The Sunderland line of the Tyne and Wear Metro is celebrating its 10th birthday, having carried more than 40 million passengers since opening.
Opened to the public on March 31st 2002, the line transformed travel between the two biggest cities in the North East, and continues to do so today.
The Sunderland line added a new route of 18km and 12 stations to the Metro network from Pelaw through Sunderland City Centre to South Hylton.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, officially opened the line during her Golden Jubilee year, travelling with the Duke of Edinburgh on May 7th 2002, from Park Lane Interchange to Fellgate, South Tyneside.
Bernard Garner, Director General of Nexus, which owns and manages Metro, said: “Building and opening the Sunderland Metro line meant overcoming huge technical and financial challenges, but the difference it makes is there to see every day.
“Metro helped open the door to attracting people to Sunderland from far and wide, whether it is to shop, to visit, to study at Sunderland University or attend world-class sport and culture at The Stadium of Light.
Richard McClean, Managing Director of Metro operator DB Regio Tyne and Wear said: “The Sunderland line is a great asset to the North East and over 40 million journeys have been made on this line in the last 10 years.”
“Metro provides a vital link across the whole of Tyne and Wear which has helped to boost the economy in Sunderland and Newcastle as well as the surrounding towns. Many people use Metro to commute to and from work and over four million journeys have been made on the Sunderland line alone in the last 12 months.
The whole project to build the Sunderland line involved some unique engineering challenges. Around 13km of line between Pelaw and Sunderland were converted to Metro use by installing overhead power lines and some of the most advanced signal systems in the UK.
The line marked a milestone for the rail industry as, for the first time in the UK, local light rail and national heavy rail began sharing the same tracks, with Sunderland station playing host to Metro, Northern regional trains and now Grand Central intercity trains to London from the same platforms.
A further 4.5km of line was built from Sunderland to South Hylton using a disused railway route, until then used as a cycle path. A brand new transport interchange was also built at Park Lane, creating a major new bus station above the Metro line.
At Fellgate station, lift shafts had to be built without disturbing the 160-year-old railway embankment and at St Peter’s a new station had to be created without damaging the historic stone viaduct, a listed structure.
Eight new stations were built and three converted to Metro use from national rail, while Sunderland continues to be used by both. Sunderland station’s platforms were refurbished by Nexus in a £7m project completed in 2010, creating a new city centre gateway.
McClean added: “Sunderland is the busiest station on the extension, with 1.8 million Metro passengers in the last 12 months and 350,000 passengers using the station for Northern and Grand Central services.”
The opening of the line has seen the number of trains between Newcastle and Sunderland increase to five an hour. A journey between the two city centres takes less than 30 minutes, while Metro links Sunderland to Newcastle International Airport in around 45 minutes.
Shirley Atkinson, University of Sunderland’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, said: “Since the opening of the Sunderland Line, literally thousands of our students and staff have benefitted over the last 10 years from the accessibility the Metro service offers between University and St Peter’s stations.
“The extension has certainly opened up our two campuses to the rest of the region, playing an important role in attracting students from across the North East and removing any travel barriers they previously may have faced.
“We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Metro on reaching such a major milestone and we’re sure their growing success will continue to benefit our own staff and students for years to come.”
Football fans have also benefitted from the transport link, Gary Hutchinson, Sunderland AFC’s commercial director and chairman of the NECC in Sunderland said:
“The Metro service has been a wonderful addition to the city of Sunderland. A strong infrastructure is vital for a successful business community and the service has enhanced our connectivity with the rest of the region, making Sunderland more accessible than ever.
“Like any major venue, the Stadium of Light requires outstanding transport provisions and Metro has continued to offer a speedy service for both football and music fans, moving a high percentage of substantial crowds for both Barclays Premier League matches and concerts.
“The club has worked closely with Nexus on a range of initiatives for our fans such as the new ‘Wear on our Way’ travel pass for the 2012/13 season, which will offer fans subsidised travel anywhere in Tyne and Wear before and after kick for just £20 per season. We look forward to continuing our work together.”