A record number of new Metro drivers are in training at a new £8.4m Nexus Learning Centre in South Shields.
Thirty recruits – Metro’s biggest ever single intake of drivers – are among the first to use the purpose-built facility, which has opened its doors for the first time following the completion of construction work over the summer.
Nexus, the public body which owns and manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, has built the new Learning Centre to bring wide range of rail infrastructure and operations training under one roof in a modern new setting.
The development has been funded through a £7m grant from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and a £1.4m contribution by Nexus.
The biggest ever number of new Metro train crews are being trained after previous schools were halted due to the unavailability of national testing centres as a result of the March lockdown.
Chief Operating Officer at Nexus, Martin Kearney, said: “We’re delighted to open the doors of our new, purpose-built Learning Centre in South Shields. This facility is part of our vision of an exciting future for Nexus.
“Metro drivers are among the first ones to use these modern facilities as we push ahead with the latest training schools, which previously been held up by the first lockdown.
“The Learning Centre will transform the quality of the training we provide to our workforce and industry partners, ensuring we keep Metro part of everyday life for the people who use the service every day.
“It’s a place where our employees will go to develop themselves professionally, and to work on strategies to improve what we do and how we do it.
“A lot of our training was previously being delivered in mobile classrooms, so this new building heralds a new era and a step change in quality.”
Head of Learning at Nexus, Heather Blevins, said: “We have transformed our staff training facilities with the opening of our new Learning Centre. It marks the start of a bright future for the development of our workforce.
“We now have a bespoke, ultra-modern building that brings a range of key training disciplines under one roof.
“All staff will get the opportunity to benefit from these facilities. It’s a major investment that future proofs our organisation for many years to come.”
Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The Local Growth Fund supports projects in our region that help develop skills, and enhance our strategic transport sites and public transport infrastructure. The new Nexus Learning Centre is a fantastic example of the positive impact the Local Growth Fund is having in the North East LEP region.
“It follows the opening of the nearby landmark Transport Interchange in South Shields in 2019, which also benefitted from investment from the Local Growth Fund.
“The new Nexus Learning Centre will help create more and better jobs in the North East, and support the continued improvements to Tyne and Wear Metro, which has a vital role to play in the economic success of our region.”
The Nexus Learning Centres boasts a 70 metre stretch of dual track for rail infrastructure training, including track, track points, signalling and overhead line.
It will eventually be home to a new computerised Metro driver training simulator, in preparation for the delivery of new Metro trains. It will also allow engineering staff to learn how to maintain the new trains, which are set to start arriving in 2022 and enter services in 2023.
Nexus can now safely and securely stable Metro trains overnight in South Shields, allowing for an earlier start of services and later evening services from South Shields when the new train fleet is brought into service.
Other facilities include classrooms, offices, a staff canteen and breakout area, store rooms, a conference room for 50 people.
The Learning Centre was built by the construction firm GallifordTry, and was designed by Stephen George + Partners, one of the UK’s leading architectural practices.
The trainee Metro drivers were originally recruited last year but then had to waiting for the opportunity to start their school. They are undertaking a six-month period of training and will be ready to go into service in March and April 2021.
A group of 16 trainees had been due to start in May of this year, meaning that they would have been ready to start driving by November, but that was postponed due to lockdown.
The cancellation of that driver school meant that the Metro traincrew establishment is forecast to be 10% below requirements in December 2020 and 13% below requirements in January 2021.
Nexus doubled its annual driver trainee intake in September 2019 from 24 to 48. This allowed for six training schools to run per year.
This new training programme was being fulfilled up until the UK was locked down in March due to the coronavirus outbreak – which is why trainee intakes were enhanced again to catch up.