Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

19th June 2014

Metro Man

Tyne and Wear Metro MapIn the 1970s, Newcastle, like Liverpool, was faced with an increasingly decrepit local rail network, which was not achieving its full potential. Like Liverpool, they solved the problem with a radical upgrade of trains and stations, and a brand new cross-city link tunnel under Newcastle and Gateshead to stitch it all together.

The resulting Tyne & Wear Metro opened in 1980 and was an instant hit. Thirty-odd years later, the network has been expanded and is currently undergoing a modernisation programme.

Shamefully, I have never visited this transport system, and I was determined to put that right. On Friday afternoon, I descended the steps of Central Station… Station, to take a spin on the imaginatively-named Yellow Line out to Whitley Bay.

Tyne & Wear Metro Central Station Entrance Tyne & Wear Metro Central Station

I rode the train one stop to Monument, where I changed for a train to “The Coast”. I could have got to Whitley Bay without changing trains, but I wanted to go via Wallsend. I had second thoughts about my decision when, after about 10 or so minutes at Monument, a train still hadn’t appeared. The platform indicator displayed plenty of information about the refurbishment of Hebburn station, but didn’t show any trains due.

I was a bit worried, but took my cue from the seasoned travellers around me, who stoically waited without complaint. We were rewarded soon after, as a train appeared, and we climbed aboard for the trip out to the seaside.

Why did I want to visit Wallsend? Because it is the starting point of Hadrian’s Wall, and the station celebrates its historical importance by duplicating all the station signage in Latin:

Suggestus I, Noli Fumare Penaltius Farius
Raedarum publicarum Statio

Now you know the Latin for “bus station”. I have to say, Caecilius est in raedarum publicarum statio doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Elsewhere you can find history of a different kind. The great thing about the Metro is that, while it is very much a modern system, parts of the network can trace their history back 150 years or more. I wasn’t quite prepared for this, and so I was taken aback by what I saw when our train rolled into Tynemouth. I wasn’t planning to stop here, but I hopped off the train to investigate. The station dates back to 1882 and is Grade II listed.


A couple of stops down the line, at Whitley Bay, is another station building of similar vintage, complete with clock tower. The station’s original features have been tastefully retained as part of the Metro – with a little cafĂ© taking up some of the space that is no longer used for railway purposes.

Whitley Bay Station Whitley Bay Station

Let’s take a moment to talk about the Metro font. It was designed by Margaret Calvert, the designer who also gave the world Rail Alphabet. In a fit of self-promotion, Calvert named the font after herself. I want a copy.

Strangely, a few years ago Metro revamped its corporate image and downplayed Calvert in favour of other, more generic fonts. Happily, the current refurb has put it back front and centre. It does demonstrate how far a good design can affect your perception of a brand. By comparison, Merseyrail has no consistency in signage and fonts at all, and is all the poorer for it.

Calvert Font

On the way back from Whitley Bay (which I will talk about in a separate blog), the train was nearly empty. I took a seat right at the very back of the train where, thanks to the driver’s cab only being half-width, I was able to look out of the rear window and watch the tracks zoom past.

To paraphrase Talking Heads, I knew where I’d been, but I didn’t know where I was going.

Metro train interior Rear window

So yes, I approve very much of the Metro. It’s so great, the BBC created a musical tribute to it.

Metro Train

Tags: , , , ,

One Response
  1. Pingback by Whit’s End « Robert Hampton
    27th June 2014 at 7:32 pm

    […] Whitley Bay seemed as good a place as any to spend my Friday afternoon. It gave me a nice excuse to have a long ride on the Metro. […]