The AnsaldoBreda T-69 Class tram – known by its Midland Metro designation of ‘Tram 16’ – is being given a new lease of life by the Black Country Innovative Manufacturing Organisation (BCIMO) as part of its innovative Clean Futures Accelerator programme. 

Over the course of the coming year, BCIMO will be following Tram 16’s progress in a series of articles exploring firstly its place within the story of regional rail, followed by more on its new role in local innovation, and finally, its legacy as a showcase for clean technology in the future.

The tram fleet, which was introduced in May 1999 – bringing trams back to the West Midlands for the first time since 1953 – bowed out of service with the final journey by a T-69 class on Friday, 14th August 2015. That final journey was made by ‘Tram 16’. The original trams were replaced by the CAF Urbos 3 trams that still operate the West Midlands Metro service today.

Tram 16's last ever journey on Friday, 14th August 2015.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group
Tram 16 next to a replacement Urbos 3 tram at Wolverhampton St George’s.<br />
Photo courtesy of Daniel Cartwright, Enpro Group

After their withdrawal, all 16 trams were transferred to the Long Marston Rail Innovation Centre, operated by Porterbrook since June 2021, and most were dismantled. Tram 16 however, was purchased by UK Tram, the authoritative voice of the light rail sector in the UK and Ireland, for use as test vehicle to help drive innovation amongst its members and in the sector.

The launch of the Clean Futures programme provided the ideal opportunity for this vision to become a reality, and so in 2023, UK Tram kindly donated Tram 16 to BCIMO. To ensure Tram 16 could play its part, not just in the history of the Black Country, but in its future, and at the heart of sustainable transport innovation, significant work to refresh the vehicle has been needed, encompassing two specific phases.

(l-r) Davie Carns (NIS), Malcolm Cowgill (City of Wolverhampton College), Tavoy Wilson (Learner at NIS), Andy Street (Mayor of the West Midlands) and Lynn Parker (City of Wolverhampton College)

Phase one began with stripping out and deep cleaning the interior. This was followed by an electrical assessment which revealed corrosion to the roof mounted high voltage cabinets. Work to repair this was undertaken alongside insulation and resistance testing, utilising the local supply chain including Wolverhampton based Enpro Group.

With the internal work complete, the vehicle exterior was prepared for installation of the new livery. A vinyl wrap has been designed to include both the BCIMO and Clean Futures branding, whilst recognising UK Tram’s kind donation, and leaving further space for future projects and sponsorships.

Each stage of the process to date has also been captured via timelapse photography, which will be shared in our next article in the series.

(l-r) Davie Carns (NIS), Malcolm Cowgill (City of Wolverhampton College), Tavoy Wilson (Learner at NIS), Andy Street (Mayor of the West Midlands) and Lynn Parker (City of Wolverhampton College)

Phase two of the tram refresh will begin with a conversion from its original grid-based power source to an off-grid battery system, offering greater flexibility in its deployment and reflecting the region’s transition to net-zero. It will also remain at the heart of the Clean Futures Accelerator programme once again, as it looks to the range of innovative solutions offered by Cohort 2 SMEs.

The supplier selection process for this is currently underway and the conversion is expected to be completed by late Summer / early Autumn.

So how will Tram 16 be used as a mule vehicle for innovation?

Tram 16’s first outing will be at the end of April, when it will be reintroduced in its new livery, as the centrepiece of a high-profile Clean Futures event.  Showcasing innovations from the first cohort of SMEs to complete the programme, the exclusive Demonstration Day will host key industry stakeholders, including UK Tram, who have also supported the programme throughout the year as part of its ‘Challenge Setters’ Board of industry experts.

It will be used specifically at the event to demonstrate three innovations, highlighting the potential to be used as both an individual and collaborative test platform for the programme, as well as for sector-based organisations who can utilise BCIMO’s Rail Development and Test Site (RDTS) going forward.

The second year of the Clean Futures programme also launches at the event on 30th April, and whilst innovative Black Country and West Midlands SMEs can formally submit an application from this date, those interested are invited to register their interest beforehand via the lead project partner, Connected Places Catapult.

Innovators whose applications are successful will receive:

  • £50,000 in funding to test and demonstrate their innovations at the next Demonstration Day.
  • Access to BCIMO facilities, including the RDTS, plus collaborative working and meeting space.
  • Engineering and commercial packages, alongside a promotional media package.
  • A range of workshops and showcase events, both online and on-site here at BCIMO.

 

What are the longer-term plans for Tram 16?

As part of Tram 16’s longer-term role in rail innovation, we are also working with our industry partners to identify the range of challenges they face and how this unique test platform can help with research and development in a range of areas, such as connectivity, automation and propulsion; alongside testing in a safe, repeatable and representative environment.

And so its legacy will last beyond the 21st Century, as Tram 16 has not only been saved, but now re-purposed to be at the heart of transport innovation in the Black Country, and on track for the wider West Midlands journey to net zero.

Its place within the regional circular economy is, in essence, the epitome of a clean, green, future.

Discussing the donation of the tram, James Hammett, Managing Director of UK Tram, said:

“As the trade body for light rail, we’re delighted to see Tram 16 transforming into a test vehicle for tram innovation, and the fantastic way it has been given a new lease of life.

“This collaboration ticks more boxes than we could have envisaged, for the Clean Futures programme, the BCIMO’s goals, and our vision for the wider light rail sector.

“We’re also looking forward to continuing our support for the BCIMO and its light rail innovation activity while playing a key part in the Clean Futures programme moving forward.”

Naomi Arblaster, Head of SME Development at BCIMO, said:

“With the opening of applications for Cohort 2 of the Clean Futures programme and launch of the new industry challenges for the coming year on 30th April, we are really excited to see the innovations our regional SMEs can bring to rail.

“As such, the potential to showcase these on Tram 16, both honours the history of rail in the Black Country and focuses on its future, as we transition to net-zero as part of the broader West Midlands’ decarbonisation agenda.

“There is a real opportunity for innovators to work together too – as we have seen in Cohort 1 – to offer collaborative solutions to the challenges the industry faces, and again the tram is an ideal demonstrator, so we are really grateful to UK Tram for donating it to BCIMO.”

Daniel Cartwright, Commercial Director at EnPro, said:

“As a locally based SME operating in the rail industry, we are very proud to support the team at BCIMO with the restoration of Midland Metro Tram 16. We have taken responsibility for the deep clean, exterior surface preparation, and vinyl wrap, along with all the electrical rewiring and testing.

“Like everyone else, we eagerly anticipate seeing Tram 16 in operation on the test track at Dudley (formerly the South Staffordshire Railway Line).”

Former T69 driver, Pete Buckingham, also reflecting local interest in the project, said:

“When I found out via UK Tram that Tram 16 was to be brought back to life as a test vehicle it was very welcome news, as since we at West Midlands Metro bid farewell to the T69 Fleet back in 2016 with me being the last driver to move one under power, no-one at our company expected that we would ever see a T69 Tram alive, ever again!

“It has been a pleasure to be able to offer assistance with the project too, as we retained a lot of paper and digital documentation which has been officially passed on to BCIMO to help the team understand the complexities of these vehicles, along with verbal assistance from our very own Technical Support Engineer Gavin Lloyd too.

“I look forward to further involvement with this project as it progresses, including driving it once again!”

For more information on UKTram, please visit the UK Tram website.

For more information on BCIMO or the Clean Futures programme please visit the BCIMO website or Contact Us to make an enquiry.

BCIMO is a not-for-profit Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) and operator of the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), a unique, world-class centre for rail innovation based in Dudley in the West Midlands.

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