grown significantly and they have been nationally recognised for the high level of customer service they provide.”
National Express Midland Metro general manager Colin Saward said: “It’s disappointing we won’t get the chance to run the tram service when our current contract is up next year. But we appreciate TfWM’s reasons for taking services back in house when the network is about to change so much.
“We will continue to work closely with TfWM to ensure a safe handover that is as smooth as possible for passengers and staff.”
The change to public control is not the first on a British tram network in recent years. The 99-year London Tramlink concession was bought from Tramtrack Croydon Ltd by Transport for London in June 2008, eight years after the network had opened, although FirstGroup is still responsible for day to day operation under contract to TfL.