The Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) is working on behalf of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), to plan, design and build a series of light rail extensions connecting Birmingham to the wider region.
The area to the west of the city centre is an important commercial hotspot, which is set to grow with the addition of a number of new developments. However, access to this area is restricted due to the lack of a high-quality public transport links. By improving sustainable transport options in the city centre, the new Metro line not only delivers significant opportunities for economic growth and social regeneration but also brings a host of environmental benefits to Birmingham such as improved air quality and reduction in noise.
The Centenary Square phase of the Metro Extension (CSQ) – together with the Edgbaston section – is part of the Birmingham Westside Metro extension and extended West Midlands Metro services along Pinfold Street to a stop on Paradise Street at the Victoria Square serving the Town Hall and the main civic centre buildings. The route then passes along Paradise Street and Paradise Circus into Broad Street where it stops in Centenary Square.
The Midland Metro Alliance began construction on the first phase of the Birmingham Westside Metro extension in June 2017. The initial stage of the project added two new tram stops – Town Hall and Library – and opened ahead of schedule and on-budget in December 2019. The second phase (the Edgbaston element), which added an additional three tram stops, opened to passengers in July 2022.
A peak time service regularly operates on the route and delivers passengers to the Library of Birmingham, Symphony Hall, the International Convention Centre (ICC), Birmingham Rep, the Council House and Town Hall and offices in and around Centenary Square and Victoria Square, including the Arena Central and Paradise developments, which have changed the skyline of city.
Embodied carbon emissions: Overall emissions have not been quantified. Standardised track design was the focus of carbon reduction. The baseline carbon /km of track for this aspect was 2440 tCO2e. The delivered carbon /km of track for this aspect was 1722 tCO2e.
At design stage a selection of carbon reduction measures have been identified for standardised design elements. For these elements the carbon emissions were quantified and then verified at construction stage, resulting in 29% savings for the sections of the extension which use the standard track design (71% of route’s length).
Locally supplied material: 70% of supplies that could be delivered from the UK were within the West midlands area.
Potable water usage in construction: 655.14 m3 (100 % of total water usage)
Waste diverted from landfill: 57,019 tonnes (96 % of total waste)
Did the use of CEEQUAL deliver any financial benefits?
The CEEQUAL requirements have been embedded in the decision process from the early stages of the project. For this reason, it is not possible to identify any financial benefits exclusively attributable to CEEQUAL. However, through the process of resource efficiency workshops the team were able to implement principles of reduced material wastage, energy and water savings and optimised material orders.
In your view, has CEEQUAL represented value for money?
A cost-benefit analysis to determine the monetary value of applying CEEQUAL in the project hasn’t been carried out.
Applying the principles has clearly been beneficial, however the process of completing the evidence and the award application has been more of an administrative challenge. The benefit of having the completed award is yet to be assessed by the client.
People and Communities
The project has scored 96% in this section due to the extensive consultation carried out for the project early on at the design and permitting stages, and the comprehensive stakeholder engagement and management process adopted in the project.
Various measures have been put in place to mitigate nuisance to the community, including regular meetings with stakeholders and posting of information bulletins to keep the community surrounding the project informed at all times of any event disrupting normal activities in the area interested by project works.
The community’s feedback has been taken in consideration into the design of the project, that was modified accordingly. Throughout the construction stage a sophisticated reporting system was used to keep track of the public’s requests and communications, which were fed back to the construction team for any remedial actions as required.
What were the main challenges for the project and how were these overcome?
The project is located in the context of a busy and historical city centre, which limited potential for adoption of certain sustainability strategies.
For example, the lack of space for storage of material presented a constraint for the reuse of on site won materials.
The selection of materials for the finishes was also bound by strict aesthetic requirements related to integration of the new extension lines into the existing one and to march the aesthetics of the surrounding historic environment. The main example of this is given by granite paving, which had to be imported from abroad, with increased carbon emissions due to transportation and extraction of the material.
What were the drivers and perceived benefits for undertaking a CEEQUAL assessment on this project?
In setting out the sustainability strategy for the project CEEQUAL was identified as a vehicle to embed sustainability best practice into the new Alliance methods of working.
The completion of a CEEQUAL Award was also recognised as a beneficial public statement of the sustainability credentials of the project. As such CEEQUAL became one of the client’s KPIs for the project and has allowed the team to track best practices applied to the project. Achieving CEEQUAL has also provided reputational benefits to the team and the Alliance, verifying effectiveness of sustainability and environmental procedures and best practices implemented in the project.
How did the use of CEEQUAL influence the outcomes of the project? What was done differently because of the CEEQUAL process?
CEEQUAL provided a comprehensive context and structure for the team to use to qualitatively assess benefits of innovative design and construction strategies, sustainability monitoring and tracking. It also allowed the team to follow a regular structure of workshops and reviews which increased the likelihood of successful implementation of the project’s sustainability objectives. The need for evidence-based sustainability decisions has driven better processes to be adopted and helped to maintain sustainability on the agenda in the face of project pressures.
What elements of this project highlight best practice and innovation?
One of the key sustainability features for the Birmingham Westside Metro extension is the pioneering use of batteries to power the trams that run along the route. For aesthetic reasons, the use of catenary wires through the heritage areas of Victoria and Centenary Squares was deemed unsuitable. Therefore, the CAF Urbos 3 trams, which are part of the West Midlands Metro fleet, use the manufacturer’s available modification to use lithium-ion supercapacitors and batteries to run through these sections.
When the route opened in 2019, it was the first time the technology had been used for light rail in the UK and it continues to open up new opportunities to deliver Metro routes in areas that may otherwise have proven challenging for aesthetic and engineering reasons.
This catenary-free system not only offers multiple operational and commercial benefits but also marks a major step forward for light rail both here in the West Midlands and across the country. Indeed, the aesthetic impact of the tram line past Birmingham’s Town Hall was a key driver in bringing catenary-free operation to the network.
In an urban environment such as Birmingham city centre the lack of overhead line equipment (OLE) poles and overhead wires helps the system integrate itself into the urban realm. The city’s listed buildings and narrow streets meant that wall-mounted overhead line fixings could be avoided completely.
Innovation in the use of the RSSB Rail Carbon Tool for the assessment of standardised track design was externally recognised by the RSSB. The tool helped to inform design decisions on repeatable elements that, whilst individually had relatively low impact, generated significant material and carbon savings for this project and the wider programme of tram extensions.
Peter Cushing, Alliance Director said:
“The Metro extension is a key part of Birmingham’s response to the challenge of climate change and this new route provides a sustainable option for travel across the city. It is a huge achievement for the MMA that we have built the UK’s first tramway to run on battery power along a purpose built without overhead wires, preventing the need to attach cables to historic listed buildings such as Birmingham Town Hall and also reducing the line’s carbon footprint.”
John Ellison, Head of Safety, Midland Metro Alliance said:
“Sustainability is one of the core values which underpin the alliance’s approach to construction and design. We aim to reflect this in all our practices right from the initial design to completing finishing works on the track. The first phase of the Birmingham Westside Metro extension was an exemplar in sustainable construction and the alliance continues to use the learnings from this project.”
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