Manchester Metrolink has never been so popular according to figures released in the system’s annual report, recently provided to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Transport Committee. Slightly over 45 million passengers were recorded between August 2018 and August 2019 – an increase of approximately three million from the previous 12 months. But despite this encouraging picture of the number of passengers carried there remains cause of concern with an increase in the amount of crime and anti-social behaviour reported across the network whilst performance was not quite at the target levels.
As regular readers of this website will be aware Keolis Amey Metrolink (operators of the network) release performance figures every four weeks throughout the year but just to confuse matters the year on those starts April whereas this annual report is August to August so it starts in period 6 of 2018/19 and ends in period 5 of 2019/20! Nevertheless it does give a good idea of how things have gone in the past year and whilst it is pleasing to see the continued increase of passenger numbers there are concerns about the crime aspect.
Since opening in 1992 Metrolink has well and truly established itself as a crucial cog in the transport network of the region, with continued expansion of more and more lines opening. With more lines comes more passengers but despite the past year not having seen a new line open there has still be an increase in passenger journeys with just over 45 million passenger journeys recorded – up by approximately three million from the figure the previous August. Each line has seen an increase in passengers year on year with the exception of the line to Ashton-under-Lyne but it is hoped that following the introduction of a six minute frequency on that line it too will start to see further increases in the future. To help meet demand extra double units have been mobilised on the Altrincham, Bury and East Didsbury lines but still extra capacity is required at times and TfGM are working alongside KAM to invest in demand and operational modelling tools to maximise the existing capacity fully. It is worth noting that the passenger numbers recorded in 2015 was just 32.4 million showing just how quickly the system has expanded in recent years.
Of course, probably the number one thing most passengers will be concerned about is the performance of the network and the report shows that Metrolink didn’t quite reach the targets set at the start of the 12 month period (but was pretty close!). The target was that 99.4% of all planned mileage would run but the rolling average for the year ended up slightly under this at 99.2%. As would be expected different 4 week period saw different levels of performance with period 5 in 2019/20 at the bottom end of the scale with 97.4% of all miles operated; periods 2 and 4 in 2019/20 were also below the average. Reasons for the fall in these periods are diverse but the report puts this mainly down to the usual operational and infrastructure issues such as road traffic collisions, infrastructure failures (points, signals etc.) and tram issues, not helped by sustained warm weather conditions which caused both of the latter problems at times.
Performance is heavily linked with tram reliability and again a target is set at the start of the year but this was missed when looking at the rolling average. The target was 48,270km between tram failures but the year ended up at an average 40,590km. There was a wide range of differences in periods during this year (periods 8 2018/19 and 11 2018/19 saw a significantly higher figure in the range of 70,000 whilst periods 6 and 7 in 2018/19 and periods 4 and 5 in 2019/20 saw a figure well below the average (period 5 was particularly bad at 13,915). The same issues as in performance were experienced which led to these lower figures such as road traffic collisions, brake issues, air conditioning, axle bearing, fractures on the roof frames and pantograph issues.
On the infrastructure side of things it was a much rosier picture as the target average was 72,265km between failures and by the end of the year Metrolink had achieved 136,634km between failures. Of particular note was 2018/19’s period 10 when the figure was at an incredible 488,238. Showing the more recent issues affecting the network period 4 in 2019/20 only managed 61,189kms between failures.
Probably the most concerning figures released in the report, however, relate to crime and anti-social behaviour with a large increase shown but this is partly put down to Keolis Amey Metrolink measuring and enforcing byelaw infringements from January 2019. Despite this giving an expected increase there do remain some issues with a number of high-profile incidents having taken place over the past 12 months. On average there were 165 incidents a month with the majority taking place overnight. The worst periods are 2018/19’s periods 6, 8 and 9 with periods 6 and 8 closely linked to school holiday dates (unfortunately not an unsurprising correlation between the two). There was also a significant increase in the number of tram surfing incidents recorded with over 63 incidents reported from July 2018 and the end of August 2019. A number of initiatives were introduced to try and counter this problem – including high profile media campaigns – and for a little bit of positivity the report states that the number of surfing incidents each month has fallen to 3 per month since March 2019 compared to 7 each month previous to this. In total the number of crime and anti-social incidents reported has gone up from 1,570 in 2017/8 to 2,063 in 2018/9.
Other news revealed in the report includes updates on the Trafford Park extension with confirmation services will begin in 2020 whilst work at Crumpsall is set to be completed by the end of this year. Stop upgrade works continue at Shudehill and Cornbrook with plans progressing on similar works at Heaton Park and Whitefield – these two are due to be finished in 2020.
The report concludes by admitting that recent operational performance has been a challenge due to the loss of a number of trams resulting from damage caused in RTCs but it is said that performance is now returning to normal levels and that reliability and availability of trams will continue to be monitored at a senior level within both KAM and TfGM.
The report finishes by saying: “Despite these recent challenges, performance is returning to targeted levels. The ability to provide capacity to meet demand remains our biggest challenge but with the Trafford Park line opening and new trams arriving in 2020 the outlook for Metrolink passengers is good.”
As Metrolink is by far the busiest, largest and most complex of the UK’s on street tramway systems there will always be issues but on the whole the report does paint a pleasing picture and long may the system continue to provide an efficient service for the people of Greater Manchester!
* Read the full report on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority website.