NEXUS secured vital inward investment for the North East when the Government backed its plans to transform the iconic Tyne and Wear Metro system, used by 40million passengers a year.
Funding of up to £350m will be provided over the next 11 years to modernise and renew the existing network, allowing Nexus to begin an ambitious programme worth £385m in total.
The coalition Government affirmed its commitment to Metro: all change when the Chancellor George Osborne delivered his emergency budget last June, telling Parliament it was: “a project that will deliver substantial benefits to the economy.”
Nexus, the public body which owns Metro, is now pressing on with the job of delivering modernisation, which include new ‘smart’ ticket machines and electronic barriers, stations and train upgrades.
The vast majority of the money will, however, be spent on heavy engineering - rail infrastructure renewal works which involve the replacement or renewal of tracks, signals, structures and overhead lines.
The scale and ambition of Metro: all change can be summed up in the project to modernise the line between Byker and Tynemouth, where Nexus will be spending almost £600,000 a day during an unprecedented 23-day closure of the line in March and April.
While Metro opened in 1980 bridges, tunnels and embankments on this line date back to the 1830s, making it the oldest dedicated commuter railway in the world. Without urgent modernisation it would begin to decline or fail in only a few years with alarming consequences for local congestion and the viability of city centre business and public services.
By the end of the 2010/11 financial year Nexus will have invested an estimated £38m in capital projects on Metro in just 12 months – approaching three times any previous level of similar activity.
The scale of work simply could not be done by Nexus’ own staff, creating opportunities in engineering, construction and project management at a time when major capital investment projects in the region are few and far between – particularly from the public sector.
Bernard Garner, director-general of Nexus, describes Metro: all change as the most important investment programme since Metro opened 30 years ago – and one that will be of substantial benefit to the region’s economy.
Mr Garner said: “Every pound we spend on renewing Metro is worth up to £8 to the local economy in supporting city centre businesses, reducing congestion and driving workforce flexibility.
“Over the next decade Metro modernisation work that we procure will help to protect and create many hundreds of jobs in the construction, engineering and technology sectors.”
Among North East firms securing work is Sadler Brown Architecture of Newcastle, which is designing the first group of the 45 stations to be modernised following its award-winning work at Haymarket and Sunderland. It is working through consultant engineers Arup, which is providing expertise through its Newcastle office to the Metro: all change programme.
Nexus has signed framework agreements with a number of firms through which it will run mini competitions for packages of work that form part of the overall programme. Principle contractors appointed in this way are then free to subcontract.
Through this process construction firm Morgan Sindall, which has a regional office in Durham, has meanwhile just been awarded a contract to modernise Chillingham Road station in Newcastle, while York-based May Gurney has contracts for North Shields, Howdon and Meadow Well stations in North Tyneside.
Other framework firms include Balfour Beatty Rail (currently handling much of the Byker-Tynemouth line renewal), BAM Nuttall (carrying out many bridge renewals and other civil engineering projects in 2010 and 2011), Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering and Serco.
But the benefits also flow into a wider supply chain including bus companies (providing replacement services when Metro is off), logistics firms, accommodation providers and door-to-door leaflet distribution (warning Metro’s neighbours of engineering work and provided through ncjMedia, publisher of Vision).
The importance of Metro: all change is not lost on the region’s business leaders.
James Rambotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “Metro’s role has never been more important than in the present day when our thoughts are dominated by transport and connectivity.”
Metro connects both communities and conurbations and is a key driver of the regional economy.
“The future of the North East and its economic growth is dependent on our ability to create a joined up, practical, region-wide comprehensive public transport system, at the heart of which will undoubtedly be Metro.”