National Express’s final UK rail bastion: the Midland Metro. A CAF Urbos 3 vehicle runs between Bull Street and Snow Hill; Snow Hill main line station is behind the wall.
Philip Sherratt

TRANSPORT FOR West Midlands (TfWM) is to take over operation of the Midland Metro from National Express in October 2018, when the current concession finishes.

TfWM says existing staff will transfer to a new subsidiary company, Midland Metro Ltd, which will be wholly owned by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The WMCA board was told that the tendering process to appoint a private operator would cost ‘several million pounds’.

The forthcoming expansion of the Metro is forecast to see the network triple in size and passenger numbers grow to over 30 million.

This is expected to generate profits of around £50 million over an 11-year period, which WMCA intends to channel back into the network.

National Express has operated Midland Metro since the first line opened in 1999, initially as part of a consortium. Following its sale of the c2c franchise to Trenitalia, operation of the Midland Metro is its last remaining involvement in rail in the UK.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: ‘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’.

Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: ‘If we…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.’

The current Midland Metro route runs from Wolverhampton to Birmingham’s New Street station. The first planned extension, from New Street to Centenary Square, is due to open in 2019, with this line proposed to be extended on to Edgbaston by 2021; a Transport and Works Act Order application for the Edgbaston link was submitted on 4 April. A line through Digbeth could open by 2023, while a link to Wolverhampton station is expected to open in 2019. Lines from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill and from Digbeth through Solihull to the Birmingham Interchange HS2 station are also planned. Forthcoming extensions will be built by the Midland Metro Alliance, a partnership comprising the WMCA, Colas Rail and a consortium of design experts.