More battery-powered trams on the way

The UK’s first battery-powered tram was launched in the West Midlands in April – now Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) is looking to add up to 50 more to the expanding network.

TfWM, part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), is tendering for 18 new trams, with the option to purchase a further 32 in future – all of which can be powered by batteries. 

Extensions to the tram network are at the heart of a £3.4billion investment in West Midlands transport over the next decade.

This will include new suburban rail lines, cycle routes and motorway improvements, in order to maximise the economic benefits of the HS2 high speed rail line.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA portfolio holder for transport, and leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council, said:

“The West Midlands is leading the way on sustainable public transport in this country.

“We launched the UK’s first battery-powered tram earlier this year, and now we’re adding more to the network.

“We had to wait for the technology to catch up with our ambition – so we will retro-fit all our existing trams with batteries too.

“Eventually, this tender could treble the amount of trams operating on our network – potentially increasing our regional fleet from 21 to 71 trams – meaning more services and more stops as we extend the tram network for passengers across the West Midlands.”

The new trams will provide services on a number of forthcoming extensions to the existing network which runs between Wolverhampton St George’s and Birmingham Grand Central.

The planned extensions include:

  • Westside – running from Birmingham Grand Central to Edgbaston, serving the Town Hall, Centenary Square, Brindley Place and Broad Street.
  • Eastside – branching off the existing city centre line to connect to the Birmingham Curzon HS2 station in Eastside, then on through Digbeth and north Solihull to the airport/HS2 Interchange
  • Wednesbury to Dudley to Brierley Hill  – connecting to the existing line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton
  • Wolverhampton – along Pipers Row, serving the city’s bus station and redeveloped rail station

Currently, there are 21 “Urbos 3” model trams operating on the regional network. The first of those to be fitted with batteries was launched into operation in April 2018. The other 20 existing trams are being retro-fitted with batteries in a rolling programme designed to ensure passenger services remain unaffected.

The battery technology removes the need for overhead electrical wires. This will help engineers meet various challenges constructing the new network extensions – for example, the battery-powered trams will be able to travel underneath the Five Ways roundabout and the new Curzon St station.

TfWM is looking to appoint suppliers with tried and tested tram fleets in operation elsewhere in the world. 

Once a supplier is awarded the contract, around May 2019, there will be a two-year design and development process. The first of the new trams are expected to be in action by summer 2021.

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