The Metro extension to Newcastle Airport has marked its 25th anniversary.
The £12m scheme, opened on November 17, 1991, provides the fastest airport to city centre transfers in the country.
Millions of holidaymakers and business travellers have benefited over the last quarter of a century.
Managing Director of Nexus, Tobyn Hughes, said: “Extending the Metro system to the airport created a vital strategic link for North East England.
“The money that was invested in that scheme back in the late 80s and early 90s has proved to be money that was extremely well spent.
“It was a vital shot in the arm for the local economy, and for the growth and profile of Newcastle International Airport itself.”
Construction began in 1990 after funding had been secured from the EEC, what we now know today as the European Union.
New track, 3.5 kilometres in total, was built across the fields behind Woolsington village, extending Metro beyond the Bank Foot terminus.
An entirely new station, with its unique pyramid design, was constructed at the airport, with a walkway connecting the platforms to the main terminal building.
It also saw the construction of Callerton Parkway Metro station, which has become a popular park and ride site. A second platform was built at Bank Foot.
New level crossings were required at Bank Foot and Callerton Parkway to get the trains over two local roads.
The airport station was purposely built into a cutting to ensure that Metro’s overhead lines and signalling equipment were kept well below the flight path.
One of the challenges for Nexus Rail staff is maintaining the western end of the line beyond Bank Foot station, especially in winter. The higher elevation of the railway here often leads to heavier snow falls which, due to the open countryside, can lead to windblown drifts during bad winters.
Michael Bushby, 53, of Felling, has worked on the Metro since 1988, and spent most of that time as a driver.
He said: “I remember the airport extension opening back in 1991 because it was quite an exciting project and somewhere new to drive. There are lots of things on the airport route that you don’t get anywhere else on the network – not least the special trip wires in case of low flying planes! It’s a much more scenic line than most of the rest of the network. Most of time you are travelling through urban areas, but this route is different. You get to see a glimpse of the country and a lot of wildlife, which can make the journey that bit more interesting.
“I was working on the day of the opening and I remember driving a train up to the airport around mid-morning. There was a lot of hype and press interest. People were on the platforms at stations from Bank Foot onwards meeting and welcoming passengers onto the first trains.
“All drivers had to be assessed and trained on the new route and I remember that the operations manager at the time was there congratulating us for being the first drivers of airport passenger services as we arrived on the platform.
“I’ve had the pleasure of taking passengers up to the airport on that opening day and many times since, on a daily basis.
“In some respects it’s almost like you’re the first point of call for people visiting the region. Sometimes you’re like a mobile tourist information desk as well as a driver. I’ve had people ask me about hotels I can recommend, or places of interest in the region that they should visit.
“Generally speaking people travelling to and from the airport are in high spirits and you get to meet some lovely people. It’s a lovely place to travel to as a driver. Even the ones coming back from holiday seem happy to see you. After flying back from holiday, shattered, they know that you can take them home. I always try to greet them with a smile. Whenever I’ve been off on holiday with my wife and two daughters I’ve used the Metro as a passenger and it’s great.
“It’s a good job. You get to travel all over Tyne and Wear and meet so many people. A lot of people misunderstand the job because they think you’re stuck in a little cab and it must get monotonous, but it’s anything but. It’s very rewarding. I especially like meeting regular passengers and I get to see the beauty of all the seasons around our region.”