Metro chiefs have begun the process of buying a new fleet of trains in a a £362million project they say will transform the quality and reliability of Metro services for passengers.
Nexus, the public body which owns and operates the Tyne and Wear Metro, has launched the tendering process to find a supplier who will design and build the trains.
Transport chiefs say they are expecting interest from around the globe for the contract, which will be the biggest project since the Tyne and Wear Metro system since it was built in the late 1970s.
The Government committed £337million towards the cost of new train fleet in the autumn Budget, with a £25million contribution coming from Nexus.
The first of the new Metro fleet of 42 trains will hit the rails in late 2021, with Metro chiefs promising greater reliability while delivering improved comfort and convenience for passengers.
Trains will have air conditioning, digital connectivity, phone charging points and a linear seat layout to create more space for wheelchairs, standing room and luggage.
Read more: 12 things to look forward to on the new Metro trains
A new maintenance depot will be built on the existing Metro depot site at Gosforth in Newcastle.
The commencement of the procurement process was given the green light by the North East Combined Authority’s Leadership Board on January 16.
Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Nexus, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the funding and now that we have approval from the Combined Authority we can get on with the job of buying the new trains.
“The trains that we will buy will transform the reliability of the Metro system, as well as reducing energy usage and updating the experience of travelling by Metro. We will also future-proof them so that they have the capability of serving more destinations on a wider network in the future.
“We are in the process of finalising the specification, and we have used extensive market research to inform the interior layout, for example by providing more standing room and space for luggage. We are really looking forward to seeing the designs that manufacturers come up with so that we can choose the best possible trains for our existing passengers and for future generations of Metro travellers.
“We expect the first trains to start arriving in late 2021.”
The first stage of the procurement process is to publish a formal notification in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), where all tenders from the public sector valued above a certain financial threshold must be published.
Nexus expects a shortlist of bidders to be in place by late summer 2018, with the winning bidder announced in 2019.
The new Metro trains will arrive in stages. As each new train arrives an old one will be removed from service.
Nexus expects it will take two years for from late 2021 to completely replace the existing Metro fleet.
A Fleet maintenance contract will come into operation during 2020, covering the existing as well as the new fleet.