Urgent talks needed on Metro £500m black hole with imminent deadline set

The scheme is set to cost more than replacing the current Metro fleet with new trains (see above).
The scheme is set to cost more than replacing the current Metro fleet with new trains (see above).

Mayoral candidate Kim McGuinness has promised to open urgent talks with the Government to secure more than £500m needed for Metro signalling upgrade before the system risks failure as early as 2030.

Labour’s candidate for North East mayor McGuinness has vowed to work with the region’s transport lead, Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, to secure the next vital investment in the Metro system.

The current signalling system was implemented in the 1970s with a 30 to 40-year design life. Nexus has managed to extend the system’s lifespan through regular maintenance and repairs. However, repairs are becoming more challenging due to parts obsolescence and maintenance is becoming more challenging due to skills shortages.

Signalling failures led to 7,000 minutes of Metro delays in the last year alone – a 4,000 minute increase in the last 12 months.

Metro bosses believe that based on the current trends they “expect the system to fail as early as 2030” according to Nexus briefings. They have told McGuinness that it is getting harder to find the parts and expertise needed to keep this very dated technology going, while investment in a digital system would pave the way for a world-class frequency at peak times and expansion of the system.

But the need for signal upgrades could end up being the most expensive project in Metro history, with transport leads expecting the bill to be at least £500m – more even than the cost of replacing the Metro fleet.

McGuinness said: “I’m standing to be mayor because I’m proud of our region and I’m prepared to fight for the investment it needs. The next big challenge facing our region is keeping the Metro going. That will mean all our region uniting behind a campaign for key investment.

“The Metro is key to so many jobs in the North East, and my job is to be a voice into the next Government calling on ministers to prioritise our investment.

“If elected mayor I’ll be working with our council leaders so we’re ready to secure this investment. Ministers cannot afford to let the Metro fail.”

Gateshead Council leader and chair of Transport North East Martin Gannon said: “We’re working together to secure the future of the Metro system because good transport connections are key to growing our economy. We have a good track-record of securing investment in our system, and we know that the North East is at its most powerful when it speaks with a united voice.

“That’s why in the coming months and years we’ll be making the case, together with Kim as our mayor, on making sure this signalling investment is in place.”