Manchester Metrolink

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Manchester Metrolink
Locale Greater Manchester
Transit type Electrified (750 V DC) Tramway
Began operation1992
System length37 km (23 miles)
No. of lines3
No. of stations37
Daily ridership52,000 (19 million annually) in 2004
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in)
(standard gauge)
Operator Stagecoach Group
(since July 2007)

Manchester Metrolink is an urban light-rail system in Greater Manchester, England centred on Manchester City Centre. It operates services to the towns of Bury, Altrincham and Eccles.

Metrolink is operated by Stagecoach Group, on behalf of GMPTE. The Metrolink network is approximately 23 miles (37 km) long, with 37 stops along the route. Because much of the Metrolink route was formerly main-line railway with platforms about 900 mm above ground level, the new stops in the city centre also have 900 mm-high platforms.

Many more extensions to the Metrolink System are planned providing funding can be found. The ambitious "Big Bang", now named Phase 3 would take services to Oldham and Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stockport, Manchester Airport and to the Trafford Centre.

Construction history

For many years there had been plans to connect Manchester's two main railway stations, Piccadilly station to the south-east of the city centre, and Victoria station to the north. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were plans for a Picc-Vic tunnel to carry main-line trains, but the proposal was abandoned because of excessive cost. By the late 1980s, the power equipment on the electrified suburban railway line from Victoria to Bury, which had a unique-in-Britain side-contact third-rail power supply, was in need of replacement, and it was decided, rather than replace the equipment on a like-for-like basis, to construct a light rail system that would connect the Victoria–Bury line via on-street lines with the line to Altrincham, south-west of the city, and in the city centre to Piccadilly station.

The Metrolink lines were formed by closing two electric train lines to trains between Altrincham and Cornbrook Junction (former Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway, electrified in 1931) and between Bury and Manchester Victoria, electrified by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1916. This meant that trains ceased to operate to Bury and trains arriving at Altrincham from Knutsford, Northwich and Chester are diverted to Manchester via Stockport, adding at least 10 minutes to an already slow journey. The disbenefits of Metrolink's creation to the rail users of south Manchester and north Cheshire were considerable and remain so today (2007).

Authority to construct Phase I of Metrolink (Bury to Altrincham via city centre, with a spur to Piccadilly station) was granted in January 1988, with construction of the on-street section beginning in March 1990. Metrolink opened between Bury and Victoria on 6 April 1992, through the city centre between Victoria and G-Mex (the former Manchester Central railway station, now an exhibition centre) on 27 April 1992, and between G-Mex and Altrincham on 15 June 1992. The system was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 July 1992, and trams started operating into Piccadilly station on 20 July 1992, completing Phase I of the system.

In each case, conversion of the existing railway lines to Metrolink took far longer than had been indicated by Metrolink's promoters and local politicians alike. The Altrincham line was closed for 6 months, rather than one month as promised, with bus substitution during that period. Metrolink initially indicated that the cause was trackwork in poorer condition than expected, but no substantiating evidence was ever produced, nor was any claim ever made against the former operator. In contrast, Metrolink's own new trackwork in Manchester's city centre required reinstalling twice in the first years of operation, due to inadequate quality controls and poor design work, such as placing switches directly where the blades could be expected to be repeatedly crossed by buses.

On 25 April 1997 work began on Phase II, an extension from Cornbrook, on the Altrincham line, through Salford Quays to Eccles. Service started as far as Broadway on 6 December 1999 and to Eccles on 21 July 2000.

Planning permission was granted in October 2007 for a 400-metre long extension from a point between Harbour City and Broadway to the central plaza of the new Mediacity:uk development.[1]


Metrolink's Monday-Saturday service:

  1. Piccadilly station – Altrincham
  2. Piccadilly station – Bury
  3. Piccadilly station – Eccles
  4. Altrincham – Bury (Daytime only) (not via Piccadilly Gardens and Piccadilly station)

Metrolink's Sunday & Bank Holiday service:

  1. Piccadilly station – Altrincham
  2. Piccadilly station – Bury
  3. Piccadilly station – Eccles

The direct Altrincham-Bury (avoiding Piccadilly) service does not operate on Sundays. Passengers are required to change at Piccadilly Gardens.

Frequency on each service is every 12 minutes, but the interleaving of the Altrincham – Bury direct service with the services to Piccadilly Station mean that for much of the route there are two trams every 12 minutes, usually three and nine minutes apart.

Between Cornbrook and St Peter’s Square, with three services (Altrincham-Bury, Altrincham-Piccadilly and Eccles-Piccadilly) running every 12 minutes, the frequency is increased even more.

The current route length is:

Phase 1
Bury – Victoria 9.9 miles (15.9 km)
Victoria – G-Mex 1.9 miles (3.1 km)
Spur to Piccadilly station 0.4 miles (0.6 km)
G-Mex – Altrincham 6.5 miles (10.5 km)
Phase 2
Cornbrook – Broadway 1.9 miles (3.1 km)
Broadway – Eccles 2.2 miles (3.5 km)

Transport Interchanges

Passenger rail interchanges are situated along the Metrolink route. These include Piccadilly, Victoria station, G-mex for Deansgate, Altrincham, Navigation Road and Eccles.

Major bus interchanges are also situated at Bury, Whitefield, Victoria, Shudehill, Piccadilly Gardens, Altrincham and Eccles Metrolink Stations.

Tram stop list

Bury Line Altrincham Line Eccles Line

Fare structure

Fares are charged depending on the number of fare zones travelled through, and whether travel is in the peak period - before 09:30 on a weekday, except on public holidays. The zones are shown above.

Tickets are purchased from machines at each stop. Single journeys must be completed within 90 minutes, return journeys the same day. It is also possible to purchase tickets from the machines for travel all day, for groups, or all weekend. Some ticket machines accept only coins; the others will also accept banknotes, and give a maximum of £7 in change.

A ticket must be purchased before travel. A "standard fare" (up to £80) is charged for travelling without a ticket[1].

Pomona station was built with ticket barriers, currently not used. The change from paper tickets to more rigid card tickets on the newer ticket machines may mean that a barrier system will be used in future at the main interchanges.

Train users travelling into the city centre from stations in Greater Manchester are able to use the Metrolink in the central zone for free. These train tickets can be used between Victoria, Shudehill, Market Street, Piccadilly Gardens, Piccadilly, Mosley Street, St Peter's Square and G-Mex. [2]

System One Travel Cards can be bought from Metrolink Ticket Machines and can be used on busses and/or trains in Greater Manchester. National Rail tickets can also be bought with a Metrolink station or zone as the destination.


File:Metrolink tram in Eccles.jpg
A 2000 Series street-running tram in Eccles.

The Metrolink fleet currently consists of 26 Italian-built T-68 light-rail vehicles (LRV) built in 1991 and numbered in the 1000 series, and six T68a vehicles built in 1999 for the Eccles extension and numbered in the 2000 series. The LRVs are articulated in the centre and normally operate singly, except during the rush hours when there are a few double trams along the Bury–Altrincham route. Three 1000-series trams (1005, 1010, and 1015) and all 2000-series trams are modified for use on the Eccles line, which involves large amounts of street running, with retractable and covered couplers and covered bogies.

In April 2007, eight new trams were ordered for the Metrolink. These will be Flexity Swift high-floor trams based on the K5000 series currently employed in the German cities of Cologne and Bonn, and similar to the low-floor models already used by London’s Tramlink. When delivered in 2009 these 8 new trams will enable all the Bury - Altrincham direct services to operate as double trams, significantly increasing capacity. A further 4 trams of the same type have now been ordered by the GMPTE to allow for a new 12-minute service between Cornbrook and the new Mediacity:uk extension. [3]

Technical data (T68 and T68a trams)

The trams are 30 m long and consist of two carriages, joined by an articulated section in the centre, with four doors per side. The front an rear bogies are powered, with two 750V, 105kW motors per bogie. The third bogie, located under the articulated part, is not powered. The maximum speed is 80km/h, with 50 km/h allowed for street running.

There are 83 seats per vehicle (plus 4 folding seats) and the nominal capacity is 200 passengers (250 maximum). Trams normally run singly, but up to four units can be operated by one driver.

List of Trams by name and number

Twenty-three of the trams have name plates, named after famous Mancunian people, achievements or places.


The first Metrolink’s depot is located south of Queen’s Road (Cheetham Hill, M8) on the western side of the Bury line, between Victoria and Woodlands Road stops. The depot connections face Bury. There is a staff halt, Queens Road, serving the depot [5]. This facility will not be able to handle the expanded network, therefore GMPTE have obtained the site for a second depot, near Old Trafford stop [6].


Metrolink carried 18.8 million passengers in 2004, compared to 7.5 million who used the Bury and Altrincham rail services before Metrolink. At peak times, the trams are frequently overcrowded, especially at the city centre stations.

In the first two years of Metrolink operation, peak hour patronage was well below expected levels, but off-peak patronage exceeded expectations. Metrolink reacted by reducing peak fares which improved loadings. However, the majority of increased patronage can fairly be estimated to have occurred as a result of improving economic conditions and increased congestion on alternative roads.

2007 Track renewals

Due to the age and condition of most of the track on the Bury and Altrincham routes it was decided that the mostly 1960s trackwork was to be relaid. This construction work included improvements to stations along the lines.

Bury Line The renewals commenced on 29 May 2007 with the cessation of services between Bury and Whitefield. By 22 June 2007 services on the Bury line terminated at Crumpsall. By 23 July 2007 there was no service on the Bury line as all northbound Metrolink trams in public use terminated at Victoria. The Bury Line re-opened on 13 September 2007.

Altrincham Line With the possible exception of the section between Stretford and Dane Road, the track along this route was not as worn as that on the Bury line and so not as much work was required. From 2 July 2007 various sections of the line were shut down and serviced with a replacement bus service. The Altrincham Line re-opened on 28 August 2007.

As of mid-September 2007 all tram services were back in operation, the work having been completed on time. Since the track renewals the ride is much smoother and quieter than before.

Changes to the system since original construction

There have been a few modifications to the system since the opening of Phase I in 1992.

  • Originally the stop in Market Street handled trams to Bury only, and the one around the corner in High Street handled trams from Bury only. When Market Street was closed to road traffic these stops were replaced by a new platform stop in the centre of Market Street, which handles trams in both directions. This stop opened on 10 August 1998.
  • Crossover points were installed in the section approaching Piccadilly Station in order to allow inbound trams to access either platform without having first to proceed to the buffer stops at the far end of the Undercroft area; this in order to facilitate quicker tram turnaround times. This mode of operation seems to have been discontinued in recent years, however.
  • Shudehill Interchange between Victoria station and Market Street opened in April 2003. The bus station complementing it opened on 29 January 2006.
  • Cornbrook station on the Altrincham line was opened to provide an interchange with the new line to Eccles. There was initially no official public access to this station from the street, but this changed on 3 September 2005.
  • On 15 July 2007 Stagecoach took over as the Metrolink operator from Serco.

Future developments

The single route through the city centre may become a bottleneck when new extensions are open - with six or seven services all running over the same track, questions have been raised about the possibility of a 'tram-jam'. The other issue is that the focus of the city centre is moving to quarters not currently served by Metrolink. Suggestions have been made that any future phases of the system might include a second route through another section of the city centre.

The government had authorised the construction of Phase III of Metrolink, which will see a massive increase in the size of the network providing all the necessary money can be found:

Project Length New trams required
Extension spur from Harbour City to Mediacity funded jointly by Peel Holdings and North West Development Agency, service to run between Cornbrook and Mediacity every 12 minutes 0.25 miles (0.4 km) 4
Additional route across Manchester city centre between Central and Victoria 1 mile (1.6 km) none
Conversion of existing railway from Victoria to Oldham and Rochdale (plus some street running) 14.9 miles (24 km) 22
Extension to Manchester Airport 13 miles (20.9 km) 26
Extension to Ashton-under-Lyne 6.2 miles (10 km) 9
Extension to East Didsbury (optional, with possible further extension to Stockport) 8.7 miles (14 km) 9
Extension to the Trafford Centre shopping centre, which will stop at Old Trafford Football Ground subject to private-sector funding 4.3 miles (6.9 km)
Completion of Manchester Airport loop subject to private sector funding 4 miles (6.4 km) not known
Running tram-trains from Manchester down the existing tram/rail line to Altrincham and on to Hale, Knutsford and Northwich. N/A existing tram and train lines would be used At least 3 tram-trains depending on the number of services
Possible "Phase 4" or 5 now being actively discussed by GMPTE[7] N/A Not known yet

In its review of transport expenditure published in July 2004, the government withdrew funding for Phase III. In July 2005, GMPTE trying to save costs, announced that the western part of the Wythenshawe Loop (including three stations) would not be built.[8] In December 2004 the government announced that £520 million would be authorised for Phase III. A first stage of Phase III was given the go-ahead by the Department for Transport in July 2006, with a £300m funding gap expected to be met by a loan. Stage IIIa consists of the extensions to Rochdale railway station on the Oldham Loop Line, to Droylsden on the Ashton line and to St Werburgh's Road, Chorlton on the Airport line. A bid for Transport Innovation Fund monies towards the second stage, plus an additional city centre crossing, which would take the total cost of Phase III to an estimated £1.2 billion, will probably be made in 2007, and a road charging scheme is expected to be included to cover some of the cost.[9]

A network including all the proposed expansions will increase the size from 23 miles (37 km) with 37 stops to 70 miles (113 km) with at least 115 stops.


Metrolink is policed by both the Greater Manchester Police, and the British Transport Police. The British Transport Police and British Transport Police Community Support Officers often travel on the trams between Manchester Piccadilly railway station, Manchester Victoria railway station and Altrincham station.

An initiative by Greater Manchester Police, which saw around 15 officers routinely patrolling the tram network, was stopped due to lack of funds. On-board ticket checks are done by Carlisle Security on behalf of the GMPTE.


File:Metrolink tram at Piccadilly Gardens.jpg
Tram stops, such as this one in central Manchester, have high platforms for easy boarding.

Metrolink attracted significant negative publicity in its early days (see, for example, correspondence in Modern Railways magazine during 1992/93). Delays in construction, closures for rebuilding defective trackwork and lack of thought in ticketing and information systems all attracted criticism. Politically, the system was deemed to be an immediate success, though the tax burden on Greater Manchester's ratepayers increased notably, since Metrolink attracted subsidies the previous trains had not.

Many of the initial problems have been addressed during the years, but ticketing and passenger information remain major failings. Through ticketing beyond the Manchester suburban area is nonexistent for travellers from Metrolink stations (though possible travelling inbound from elsewhere in Great Britain), leading to significant fare increases on journeys involving the wider rail system. When the Altrincham and Bury services were part of the national rail network, through ticketing was obviously possible. In this respect, Metrolink might appear to suffer from the Balkanisation common to all local Metro services split from the national rail network.

Another perceived issue with Metrolink is its inability to connect with the rail route south of Altrincham. Services on the Chester - Altrincham -Stockport- Manchester line are considerably slower because they cannot use the former route via Timperley and Cornbrook Junction which was converted to form Metrolink's Altrincham Line.

Passenger information screens were provided from Metrolink's inception, but were not used. At key locations in Manchester's city centre, it was for many years impossible to determine how long a wait there would be for a given route, or to find the times of first or last services. Metrolink's official standpoint was that such a frequent service did not require either timetable or active passenger information. That stance has subsequently changed and 'next tram' data is now evident at very few stations, mostly in the city centre, though its reliability is debatable.

One of the criticisms levelled at Metrolink is that it does not reach the Trafford Centre, other than via a shuttle bus from Stretford Metrolink stop, and travel on this shuttle bus is not covered by the MetroMax ticket that allows travel through the rest of the network. The line from Manchester city centre to Eccles is also disappointing, as it takes longer than an equivalent bus journey following a more direct route (not via Salford Quays), despite buses not being able to use the dedicated Metrolink infrastructure.

Metrolink has become something of a victim of its own popularity. Many services are extremely busy, especially at peak times, and fares have risen at a rate far above that of inflation. The ride was perceived by some as uncomfortable, although the 2007 rail replacement on the Bury and Altrincham lines has stopped this problem.

The ticket machine's design has also been criticised, as, despite the high cost of some tickets, they do not accept debit/credit cards, and half of the machines do not accept bank notes, although most stops have at least one machine that accepts bank notes. Some machines also have difficulty with some coins.


  • Holt, D., (1992), Manchester Metrolink, UK Light Rail Systems No. 1, Platform 5 Publishing, ISBN 1-872524-36-2

See also

External links