ONE HOUR’S SUNSHINE on an otherwise bleak February 19 in the heart of Britain’s industrial Black Country marked the official roll-out of the first tram for Midland Metro’s light rail Line 1. Linking Birmingham Snow Hill with West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Bilston and Wolverhampton, the line is due to open in October this year.

The tram arrived at the Metro Centre depot in Wednesbury after a road journey from the east coast port of Immingham, which it had reached just two days earlier. After short speeches by Walter Bertini, Marketing Director of Ansaldo Trasporti and Councillor Richard Worrall, Chairman of West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority (Centro), the depot door rolled up, revealing the front end of the three-section car in its striking livery. Moments later, it broke the tape and rolled majestically into the bright sunlight, pushed from the rear by a small fork-lift truck.

The end sections of the 24·36m car ride on powered Firema bogies with 680mm diameter wheels. An unpowered truck carries the 1800mm long centre module which contains 12 longitudinal seats. A further 44 seats are provided, giving an overall capacity of 151 with standing passengers at 4/m2.

Height of the low-floor section above rail varies from 380mm to a boarding level of 350mm at the doors, which have an opening width of 2550mm. The majority of the seats are in the 850mm high floor section at each end, reached by an unusual angled flight of steps.

The trams are designed to cope with a minimum curve radius of 25m and a maximum gradient of 6·25%, although tight curves and gradients are few on the initial route which runs on a former railway alignment. This has been electrified using simple single wire tramway overhead energised at 750V DC. Continuous power of 420 kW and acceleration at 1m/s2 will take the cars up to a maximum speed of 75 km/h. Service deceleration is also 1m/s2, with emergency stopping at 2·5m/s2.

The fleet of 16 trams is being built at Firema’s works in Caserta, Italy, using aluminium body panels supplied by Alusuisse, with Firema bogies and other body parts. Ansaldo supplies the electrical and mechanical parts. The cab of the first car has been left incomplete so that Travel West Midlands drivers can have their say in its final layout. Despite this, dynamic testing was due to start immediately within the confines of the depot. Trial running - still under the responsibility of Ansaldo - was due to commence at the end of March between Wednesbury Great Western Road, adjacent to the depot, and the next station towards Birmingham at Black Lane.

The majority of the route lies on the trackbed of the former Great Western Railway route from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton, and the trams will cover the 20 km with 23 stops in 32min, bringing back a much needed rail service to important population centres in the West Midlands conurbation. In particular, a joint venture with Chiltern Railways will see through tickets available from London’s Marylebone station, offering dramatically improved links between London, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Solihull, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton with direct interchange at Snow Hill. o

Reader Enquiry Numbers:

Ansaldo 121 Firema 122

CAPTION: Reception party. Officials from Travel West Midlands, Centro and Ansaldo were on hand on February 19 to mark the arrival of Midland Metro’s first tram from its birthplace in Italy