British transport minister, Mr Jesse Norman, was the special guest to mark the laying of the first tracks for the 2km extension, which is being developed in two phases by the Midland Metro Alliance partnership on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). The milestone was also celebrated by West Midlands mayor Mr Andy Street and regional transport chiefs.
The £70m first phase between Grand Central and Centenary Square is due to open by the end of 2019 while the second phase, which will extend services along Broad Street to Edgbaston Five Ways, will be operational by the end of 2021.
The new services will carry visitors and commuters to key destinations and attractions including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the new HSBC headquarters, the Arena Central and Paradise regeneration sites, Brindleyplace, Symphony Hall and the Town Hall.
The light rail project is part of a wider £1.35bn expansion of the region’s tram network over the coming decade, with new lines serving Birmingham, the Black Country and Solihull.
The track was laid the same day the Department for Transport launched a call for seeking views on the potential use of light rail and other types of rapid transit in English towns and cities.
“The West Midlands Metro network shows how government support can help to create a sustainable, accessible and innovative light rail system, which forms an integral part of a modern urban transport network,” Norman says.
The tracks are the first to be installed in the city centre since 2015 when the extension from Snow Hill to Grand Central was under construction.
“We are trebling the size of the tram network in the next few years and this is to make sure we best link to HS2 and help us get the maximum economic benefits from the high speed rail line,” says Mr Roger Lawrence, WMCA portfolio holder for transport. “These routes, particularly in the Black Country, will unlock new housing and employment sites and give more people access to jobs.”