Nexus, operator of the Tyne and Wear Metro, has officially begun the process of buying a new train fleet.
The £362million project aims to transform the reliability of Metro services for passengers.
A tendering exercise has been launched in order to source a rolling stock supplier who will design and build the new Metro trains, which are scheduled to enter service at the end of 2021.
It is the biggest project in the history of the Tyne and Wear Metro system since it was built in the late 1970s.
The Government has committed £337million towards the cost, with £25million concoming from Nexus.
Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and thematic lead for transport on the North East Combined Authority, said: “A reliable Metro service is absolutely vital and a new fleet of trains ensures that we can deliver that.
“Investment in new rolling stock was long overdue. Nexus are now in a position to crack on and purchase the new trains and get them built.”
Managing director of Nexus, Tobyn Hughes, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the funding and now that we have approval from the Combined Authority we can get on with the job of buying the new trains.”
The new Metro fleet, 84 carriages (42 trains) in total, will offer greater reliability while delivering improved comfort and convenience for passengers. Trains will have air conditioning, digital connectivity, phone charging points and a linear seat layout to create more space for wheelchairs, standing room and luggage.
A new maintenance depot will be built on the existing Metro depot site at Gosforth in Newcastle.
The commencement of the procurement process was given the green light by the North East Combined Authority’s Leadership Board on January 16.
Mr Hughes, said: “The trains that we will buy will transform the reliability of the Metro system, as well as reducing energy usage and updating the experience of travelling by Metro. We will also future-proof them so that they have the capability of serving more destinations on a wider network in the future.
“We are in the process of finalising the specification, and we have used extensive market research to inform the interior layout, for example by providing more standing room and space for luggage. We are really looking forward to seeing the designs that manufacturers come up with so that we can choose the best possible trains for our existing passengers and for future generations of Metro travellers.
“We expect the first trains to start arriving in late 2021.”
The procurement process starts with the publication of a formal notification in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). This is the publication in which all tenders from the public sector which are valued above a certain financial threshold according to EU legislation, must be published.
Nexus anticipates that the bidders will be shortlisted by the late summer of this year.
The winning bidder will be announced in 2019.
The first new trains are expected to arrive from the end of 2021.
The new Metro trains will arrive in stages. As each new train arrives an old one will be removed from service.
Nexus expects it will take two years for from late 2021 to completely replace the existing Metro fleet.
A Fleet maintenance contract will come into operation during 2020, covering the existing as well as the new fleet.