Not only does the extended Midland Metro line serve Birmingham Snow Hill station - its original terminus - but now wends through some of Birmingham's commercial centre to arrive immediately outside the remarkable remodelled 'New Street' station where the interim tram terminus is sited, pending on street construction to take the service to Centenary Square, and then eventually to the busy Five Ways road junction.
A family meeting this week provided opportunity (a brief one) to take a quick look at both the street extension, as well as the brightly themed replacement fleet of 'Urbos3' cars all manufactured by CAF in Zaragoza. Twenty five units took over from their Italian cousins of the original fleet, all now withdrawn and in storage offsite (except for one example still apparently retained in the depot - a museum piece perhaps?).
Exceptionally Birmingham's showcase new railway station at New Street has been transformed both externally and remodelled internally to become a marvellous urban focal point - as well as enhanced public space for users. The gleaming silver metal cladding shone out from an otherwise dull February day further enhanced by the large digital screen facing onto the on street tram terminus outside.
The gleaming space age exterior of Birmingham's main railway station is a fitting backdrop to the dead end terminus of the Midland Metro service. Earlier classic architecture from the Edwardian age adds its own counterpoint to a modern tram in a modern city.
Modest 'naming' adorns unit 37 with its equally striking frontal design. The 'pastel' colours help in making the service inviting to travel on for all ages. A complete contrast to the first generation cars operating the Wolverhampton to Snow Hill service - now withdrawn.
The sleek units in pale grey and magenta theme colours are warm and inviting and seemingly quiet running on the street track section, including across the two crossovers in proximity at the interim station terminus. The line is due to be further extended to Centenary Square requiring a noticeable incline with two sharp turns on Pinfold Street and then into the busy pedestrian precinct leading to Centenary Square. It will be interesting to see the track layout and construction of this particular section with far more challenges to engineers (and operator) than the modest straight running branch intended for Blackpool. Below : the perspective up Pinfold Street following a sharp right hand turn from existing tracks and current terminus.
Inbound and outbound cars at the 'Grand Central' station stop - aka 'New Street'
Two of the new fleet have been 'named' and I fortunately 'caught' 'Ozzy Osbourne' fleet number 37 with its modest inscription on the side of the driver's cab. At the other end of this route will be a further extension onstreet in Wolverhampton which till take the trams to that town's railway station - a short distance from the current commercial area. Further routes are under planning or review to strengthen the West Midlands engagement with light rail in much the same way as Greater Manchester and Nottingham. One wonders when similar schemes finally emerge in Liverpool and Leeds as the political leadership in Merseyside and West Yorkshire looks at economic and social impact accruing to light rail development elsewhere.
Street furniture and passenger information - note the smart, clean bench seating.
The level of new building and regeneration of large city centre sites in Birmingham is testimony to economic development which closely follows light rail expansion. Just like in Liverpool the attention given to passenger information and level of service is outstanding. Smart new shelters for the tram station stops with actual wooden seating fitted into the shelter design is a leap forward from the rudimentary knock down priced imports on the Blackpool system. Real time information (naturally) and fare price offers prominently displayed to encourage ridership including on the trams themselves is a distinctive feature. Next time I am in Birmingham I will make time to sample the service to Wolverhampton which providently of course allows for a connection to the West Coast Mainline service north to Preston. All Images : John Woodman apologies for the bad focussing on some images
A peek inside light and colourful interior. I wasn't able to sample the seating - next time hopefully. All in all an eyeful of good practise and professionalism on view.