Community leaders in Sunderland have hailed the arrival of Metro services in the city 20 years ago, stressing that it was a major shot in the arm for Wearside.
The £100m network expansion became a reality on 31 March 2002 after a long campaign to bring the network to Sunderland finally proved successful.
Nexus, Metro’s operator, said that the line has provided Sunderland with a vital new strategic transport link that continues to be of huge benefit to the city.
In the 20 years since opening there has been 138 million journeys on the route, providing key connectivity to places of work and leisure.
Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller, said: It’s difficult to overstate the changes and many benefits the Metro extension into Sunderland has brought to not only our city but to Tyne and Wear.
“Millions of passenger journeys are made annually on the Metro within Sunderland’s city boundaries, the extension opened up more convenient and sustainable public transport into and out of the city for commuting and leisure, and there is the straight run through to and from an international airport.
“Plus, there are opportunities for further expansion and more benefits from Metro in the future.
“I think most people in Sunderland would now find it almost unimaginably inconvenient if there was no Metro and as new trains come into service we look forward to the next 20 years.”
Natasha McDonough, managing director, MMC Research & Marketing, Sunderland chair, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “The extension of the Metro system to Sunderland brought a boost to both the business and tourism sectors on Wearside. There have also been great benefits through having a modern transport system in terms of sustainability and the green agenda.”
Marie Nixon, Sunderland Empire Theatre Director said: “The extension of the Metro 20 years ago was a significant moment for Sunderland Empire, as it enabled us to attract new audiences from across Tyne and Wear to see our incredible shows.
“Metro is vital for organisations based in and around Sunderland, and we’re so grateful for our ongoing partnership with Nexus, which allows our guests to travel to and from the theatre for free, up to two hours before and after performances. We strive to make theatre accessible to all and initiatives like this really do make it possible. So, a massive thank you to Nexus and Metro for the last 20 years, and a very happy birthday!”
Chief Executive of Sunderland Business Improvement District, Sharon Appleby, said: “The opening of the new Sunderland Metro line in 2002 delivered a real boost for the city in terms of trade and connectivity.
“Good transport links are absolutely vital for our success and getting the Metro here delivered a vital new link, which to this day continues to be a massive benefit for Sunderland.
“Metro brings people into the city for work, leisure and education on a fast and very frequent service. It’s great that we got Metro here and we are delighted to mark the 20th anniversary of its opening.
“We look forward to Metro serving Sunderland for many many generations, and the new Metro trains are going to be a modern and very welcome sight when they start to arrive here.”
The £100m project to construct the extension began in the summer of 2000.
The new line branched off from the original Metro tracks at Pelaw in South Tyneside before continuing down through Sunderland City centre and on to the terminus station of South Hylton.
The Metro route into Sunderland runs for 14km over existing railway track to a point just beyond Sunderland Station before covering 4.5km of new track along the former Sunderland to Durham rail line between Sunderland Civic Centre and South Hylton.
In a first for the UK, Metro services between Pelaw and Sunderland share the route and track with heavy rail traffic.
Twelve Metro stations were added to the system to accommodate the extension. Eight of these stations: Fellgate, Stadium of Light, St. Peter's, Park Lane, University, Millfield, Pallion and South Hylton were newly built, while improvements were made to the four existing rail stations at Brockley Whins, East Boldon, Seaburn and Sunderland.
Metro services provide a seamless journeys into Sunderland for work, shopping and leisure, and outward journeys to Newcastle Airport and links to mainline rail services from Central Station in Newcastle and links to hundreds of bus services travelling throughout the North East region.