Transport chiefs have warned that passengers could soon have to put up with slower and more unreliable Metro services, while some stations could even be closed down – unless the government agrees to a major cash injection.
Metro operator Nexus says it had planned renewal works worth £57 million between 2023 and 2025, including refurbishing stations, replacing track and overhead lines, and restoring bridges.
But many of those projects are set to be put on hold, after the Department for Transport (DfT) awarded just £23.8 million for modernisation efforts – £33.2 million less than expected.
While passengers will not see an immediate impact on the Metro, Nexus warned that compromising its asset renewal programme could mean “the service will at some point be impaired”.
The effects could include imposing speed restrictions on trains, more regular disruption to services as a result of failures, and ultimately more drastic measures like the closure of stations or withdrawal of services to some parts of the region.
A report to the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) has warned current funding “falls significantly short of Nexus’ funding requirement for the Metro asset renewal programme and dialogue with DfT continues”.
According to a new Rail and Metro Strategy being presented to council leaders this week, the first section of the Metro to be shut down in a worst-case scenario where repair works cease would be between Regent Centre and Newcastle Airport, followed by the coastal loop from St James’ to South Gosforth.
The strategy adds that the works required during this decade include the installation of a new signalling system, a “significant overhaul” of lifts and escalators, the refurbishment of 13 stations, painting the QEII Bridge over the Tyne, and works to Howdon Viaduct.
JTC chair and Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said: “The Metro needs to be properly funded as it’s a hugely important asset to the region.
"It is great that the Government has provided some further funding certainty for modernisation work over the next two years to allow for the delivery of safety-critical renewals, but unfortunately the amount provided does not cover all of Metro’s needs for asset renewal.”
Nexus has also prepared plans to manage cuts to bus timetables in the region.
The transport operator is currently preparing for the arrival of a long-awaited £360 million fleet of new trains it hopes will transform the ailing network’s fortunes, said what funding it has from the DfT would be targeted at “safety and business critical projects”.
The Metro had previously benefited from a £350 million asset renewal plan between 2010 and 2021, which bosses say allowed for “properly planned maintenance” and “greater value for money”.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring the Metro receives long term funding and are working with local authorities to explore options as part of a devolution deal.
“In addition to £337m already provided for the replacement of the Tyne and Wear Metro fleet, we have provided £198 million from the Transforming Cities Fund for local transport improvements, including £95 million for Metro Flow to improve reliability and increase the frequency of services.”