| Manchester Metrolink Latest Developments
Article Posted Sunday 16 November 2003
The Manchester Metrolink system was the first new generation on-street tramway to open in the United Kingdom. The tramway has now been in operation for 11 years and there are huge plans for extending the system, the so-called ‘Big Bang’. British Trams Online Webmaster Gareth Prior looks at the past, present and future of Metrolink…|
Background to the scheme
The genesis of Manchester Metrolink can be traced all the way back to 1969 when the Greater Manchester PTE and PTA were set up. There had been a desire to see a rail link between the two main stations in the city, Piccadilly and Victoria and the PTE came up with the PiccVic scheme. This would have seen an underground link between the two stations and at one stage Parliamentary powers were gained to build it. However the projects costs proved prohibitive and funding was never awarded by the government and the project was finally totally abandoned in 1977. Then in 1982 the PTE, Greater Manchester Council and British Rail launched a joint study into the areas rail network. The outcome of this was a proposed 6 line light rail network and both feasibility and liability studies were taken out. This plan was presented to the government for a line linking Bury and Altrincham via Manchester City Centre (what we know now as Phase 1). The scheme was approved with the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Act 1988 and initial construction work commenced in March 1989. The construction period was completed in just over 3 years with the first part of Phase 1 ready for its first passenger services on 6 April 1992 from Victoria to Bury. By the middle of June the rest of Phase 1 was complete and carrying passengers with the Queen officially opening Manchester Metrolink on 17 July 1992. This initial system was found to be successful after Phase 2 followed to the regenerated Salford Quays and Eccles areas. Construction commenced here in 1997 and was opened for passengers in July 2000.
The Current Operations
Manchester Metrolink now has 3 major daily routes from Altrincham to Piccadilly, Bury to Piccadilly and Piccadilly to Eccles. In addition on Monday-Saturday daytime there is a service that runs direct from Bury to Altrincham without going via the Piccadilly terminus, with every other service doing this. However at other times all services do go via Piccadilly.
These services are run by a fleet of 32 trams built by Firema/Ansaldo in Italy in two batches. The First Series batch of 26 trams were delivered in 1991-2 for the initial Metrolink phase. At the time transport bosses had wanted more trams but the Conservative government of the time declined the extra funding in case the system proved not to be a success. The Second Series trams were built to a similar design in 1999 for the Eccles extension. There have been numerous efforts over the past few years to increase capacity on Metrolink including new centre cars and trams from San Francisco and Bonn. Two San Francisco trams were actually imported from the US but after arrival if was discovered that they would not be suitable for operation. The centre cars were also ruled out due to the high costs that would be incurred from having them built for limited benefit. The First Series fleet are currently undergoing their mid-life refurbishment with one out of action at a time for a mechanical overhaul and new livery scheme.
All of the trams are of a high floor design as most of the route operates on former railway lines with high railway style platforms. This meant that all city centre and now Eccles extension stops have also had to have high platforms built to ensure that there is level access for the disabled. The former BR stations were refurbished during the construction of Phase 1 with accessibility made easier with ramps installed at most stations rather than the former steps.
Manchester Metrolink operates a ticketing system of machines on all of the stops with no conductors on board collecting fares. A team of roving inspectors are employed to check random tickets on the trams, in similar vain to Croydon Tramlink. A zonal fare structure is employed and MetroMax tickets can also be purchased allowing for unlimited travel on the trams.
The ‘Big Bang’
As has already been mentioned when Metrolink was conceived it was imagined to be a light rail network rather than just a couple of lines around Manchester city centre. As such Phase 3 of Metrolink is currently in development. The current plans for Phase 3 will see 3 major extensions to the network with lines to Oldham and Rochdale, South Manchester and Manchester Airport and East Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne already gaining basic government approval.
The line from Manchester to Oldham and Rochdale has had Parliamentary powers for construction since May 1994. The route would diverge from the current Bury line around 1 kilometre outside of Victoria near to the current tram depot at Queens Road. It is likely to consist of 19 stops on its 15 mile route and will follow for much of its journey the current Oldham loop railway line. Once it reaches the town of Oldham it moves away from the railway to go into the town centre with the current railway station at Mumps being replaced by a joint bus and tram interchange. The route is planned to then rejoin the current railway line and go on to Rochdale where an extension will be made into the town centre to meet up with the bus station, where another interchange will be built.
The South Manchester and Manchester Airport extension diverges from the current Altrincham route near to the Trafford Bar stop. From here the line will use a disused railway line for a short distance before it goes in a south westerly direction towards Wythenshawe, serving the hospital, town centre and Airport in a loop like line. In total there would be 24 new stations built and it would run for 14 miles with an expected annual figure of 8 million passengers.
The line to East Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne would go through the current terminus platforms at Piccadilly. This route is possibly the most ambitious of the extensions as it would include a double deck tram road in addition to sections of street tramway and will go to the regenerated areas of East Manchester and Tameside. It was originally hoped that at least part of the line could have been built in time for the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in the city as the line does go past the stadium, now used by Manchester City FC. The line will be around 6 miles in length and goes from Piccadilly to Ashton-under-Lyne going through Ancoats, New East Manchester, Clayton, Droylsden and Audenshaw. The terminus at Ashton will be part of a major interchange with bus and heavy rail services and the whole line is expected to carry 6 million passengers per year with 11 new stops built.
Phase 3 may also include other extensions currently under development. Powers have already been obtained for an East Didsbury line, although this would not be built without additional funding. The line would follow the Airport extension for a short distance before pulling away at St Werburgh’s Road. From here it would continue to follow the disused railway line through to East Didsbury via West Didsbury and Didsbury village serving the local community and shops. There are currently public consultations over whether this line could also be extended to Stockport and it is expected that a Transport and Works Act application will be applied for soon. If permission is granted and the funding can be gained the GMPTE are said to be hopeful that this line could be included as a further part of Phase 3 with it terminating adjacent to the bus station in the town providing yet another interchange facility.
There is also the possibility of a further extension, but only if private funding is provided, this is to connect with the Trafford Centre. The owners of the Trafford Centre (Peel Holdings) have expressed an initial interest in backing this proposal which would leave the current Eccles line near to Pomona tram stop and run for just less than 4 miles through Trafford Park Village terminating at the Trafford Centre with 8 stops along the way. A line to The Lowry could be built as a short spur from the Eccles line between the Harbour City and Broadway stops. Powers already exist to build both of these extensions.
Phase 3 extensions will also include up to 70 new trams (of a new design as the current type are no longer produced) and a new depot. It is envisaged that the depot will be built between the Trafford Bar and Old Trafford stops, in a nice central position for most the routes. This depot would not be a full maintenance facility, with the more heavy work continuing to take place at the Queens Road depot.
Negotiations are currently underway for the Design, Build, Operate and Maintain (DBOM) contract for Phase 3 to be awarded. The list has been whittled down to 2 with Greater Manchester Tramways Ltd (Stagecoach, Alstom, John Mowlem and Edmund Nuttall) and Manchester Tram Company (Serco and SNC Lavalin) in the frame. A decision is expected to be revealed in spring next year. The chosen consortium will also take over the operation and maintenance of Phases 1 and 2 from next summer. In order to smooth the construction of Phase 3 advance works have also been taking place recently, particularly around the Airport.
The following sources were used in the preparation & writing of this article
GMPTE: Metrolink Developments
Metrolink: Official Handbook by Eric Ogden and John Senior (Transport Publishing Company Limited, 1991)
Trams in Britain and Ireland: Manchester by Andrew Macfarlane (Capital Transport, 2002)
Related Links on British Trams Online
Manchester Metrolink Fleet List
Hall of Fame: Manchester Metrolink 1007
Manchester Metrolink Official Website