Metro ‘lighter, brighter and safer’ thanks to the refurbishment of its fleet

Posted: 11 November 2014 | | No comments yet

The £30 million modernisation of the Tyne and Wear Metro’s train fleet has past the half-way point, and eye-catching new features and functional changes are now emerging across the system. Nexus, the public body which owns and manages Metro, commissioned the fleet refurbishment project in 2010 when modernisation funding was given the green light by the UK Government. Throughout the project, at stations, on trains, and for staff, operations have very much been business as usual. Managing Director of DB Regio Tyne and Wear, Richard McClean, gave us an update on the refurbishment work.

Metro’s fleet of 90 trains has been the backbone of public transport in Tyne and Wear for over three decades. 2015 will be Metro’s 35th year of operations. These are trains which carry almost 40 million passengers a year, making Metro the busiest light-rail system in the UK outside of London. The Metro fleet had previously undergone a refurbishment in the mid-1990s, but by 2010 it was clear they were in need of a much more fundamental refit in order to prolong their operational life span beyond 2018.

When Nexus secured £389 million of UK Government funding for its all change modernisation programme, DBTW won a seven-to-nine year contract to operate the Metro trains on its behalf. The contract that Deutsche Bahn secured included the delivery of an extensive train fleet modernisation programme, with £30 million of the government funding allocated for this work to be carried out.

Director of Rail and Infrastructure for Nexus, Raymond Johnstone, said: “Securing the funding for Metro modernisation was a huge moment, one that was made all the more significant by the reductions in UK Government spending. Part of the deal was to let the Metro operations to a concessionaire and written into that deal was the management of our fleet refurbishment scheme. Deutsche Bahn has done a good job with this and I’m pleased that we are on course to finish ahead of schedule in 2015.”

Metro’s ‘three-quarter life’ refurbishment project is being carried out by railway engineering firm Wabtec Rail at its Doncaster facility, in South Yorkshire. Wabtec, whose services include the overhaul and repair of railway rolling stock and components, has carried out similar projects for Transport for London (TfL) on their Underground trains.

Progress on track

The refit has seen extensive refurbishment work completed on a total of 67 Metrocars, with just 19 more left to be done by mid-2015, and we expect work to be completed six months earlier than planned. The project has seen the existing Metro fleet undergo numerous updates and improvements, providing passengers with a brighter and more comfortable journey, and this will be the case for many years to come.

Since work began in 2010, the whole Metro system has undergone both a seismic and a stylistic overhaul. During their 35-year lifespan, the trains have undergone two significant refurbishments, to renew technical equipment and improve the passenger experience. Many of the fleet’s 1,500V DC electric multiple units have now been stripped down to their frames and built back up again, which will help extend their life up to around 2025. The Metrocars were designed and built by Metro-Cammel in the city of Birmingham in the West Midlands in the mid-1970s. Each vehicle is 27m-long, and 2.6m-wide, with an unladen weight of 40 tonnes. The trains have a load capacity of just short of 300 passengers.

In order for the modernisation work to be carried out, the trains have been transported down to the Wabtec yard in Doncaster on the back of low loaders, one at a time in a phased programme to ensure we have enough rolling stock back at the depot to provide the services that we are contracted to operate on behalf of Nexus. Since we started the work in 2010 the residents of Tyne and Wear have got used to the sight of 40-tonne Metro trains loaded on the back of a flatbed truck travelling on local roads, before heading south on the A1. It’s quite a sight to behold. Each departure and delivery is carefully managed through a rail yard in North Tyneside. The newly refurbished trains are then taken back to the depot and made ready for passenger service. A total of 86 Metrocars will be refurbished. The last four trains, including the two original prototypes will be retained in their original condition and their original yellow Tyne and Wear PTE livery in order to support our operations if they are needed. These trains also have a great deal of heritage value for future generations, given the importance and success of the Metro system to North East England over the last three decades.

Challenges faced

One of the most challenging aspects of this project has been maintaining the highly intensive Metro service while up to seven Metrocars have been tied up in the refurbishment itself. This has required 93% of the available fleet to go into service each day.

To deliver these stretching requirements, DBTW completely restructured the Metrocar maintenance regime and the organisation of the maintenance teams. This will also leave a permanent legacy once the refurbishment is completed of cost reduction in the maintenance arrangements as well as the potential for service expansions.

The significant changes to the Metrocars delivered through the refurbishment have required over 250 staff to be trained on the features of maintaining and operating the new systems fitted – this too being delivered without interrupting the day-to-day operation of the Metro service.

Refurbished trains

The Metrocars have been completely stripped down to their chassis and rebuilt. The engineers found a much higher degree of metal corrosion when the work got underway, largely to do with salt corrosion from running on our line which operates around the North Tyneside coastal region. Each item is a necessary part of the project to give Metro a polished appearance for the future. There have been cosmetic updates on trains, both inside and out, replacing old paintwork and livery design, installing new passenger seating and replacing drivers’ seats as well as updating the lighting with an energy efficient system. All of the Metrocars now have a bright, clean and modern interior and there are better facilities for passengers in wheelchairs and also for those carrying heavy luggage.

On trains, the door control systems are being replaced and a new and improved door opening and closing sounder has been installed, to give passengers more warning and limit the number of people boarding the train at the last minute and obstructing the doors. A new call-for-aid system has been installed to allow passengers to contact the driver. There is also new lighting at each of the doorways on board to illuminate the door edge and help passenger safety when they are getting on and off at stations. The trains already have an audio and visual display system on board to announce the next stations. This system was retro-fitted on to the trains by Nexus between 2007 and 2009.

The refurbished trains have a sleek, light metallic grey and black finish, incorporating the distinctive bright yellow brand colour of the Tyne and Wear Metro. The new colour scheme replaces the old Metro train livery from the mid-1990s. Many of the stations already have a brighter complexion now. All the trains are now up to the current standard required by accessibility regulations well in advance of the legal requirement of 2020.

Looking to the future

The current refurbishment scheme keeps the Metro fleet in shape for another 10 years. But Nexus is already planning what needs to happen after that time. The Director General of Nexus, Bernard Garner, explained: “The top priority for the future of Metro is ensuring that we can replace the train fleet, hopefully by the mid-2020s. It stops being economic to keep maintaining the current rolling stock beyond the middle of the next decade. Nexus and the North East Combined Authority will start making a strong case to government for this investment and I’m confident it is an argument that we can win.”

Passenger feedback

Our staff have played a big part in the transformation and worked tirelessly in different ways to bring about the changes that will brighten passenger experience by 2015. The fact that passenger volume has continued unabated during the project is testament to careful planning and customer service, as well as the importance of the Metro system to the region, its surrounding areas, and the wider national rail network. Feedback from customers regarding the new trains already in circulation has been positive and we are now focusing on refurbishing the remaining Metrocars, to ensure all passengers receive a reliable and comfortable journey with Metro in the future. The system has also seen a massive improvement in customer satisfaction scores thanks to a zero-tolerance approach to graffiti and strict cleanliness standards. We understand that information sources need to be flexible, and providing information, particularly through the use of social media, is important to reassure travellers, both during times of disruption and also generally so passengers make informed choices. Metro continues to monitor, manage and update real-time sources of information via Facebook and Twitter.

We have achieved so much since 2010 and everyone at DB Regio can feel proud of how far we’ve come. It is with great pride that we can look back on everything we have completed so far, and we look forward to the future with excitement. The Metro system is already lighter, brighter and safer, with all the facilities our customers expect for the future. The aim is to ensure that Metro is around for the benefit of future generations and this work helps to achieve it.


Richard McClean joined the railway industry as an Engineering Management Trainee in 1982, working in various parts of the network, mainly in the London area. He spent 18 months acting as Personal Assistant to the Chairman of the British Railways Board at the time of Railtrack’s vesting. Richard joined GNER in 1998, as Production Director, having previously been Production Director on LTS Rail. Richard then performed the role of GNER’s Development Director leading on Franchise Bids and delivering GNER’s major franchise investment commitment projects, including rolling stock/station remodelling schemes. This was followed by fulfilling the role of National Express’s Project Director for the Intercity Express Programme with responsibility for ensuring that these DfT-procured trains enter service successfully without impact on the then National Express East Coast Franchise. Richard took up the role of Managing Director of DB Regio Tyne & Wear Ltd with the commencement of the Metro Concession in 2010.