Special award for Metro and the man who helped to create it

The first Metrocar 4001
12 November 2020

The Tyne and Wear Metro and the man who masterminded its creation have scooped a special public transport industry award.

The Global Light Rail Awards last night recognised the overwhelming success of the Metro system as it celebrates its 40th anniversary year, along with the work of the pioneering civil engineer who made it become a reality.

The Judges’ Special Award was jointly presented to Metro’s operator, Nexus, and to Professor Tony Ridley, the former Director General who led the Metro project in its early years, paving the way for a system that revolutionised local public transport.

Prof Ridley, a respected civil engineer from Sunderland, headed up the Tyne and Wear PTE from 1968 to 1975. He was part of a team of visionary planners who devised the Metro network. He oversaw the planning process, the award of funding, and the first year of construction work in 1974.

Managing Director Transport North East, Tobyn Hughes, who is also the current Director General of Nexus, said: “I’m delighted to say that the Metro and its first director general, Tony Ridley, have been given this special award by our transport industry peers.

“This is fitting recognition for all of the work that so many people have put into the success of the Tyne and Wear Metro over 40 years, keeping the network at the heart of the local economy and communities that it serves.”

He added: “It was Tony Ridley and a group of visionary planners who first came up with the idea of taking decaying rail lines and linking them using city centre tunnels and a bridge over the River Tyne. What they created is what we know as the Tyne and Wear Metro 40 years on.

“Tony oversaw the development of the Metro plans, the successful bid for Government funding, and he led some of the initial construction work. 

“It is Tony Ridley who we have to thank for the first idea of a metro network. My thanks go to everyone who works on the system now, and who has worked on it over the last 40 years.”

Prof Tony Ridley left the Tyne and Wear PTE in 1975 to become the first managing director of the Hong Kong Metro system. He later went on to manage the London Underground and the development of the Docklands Light Railway.

As Professor of Transport Engineering at Imperial College London, Ridley was involved in national and international engineering bodies, including President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and President of the Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA).

He was Director of the University of London Centre for Transport Studies and is Emeritus Professor of Transport Engineering at Imperial College London.

Paul Rowen, current LRTA Chair, offered these words in his introduction to the award: “The Metro has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and holds a very special place at the heart of the region it serves.

“Professor Ridley’s understanding of how best to unify and galvanise planners, engineers and politicians helped achieve Government approval for the Metro’s construction against a backdrop of swingeing cuts, and following his time in the North-East, he has had a stunning career leading major projects and transport authorities around the world.”

Nexus says that the Metro system is one of the North East England’s most significant infrastructure projects – taking 15 million car journeys off congested roads.

Prof Ridley is famed for saying, “You’ll never get away with it”, when the idea of a Tyneside metro system was first presented to him in 1971.

But the doubts soon ebbed away as local politicians held their nerve and convinced government ministers to agree the funding. Metro was to become reality, with plans in place for a phased opening of the network from August 1980. 

The first passenger services were running by 11 August 1980 between Haymarket and Tynemouth, though the official opening by Her Majesty the Queen happened on November 6, 1981.

The system reached Gateshead in 1981, going as far as Heworth, and the North Tyne loop was completed in 1982. It was extended to South Shields in 1984 and to Newcastle Airport in 1991. The Sunderland line was opened in April 2002 at a cost £100m after a three-year construction project. 


Tobyn Hughes

Audio interview with Prof Tony Ridley from 2007

Tobyn Hughes accepts the Light Rail Award

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