West Midlands transport authority Centro is planning to upgrade Midland Metro’s fleet of light rail vehicles (LRVs) for catenary-free operation, in order to extend the light rail line through Birmingham city centre in the UK.
The West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) has granted approval to Centro to carry out the plan to use this battery technology that removes the need to attach overhead power lines to its historic buildings for trams.
As part of the upgrade, the Midland Metro fleet of 21 CAF Urbos 3 trams and four additional units on order, will be fitted with high-tech batteries to power the vehicles through architecturally sensitive areas.
The approval will see an extension of the network from New Street to Centenary Square will be able to go ahead without needing overhead lines in Victoria Square.
The upgrade will also see that the planned Birmingham Eastside extension running under the proposed HS2 station at Curzon Street will not need expensive infrastructure works to accommodate overhead lines.
ITA delivery committee chairman councillor John McNicholas said: "When we placed the order in 2012 for our new fleet of trams, the ITA had the vision for them being capable of running without overhead wires.
"The technology then was not sufficiently developed to incorporate into the Birmingham city centre extension, but provision was made within the contract that should technology catch up the new trams could be retro-fitted with batteries.
"That is now the case and the application of battery technology on this scale in the West Midlands will be a historic first for the UK light rail industry."
CAF-built Urbos 3 trams already run catenary-free in sections of the tram networks in Zaragoza, Seville and Cadiz in Spain, but use supercapacitors to provide on-board energy storage.
Under the upgrade, the batteries will be equipped on the tram roof and recharged by the overhead lines along other parts of the route.
Following completion, catenary-free operation will be carried out along the entire Birmingham Centenary Square extension, which is scheduled to open in 2019; the Birmingham-Edgbaston extension; the Birmingham Eastside extension, which will stop at the future Curzon Street HS2 station; and the Wolverhampton city centre extension.
Image: How catenary-free trams would look running through Birmingham’s Victoria Square. Photo: courtesy of Centro.