Latest Metrolink update to GMCA shows passenger numbers are still well down

The latest meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Transport Committee included an update from the TfGM’s Head of Metrolink, Danny Vaughan, which gives an insight into how the network is continuing to operate during the pandemic. We recently saw that in Nottingham passenger numbers were down at 11% of pre-pandemic levels but for Manchester Metrolink it’s a slightly better picture with the figure said to be between 17% and 19% (although, obviously, this is still very much at a level where financial support is needed).

19% means there were slightly over 100,000 journeys being made on Metrolink in the week of 15th February 2021 and this has been a fairly consistent figure since just before Christmas (in total 575,000 journeys were recorded during February with the average number of people on each tram being 17.4). The number of passengers being carried on the network has fluctuated over the past 12 months. At the peak of the first lockdown passenger numbers were down as low as 6% but by mid-September 2020 this had increased to 47% of the pre-pandemic levels. It is now expected that passenger numbers will start to increase gradually again as more restrictions are eased (these don’t, for instance, include figures following the return to school on 8th March).

It has also been forecast that approximately £64 million has now been lost in revenue during the pandemic which is where the Government support has helped (although hasn’t fully covered all losses it would appear). A Recovery Plan has been submitted to the Department for Transport for coming out of the pandemic although no response to this had been received at the time of the report.

The report reveals that 97.9% of scheduled miles were operated on the Metrolink network in the 12 months leading to February 2021. This is down on the performance target of 99.4% with vehicle availability issues the main cause of this along with the impact of Storm Christoph. There has also been an increase in vandalism which had led to some trams having to be taken out of use. This is up on where it was towards the end of 2020 (period 9 had seen it as low as 93.8%) but there still remains some work to do with TfGM discussing this with KeolisAmey Metrolink (KAM).

Looking ahead and it is stated that “a longer-term service pattern is in development with KeolisAmey Metrolink. The recovery service options in development aim to optimise capacity and target to meet demand”. No dates for when this may happen are given and will probably be dependent on when restrictions are eased. Metrolink has been continuing to operate the 10 minute frequency timetable on all routes throughout the latest lockdown – a service which, let’s not forget, actually improves the frequency on some lines to how it was before!

2021 will see a number of sections of track renewed as part of the year’s essential maintenance works. We have already seen the Eccles line closed for carriageway resurfacing works and there will also be a major closure through Victoria in the summer. The Victoria works will start in June and go through until August when some further Network Rail bridge works are due to take place. The impact is said to be minimal for the first three stages (six weeks) with only minor service changes required.

However, the final two stages will be more disruptive to services through Victoria, further details of which will follow. Network Rail also have some work to complete on bridges at Victoria and this work will be integrated as far as possible with Metrolink’s although they can’t completely overlap due to the nature of requirements for each in the area and safe systems of work.

In addition to the works at Victoria (and those on Eccles New Road which have been brought forward from the original plan) there will be work at Piccadilly, Trafford Bar, Cornbrook and Rochdale. Most of this will be confined to weekends to minimise disruption.

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