The year 1829 saw a quiet revolution take place on the new railway between Liverpool and Manchester. A bright yellow machine named ROCKET, built in Newcastle by the father and son team of George and Robert Stephenson, swept aside her competitors in the Rainhill Trials and created a sensation by reaching an unprecedented speed. The world changed, forever.

Metro
With the city’s skyline as a backdrop this is Byker, looking west in October 1983, as a set led by No. 4018 comes off the viaduct into the station, and No. 4089 awaits departure for St James. (Paul Williams, The Tyne & Wear Metro, Amberley Publishing)

150 years later, another bright yellow transport revolution would change Tyneside forever.

August 2020 was a momentous month, for it marked 40 years since the opening of the first section of the Tyne & Wear Metro.

It is a subject close to my heart, for my Dad was proud to have worked in the drawing office at Gosforth Depot, where he was known for his Dance of the Sugar Plum Draughtsman.

The Wearmouth bridges form one of the more dramatic locations on the Metro system, and just like the Tyne crossing, the transition from tunnel to lofty bridge is a short one. Nos 4003 and 4068 cross the Wear with a train from the airport to South Hylton on 23 October 2013. The North Sea is visible on the right. (Alex Thorkildsen, The Tyne & Wear Metro, Amberley Publishing)

During the preparation of this book, I was privileged to attend one of the regular reunions of almost thirty of my Dads colleagues. It is, I think, a testimony to their sense of camaraderie, that 26 years after my father’s retirement, so many of his former workmates are still in regular contact. Many of them kindly provided me with superb images and anecdotes for the book.

A journey on the Metro can take us past open fields, terraces of Tyneside flats, tower blocks, leafy suburbs, and sandy beaches. It can carry us to Roman forts, Saxon churches, mediaeval castles, and ruined monasteries. Metro serves the UK’s 11th-busiest airport, three universities, two of England’s biggest football grounds and an international athletics venue. It is unique.

The spacious, light and airy nature of Tynemouth station can be appreciated as test track stalwart No. 4002, wearing a special ‘Metro Days Out’ livery arrives with a St James service in 2013. The late twentieth century business units on the opposite platform look somewhat incongruous. (Colin Alexander, The Tyne & Wear Metro, Amberley Publishing)

The book begins with Metro Prehistory, what went before, Tyneside’s unloved and neglected suburban railway. That is followed by Metro Conception, the decision-making that led to this brave new transport world. Metro Testing is next, telling the story of the purpose-built Test Centre, the prototype Metrocars and how Hong Kong came to Tyneside. Metro Construction goes into depth (no pun intended) about tunnelling and bridging, the construction of new stations both underground and overground, and how some magnificent Victorian infrastructure was incorporated. Metro Opening, Operation and Development includes Royal visits and the gradual expansion of the network. Metro - A Cautionary Tale is a personal tale of near-tragedy. Metro Journey is a Bradshaw’s guide to a trip around the system, pointing out places of interest and landmarks both on and off the railway. Metro Future looks at what may be next, with the new fleet of trains ordered to replace the 41-year-old veterans that have served us so well, as well as proposals to extend the system even further afield.

Of the fifteen books I now have in print, this is the one of which I am most proud, just as I am of the Metro my Dad helped to build.

Colin Alexander's new book The Tyne & Wear Metro is available for purchase now.