Tyne and Wear Metro

Tyne and Wear Metro
Tyne Wear Metro logo.svg
4057 at Monument Metro station, Newcastle, 20 June 2015 (crop).jpg
Metrocar 4057 at Monument Metro station, one of the network's principal underground stations.
Tyne and Wear Metro Map.svg
Schematic map of Tyne and Wear Metro
LocaleTyne and Wear
Transit typeRapid transit/light rail
Number of lines2
Number of stations60
Annual ridership36.4 million (2018/19)[1]
Increase 0.1%
HeadquartersSouth Gosforth
Began operation11 August 1980 (1980-08-11)
Number of vehicles90 Metrocars
Train length27.81 metres (91.2 ft)
System length77.5 km (48.2 mi)[2]
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationOverhead line (1,500 V DC)
Top speed50 miles per hour (80 km/h)
Tyne & Wear Metro
Callerton Parkway
Bank Foot
Kingston Park
Wansbeck Road
Regent Centre
Whitley Bay
West Monkseaton
Northumberland Park
North Shields ferry/water interchange
Meadow Well
Four Lane Ends
Willington Dene Viaduct
over Willington Gut
Hadrian Road
South Gosforth
Chillingham Road
Ilford Road
West Jesmond
Manors National Rail
Manors Curve
Stock Line
St James
Central Station National Rail
Gateshead Stadium
Heworth National Rail
Pelaw sidings
Brockley Whins
East Boldon
by-pass loop
Tyne Dock
East Boldon
South Shields ferry/water interchange
South Shields sidings
Stadium of Light
St Peter's
Sunderland National Rail
Sunderland sidings
Park Lane
South Hylton

The Tyne and Wear Metro, referred to locally as simply the Metro, is a rapid transit and light rail system in North East England,[3][4] serving Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Sunderland in Tyne and Wear. It has been described as the first modern light rail system in the United Kingdom.[5]

The initial network opened between 1980 and 1984, using converted former railway lines, linked with new tunnel infrastructure. Extensions to the original network were opened in 1991 and 2002.[6] Over 36 million passenger journeys were made on the network in 2018/19,[1] which spans 77.5 kilometres (48.2 mi) and has two lines with a total of 60 stations, nine of which are underground.[7][8][2] It is the second-largest of the four metro systems in the United Kingdom, after the London Underground; the others being the Docklands Light Railway and the Glasgow Subway.

The system is owned and operated by the local transport authority Nexus. It was operated under contract by DB Regio Tyne & Wear Limited, a subsidiary of Arriva UK Trains, between 2010 and 2017.[9] This contract ended on 1 April 2017, and Nexus took over direct operation of the system for a planned period of two years.[10][11]



The present system uses much former railway infrastructure, mostly constructed between 1834 and 1882, one of the oldest parts being the Newcastle & North Shields Railway which opened in 1839. In 1904, in response to tramway competition which was taking away passengers, the North Eastern Railway (NER) started electrifying parts of their local railway network north of the River Tyne with a 600 V DC third-rail system, forming one of the earliest suburban electric networks, known as the Tyneside Electrics. In 1938, the line south of the Tyne between Newcastle and South Shields was also electrified. Under British Rail in the 1960s the decision was made to de-electrify the Tyneside Electric network and convert it to diesel operation, owing to falling passenger numbers and the cost of renewing end-of-life electrical infrastructure and rolling stock. The Newcastle-South Shields line was de-electrified in 1963, and the north Tyneside routes in 1967.[2][12][13] This was widely viewed as a backward step, as the diesel trains were slower than the electric trains they replaced.[14]

Planning and construction

In the early 1970s the poor local transport system was identified as one of the main factors holding back the region's economy, and in 1971 a study was commissioned by the recently created Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority (now known as 'Nexus') into how the transport system could be improved; this study recommended reviving the badly run-down former Tyneside Electric network by converting it into an electrified rapid transit system, which would include a new underground section to better serve the busy central areas of Newcastle and Gateshead, as it was felt that the existing rail network didn't serve these areas adequately. This new system was intended to be the core of a new integrated transport network, with buses acting as feeders to purpose-built transport interchanges. The plans were approved by the Tyneside Metropolitan Railway Bill which was passed by Parliament in July 1973. Around 70% of the funding for the scheme came from a central government grant, with the remainder coming from local sources.[15][16][17]

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge under construction in 1978.

Three railway lines, totalling 26 miles (42 km) were to be converted into Metro lines as part of the initial system; the North Tyneside Loop, and the Newcastle-South Shields branch (both of which were formerly part of the Tyneside Electric network) and a short stretch of the freight-only Ponteland branch, between South Gosforth and Bank Foot, which had not seen any passenger traffic since 1929.[18][2][19] The converted railway lines were to be connected by around six miles (10 km) of new infrastructure, which was built both to separate the Metro from the existing rail network, and also to create the new underground routes under Newcastle and Gateshead. Around four miles (6.4 km) of the new infrastructure was in tunnels, while the remainder was either at ground level or elevated. The elevated sections included the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge; a new 350-metre bridge carrying the Metro across the River Tyne, and the 815-metre Byker Viaduct across the Ouseburn Valley, between Byker and Manors stations.[2][15]

Construction work began in October 1974; this involved the construction of the new infrastructure, re-electrifying the routes with overhead line equipment, the upgrading or relocation of existing stations, and the construction of several new stations, some of which were underground. Originally it was intended to be opened in stages between 1979 and 1981,[15] however the first part of the original network opened in August 1980, and the remainder opened in stages until March 1984.[2][19] The final cost of the project in 1984 prices was £265 million (equivalent to £836,600,000 in 2019 prices[20]).[21]

Further extensions

Some extensions to the original system have since been built. A short 3.5 km (2.2 mi) extension from Bank Foot to Newcastle Airport was opened in 1991, using a further part of the former Ponteland branch.[19][2]

In 2002 an 18.5 km (11.5 mi) extension was opened from Pelaw to South Hylton via Sunderland. Costing £100 million, this extension used part of the existing Durham Coast Line to Sunderland, but did not take it over; instead the line between Pelaw and Sunderland was adapted to allow a shared service between the Metro and the conventional rail services, becoming the first UK system to implement a form of the Karlsruhe model.[4] Three intermediate stations on the route were rebuilt, and three new ones were added. Within Sunderland, 4.5 km (2.8 mi) of a former freight line which had been abandoned in 1984 was reused for the route between Sunderland station and South Hylton, becoming the second Metro segment to be built on a disused line.[2][17]

Opening dates

The opening dates of the services and stations are as follows:[2]

A Metrocar at Tynemouth in 1980, on the first part of the network to be opened.
Early Tyne and Wear Metro map
Year From To Via
11 August 1980 Tynemouth Haymarket Whitley Bay, South Gosforth
10 May 1981 South Gosforth Bank Foot Fawdon
15 November 1981 Haymarket Heworth Monument
14 November 1982 St James Tynemouth Monument, Wallsend and North Shields
24 March 1984 Heworth South Shields Pelaw, Jarrow
15 September 1985 Kingston Park
16 September 1985 Pelaw
19 March 1986 Palmersville
17 November 1991 Bank Foot Newcastle Airport
31 March 2002 Pelaw South Hylton Sunderland
28 April 2002 Park Lane
11 December 2005 Northumberland Park
17 March 2008 Simonside


Four Lane Ends, one of many transport interchanges built around a Metro station

The Tyne and Wear Metro was the first railway in the UK to operate using the metric system; all its speeds and distances are stated in metric units only.[22]


When the Metro opened it was intended to form part of an integrated public transport system, with the local bus network reconfigured to act as 'feeders' for the Metro. Metro was intended to cover trunk journeys, while buses were reoriented toward shorter local trips to bring passengers to and from Metro stations, using unified ticketing and with their timetable integrated with the Metro schedule. Several purpose built interchanges, such as Four Lane Ends and Regent Centre were built for this purpose. Integration was however short lived and lasted until deregulation of bus routes in 1986.[23] It is however still possible to buy Transfare tickets that combine a Metro and bus journey.[16]

Other 'firsts'

The Metro was the first transport system in Britain to be designed to be accessible to passengers with disabilities. It was also one of the earliest to be completely non-smoking, beating the London Underground which followed suit four years after the Metro opened in 1984.[23]

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