Tyne and Wear Metro passengers 'deserve better' after months of disruption

Nexus managing director Martin Kearney said it has been a "tough" time for Metro users. Credit: Nexus

Tyne and Wear Metro passengers “deserve better” after months of disruption and delays, the network’s boss has said.

Nexus managing director Martin Kearney said it has been a "tough" time, with line closures and weather causing problems.

The line between Pelaw and South Shields was shut down for three months to allow upgrade works to take place, while a fire at a sub-station in Pallion has stopped trains on the Sunderland line running beyond Park Lane and restricted that section of the network to a 24-minute service.

While Metro staff have not been part of the strikes that have crippled the UK’s rail system over recent months, industrial action has prevented trains running past Pelaw towards Sunderland on strike days.

Mr Kearney told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it had been a “tough” time, but hopes to see the back of most of those problems next year – especially as the Metro’s new fleet of trains starts arriving.

He said: “In January, thank God, we should have everything open. We had the broken rail the other week and that didn’t help, we had the freezing temperatures and that is the real reason I cannot wait for the new fleet to come – the old fleet just did not operate.

“Be it failure or unavailability of units, it just did not operate to the standard our customers expect and that was tough.

“When it gets a bit warmer the fleet starts operating again, but that is not how it should be – big shock, it gets cold every year.

“On top of that, we have a big spike in sickness and Covid at the moment which I think is generally around most workplaces. That is not helping our situation. 

“So performance has not been good and our customers do deserve better. I think the critical thing is that we have a bright future.”

The first of the £362m new fleet is now scheduled to arrive at the end of January, before eventually being put into service in the autumn. 

Mr Kearney added: “These trains are going to be such a gamechanger for the region, for us, our drivers, our workforce, but really it is done for the customers.

“We will still have delays in autumn periods [due to leaves on the line] but these trains should be, and the proof will be in the pudding, able to operate better in autumn.”

On top of modern features like air conditioning, wifi, and charging points that will come as a welcome relief to passengers fed up with the ageing Metro trains that have been on our tracks for more than four decades, the arrival of the new fleet will also allow the Metro to move to a more regular, 10-minute service.

Between January and March, Metro will also be capping the price of a single at £2 – in line with an offer on buses across England to help passengers during the cost of living crisis.

Mr Kearney says there are “no plans” to make that offer a more permanent fixture, but has pledged to keep ticket fares “as low as we possibly can” for people using Pop pay as you go cards.

2023 will also see the Metro asked to play a critical role in alleviating the pressure on the North East’s roads that is likely to ensue when the restoration of the Tyne Bridge starts, halving the number of lanes on the busy crossing.

That, along with the shifting of thousands of HMRC jobs from the Longbenton Ministry site into Newcastle city centre, could mean a major jump in the number of commuters using the Metro to get into the city.

Done well and with enough park and ride provision to meet what could be a massive demand, Mr Kearney hopes, it could be a “catalyst” for permanent shifts from cars to public transport. 

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