25 years since it first carried passengers around one of the UK’s largest shopping centres, a new exhibition is celebrating the anniversary of the much-missed Merry Hill Monorail.
I try not to have regrets, but one that I do have is that I never got the chance to ride on the Merry Hill Monorail. Opened in June 1991 and closed in 1996, its UK lifespan ended several years before I moved from Yorkshire to live in the West Midlands.
History of the Monorail
Traversing the gigantic Merry Hill shopping centre in Brierley Hill near Dudley, the Monorail is remembered fondly locally. However, for those like me who never saw it, it has become something akin to an urban legend, just like the warring giants of Birmingham and Dudley or even the alleged red-light area at the back of Rackhams in Birmingham.
At a cost of £22 million, the elevated Merry Hill Monorail comprised of four stations – with names like Waterfront East, Central, Times Square and Boulevard suggesting it was transporting passengers to the bright lights of New York, rather than for a quick browse around C&A (RIP).
Developers had planned to extend the Monorail over the Dudley Canal, where it would link up with the Midland Metro, but this never happened.
As well as being revolutionary for UK mass transit at the time, it was also a bastion for equality, as most of its 20 drivers were female.
However, safety concerns and technical problems caused the sad demise of this Midlands icon and the trains and track were sold and transferred in 2001 to the Oasis Shopping Centre in Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia. It allowed them to expand their own monorail system, which is still running to this day. So, I guess I don’t need to regret not riding the Merry Hill Monorail, I just have to travel 10,345 miles to ride on its Antipodean incarnation.
25th anniversary exhibition
Despite only a five year shelf life in the UK, the current owners of Merry Hill decided to mark the Monorail’s silver anniversary with a fantastic little exhibition, which just shows how much love there still is for this Black Country icon.
Situated around the lift that whisked passengers up to its main station, the exhibition is adorned with facts and figures about the railway. Also on display are original artefacts from the line, including station signs, turnstiles and a ticket machine (a single trip cost a bargain 40 pence!)
The lovely people at Merry Hill have also minted a special coin to mark the occasion. I was told during my visit that there are only 150 available (well, at least 149 now, as I bought one for myself), so don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to own a piece of monorail history.
The remains of Central station and part of the old railings are still intact, above Marks and Spencer, and are still visible from the centre’s car park. Whilst purchasing my coin, I asked a really helpful staff member at the Customer Services desk if it was possible to ascend to the platform area. Unfortunately, as she politely explained, health and safety procedures prevent casual visitors from exploring the old station.
However, I hope that the bosses at Merry Hill do open it up for enthusiasts like me in the future, so we can at least have a good taste of what it must’ve been like to ride those smooth rails around the centre back in the 1990s.
Share your memories
For those that do have memories of the Monorail, one of the centre’s joint owners, Intu Properties, are asking people to submit their stories of the railway via Facebook, Twitter or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Merry Hill facts
Alongside the Monorail, the Merry Hill development brought about the first drive-thru McDonald’s in the UK, the country’s first free-standing Pizza Hut and the largest Texas Homecare store (RIP).
Merry Hill has also appeared in children’s cartoon The Amazing World of Gumball and formed the basis of the fictional Green Oaks centre in Catherine O’Flynn’s novel, ‘What Was Lost’.
Want more on monorails? Visit my friends over at The Monorail Society for more information about this unique mode of transport than you could ever imagine.