Birmingham & Black Country

Midland Metro's new tram fleet being made in Spain

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Media captionTwenty new vehicles are being built in Zaragoza in Spain at a cost of £40m

The first of a new £40m fleet of hi-tech trams is about to be shipped to the Midlands from a factory in Spain.

Twenty new vehicles are being built for the Midland Metro.

They will be used initially on the existing tramline between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Later they will run on the new extension to Birmingham's New Street Station.

The new trams are being built by Spanish manufacturer CAF at its factory in Zaragoza.

Since winning the order, the company has worked closely with Midland Metro owner Centro, which is in charge of planning the metro expansion.

Similar trams are already running in cities all over the world, including in Zaragoza.

'Very emotional'

In addition to the Birmingham trams, the company is building vehicles for Houston in the USA and Nantes in France.

Jorge Piqueras, CAF's lead engineer said: "It's one of the biggest contracts we have won so far and 20 trams for us is an important number of vehicles to be delivered.

He said that after "two years of hard work" having the vehicles running in Birmingham will be "very emotional".

The first Midland Metro tram is due to arrive in September and, after a period of commissioning, will enter service in April next year.

Image caption The fleet of 20 trams will cost £40m - the first should enter service in April 2014
Image caption Each of the new trams is 32m (104ft) long and can hold up to 200 passengers
Image caption Platforms have been adapted to take the new trams, which have lower floors
Image caption The new trams are being made at the CAF factory in Zaragoza

The new vehicles will replace the current 16-strong fleet of trams, originally built in Italy.

The new trams are bigger than the old model, providing greater passenger capacity between Birmingham and the Black Country.

The frequency trams run will increase once all the new vehicles are in service, with one arriving every six minutes.

Three million passengers

Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, said the new trams will have lower floors, making access easier.

"Passengers will also notice that they are much bigger trams and obviously there's a lot more space for people," he said.

Platforms have been modified to accommodate the new trams.

During Easter this year the system was completely shut down while the work was carried out.

The expansion of the Midland Metro is costing £128m and also includes work to extend a tram depot in Wednesbury in the Black Country.

The new line through Birmingham city centre will be just under a mile long and have three stops including one alongside a revamped New Street railway station.

It is expected that the extension will carry more than three million passengers per year.

There are also plans to go further than New Street station.

A scheme to run trams through the revamped Paradise Forum and into Centenary Square close to Birmingham's International Convention Centre is now well advanced.

Centro claims that the extension will boost the West Midlands economy by £50m a year and create 1,300 sustainable new jobs.

The arrival of the Midland Metro, more than a decade ago, has already led to regeneration in some parts of the Black Country.

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