Major delays for Metrolink after cold weather causes problems

Saturday 13th December certainly seemed to be unlucky for Manchester Metrolink and any potential passengers after almost the entire network was suspended as a result of a “sudden drop in temperatures” which lead to failed LRVs and frozen overhead. For a time during the morning the only services running were between Bury and Piccadilly with all other routes suspended and passengers guided towards local bus services.

The day started off as normal for Metrolink with services running on all lines as Metrolink had been running ice breaker vehicles throughout the night as a result of the weather forecast. But it was at this point that a severe drop in temperatures and a freezing fog arrived in Greater Manchester which caused problems. Several LRVs failed at key points on the network and the decision was taken to suspend services on all but the route between Bury and Piccadilly.

In a statement Peter Cushing, Metrolink Director at TfGM, explained the situation: “First of all I’d like to apologise for any inconvenience passengers may have faced as a result of the icy overnight conditions. This is not the first frost of the winter and we were aware it was going to freeze overnight, as a result we have had icebreaker trams out across the network throughout the night in an attempt to keep the overhead lines clear and the system operational. But, a combination of unusual and extreme conditions and a sudden worsening of those conditions early this morning has led to a number of failed trams. Services were launched first thing, but because of the conditions several vehicles failed at key points on the network and as a result the decision was taken to suspend services on all lines, with the exception of Bury to Piccadilly.”

As the day continued more lines started to resume services starting with the Rochdale to East Didsbury line then the Bury to Altrincham direct, Manchester Airport to Cornbrook and between Ashton-under-Lyne and Eccles. By the early afternoon all lines were seeing trams although delays were still experienced compounded on the Eccles line by a fire by the side of the line which meant all journeys beyond MediaCityUK were suspended.

This news did not go down particularly well with would be passengers (search Twitter if you want to really see what people thought!) with many complaints about not being able to run with the first major frost of the winter period. Although Metrolink did run ice-breakers during the night what must be of concern is that this seemed to make very little difference. Hopefully this will the worst disruption of the winter and we don’t have more similar stories in the coming months.

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9 Responses to Major delays for Metrolink after cold weather causes problems

  1. tony stevenson says:

    This is not good enough, in this day and age, the excuses are pathetic, and have been heard before. I suggest the senior management take a trip to Europe to see how they deal with severe weather.

  2. Frank Gradwell says:

    It wasn’t a blizzard, it wasn’t torrential rain – it was just a few degrees of frost, and some winter fog – i.e. exactly what you would expect in a Manchester winter.

    The M5000s are built in mainland Germany where they experience real winters, so what exactly is the problem? Over sensitive electronics that shut down when they sense a current interruption, current collection that only works in ideal circumstances? These sort of problems should have been foreseen at the specification stage and resilience specified in at the design stage.

    This simply should not happen and a proper and reasoned explanation is due to the population of Greater Manchester who have to tolerate the second rate performance put in by this fleet and operator week, after week, after week.

  3. James Jones says:

    I checked the met office website. It shows that there was no ‘sudden’ drop in temperatures at the official weather station in the area. So who do we trust for our weather facts, the Met office or metrolink?

  4. tram man says:

    Steve Hyde’s video link to the same problem Prague tram system had on the 1st of December just shows how bad it can be.Todays modern trams are full of electronics and shut down in such conditions.
    I read some of the comments on the evening news website and passengers were rightly very angry.There were of course the usual people just having a go at metrolink with some ridiculous solutions to the problems,all based on there being a bottomless pot of money and an army of staff to implement them.
    Metrolink did try their best by running ice breakers,but they can only work with the equipment supplied by tfgm.I don’t know what the answer is,maybe tfgm should have spent just a little bit more money and bought more robust equipment.Last year we got away with it as it was a pretty mild winter.Hopefully this will be a one off.

    • Ken Walker says:

      I read somewhere that the Flexities at Blackpool have an ‘ice mode’ which makes the equipment more tolerant of fluctuations in supply in such conditions. If this can be fitted in a coastal town where winter conditions are normally milder surely something similar should have been specified for a system like Metrolink, which has parts of its system several hundred feet above sea level? After all that was the excuse peddled last time we had this problem. But it’s not all bad news. After the frozen overheads and frozen points, it appears the fares are now frozen – well at least until August, TfGM have announced there will be no increase in January 2015!

      • Steve Hyde says:

        Ken, The M5000s have the same setting as that you describe on the Flexity 2.

        In a more general context. Whilst the complete suspension of services on Saturday last was embarrassing to say the least, I do have some sympathy for those trying to keep a service running under very difficult conditions. It is all very well for those sitting comfortably in their armchairs to criticise but when you have been at the sharp end so to speak and tried all sorts of methods to move a tram stuck in the middle of the road fully insulated from the contact wire by ice you will know that some things are just beyond the influence of man. It was not that the tram electronics had shutdown due to over sensitivity, the tram was fully insulated from its power source. I have been through that experience in Manchester once.

        If that video link is followed and some of the collection of clips taken in Prague are viewed attempts to break the ice off the wire by lowering and raising the pantographs repeatedly can be seen to fail.

        As for the comments made about the weather not being that bad, as I said in my earlier post I found to my cost that the rain that had fallen that Friday evening and into Saturday morning had frozen on any cold surface to a icy glazed coating not just a frost.

  5. Steve Hyde says:

    There had been a spell of freezing rain in some areas overnight and even though icebreakers were out they were unsuccessful in their efforts. I had been out on the Friday night and walking home I was surprised just how much ice had formed on the footpaths in a very short space of time.

    Apparently a similar event occurred in Prague on December 1st which brought that network to a standstill during normal service hours! It seems that some of the tram affected in Prague weren’t even really modern cars with sensitive electronics to shut down. They simply came to a stand because ice is a very good insulator! There is a video clip of the spectacular efforts to get trams moving on Youtube. If you copy this into your browser you can see the results.

  6. John Gilbert says:

    I should only believe the “excuses” given by various of your correspondents if I could be sure that they had studied the practices in European cities, where, as several other of your correspondents have said, they get this weather every winter. It smacks to me of the usual British moaning and whingeing when we get a wee bit of ice and snow. What IS the matter with us as a nation – I really do think it is residual xenophobia – all those Johnny Foreigners you know!!!? It’s deep in our subconscious!

  7. John West says:

    There was no ‘recorded’ drop in temperature! I was out at 3am. It was foggy and -1c. There were no ‘icebreaker’ trams running as far as I could tell (I live by a line). This is just an absolute failure by ML and somebody is trying to spin a web!!!

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