Today's Metro represents the latest chapter in a long history of railway innovation in North East England.  This site was created by Nexus, the public body which owns and manages Metro, to tell the story of the world's oldest suburban railway as it celebrates its 175th anniversary.

  • Welcome

    The first railways were built from the 1600s to carry coal from pits down steep banks to the Wear and Tyne for shipment to London.  Extensive networks grew including viaducts as shown on this image from the 1820s, by which time iron rails had replaced wood so heavier trains of horse-drawn waggons could be joined together.

  • 1800-1900

    George Stephenson was among local engineers harnessing steam power to pull trains.  His engine Blucher had a cog sequence shown here which proved revolutionary in providing reliable drive.  Blucher worked the Killingworth Waggonway from 1814, and the 4ft 8 1/2in track width there would become the standard for railways the world over.

  • 1800-1900

    The Newcastle and North Shields Railway opened in June 1839, the first in the world conceived as a suburban passenger line. Road coach operators were among those who fought against it.  Most of the route shown on this 1831 plan submitted to Parliament for approval - the first ever ‘Metro map’ - is still in use by Metro today. 

  • 1800-1900

    The Brandling Junction Railway opened lines between Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland later in 1839, and 40 years later its successor the North Eastern Railway opened this central hub in Sunderland, replacing three smaller stations spaced around the town as the Monkwearmouth Railway Bridge was completed.

  • 1800-1900

    The growth of coastal communities led the North Eastern Railway to complete the now-familiar loop from Newcastle via Wallsend and Benton.  Whitley had the name ‘Bay’ added to avoid confusion on the railway map with rival resort Whitby, and the station was built on a grand scale to cater for bank holiday crowds, as this later image shows.

  • 1800-1900

    The North Eastern Railway took the bold decision to convert to electric power in 1904 to compete with trams.   Passenger numbers almost doubled in the next 10 years, operating costs were cut and new trains had to be ordered in 1909 and 1915 to meet demand.  An early electric train is shown at Jesmond, where the old station is now a restaurant.

  • 1900-1970

    By 1909 Manors was a busy junction station of seven platforms serving lines radiating towards Gosforth, Blyth and the coast, and convenient access to the shops and offices of Newcastle’s Northumberland Street, as this 1917 linen plan from Metro’s drawings office shows.  The site is now largely taken up by a business park.

  • 1900-1970

    Gosforth Car Sheds, still Metro's home today, were built in 1923 beside a new garden village to house railway employees.  The growing 'third-rail' electric fleet included motor vans for milk and fish - a vital development as the morning journeys of fish wives from Cullercoats to Newcastle market on passenger trains upset commuters!

  • 1900-1970

    New electric trains were introduced just before World War Two and survived for 30 years (this photo was taken in 1967). The map over the door shows the network north of the Tyne, including a riverside route for shipyard workers through Walker notorious for its poor stations and trains, and closed in the 70s.

  • 1900-1970

    A Pathe newsreel crew captured the launch of electric train services to South Shields in 1938, after a £500,000 upgrade by the London North Eastern Railway company, which the North Eastern Railway had merged into 16 years before.  The investment was seen as a boost for a local economy struggling through recession.

  • 1900-1970

    One of the last electric trains passes through Tyne Dock in late 1962.  The following year, only 25 years after its upgrade, British Rail pulled up the third rail to save money, diesel trains took over and soon all trains to the coastal terminus were cancelled on winter Sundays.  Electric trains disappeared right across Tyneside within five years.

  • 1900-1970

    Second-hand diesel trains proved slow and unpopular; passenger numbers fell below 8 million (less than use Monument alone today) as frequency was cut to two trains per hour, plus an express.  Stations like this at Walkergate were run-down and unlit.  Local councillors feared closure was imminent and launched a bold plan to take control.

  • 1970-1980

    This short film made a few months before Metro opened shows the vision of local politicians to create a futuristic light rail system, designed to a European model and integrated with buses.  The North East beat other areas in a race for Government funding and in 1973 the Tyneside Metropolitan Railway Act was passed.

  • 1970-1980

    The key to Metro would be stations in the heart of towns and cities letting people travel as close as possible to work and shops.  The ‘closing down’ signs appeared on a branch of clothes store Greenwoods at the top of Newcastle’s Northumberland Street, at the time still open to traffic. Haymarket station was built on this exact site.

  • 1970-1980

    Two prototype Metrocar trains were delivered to a test track in North Tyneside in 1975 for stringent trials and crew training. Thousands of local schoolchildren were taken to ride on the transport of the future.  The route is still in use by the Stephenson Railway Museum, while prototype Metrocars 4001 and 4002 remain in service 40 years' on.

  • 1970-1980

    Tunnels beneath Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland provide rapid and reliable journey times, keeping passengers separated from the traffic above.  The tunnels beneath Gateshead run through thick coal seams which were mined as construction continued, while 15th Century bell pits were found and made safe.

  • 1970-1980

    Building Monument station presented a unique engineering problem; Grey's Monument, immediately above, had no foundations.  New vertical and horizontal supports can be seen under construction here.  Today the station is used by 10 million people a year, and is one of the busiest in the UK outside the London area.

  • 1970-1980

    One of the largest construction sites was at Gateshead, where a new central interchange would connect bus and Metro, rather than on the fringes where previous stations had stood. In this picture excavation has just reached down to the level of the new platforms.

  • 1970-1980

    The QEII Metro Bridge, 360 metres long and towering high over the river below, was the engineering centrepiece of the system – crucial to local politicians’ aspirations to fight congestion by relieving pressure on the existing Tyne crossings, whether road or rail. Workers are dwarfed by the scale of constuction.

  • 1970-1980

    Metro arrived with high design standards.  New stations were built to a template by North East architects Faulkner Brown.  Margaret Calvert, the country's leading typographer, was asked to design signs, having previously created fonts for the UK road and rail networks.  The impact was immediate.

  • 1970-1980

    Tomorrow’s World beckons as Metro neared completion the prime time BBC1 technology programme Tomorrow’s World (to view click here) devoted a feature to the project in its ‘review of the 70s', looking at the technical and industrial relations challenges involved.

  • 1970-1980

    At 5:27am on 11 August 1980 the first Metro in passenger service prepares to leave Tynemouth station for Haymarket.  The system opened in stages, with Bank Foot reached in May 1981, and Heworth in November that year; Tynemouth to St James was added in 1982. (picture - thanks to Duncan Anderson)

  • 1980-1991

    Ticket machines like these at Four Lane Ends were a revolutionary feature, keeping running costs down by avoiding the need for booking offices.  Metro was also the first rail system to have entirely non-smoking trains and to be wheelchair-accessible.  It would later lead the way in providing mobile phone signals in tunnels and banning alcohol.

  • 1980-1991

    The first version of the now-iconic map, from August 1980, shows lines yet to open and a bus from North Shields calling at 'old' Heaton station, not 'new' Byker.  There are other quirks – Old Fold in fact opened as Gateshead Stadium while stations such as Pelaw and Kingston Park would appear later. Smith's Park has also seen a name change.

  • 1980-1991

    Tyne Tees TV’s Northern Life broadcast a special report as Her Majesty the Queen travelled from Monument to Gateshead on 6 November 1981, stopping half way to name the Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge.  Passengers began using the line between Haymarket and Heworth just over a week later.

  • 1980-1991

    Metro was integrated with the wider bus network, with interchange easy on a single ticket through suburban interchanges like Regent Centre.  Being made to change was not always popular but reduced congestion and saw public transport use surge before the bus market was opened to competition in 1986.

  • 1980-1991

    The original system was completed in spring 1984 when the line between Heworth and South Shields opened.  The same year Labour leader Neil Kinnock unveiled a sculpture at Jarrow station honouring the Jarrow Crusade marchers.  It was the year of the miners’ strike and the event had strong political overtones.

  • 1980-1991

    Before fame in Soldier, Soldier actor Robson Green made an early screen appearance in an educational film for Metro, warning young people to stay safe and pay their fares.  Metro has always run a busy Schools Liaison Programme, talking to thousands of children every year about dangers like trespassing.

  • 1980-1991

    St James station was built as close to the football ground as possible.  One early suggestion was to build it under the pitch itself, with escalators straight up to the terraces.  This picture shows a familiar moment after the final whistle as fans run for the first Metro home towards Wallsend.  

  • 1980-1991

    A film called Clocking up the Kilometres made in 1989 looked back at almost 10 years’ experience of operating Metro, including the benefits it had brought to the region and the impact of public transport deregulation.

  • 1980-1991

    Newcastle Airport became part of the Metro system five months after this photo was taken, on 17 November 1991, with track extended from the original terminus at Bank Foot with the help of European funding.  Airport arrivals enjoyed the shortest onward connection to a city centre anywhere in Britain – just 20 minutes.

  • 1980-1991

    Metro was the first railway company to sell branding on trains.  Former gymnast and TV presenter Suzanne Dando unveiled the first sponsored Metrocar advertising the Metroland funfair in April 1992.  Marks & Spencer, Metro Radio, Emirates and East Coast have since followed, though only a limited number of cars can be sponsored at one time.

  • 1992-2008

    New artworks have been commissioned on Metro since it opened – the first being the sculpture Garden Front at Jesmond.  In 1996 the local Passenger Transport Authority agreed up to 1% of capital investment be spent on art; new works included Bob Olley’s Famous Faces at Monument, depicting well-known North East figures on a train.

  • 1992-2008

    Bride and groom Dianne Walker and Mick Ford chose Metro to get to their wedding at Newcastle Civic Centre. They weren't expecting a train bedecked with ribbon provided by depot staff tipped off by friends.  Metro remains the occasional choice for blushing brides and grooms who first met on the daily commute.

  • 1992-2008

    Transport Secretary John Prescott came to Sunderland in 2000 to announce the start of work to build the new Metro line through the city to South Hylton.  The 16km line would be revolutionary in seeing ‘light’ Metro trains share track and stations with ‘heavy’ freight trains – a fact the media quickly picked up on.

  • 1992-2008

    The Queen returned to Metro in May 2002 to officially open the £149m Sunderland line in her Golden Jubilee year; six million passengers a year now use the line’s 12 stations.  In 2008 Her Majesty would return once more as the Royal Train called at Stadium of Light station before the opening of the nearby Aquatic Centre.

  • 1992-2008

    Local newspaper The Journal declared the much-loved front passenger seat on Metrocars one of the 100 reasons why it’s great up North in a 2003 article, alongside such landmarks as Durham Cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall.  The unique appeal of being able to sit level with the driver and enjoy a view down the track also inspired this time-lapse film.

  • 1992-2008

    Northumberland Park station was funded by developers as part of planning permission to build hundreds of new homes.  Good planning meant the station was at the heart of a growing community, next to shops, park-and-ride and a bus link to nearby offices.  Adverts for new homes promoted the station and fast journey times to Newcastle.

  • 1992-2008

    Metro’s 60th station at Simonside filled a gap on the South Shields line to serve homes and businesses.  Like Kingston Park, Palmersville, Pelaw and Northumberland Park before it, the station had been added to reflect changing local land use and demand.  Part-funded by a European grant, local people celebrated the opening.

  • 1992-2008

    Nexus began to make the case for an ambitious £389m modernisation programme for Metro in 2008, winning a funding commitment worth up to £350m from Government two years later.  Failing canopies like this at Chillingham Road were a sign investment was needed, but most money would go towards renewing track and technology.

  • 1992-2008

    Haymarket, Newcastle's first Metro station, was the first to be modernised, even before Government investment was secured.  It was completely rebuilt in a £20m scheme funded by a private developer in return for commercial rights above the station on the city's main shopping street.  The white and black colour scheme pointed to the future.

  • 2009-2014

    Art transformed the dingy platforms at Sunderland station, which Metro shares with national rail, as part of a £7m revamp.  Jason Bruges Studio created a moving light wall in which ghostly passengers come and go; facing it Julian Germain’s Lost and Found is the largest permanent photo-work in the UK, 41 panels showing genuine lost property.  

  • 2009-2014

    Metro: all change meant replacing track up to 50 years old and structures three times that age, with lines closed for up to four weeks.  As work began on the original 1839 route beween Chillingham Road and North Shields this video helped passengers understand what was being done and why modernisation was vital.

  • 2009-2014

    The BBC celebrated the unique impact Metro has made on North East life with a community musical.  Passengers were recruited to sing specially-written songs based on their own lives and experiences down the decades.

  • 2009-2014

    The first of 86 original Metrocars to be refurbished came back into service in February 2012.  The £30m programme involves stripping each car back to its frame to address more than 30 years corrosion, then providing a new, more accessible and brighter interior and new livery, the third in Metro’s history.

  • 2009-2014

    More than 40,000 passengers a day use the Metro line between South Gosforth and the city centre - 4 million trains having passed over it since 1980.  Work to renew the route included a project to replace the key junction for Airport and Coast trains recorded on time-lapse film covering six days in October 2012.

  • 2009-2014

    Metro went from a ‘coin operated’ system with outmoded ticket machines to the leading example of smart travel outside London in just two years between 2011 and 2013.  As more than 100,000 passengers got used to using smart cards, including the Pop brand, this film helped them along the way.

  • 2009-2014

    Metro will continue to serve North East England in future only if we continue to invest and renew in the system.  By the 2020s the Metrocars that began work in 1980 will be at the end of their life.  A new fleet is essential and Nexus has begun to consider what new trains will be like, as it builds the case for funding.

  • 2014

    The success of Metro is best summed up by the constant demand for it to reach new parts of the region - though any new routes would need hundreds of millions in investment.  In 2014 Nexus published this map showing extensions it was looking at for either rail, tram or high-quality bus routes.

  • 2030

    We hope you found this brief history of Metro and local rail interesting.  

    We plan to add new pages as time goes on, so please do return again to see what’s new. 

    If you have any questions or comments you can contact Nexus here.

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