South Shields Metro line closure: Question mark still hangs over reopening date

Metro trains should finally be running to South Tyneside for the first time in three months next Monday – but engineers are not yet certain that a £104million upgrade project will be done by then.

The Metro line between Pelaw and South Shields has been shut since mid-September, the longest and biggest closure in the network’s 42-year history, for dualling works that will increase its capacity.

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Transport chiefs have now confirmed they aim to reopen the critical route on Monday, December 12, restoring trains for passengers who use Hebburn, Jarrow, Bede, Simonside, Tyne Dock, Chichester and South Shields stations.

The Metro Flow project is already delayed by a week.

However, that date is not yet set in stone and Nexus says it will issue another update this Friday if there is a risk of a further delay.

The long-planned improvement works are intended to make Metro trains more reliable and enable extra services to run, with passengers outside of the rail system’s central areas soon able to expect a train every 10 minutes rather than every 12.

This has been done by upgrading and electrifying an infrequently used freight line so both Metro and freight trains can share the route, dualling three pinch-point areas of single track that have been a source of delays.

Construction work is now finished on the ‘Metro Flow’ upgrades, but the line cannot be reopened until “rigorous testing” of overhead lines and signal systems is finished.

Cathy Massarella, major projects director at Nexus, said: “Our contractors have completed all construction work in the £104million Metro Flow project and have moved on to the rigorous testing and commissioning we need before Metro and freight trains can use the new track, overhead line and signalling infrastructure. We aim to re-open the route between Pelaw and South Shields to Metro customers on 12 December, and our contractors led by Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd are working round the clock to make that happen.

“I know customers will want to get back on trains between Pelaw and South Shields as soon as they can, and I am sorry the project has taken a week longer than we planned, but we are very close to safely completing the main phase of work. This has been a massive and unique project with more than 1,000 engineers working against demanding timescales while at the same time maintaining deliveries to the oil terminal in Jarrow through the worksite.

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“Metro Flow brings new benefits for Metro customers which will be felt for years to come. We have renewed infrastructure throughout the 4.6km worksite and removed three single-track pinch points which can cause delays across Metro, opening the way for a more frequent service right across the system.

“We needed to complete Metro Flow now, to meet Government timescales on the funding which made this investment possible and to be ready for our new Metro trains to enter service next year.”

To use the Metro, passengers to and from South Tyneside have had to take a replacement bus service running to and from Heworth Interchange.

On top of the disruption caused by the Metro Flow works, services to Sunderland have also been hit by problems in recent weeks due to damage caused by flooding at an electrical substation in Pallion – means there are no trains between Park Lane and South Hylton until at least 2023 and a reduced, 24-minute service is operating between Pelaw and Park Lane.