Special interest groups get their first look at the new Metro train

Jimmy Simpson from South Shields in his wheelchair on board the new Stadler Class 555 Metro
23 November 2023

We've held a series of visits for special interest groups to experience the new Metro trains - and see how their feedback has shaped the final design. 

The groups, including people with visual and hearing impairments, physical and learning disabilities, and special interest groups like cyclists, were all invited to familiarisation days to see the range of accessibility features in action - including an automatic sliding step at each set of doors and increased space for wheelchairs.

Stadler, the Swiss train manufacturer, are building a total of 46 new Metro trains on behalf of us.

We involved 23,000 customers in the design of the trains including people with a range of disabilities to make sure the £362m new fleet improves accessibility and transforms the journey experience for everyone, a consultation and design process that has already won a prize for innovation from the Global Light Rail Awards.

The special interest groups were the first customers to sample the new Metro trains ahead of the first ones entering service next year.

Guided tours were provided by experts from the Metro fleet project team at the Nexus Learning Centre in South Shields. They showed visitors the on-board accessibility aids, answered questions, and took on points of feedback. 

Jimmy Simpson, 23, of South Shields, who has cerebral palsy, had the chance to try his powered wheelchair on the new train and was impressed with it. He said: “There is much more room to move around in my wheelchair. It is much more accessible. I can get on board the new train more safely without having to worry about the gap due to the sliding step.”

Peter Bennetts, 68, of South Shields, is registered blind and is a regular Metro customer. He said: “These new trains bring huge improvements for someone like me. The special lights, the audio-visual technology, the way the doors work, and the fact you can press a button to speak directly to the driver in an emergency are all things which seem to me to be extremely positive.” 

Matthew Hunter, 25, of Cramlington, who has learning disabilities, said: “These new trains are more futuristic. You can tell that the design is more advanced, and that more things have been considered around accessibility and capacity, with wider aisles. 

“You can tell all of the concerns that really matter, like people in wheelchairs being able to access these trains, has been considered, and it’s way more advanced than the current fleet.” 

Susan Barrass, of North Shields, who is blind, said: “It’s fantastic. It’s so much better. As you walk down the train you don’t need to get off one carriage to get on to the other one. That’s a lot better for me.” 

Robert Dale, of Long Benton in North Tyneside, has both visual and hearing impairments. He said: “I loved it. It’s really easy to get around. It’s lighter, brighter and wider, so there’s more room to walk about. I think it’s really good. 

“You took on board a few points that we fed back on the emergency button, but in the main it’s a fantastic train. As a person with a visual impairment, it will without doubt improve my accessibility on Metro.”

Accessibility features include special lighting at doors, audio-visual displays, an intercom to speak to the driver, and an automatic sliding step that deploys at each stop to close the gap between the train and the platform edge. There are four dedicated wheelchair spaces for the 50,000 people who make unsupported wheelchair journeys on Metro every year.

Head of Fleet and Depot Replacement at Nexus, Michael Richardson, said: “The new Metro trains have been specifically designed using customer feedback and with accessibility in mind. 

“I’d like to thank all of those customers who took the time to be involved in the consultation process. It was a pleasure to host these visits and for these important customer groups to see the new trains for themselves.

“The accessibility features are wide ranging, from special lights and audio-visual technology, to more space for wheelchairs in the carriages. The automatic sliding step eliminates the challenge of there being a gap between the train and the platform edge, which is a huge benefit for the 50,000 wheelchair journeys which are made on Metro every year.”

Lewis Winton, RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer for the North East, said: “RNIB has been involved in working with Nexus on the new Metro trains on a range of accessibility features that enable blind and partially sighted passengers to travel independently. Special lights, internal and external audio announcements, automatic sliding step, contrasting colours and improved audio-visual technology helps people with sight loss navigate travel with improved confidence.

“RNIB are delighted and welcome the significant upgrades to key and fundamental accessibility features on-board the new Metro trains.”

The fleet will enter service in phases over the next two years. 

Stadler has delivered three new trains to North East England so far, and more are planned to arrive later this year.

The Class 555 Stadler train is a unique design for Metro and alongside training,  rigorous testing is taking place to ensure that it interfaces correctly with signalling systems and other Metro infrastructure. 

The new trains will also include modern features such as linear seating, charging points, air conditioning as well as delivering a step-change in accessibility.
 

Videos

Nexus and RNIB interviews

Interviews with specialist user groups

Testing the new Stadler Metro trains

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