Looking back with fondness at Metro system

Benton station, July 1980.
Benton station, July 1980.

As work continues on the £389m all-change investment programme for the Metro system, officials have been looking back with fondness at the last three decades.

It has been more than 30 years since the ribbon was cut at Haymarket Metro station and the first gleaming ceremonial train set off on its way to Tynemouth via Four Lane Ends on August 7, 1980.

There was excitement but also relief that ‘The Transport Plan for the 1980s’ – initially put together in 1971 – had actually paid off.

On Monday, August 11, 1980, the first passenger train became operational complete with its iconic white and yellow livery while Her Majesty The Queen carried out the official Royal opening on November 6, 1981, travelling from Monument to Gateshead.

The original network was completed by March 1984 and over the years the lines have been extended and new stations added.

But in some parts, including North Shields and Tynemouth, the history of ‘local passenger railways’ goes back to 1839 with Nexus working with heritage groups to celebrate the milestone as ‘Metro 175’ with community activities lined up for later in the year.

Former Metro driver Ian Rossiter, now a senior manager at DB Regio Tyne and Wewar, which operates trains and stations on behalf of Metro owner Nexus, was one of the first to drive trains on the system when it opened.

Ian, 55, of High Heaton, Newcastle, said: “Everyone felt a great deal of pride in being part of this brand new transport system which really was ahead of its time.

“I think everyone was acutely aware of the need to get the system up and running successfully and knew they had an extremely important part to play.

“I remember there was a lot of excitement at the prospect of driving the Metro trains.”

Ian drove Metros for 18 years before taking a managerial role with Nexus in 1998 – he is now current operations manager based at the Metro Control Centre in South Gosforth.

He added: “Quite often people take Metro for granted, but I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the fact that it was a major achievement for Tyneside and something which has stood the test of time, even after 34 years of service.”

Modernisation of both stations and trains is already under way, thanks to an initial cash injection of £105m, while £24m is being invested in smart ticketing.

l What are your thoughts on the Metro system? Do you have any pictures or stories to share with the News Guardian? If so, email them to david.sedgwick@jpress.co.uk