West Midlands Metro: who are trams manufacturers CAF from Spain?

With no definite date on when the West Midland Metro services are due to return we take a look at the Spanish manufacturers Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF)

The third suspension of West Midlands tram services has been met with utter disbelief by some and complete frustration by others.

Metro services in the region were halted for the third time in nine months on Sunday 20 March after cracks appeared on some of the older trams.

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The company running the service - Midlands Metro Ltd - confirmed that the trams would be suspended for a “number of weeks”.

So far Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) bosses have been unable to give even a date for when the service - which operates between Birmingham city centre and Wolverhampton - might resume.

The tram models which are used in the West Midlands have been provided by Spanish manufacturer Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF).

Senior executives from CAF met with Mayor Andy Street and TfWM on Tuesday (March 30) for urgent talks on resolving the issues.

Josu Imaz, CEO rolling stock for CAF, said they had their ‘best engineers’ on the job and were looking to get a reliable service resumed as soon as possible.

But with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham just around the corner, there is widespread concern about the service which many also rely on on a daily basis.

Birmingham isn’t the only city that has had problems with CAF stock. Here’s look at the Spanish manufacturers that supply the trams in more detail.

Transport for West Midlands executive director Anne Shaw meets with CAF CEO Josu Imaz

Who are CAF?

Based in Beasain, Spain, the company manufactures railway vehicles and equipment and buses.

Over the 20 years from the early 1990s, CAF benefited from the rail investment boom in its home market in Spain to become a world player in the industry.

In 2012, CAF was selected to supply the fleet of 21 Urbos tram models for the region by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

These trams were introduced in the city in 2014, and it’s this fleet which is currently affected.

In 2019, CAF also supplied 21 third generation Urbos trams - with an option for a further 29.

The first of the 21 third generation Urbos trams entered service in 2021.

The Urbos tram is a bidirectional unit with two cabs, and is designed for a maximum speed of 70 km/h with the capability to run on catenary-free sections.

The current contract includes technical support services including support repairs and the supply of spares for a 30-year term.

The total contract value is worth £83.5 million.

After winning the contract, Richard Garner, CAF’s UK Director, said: “CAF is delighted to have been selected to provide additional state-of-the-art Urbos trams for this ground-breaking UK metro line.

“The CAF Urbos tram will be the first example of battery technology being used in a high intensity passenger service here in the UK. The Urbos modern, spacious design will provide passengers with a quiet, smooth and comfortable travel experience.”

Issues in Sydney

A report from the Sydney Herald last year stated that the city’s rail service, which also uses trams designed by CAF, was to be decommissioned due to “design flaws” found in wheel arches.

Cracks were found in all 12 inner west light rail trams, forcing the service to be suspended.

The city’s transport minister also said that he expects the government to pay for the repairs.

West Midlands Metro told the BBC that it was aware of the issues and is in contact with colleagues in Sydney.

Mr Street said he has spoken to the CEO of the manufacturer CAF about the need for reliable services.

He said: “I’m ultimately responsible, but I am holding those who are responsible for this to account.

“This morning, I’ve spoken directly to the CEO of the manufacturer to impress upon for the need for reliable service, and to get this repair done once and for all to be sure we’ve got a safe that everyone can rely on.”

West Midlands Metro service

Timeline of the problems with West Midland Metro

Problems arose when the network was initially suspended in June 2021 after minor cracks were found on the lines in the city centre during an inspection.

The entire fleet was withdrawn, but temporary repairs were carried out at the time, allowing the services to partially resume.

But cracks were discovered in some trams on November 13, with permanent repairs required.

Since the summer, individual trams were taken out of service on a rota basis, and the full service only resumed in February.

But after discovering cracks on some of the older trams (2014 fleet), Transport for West Midlands decided to suspend all services again as a ‘precautionary measure’ as of 20 March.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the cracks found on some of the older trams were different to the ones found previously.

He said: “We were told of a new safety concern coming from the manufacturers CAF.

“It was different to what we had before Christmas. It’s about cracking in the bodies, particularly around the doors.”

How will CAF get the service back up and running?

Engineers from Spain and other parts of the world experienced in dealing with such problems are currently in Wednesbury helping carry out repairs and training up West Midlands workers on the job.

The work on the affected trams involves stripping the vehicles and replacing the broken frames with new ones which have been strengthened.

Engineers can only replace one frame on either side of a tram at the same time to ensure further damage isn’t caused.

TfWM said it is looking to get 12-15 out of the 21 trams back in use safely in order to bring back a reasonable service for the public.

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