The Tyne and Wear Metro holds a unique position in the UK as the country’s first example of a fully functional light rail network, aimed at providing local rapid transit capability. Its enduring operation over the last 31 years has cemented its position at the core of the region’s public transport offering, all under the management and ownership of Nexus – the trading name for the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive (PTE).
The network itself is a vibrant mixture of solid Victorian infrastructure inherited from British Rail, cleverly linked in with additional 1970s and 80s new-build, taking the railway through the city centre of Newcastle and across the Tyne to create a dedicated self-contained route. In 1991, Metro was extended to Newcastle International Airport, and then again in 2002 through to Sunderland. In particular, the Sunderland extension has continued Metro’s tradition of breaking new ground as the only UK example of heavy and light rail vehicles running on the same infrastructure.Renewing the system
However at over 31 years old in its current form, and with some infrastructure dating back much further to the mid 19th Century, Metro has come to a stage where much of the system is reaching the end of its operational life and needs updating to modern standards. This will safeguard its future operations for the next generation of passengers.
“Traditionally we spent around £7 million in capital investment on Metro per annum, however in 2005 we realised this was not sustainable with some of the oldest parts of the network needing major investment to conform with current best practice. Nexus submitted a business case to Government in 2007 which addressed the future needs of Metro and in early 2010 were successfully awarded £350 million of capital grant from the Department for Transport (DfT) to be spent over a period of 11 years,” describes Ken McKay, director of rail and infrastructure at Nexus.Growing knowledge base
In terms of delivering this vast programme, Nexus has placed a number of significant framework contracts with major suppliers, covering all areas of work from station refurbishment, track renewal, bridges and tunnel structures, signalling, telecommunications and overhead lines.
One of the primary tasks has also been to increase Nexus’ own knowledge of the asset, which as Ken explains, is vital for its future maintenance: “At the moment we are undertaking a lot of investigation work to establish the condition of those aspects we can’t see – such as ground investigation and intrusive surveys into structures. All of this is important in terms of our management and future tenure ship of Metro, so part of the proposal with DfT is that we accumulate this asset knowledge during the modernisation so that we can effectively maintain and repair in perpetuity the Metro system itself.” Change in operator
As part of its business case proposal for the asset renewal programme, Nexus agreed to let an operating concession for Metro – for the first time in the network’s history. The successful bidder for this contract was DB Regio Tyne and Wear Limited which was awarded a seven to nine-year concession to operate Metro on Nexus’ behalf from 1st April 2010.
However, as a newly formed company, DB Regio Tyne and Wear faced its own challenges in taking over this role, as managing director Richard McClean highlights: “As there was no separate operating company for Metro, this had to be created, mobilised, and up and running overnight, which was a major undertaking. The whole process of separating Metro operation from the fully vertically integrated set-up at Nexus was a challenge for both organisations, but one that was very successful. We also had to build processes and procedures around the completely new performance regimes and contractual requirements, which hadn’t existed the day before, to enable us to deliver the necessary output.”
While DB Regio Tyne and Wear has taken over responsibility for the operation of the Metro service and maintains and manages rolling stock and stations, Nexus remains the owner of the system itself and therefore manages infrastructure and maintenance regimes, as well as specifying fares and frequency of service and retaining the ‘revenue risk’. As such, a strong working relationship is essential between the two organisations.
“Having operated the network successfully for 30 years, Nexus consciously set a very tough specification in order to justify the letting of a concession. It had to be confident that it would get good value for money and improvements in the customer service offering,” explains Richard. “Eighteen months on, both DB Regio and Nexus, and more importantly the travelling public, have reported seeing improvements on the ground that make a difference to their journey. As well as improvements in customer satisfaction survey results, we have made great steps in the contract and performance measures – be it around graffiti, cleanliness or reliability of operation.”Real progress
In fact it is in those areas that DB Regio Tyne and Wear has made some of the biggest physical improvements in recent months. “We’re moving into a programme to reduce the more engrained graffiti that is actually carved into the structure of the railway, and seeing real innovation in terms of repair techniques to make good existing facilities without having to invest in renewal,” confirms Richard. In terms of its customer facing activities, DB Regio Tyne and Wear has also been able to improve the visibility of staff by reorganising how they are deployed and the way they go about their jobs to make them more available to passengers, while retaining Metro’s long-standing and established brand identity.
However, the organisation is also engaged in some of the wider challenges of railway operation such as fraudulent travel, particularly as a relatively open system, and the emerging disturbing trend in cable theft. Yet, for both users of Metro and the staff, the greatest changes have come as a result of the necessary asset maintenance programme. Over its 30-year legacy, Metro has run with generally only overnight maintenance activity with no planned disruption to services, but in order to execute its upgrade programme Nexus has had to implement track possession and network blockades. This has resulted in fairly significant logistical exercises on behalf of DB Regio Tyne and Wear in securing rail replacement services, which are planned and procured in close co-operation with Nexus.Renewal rollout
Although the asset modernisation programme falls under the remit of Nexus, DB Regio Tyne and Wear is playing a contributory role in this through the refurbishment of the rolling stock. With the first vehicles expected back on the network in the autumn, Richard elaborates on this schedule of works: “As users of the rolling stock day in and day out, we are able to integrate the overhaul programme with our usual maintenance activities. The trains themselves are well built and well designed, but are 30 years old so a lot of the work is about safeguarding the operation of the asset for another 15 years.
“As part of a large organisation like DB Regio, and particularly as we are working with German design rolling stock, we were able to bring across a lot of knowledge around maintenance regimes for the fleet itself and implement up-to-the-minute thinking. This has enabled us to improve the utilisation of the fleet to the extent that we can remove three units for overhaul without impacting on the day-to-day operation of the service.”Clever thinking
The infrastructure and rolling stock are not the only focuses of the asset modernisation scheme. Nexus is also considering some of the complementary rail services such as ticketing: “At the time of the reinvigoration business case we also recognised that our ticket machines were approaching 30 years old, and more crucially can only accept coins, having been designed at a time when the average fare was eight pence. As generators of around two-thirds of our fare income it was important that we replaced these machines, but we wanted to also reduce fraud at the same time,” explains Ken.
He continues: “Therefore we have decided to gate 13 main stations where most of the passenger footfall falls – this will mean that around 75 per cent of all journeys made on Metro will go through a gated station on at least one occasion. We have placed a contract with Scheidt and Bachmann for 225 new ticket machines and 91 gates, with the first machines appearing in stations from October. We are also installing validator systems at the 47 non-gated stations on the network.”
Nexus is also keen to embrace the capabilities of smart ticketing through the introduction of its new POP smart card. This is just the first step in its ambitions to develop an ITSO-compliant smartcard solution for the North East region – not just covering transport but additional product streams. To this end, the Head Office Processing System (HOPS) that will be provided by Scheidt and Bachmann for managing the ticket machines and gates has been expanded by Nexus to make it available for other purposes and organisations subject to agreement.
“From a users perspective, functionally, this concept is similar to the ‘Oyster’ system in London, however each operator will have its own smart product or card as opposed to just one brand. Nevertheless all of these products will be able to talk to one another so you will be able to get on a bus with your Metro POP card and use it to buy products. Ultimately we hope it will not just be transport products that will be available through this initiative but other services like libraries and leisure centres. As such, there is a consortium of partners within the scheme known as North East Smart Ticketing Initiative (NESTI) including all major bus operators and North East local authorities,” adds Ken.Local approach
Whilst the rest of the UK rail industry is gearing up to deal with recent trends such as the recommendations in the recent McNulty report, Metro is in the unique position of having already put in practice some of these proposals. “It is fascinating to sit here in the North East with a locally owned and locally managed system that writes it own standards that are appropriate for its operation, having done so for the last 30 years. The network was designed by people who understood the local environment, were able to put in place solutions for those challenges, and then maintain and operate the system using processes that are appropriate for the circumstances. We are demonstrating that local management and standards can deliver very cost-effective outputs – even if the operation is contracted out,” enthuses Richard.
Indeed, the current renewal works is only the starting point for safeguarding the operation of Metro for the future in providing a sustainable platform on which to build further expansion and service improvement. On a more immediate level, Ken concludes with how the modernisation of Metro will benefit both its passengers, and the public transport concept in the wider area: “The Tyne and Wear Metro was conceived as the core of public transport in the region, and currently carries around 40 million passengers per annum. While Metro as a fixed transport system is by nature relatively inflexible, our strategic vision sees the network being utilised to its maximum, by better integration with other services such as buses, to effectively deal with climate change and congestion.”
Tyne and Wear Metro
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