Nexus and the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Authority have lodged a £600m bid with Government for Metro Re-invigoration. Nexus Director General Bernard Garner explains why this investment is crucial to the North-East economy.
Could the North East's cities do business without Metro? One in three Tyne and Wear households use Metro in their daily routine; Metro carries more than 38 million passengers every year, and that number is rising steadily.
National priorities are to encourage greater public transport use - which means protecting today's assets and investing in higher quality and reliability for the years ahead.
Our blueprint for Metro will see the ageing network transformed over 20 years - with refurbished trains, new ticket machines and barriers a few of the benefits.
It also means the overhaul of the tracks and technology which drive Metro to guarantee reliability, modern stations and more park-and-ride.
Our bid to Government for £600m is vital because without more investment Metro will soon show real signs of age and falling reliability.
It won't be long before this drives passengers away. This would be disastrous for business as roads became clogged and people found it harder to travel for work by any means. Firms would be starved of their most precious resource - skilled and flexible staff.
It would mean 15 million more car journeys every year, 20% more cars on the Coast Road and other major routes into Newcastle from the north. There would be four times as many buses crossing the Tyne Bridge, and twice as many into Sunderland.
But 10,000 fewer people would travel into Newcastle every day as jams got worse - a devastating threat to city centre business underlining the significance of Metro to our economy.
Our own research shows for every pound spent on Metro the economy will benefit by several more compared to the cost of letting the system decline.
Metro is a sound investment.
Tyne and Wear's biggest redevelopment areas - Sunderland Riverside, Science City and Stephenson Quarter, Gateshead town centre and Baltic Business Quarter, Newcastle Airport - have one thing in common. Metro runs right to their door.
The money Nexus has received for Metro up to now has not kept pace with the system's maintenance needs or investment in the rest of the rail network - hence our bid for Re-invigoration to give Metro long-term security. Even so, we're asking for far less than comparable urban rail systems or Network Rail for the size of network we have.
Nexus will apply a "public sector comparator" to analyse the current operation against the best the private sector has to offer. Through this we'll examine whether to create one or a number of operating and maintenance concessions to ensure best value for taxpayer and passenger alike.
Re-invigoration is split into three phases:
Phase One (two years): New ticket machines and barriers, plus urgent maintenance work.
Phase Two (seven-nine years): modernisation and improvement of everything from overhead lines and track to communications, stations and trains.
Phase Three (seven to nine years): New signals and trains, plus on-going renewal.
Nexus wants Phase one to start in 2009-10, spending £20m on ticket machines, plus electronic barriers at 13 busy stations to drive down fraud.
Our passengers should not have to contend with coin-only technology in the 21st Century, as they do now. As well as notes and credit/debit cards the new machines will be capable of handling smart cards.
We're already starting work on a number of projects funded outside Re-invigoration: A £3.2m new station at Simonside supported by European funding, a £7m upgrade at Sunderland, and a £20m private development above Haymarket allowing a £5m station modernisation below.
Re-invigoration would extend this to £60m improving stations right across Metro, and very much more on behind-the-scenes technology of signals and communications.
We need to make sure tunnels and embankments dating back to the age of Stephenson will be good for another 150 years.
A complete refurbishment of Metro's current 90-strong train fleet is planned for the second phase, as a precursor to replacing the entire fleet with new trains by 2026.
Nexus also wants to spend £14.5m building a second track alongside the existing line to South Shields and £5.1m on modernising South Shields station.
Other stations to benefit from major upgrades would be North Shields and Heworth.
There'll be substantial investment in park-and-ride, particularly where our lines intersect the A19.
Having submitted our Detailed Business Case to Government in January we are now in talks with ministers. Metro Re-Invigoration is supported by One NorthEast, the North East Chamber of Commerce, CBI, and Association of North-East Councils.
The next few months could not be more important, so I urge you to go to www.nexus.org.uk to explore our plans in more detail, and show your support.