The vehicles entered service last year on the 20km line from Wolverhampton to Birmingham Snow Hill, which was extended to Bull Street on December 6. Trams will begin running to Stephenson Street outside the recently-rebuilt New Street station later this year.

Retrofitting the Urbos fleet with roof-mounted batteries will enable catenary-free operation on the next phase of the line, a 1.3km extension from Stephenson Street to Centenary Square, which will open in 2019. This will obviate the need to erect catenary in front of the 182-year-old Town Hall in Victoria Square.

Three other extensions have also been identified for catenary-free operation, including:

  • Edgbaston extension from Centenary Square to the Brindleyplace tram stop, and through the underpass at Five Ways
  • Birmingham Eastside extension between Moor Street Queensway and Digbeth High Street stop, including under the proposed HS2 station at Curzon Street, and
  • Wolverhampton city centre extension between the bus station and the railway station tram stop.

The proposed Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension is also being evaluated to identify catenary-free sections.

Centro says the saving just from catenary-free operation on these four sections is £650,000, but longer term there will be greater savings as there is now no longer any need to prepare roads or buildings for overhead lines.

Discussions have begun with battery suppliers although the final cost has not yet been determined. However, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has already agreed to provide a £3.15m contribution and industry association UKTram will provide £1m towards the project.