ⓘ Tyne and Wear Metro


ⓘ Tyne and Wear Metro

The Tyne and Wear Metro is a light rail network linking South Tyneside and Sunderland with Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside and Newcastle Airport. The network opened in stages from August 1980, and now serves a total of 60 stations, with two lines covering 48.2 miles of track.

The Tyne and Wear Metro has been described as the "first modern light rail system in the United Kingdom". It is one of only two urban rail networks in the United Kingdom outside London, with other cities, such as Edinburgh, Manchester and Sheffield instead adopting tram networks.

In 2017–18, around 36.4 million passenger journeys were made on the Metro, making it the third-most used tram and light rail network in the United Kingdom, after Londons Docklands Light Railway 121.8 million passenger journeys and the Manchester Metrolink 43.7 million passenger journeys.

The initial Tyne and Wear Metro network opened between August 1980 and March 1984, mostly using converted former railway lines, linked with new tunnel infrastructure. Further extensions to the original network were opened in November 1991 from Bank Foot to Airport, and March 2002 from Pelaw to Sunderland and South Hylton.

The system is owned and operated by Nexus, having been formerly operated under contract by DB Regio Tyne & Wear Limited a subsidiary of Arriva UK Trains since 2010. The DB Regio contract ended in April 2017, with Nexus taking over direct operation of the system, under public ownership.


1.1. History Predecessor

The present system uses much former railway infrastructure, mostly constructed between 1834 and 1882, one of the oldest parts being the Newcastle & North Shields Railway, which opened in 1839. In 1904, in response to tramway competition which was taking away passengers, the North Eastern Railway started electrifying parts of their local railway network north of the River Tyne with a 600 V DC third-rail system, forming one of the earliest suburban electric networks, known as the Tyneside Electrics. In 1938, the line south of the River Tyne between Newcastle and South Shields was also electrified.

Under British Rail in the 1960s, the decision was made to de-electrify the Tyneside Electrics network and convert it to diesel operation, owing to falling passenger numbers and the cost of renewing end-of-life electrical infrastructure and rolling stock. The Newcastle to South Shields line was de-electrified in 1963, and the North Tyneside routes in 1967. This was widely viewed as a backward step, as the diesel trains were slower than the electric trains they replaced.


1.2. History Planning and construction

In the early 1970s, the poor local transport system was identified as one of the main factors holding back the regions economy, and in 1971 a study was commissioned by the recently created Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority now known as Nexus into how the transport system could be improved.

This study recommended reviving the badly run-down former Tyneside Electrics network by converting it into an electrified rapid transit system, which would include a new underground section to better serve the busy central areas of Newcastle and Gateshead, as it was felt that the existing rail network didnt serve these areas adequately. This new system was intended to be the core of a new integrated transport network, with buses acting as feeders to purpose-built transport interchanges. The plans were approved by the Tyneside Metropolitan Railway Bill, which was passed by Parliament in July 1973. Around 70% of the funding for the scheme came from a central Government grant, with the remainder coming from local sources.

Three railway lines, totalling 26 miles 42 km were to be converted into Metro lines as part of the initial system – these being the North Tyneside Loop and Newcastle to South Shields branch both of which were formerly part of the Tyneside Electrics network, and a short stretch of the freight-only Ponteland Railway between South Gosforth and Bank Foot, which had not seen any passenger traffic since 1929.

The converted railway lines were to be connected by around 6 miles 9.7 km of new infrastructure, which was built both to separate the Metro from the existing rail network, and also to create the new underground routes under Newcastle and Gateshead. Around 4 miles 6.4 km of the new infrastructure was in tunnels, whilst the remainder was either at ground level or elevated. The elevated sections included the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, a new 350 m 380 yd bridge carrying the Metro across the River Tyne, and the 815 m 891 yd Byker Viaduct across the Ouseburn Valley, between Byker and Manors.

Construction work began in October 1974. This involved the construction of the new infrastructure, re-electrifying the routes with overhead line equipment, the upgrading or relocation of existing stations, and the construction of several new stations, some of which were underground. By 1984, the final cost of the project was £265 million equivalent to £858 million in 2020. The Tyne and Wear Metro was the first railway in the United Kingdom to operate using the metric system, with all speeds and distances stated in metric units only. It was also the first transport system in the United Kingdom to be designed to be fully accessible to passengers with disabilities, with step-free access available at all stations across the network.


1.3. History Opening

Originally, the Tyne and Wear Metro was intended to be opened in stages between 1979 and 1981. The first stages of the original network between Haymarket and Tynemouth opened in August 1980, with the final stage between Heworth and South Shields opening in March 1984. The opening dates of services and stations are as follows:

  • 10 May 1981: South Gosforth to Bank Foot
  • 11 August 1980: Haymarket to Tynemouth via Benton
  • 31 March 2002: Pelaw to South Hylton
  • 15 September 1985: Kingston Park
  • 15 November 1981: Heworth to Haymarket
  • 17 November 1991: Bank Foot to Airport
  • 19 March 1986: Palmersville
  • 24 March 1984: Heworth to South Shields
  • 17 March 2008: Simonside
  • 28 April 2002: Park Lane
  • 14 November 1982: St. James to Tynemouth via Wallsend
  • 11 December 2005: Northumberland Park
  • 16 September 1985: Pelaw


1.4. History Integration

When the Tyne and Wear Metro first opened, it was intended to form part of an integrated public transport system, with the local bus network reconfigured to act as feeder services for the Metro. The Metro was intended to cover trunk journeys, while buses were re-designed toward shorter, local trips, to bring passengers to and from Metro stations, using unified ticketing, and with their timetable integrated with the Metro schedule. Several purpose-built transport interchanges, such as Four Lane Ends, Heworth and Regent Centre were built for this purpose. Integration was short-lived, and lasted until the deregulation of bus services, in 1986. It is, however, still possible to purchase Transfare tickets, in order to combine a journey made by both bus and Metro.


1.5. History Growth and expansion

A short extension, running 2.2 miles 3.5 km from Bank Foot to Airport was opened in 1991, at a cost of £12 million. The extension continued along the alignment of the former Ponteland Railway.

In 2002, a further extension covering 11.5 miles 18.5 km was opened from Pelaw to Sunderland and South Hylton, at a cost of £100 million. This extension used part of the existing Durham Coast Line to Sunderland, but did not take it over. Instead, the line between Pelaw and Sunderland was adapted, in order to allow a shared service between the Metro and rail services, becoming the first system in the United Kingdom to implement a form of the Karlsruhe model. Between Pelaw and Sunderland, intermediate stations at Brockley Whins, East Boldon and Seaburn were re-built, with a further three being purpose-built for the network, at Fellgate, Stadium of Light and St. Peters. Between Sunderland and South Hylton, 2.8 miles 4.5 km of a former freight line, which had been abandoned in 1984, was used as the alignment of the route. Five purpose-built stations at Park Lane, University, Millfield, Pallion and South Hylton were constructed for the network.


2.1. Upgrades and development Phase 1

The first phase of Metros All Change programme saw the start of a £25 million project to install new ticket machines at all 60 stations across the network. Unlike the former ticket machines, which only accepted payment with coins, the new machines are able to accept payment with credit and debit card with an upgrade to accept contactless payment in 2013, notes and coins. Automated ticket barriers and smart card validators were also introduced as part of the first phase, being installed between 2011 and 2014, at 13 stations on the network.

The first phase of the programme also saw the completion of a new station at Simonside, in March 2008, as well as the refurbishment and modernisation of Haymarket, in March 2010. An upgrade of platforms at Sunderland, and the refurbishment and modernisation of several other stations was also undertaken during this phase. Lifts and escalators have also been replaced at several stations, between 2009 and 2016. Phase 1 of the programme also involved the overhaul of infrastructure, including communications, track and overhead power lines, structures and embankments.


2.2. Upgrades and development Phase 2

Phase 2 of the All Change programme saw the £20 million refurbishment of 86 Metrocars originally all 90 Metrocars were due to be refurbished. Each Metrocar was stripped down to its frame and built back up again, with the addition of improved disabled access, new door control systems, and renewed interiors, seating and lighting. A new cadmium yellow and black livery was also adopted. Work commenced in June 2010, at Wabtec in Doncaster, and was completed five months ahead of schedule, in August 2015. The first Metrocar to recieve refurbishment was 4041, the unit being named after former Gateshead Councillor and MP, Harry Cowans, in honour of his work in the 1970s, to help to secure the construction of the network.

The second phase of the programme also saw the modernisation of a further 45 stations, including the re-building of the station at North Shields, which was completed in September 2012, as well as the installation of new communications system, and the overhaul and maintenance of structures such as bridges, tunnels, track and overhead power lines.


2.3. Upgrades and development Phase 3

The third phase of Metros All Change programme began in 2019, with the procurement of a new fleet of 46 originally 42 units, designed by Swiss manufacturer, Stadler. Delivery of the new rolling stock will commence towards the end of 2021, with all units introduced in to passenger service by 2024 – replacing the current fleet of Metrocars. It will also see the introduction of a new signalling system, overhaul and maintenance of structures, track and overhead lines, and further station improvements.


2.4. Upgrades and development "Metro Flow"

In March 2020, the Government announced a £103 million scheme, known as Metro Flow, during the 2020 Budget. The project aims to increase frequency from 5 to 6 trains per hour, reduce journey times and improve service reliability. From September 2022, the project will see three sections of single line between Pelaw and Bede converted to dual use, with an existing freight-only line electrified, and re-designed to operate using a similar system to the shared line between Pelaw and Sunderland. As part of the project, four additional Stadler units have been funded, bringing the total number of units on order from 42 to 46.


3. Service and frequency

The Tyne and Wear Metro network consists of two lines:

  • Yellow Line: From South Shields to Newcastle City Centre, Whitley Bay, Wallsend and St. James.
  • Green Line: From South Hylton and Sunderland to Newcastle City Centre, Regent Centre and Newcastle Airport.

Services commence at around 05:30 or 06:30 on Sunday, with frequent trains running until around midnight. Each line runs up to every 12 minutes during the day Monday to Saturday, and up to every 15 minutes in the evenings and on a Sunday. This allows for a combined service of up to every 6 minutes Monday to Saturday, and up to every 7-8 minutes during the evening and on a Sunday between Pelaw and South Gosforth. Additional trains run during the morning and evening peak Monday to Friday between Pelaw and Regent Centre or Monkseaton. This provides a Metro up to every 3 minutes between Pelaw and South Gosforth at peak times.


4.1. Fleet and operations Control centre

The Metro control centre is based at Gosforth, in a building alongside the station at South Gosforth. It is responsible for operating the networks signalling and electrical supply, as well as being used to communicate with train drivers and other staff, using two-way radio equipment. The original equipment at the control centre was replaced in 2007, with a new computerised-signalling control system installed in August 2018.


4.2. Fleet and operations Depot

The Tyne and Wear Metro is currently operated from a single depot, also based in Gosforth. The depot is located in Gosforth, at the centre of the triangular fork between the branch to Airport, and the northern leg of the North Tyneside Loop. It is situated between stations at Longbenton, South Gosforth and Regent Centre. It is used for stabling, cleaning, maintenance and repair of the fleet. It can be accessed by trains from either east or west, and there is also a depot-avoiding line running from east to west, which is not used in public service. The depot had originally been opened in 1923, by the North Eastern Railway. Used to house the former Tyneside Electrics stock, it was then known as the South Gosforth Car Sheds. The depot was inherited by Metro upon the systems opening.

Prior to the arrival of new rolling stock towards the end of 2021, a new depot is currently being constructed near Howdon, in North Tyneside. The site will be used as a temporary stabling and maintainance facility for up to 10 Metrocars, whilst the current depot at South Gosforth is re-built. The temporary depot at Howdon is expected to open during summer 2020.


4.3. Fleet and operations Current fleet

Since the Tyne and Wear Metro opened in 1980, it has operated using the same rolling stock. The fleet comprises a total of 89 originally 90 articulated units, known as Metrocars, which are numbered 4001–4090. When in service, Metrocars are normally coupled together in pairs, and have a maximum speed of 80 km/h 50 mph. The first units to be built were two prototypes, numbered 4001 and 4002, which were delivered for testing in 1975. These were followed by 88 production units, which were built between 1978 and 1981. The design of the Metrocar was based on the Stadtbahnwagen B, a German light rail vehicle developed in the early 1970s. The units were built in the United Kingdom, by Metro Cammell, at their factory in Birmingham.

The fleet has been refurbished several times, and several liveries have been used. The original livery used at opening was cadmium yellow and white, in accordance with the colours used by the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive at the time. A mid-life refurbishment of the fleet, carried out in-house, took place between 1995 and 2000, and a new livery was adopted consisting of red, green or blue bodies, with yellow front and rear ends, and triangles containing the Metro logo on the doors.

A £20 million refurbishment of 86 Metrocars originally all 90 Metrocars were due to be refurbished began in 2010, with the goal of the refurbshment programme being to extend the service life of Metrocars until 2025, prior to the delivery of new rolling stock. Each Metrocar was stripped down to its frame and built back up again, with the addition of improved disabled access, new door control systems, and renewed interiors, seating and lighting. A new cadmium yellow and black livery was also adopted. Work commenced in June 2010, and was completed five months ahead of schedule, in August 2015.


4.4. Fleet and operations Future fleet

In 2016, Nexus unveiled plans to secure funding of £550 million for a replacement fleet, with a target for them to be in service by the early 2020s. In November 2017, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced that the Government would contribute £337 million towards the new fleet. The proposed new fleet was planned to have dual voltage capability, able to operate on the Metros existing 1.5 kV DC electrification system, as well as the 25 kV AC used on the Network Rail network, to allow for expansion of Metro service. Battery technology was considered.

In September 2018, Bombardier, CAF, a Downer Rail/CRRC joint venture, Hitachi and Stadler were short-listed to build the new fleet. Stadler was awarded a contract to build and maintain 42 five carriage light rail vehicles in January 2020, with deliveries to commence in late 2021, and all trains to be in passenger service by 2024. The new trains will feature next stop audio-visual information displays, Tube-style linear seating to increase capacity, wider doors and aisles, air conditioning, WiFi and charging points. Following the announcement of the £103 million Metro Flow project, in March 2020, four additional Stadler units have been funded, bringing the total number of units on order from 42 to 46.


4.5. Fleet and operations Ancillary vehicles

In addition to passenger trains, the Tyne and Wear Metro also operate three battery-electric locomotives numbered BL1–BL3, which were manufactured by Hunslet in 1988. As well as this, the company also operate a Plasser & Theurer ballast tamper, and 15 wagons, which are used for maintainance and repair work.


5. Ownership

The Tyne and Wear Metro is publicly owned, receiving funding from council tax payers and government. Nexus, which owns and manages the Metro, contracted out operations and train maintenance as part of a deal with the Government, in order to secure modernisation investment and operating subsidy for the system between 2010 and 2021. Nexus continued to set fares, frequency of services and operating hours. Opponents would suggest that this was privatisation by the back door, though some services had already been contracted out, such as cleaning of stations and ticket inspections.

In November 2008, Nexus invited potential bidders to declare an interest in a contract to run the operations side of the business on its behalf. The successful bidder was to obtain a seven-year contract commencing on 1 April 2010, with up to an additional two years depending on performance. In February 2009, four bids were shortlisted: DB Regio, MTR Corporation, Serco-Abellio, and an in-house bid from Nexus. By October 2009, the shortlist had been reduced to bids from DB Regio and Nexus.

In December 2009, DB Regio was named as the preferred bidder, with the contract for operating the system signed in February 2010, and the handover of the service taking place in April 2010. One of DB Regios first initiatives was the Metro Dig It programme, and involved the re-painting of stations and deep-cleaning of stations and trains. In February 2010, the Government confirmed it would award Nexus up to £580 million to modernise and operate the Tyne and Wear Metro, with up to £350 million to be spent on the Metro: All Change programme, over the course of the following eleven years. A further £230 million would support running and maintenance costs, over the following nine years.

In March 2016, Nexus announced that they did not intend to renew the contract with DB Regio, following the contract ending in 2017, after stating that they were dissatisfied with the operator due to missed performance targets. In April 2017, Nexus took over direct operation of the system for a planned period of two years, with the intention to re-tender the contract. The RMT trade union, however, has argued that the direct operation should be made permanent, and operation of the system should remain in public ownership. As of March 2020, the Tyne and Wear Metro network is still under public ownership, with services operated by Nexus.


6.1. Infrastructure Stations

The 60 stations on the Tyne and Wear Metro network vary widely in character. Some are former British Rail stations, whilst others were purpose-built for the Metro. Most of the stations are above ground, but several in central Newcastle and Gateshead are underground, namely Central, Jesmond, Haymarket, Monument, Manors, St. James and Gateshead. In Sunderland, Park Lane and Sunderland stations also have underground platforms. Three of the stations, Central, Heworth and Sunderland, have interchanges with rail services. Sunderland is unique, in that it is the only station in the United Kindom where light and heavy rail services use the same platforms.

Generally, all Metro stations are unstaffed, with the exception of the underground stations, and gated stations when the ticket barriers are closed. All stations are equipped with ticket machines, shelters and seating, next train information displays, and emergency help points. Ticket machines are able to accept payment with credit and debit card including contactless payment, notes and coins. Automated ticket barriers and smart card validators were also introduced between 2011 and 2014, at 13 stations on the network. Despite the majority of stations being open to access, the Tyne and Wear Metro has the third-highest level of passenger income per year £45.2 million in 2013/2014 of the eight light rail networks in England. Regular checks are made by patrols of inspectors, both at stations and on board trains. Passengers caught travelling on the Metro without a ticket are subject to a £20 penalty fare.


6.2. Infrastructure Tunnels

Under Newcastle, two routes run underground at right angles to each other, and intersect at Monument, which has four platforms on two levels. The first route, shared by both the Green Line from South Hylton to Airport and Yellow Line from South Shields to St. James, runs from north to south. It heads underground at Jesmond, and runs south through Haymarket, Monument and Central, before rising above ground to cross the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge over the River Tyne. It then enters another tunnel, running underneath Gateshead, serving Gateshead, before rising above ground again before the station at Gateshead Stadium.

The second underground route, part of the Yellow Line from South Shields to St. James, runs from east to west, heading underground after running east alongside the East Coast Main Line, before serving Manors and Monument, then terminating at St. James. Yellow Line trains pass through Monument twice, once eastbound through the east-west platforms, and then, after running around the North Tyneside Loop, southbound through the north-south platforms before running to South Shields.

Metro is one of the few rapid-transit system in the world with a pretzel configuration, in which a line crosses over itself and trains pass through the same station twice at different platforms. Other examples exist on the current Sofia Metro in Bulgaria, and the former Vancouver SkyTrain routing in Canada, prior to October 2016.

A short spur line, running partly under a tunnel, runs from Manors to Jesmond. The line is used for empty stock movements only, and has no passenger service. Before the Metro tunnels were created, it was part of the main rail route to Newcastle, and connected to the main line at Manors.

The tunnels were constructed in the late 1970s, using mining techniques, and were constructed as single-track tubes with a diameter of 4.75 m 5.19 yd. The tunnels under Newcastle were mechanically bored through boulder clay, and lined with cast iron or concrete segments. The tunnel under Gateshead was bored through sandstone and excavated coal seams. Old coal mine workings, some of which dated from the Middle Ages, had to be filled in before the tunnelling began.


6.3. Infrastructure Distances

Distances on the system are measured from a datum point at South Gosforth. The system is metric, with distances in kilometres, and rounded to the nearest metre. Lines are designated In and Out. The In line runs from St. James to South Shields via the inside of the North Tyneside Loop via Wallsend then Whitley Bay, with the Out line running in the opposite direction. By extension, the In line runs from Airport to South Gosforth, and from Pelaw to South Hylton.

Distance plates are mounted on all overhead line structures. Different distances are normally quoted for stations, depending on whether the direction of travel is In or Out. Distances increase from the datum in all directions. The part of line between Pelaw and South Hylton owned by Network Rail is dual-marked in both metric units, as well as miles and chains. The boundary between the two systems is located at Pelaw Junction. The closest adjacent stations by distance on the network are St. Peters and Sunderland, with the furthest apart being Pelaw and Fellgate.


6.4. Infrastructure Electrification

The Tyne and Wear Metro is electrified with overhead lines at 1.500 V DC, and is now the only rail network in the United Kingdom to use this system. Nexus have stated that their long term ambition is to convert the electrification of the line between Pelaw and Sunderland, which is shared with heavy rail, to the Network Rail standard of 25 kV AC. However, in doing this, a new fleet of dual voltage trains would be required.


7. Ridership

During 1985/86, the Tyne and Wear Metro carried a total of 59.1 million passengers – the highest figure it has ever achieved. By 1987/88, this had declined to 44.9 million. The decline was attributed to the loss of integration with bus services, following deregulation in 1986, as well as the general decline in public transport use in the area. Usage continued to decline during the 1990s, reaching its lowest level during 2000/01. Since the turn of the century, passenger usage has risen and stabilised, fluctuating in a range of 35–40 million passengers annually.


8. Branding and identity

The Tyne and Wear Metro has a distinctive design and corporate identity, initially developed to distinguish itself from the antiquated rail system it replaced in the 1980s, as well as to match the livery of the buses operated by the Tyne and Wear PTE, prior to deregulation in 1986. The Calvert typeface was designed specifically for Metro by Margaret Calvert, and is used extensively throughout the system, including on the distinctive black M logo on a yellow background. The logo is used to denote the Metro, and is featured on cube signs at station entrances, as well as on board trains, and on station signage.

After the branding identity of the Metro became inconsistent and confused in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Nexus employed a local design agency, Gardiner Richardson, to help the organisation to revive the brand. In 2009, as part of the Metro: All Change programme, re-branding began to take place. Re-branding saw an emphasis placed on the Calvert typeface on lettering, signage and maps. It also saw the introduction of a simplified colour scheme of black, white, grey and yellow, to be used on refurbished stations, signage and trains. In 2009, Haymarket was the first station to be refurbished, using the new corporate brand identity.


9. Art

There are more than 30 pieces of permanent art across the transport network in Tyne and Wear. A number of Metro stations feature commissioned works by various artists, including:

  • Wallsend: Pontis 2003 by Michael Pinsky
  • Jarrow: Jarrow March 1984 by Vince Rea
  • Monument: Parsons Polygon 1985 by David Hamilton
  • Sunderland: Platform 5 2011 by Jason Bruges Studio
  • Monkseaton: Beach & Shipyards 1983 by Mike Davies
  • Haymarket: Canon 2010 by Lothar Goetz
  • Queen Elizabeth II Bridge: Nocturne 2007 by Nayan Kulkarni

10. Bicycles

Following a trial period in 2018, bicycles are permitted to travel on Metro between 10:00 and 15:00 and after 19:00 on weekdays, and all day at weekends, between Callerton Parkway or Manors and Jesmond, and between Gateshead Stadium and South Shields or South Hylton. Non-folding bicycles are not permitted to travel between Callerton Parkway and Airport, or between Jesmond and Gateshead Stadium at any time. Folding bicycles are permitted to travel without restriction across the entire Metro network.


11.1. Network expansion Project Orpheus

In 2002, Nexus unveiled a 15 year plan for transport in Tyne and Wear, named Project Orpheus. The project aimed to extend the existing Metro network, with the addition of trams, river buses and cable cars, across 29 key corridors.


11.2. Network expansion Further abandoned plans

Below is a list of previously mooted extensions:

  • Washington and the Leamside Line: There has been a number of proposals looking in to re-opening the Leamside Line, as a conventional rail line for passengers as well as freight, although this could be shared with Metro trains in the same way as the line from Pelaw Junction to Sunderland. In 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies suggested reopening the Leamside Line, as part of a rail service between Newcastle and Manchester Airport, with a station at Washington. On 12 July 2010, local MP Sharon Hodgson started an online petition on the website of local radio station Sun FM to get the Metro extended to Washington.
  • Sunderland to Doxford Park: A line between Sunderland and Doxford Park, a suburb south-west of the city centre, could be achieved by reusing the trackbed of the former Hetton Colliery Railway which is still mostly intact. However, new infrastructure would be needed to cross two roads which have been built across the alignment, as well as a means to connect it to the existing network west of University.
  • South Shields to Sunderland: Although the two existing metro branches to South Shields and Sunderland run parallel to each other and pass within 3 kilometres 1.9 mi of each other, there is currently no means to travel direct between the two points by rail. A direct connection could be achieved, by converting part of an existing goods only branch line which runs from a junction east of Brockley Whins to Port of Tyne to Metro use.