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Nice for the North East - but couldn't Light Rail also solve Hertfordshire's East-West Connectivity Problems?

February 16, 2020 8:13 AM

Tyne and Wear Stadler Vehicles (RTM)Nexus, the public body which owns and operates the Tyne & Wear Metro, announced today (12th February, 2020) that the Swiss company Stadler, had been awarded a £362m contract to build 42 new trains for the network between now and 2024. The trains will be built in a recently-opened factory in St Margrethen, Switzerland, but 30 UK companies would be involved in supplying parts and components - half of them being in the North East.

The new trains will reduce Tyne & Wear Metro's high voltage power consumption by 30%, while also providing 15 times more reliability than the current operating fleet.

Not only will Stadler produce the 42 new trains, but will also build a new maintenance depot in Tyne & Wear to carry out a 35 year maintenance contract for the new fleet.

The two contracts together are thus worth around £700m mark over the next 40 years.

After Glasgow and Liverpool, whose new trains for Mersey Rail are being delivered right now, this is the third metro operator to opt for Stadler vehicles.

Hertfordshire County Councillor for Tring, Nick Hollinghurst, commented, "Contracts like this one - plus Glasgow and Liverpool - are over 5 years in the making and had their origins in decisions taken by the Coalition Government prior to 2015. Credit for investments like this should really go to the former Lib Dem ministers, Vince Cable and Ed Davey, whose far-sighted infrastructure developments were meant as a counter-balance to the Tories' overdone austerity, as well as building for the future.

We are of course very pleased to to see Johnson's Tory government committing to some measure of regional development and we hope this is sincere, rather than just an election bribe.

On the other hand Hertfordshire suffers from poor East-West communications and these could be improved by light rail transit across our county, partially using existing routes, line the Watford-St Albans Abbey Line and partially using old rail routes still in place. Somewhat to the North of the county is the proposed East-West Rail Project poised for the go-ahead on the next stage between Bicester and Bletchley to connect with the Marston Vale Line which operates between Bletchley and Bedford. The legal and design work is done for Bicester-Bletchley and this could be started almost immediately. Bletchley is easily access by the West Coast Main Line and this would provide local Hertfordshire residents with a convenient rail route to Aylesbury and Oxford going west and to Bedford going east. Why has this relatively inexpensive scheme not been given the green light?

Even more galling, however, was the cancellation at the last minute of the Metropolitan Line Extension. This involved a connection, mostly over existing track between Croxley and Watford High Street to provide North London residents with easy rail access to mainline rail at Watford junction. In addition it would have provided those same residents plus people all along the West Coast Mainline with rail access to the football ground and to the Watford Hospital. It had been shown that the Metropolitan Line Extension could have produced a massive economic boost to South West Herts, but as a result of squabbling between Tory Chris Grayling and the Labour Mayor of London this relatively modest transport improvement was suddenly and unexpectedly scrapped."

Nick concluded, "We realise helping the North and the Midlands with transport improvements will help the whole country as economic inequalities are reduced - but that shouldn't and needn't be at the expense of more modest developments in the East of England Region which have the potential to deliver good value and significant economic boosts."