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Ten years of the Midlands Metro

29 May 09 05:37 GMT

by Sarah Portlock
BBC News, West Midlands

Running along a 20km stretch of former railway line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton the Midlands Metro provides a useful public transport link for its passengers.

Before it opened, 10 years ago, people living in towns such as West Bromwich and Wednesbury recently hit by steel factory closures, could only rely on road transport to help them look for and travel to jobs further afield.

Some people have hailed the 23-stop Metro, which cost £145m to build, a success story which has improved the economies of Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Others feel that while the Metro may provide an efficient link between the two cities, any expansion plans would have to be justified.

Nigel Pennington, director of rail and rapid transit at Centro, the firm which operates the line, said it provides day to day transport which proves to be reliable.

"It is a lot faster than taking the car and it gets people to their work, their shops and their schools reliably," he said.

"It has been a huge success - the reason we want to expand it is because at peak times the services are full.

"It remains a good facility but it is not accessible as we would like for people at the busy times so we need to expand it."

In the short-term Midlands Metro has two proposals for expansion.

The first would see a link built between Birmingham's Snow Hill station, where the service starts and terminates, to New Street station.

The second would be a loop-line built linking the St George's area of Wolverhampton to link with a new transport interchange.

Mr Pennington said the final cost figures had yet to be decided but added he was confident funding would be found and that he thought the extensions would go ahead in the fairly near future.

In the long term the plans are more ambitious - the proposed extensions would serve regeneration areas in the Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Birmingham and Dudley local authority areas.

The Black Country Chamber of Trade however said it would need to be convinced the extensions were viable.

Colin Leithfield, chamber member and chairman of the transport group, said he would need to see more evidence.

"The Metro is fine for people who can get to the point where they can get on and who can conveniently get to a place at the other end where they get off," he said.

Any developments must take into consideration whether the Metro would work as part of an integrated transport network, he added.

"I am old enough to remember the old trams on the streets of Birmingham and I loved riding on them," he said.

"But we have to be realistic. Back then, people mainly lived and worked within small areas and their journeys would be relatively simple.

"The difference is that now the population is dispersed far more widely and journeys can be more complex."

He said he would like to see more research before being convinced that extending the Metro would be beneficial.

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