History of Manchester Metrolink: Wikis


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A protoype T-68 Metrolink vehicle on display in 1990
Two T-68 trams near Piccadilly in 1994

The Manchester Metrolink is a light rail network operating in Greater Manchester, England, UK. It has been in operation since 1992, although plans to develop a rail transit system across Manchester and beyond have existed since the 1970s.



A 1910 map of railways in central Manchester

The railway network built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by numerous railway companies had created a number of railway termini around the periphery of Manchester City Centre. Unlike London, which had linked its stations with the London Underground, Manchester had a large central area which was not served by rail transport, though it had one of the most extensive tram networks in Britain run by Manchester Corporation Tramways, beginning in 1901, the last of which ran in January 1949. By that time some of the routes had been converted to trolleybus or motorbus operation and it had become uneconomic to use electricity as a source of power since operating petrol powered vehicles was much cheaper.[1]

For many years there had been plans to connect Manchester's two main railway stations, Piccadilly and Victoria. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were plans for a "Picc-Vic tunnel" to carry main-line trains under the city centre.[2]. The proposal was abandoned because of excessive cost.

In the 1980s, light rail was increasingly seen as a more cost-effective solution to expanding rail transport. Inspired by the success of the Tyne and Wear Metro (opened 1980) and the Docklands Light Railway in London (opened 1987), Manchester transport planners looked to light rail as a way of bridging Manchester's transport gap.[3]

By the late 1980s the power equipment on the electrified suburban railway line from Victoria to Bury, which had a unique-in-Britain[citation needed] side-contact third-rail power supply, was in need of replacement, and it was decided to construct a light rail system to connect the Victoria–Bury line via an on-street link with the line from Piccadilly to Altrincham via the city, rather than replace the equipment on a like-for-like basis.



Initial proposals

A light rail system was first promoted by Greater Manchester Council as a solution for city centre rail transit in 1984. Named simply Light Rapid Transit (LRT), the proposed system was described as "a cross between a tram and a train". The network was planned to begin operation in 1989 pending Government approval, and construction costs were estimated at £42.5 million. [4]

The proposals outlined a three-line system traversing the Greater Manchester area, linking converted rail lines with an on-street tram system through Manchester city centre. A fleet of two-car "supertrams" with a top speed of 80 km/h would run services at a ten-minute frequency.

The lines proposed were:[4]

1984 proposals
Line A:
Altrincham - Hadfield/Glossop
Line B:
Bury - Rose Hill/Marple
Line C:
Rochdale - East Didsbury
connecting the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway to the Glossop Line connecting the Bury-Manchester line to part of the Hope Valley Line connecting the Oldham Loop Line to the re-opened Manchester South District Line

Obtaining Government grants towards development was not easy and subject to certain criteria,[3] and it was proposed to build the system in phases, beginning with the Altrincham and Bury lines, and the city centre track as far as Piccadilly.[4]

Later proposals

In 1987, when powers and funding had been secured for the initial phase of the network to go ahead, the brand name Metrolink was first introduced.[5]

Around this time, proposals were put forward by GMPTE for further extensions to the network; in addition to the Bury/Altrincham lines and city centre tracks already confirmed, it was envisaged that the network could be extended to include a number of new lines in the regeneration areas along the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford and Trafford. Some station names vary from the 1984 proposals, notably the renaming of Central as G-Mex, and the addition of Cornbrook station. A spur into Rochdale town centre was also first proposed here.[5]

1987 proposals
Altrincham - Hadfield/Glossop Bury - Marple/Rose hill Rochdale Bus Station - East Didsbury Broadway/Dumplington - Piccadilly Gardens
As the 1984 proposals Bury Line/Hope Valley Line, as the 1984 proposals Oldham Loop Line/Manchester South District Line - as the 1984 proposals, with an extension from Rochdale to Wet Rake and the bus station a new line into the Salford Quays regeneration area

Of these early proposals, some parts have survived as extension plans today: the Rochdale and East Didsbury lines now form the basis of parts of the Phase 3 expansion plans which are currently underway; the present-day Eccles line is a modified version of the proposed extension into Salford Quays; and the proposed Dumplington line has evolved into the proposed Trafford Centre extension scheme. The proposal to convert the Marple/Rose Hill and Hadfield/Glossop lines to Metrolink running now appears to have been abandoned, and does not feature in the current Phase 3 expansion plans. The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority did, however, commission in 2004 a feasibility study into converting the Marple line for tram-train operation; and in this revised form it remains on the "reserve list" of proposals for future Metrolink expansion, and was proposed to the Department for Transport in 2008 as a candidate for the national tram-train pilot. No proposals are current for linking the Hadfield/Glossop services into the Metrolink network.

Project Light Rail

A DLR train under demonstration in Manchester in 1987

A public demonstration of light rail was held from 9-27 March 1987 at a specially-constructed railway station at Debdale Park, on the site of the former Hyde Road railway station on the Fallowfield freight line. Entitled Project Light Rail, the demonstration featured a P86 train from the new Docklands Light Railway, which was under construction in London at the time, as a working example of light rail technology. This was the first opportunity for members of the public to travel on a DLR train, who bought tickets for short trips along a 1.6-kilometre (0.99 mi) track. The DLR train, on loan from GEC Transportation Projects Ltd, was specially fitted with a pantograph and powered by overhead lines. The public display also featured exhibits of types of street track, overhead power lines and platform facilities.[6][7]

A mock-up prototype version of a T-68 tram vehicle was put on public display while the Metrolink system was under construction in 1990.

Phase 1

Summary map of phase 1

The original phase of the Metrolink network involved converting a number of existing railway lines to light rail operation and laying on-street tracks across the city centre to connect the lines. Phase 1 consisted of a Bury to Altrincham route via the city centre, with a spur to Piccadilly station. Authority to construct Phase 1 of Metrolink was granted in January 1988 with the passing of the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Act 1988.


Construction work on tram tracks outside the G-Mex, October 1990

The tender to design, build and operate the system was awarded to Greater Manchester Metrolink Limited (GMML), a consortium whose shareholders included GEC Alsthom Transportation Projects Ltd., John Mowlem plc, Amec plc and Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive.[8] Construction of the on-street section began in March 1990.

The first Metrolink lines were formed by converting the electric train lines between Altrincham and Cornbrook Junction and between Bury and Manchester Victoria. Because much of the Metrolink route was formerly main-line railway with platforms 915 mm above rail level, the new stops in the city centre also have high platforms.

The Altrincham line was formerly the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway, electrified in 1931. Trains from Knutsford, Northwich and Chester were diverted at Altrincham via Stockport to Manchester when Metrolink conversion began between Altrincham and G-Mex. This added at least 10 minutes to an already slow journey, causing a disadvantage to some Cheshire rail users.[9] The Bury line was electrified by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1916.


Sale Metrolink station, one of the converted former British Rail stations

Steam locomotives returned briefly to the line between Manchester and Bury in 1991, before the opening of the tram system, when Metrolink held an open weekend at its new depot in Queens Road, Manchester. East Lancashire Railway steam locomotive, no. 32 Gothenburg (now painted in blue as No. 1 Thomas the Tank Engine) ran light engine from the ELR to Manchester under the not yet live wires to attend the event. The engine returned on the Sunday evening. Diesel locomotive D2767 (a North British 0-4-0) was hired by Metrolink to assist in the construction of the overhead wires during the construction phase in 1991.

On 6 April 1992 Metrolink services between Bury and Victoria began. The central section between Victoria and G-Mex opened on 27 April. On 27 April Metrolink vehicle 1007 operated the ceremonial first tram into the city, wearing a special headboard. No. 1007 was chosen as that was the number of the last tram to operate in Manchester on 10 January 1949.[10]

Services between G-Mex and Altrincham began on 15 June. Trams started operating into Piccadilly on 20 July the same year, completing Phase 1 of the system.

Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the system on 17 July 1992. Conversion of the existing railway lines to Metrolink took far longer than had been planned. The Altrincham line was closed for six months, rather than one month as promised, with bus substitution during that period. Metrolink's own new trackwork in Manchester's city centre required reinstalling twice in the first years of operation, caused by allegedly inadequate quality controls and poor design work, such as placing points directly where the blades could be expected to be repeatedly crossed by buses.


1019 arrives at GMex while 2004 departs for Eccles

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

  • The original Market Street stop handled trams to Bury, with High Street handling trams from Bury. When Market Street was closed to road traffic these stops were replaced on 10 August 1998 by a new platform stop in the centre of Market Street for trams in both directions.
  • 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, for quicker turnaround times. However, this mode of operation seems to have been discontinued in recent years. These have since been removed as part of the track relay between Piccadilly and Piccadilly Gardens in late 2008.
  • Shudehill interchange opened between Victoria station and Market Street 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 public access from the street, but this changed on 3 September 2005 when the original fire exit was opened as a public access route.

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. In 2007 EWS was contracted to provide three Class 08 diesel shunters and a Class 60 locomotive[citation needed], to assist in relaying the track between Manchester and Bury, using the original connection to the old Bury depot, now part of the East Lancashire Railway.

The renewals commenced on 29 May 2007 with the cessation of services between Bury and Whitefield. By 22 June services on the Bury line terminated at Crumpsall. By 23 July there was no service on the Bury line, northbound Metrolink trams in public use terminated at Victoria. The Bury line re-opened on 13 September that same year. With the possible exception of the section between Stretford and Dane Road, the Altrincham line track was not as worn as that on the Bury line and so not as much work was required. From 2 July various sections of the line were shut down and serviced with a replacement bus service. The Altrincham line re-opened on 28 August 2007.


Phase 2: Eccles extension

A summary map of phase 2

On 25 April 1997 work began on Phase 2, 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. The line was officially opened on 9 January 2001.

Mediacity:uk extension

Planning permission was granted in October 2007 for a 400 m (440 yd) long extension from a point between Harbour City and Broadway to the central plaza of the new Mediacity:uk development in Salford Quays.[11] The £20m cost for the spur and four trams to operate it was met entirely by the MediaCity:UK developer Peel Holdings.

Phase 3 enabling works

The lines to Altrincham and Eccles were closed for the whole of August 2009 to allow for the existing lines to be modified ahead of Metrolink Phase 3.

On the Altrincham line, the overhead cables were replaced - the original railway line was electrified in the 1930s and the structures were re-used when the line was converted to Metrolink, and these needed upgrading. A new junction was built near Trafford Bar to allow connections to be built to the Chorlton extension and the new tram depot. Cornbrook station was also closed for remodelling to allow for the shuttle service to mediaCity:UK, and on the Eccles line a junction was built between the Harbour City and Broadway stops to connect to the mediaCity:UK branch.

Branding and publicity

Original GMT branding
First Metrolink brand
Logo 1992-2009
Interim 2003 logo
New logo (unveiled 2008)

When proposals to build a light rail system in Manchester were first promoted in 1984, the system was known simply as "Light Rapid Transit", or LRT for short. Artists' impressions at the of the LRT vehicles depicted them in orange and white livery, bearing the Greater Manchester Transport "M" logo, sharing the same branding as GMT buses of the period.[4]

The Metrolink brand was first introduced in 1987 in time for the tendering process to build and operate the system. The original Metrolink logo which appeared on publicity used the orange Greater Manchester Transport "M" monogram to form the "M" of Metrolink. Artists' impressions in publicity depicted the vehicles painted in light grey livery, with the lines of the "M" symbol continuing along the sides of the vehicles as double bands of orange.[5]

When the system opened in 1992, Metrolink branding had lost any association with the old GMT, with vehicles, signage and publicity coloured with turquoise and charcoal grey. The Metrolink logo used a stylised "M" monogram placed at an angle within a circle, reflecting the organisational separation of the system operations from the transport authority. The trams initially wore a livery of white with dark grey doors and "skirts", and a turquoise strip at the base[12]. The livery was later refined to turquoise doors, white body and grey "skirts" around the opening of Metrolink Phase II, and this design is still in use today.

A curiosity of the time was that Metrolink's original policy was not to use the word "tram", and early publicity referred instead to "vehicles", "LRVs" (Light Rail Vehicles), "trains" and even "Metrocars". This policy was reversed after a year or two: Mancunians had referred to the system as "trams" from the opening, as had the road signs on the routes, because in law (Transport & Works Act 1992) Metrolink is a tram system with some segregated route. (Many other tram undertakings have similar off-road sections, some converted from heavy rail and others built specifically away from a highway: in Britain, Tramlink in south London includes examples of both.)

The launch branding also attempted to introduce "The Met" as a nickname for the system ("Don't get wet ... get The Met") but the name failed to catch on.[citation needed]

In 2003, GMPTE introduced new branding for Metrolink to promote its proposals for the "Big Bang" network expansion project. The logo featured a new "M" symbol formed from yellow and blue upward arrows, with the strapline "Transforming our Future". This logo was not used on trams or signage, however.[13]

In October 2008 a new corporate identity was created by Hemisphere Design and Marketing Consultants of Manchester.[14] The design features a pale yellow and grey colour scheme, a logotype in the specially-commissioned Pantograph sans regular typeface by the Dalton Maag type foundry,[15] and a graphical motif of repeating circles. When fully introduced, the new branding style will be applied to station signage and tram livery, and the current "M" symbol will be replaced by a diamond graphic formed from the repeating circle pattern. The new livery will eventually be applied to the new stock of trams when they are brought into service in late 2009, replacing the turquoise and black colour scheme with yellow at the vehicle ends, grey sides and black doors.[16][17][18] The older trams will be re-painted in the new livery when they come due for re-refurbishment.[16]


Metrolink was originally built and operated from 1989 by the consortium Greater Manchester Metrolink Limited (GMML). In 1997 the contract was awarded to a new consortium, Altram (Manchester) Limited, a consortium of Ansaldo Transporti, Serco Investments Limited, Laing Civil Engineering and 3i. Serco Metrolink, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Serco Limited, took over the operations and maintenance of the system on 26 May 1997. In March 2003, Serco Investments bought out its partners and Altram (Manchester) Limited became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Serco.[8]

In July 2007 the contract to operate Metrolink was awarded to Stagecoach Metrolink, a subsidiary of the Scottish transport company, Stagecoach Group plc.[19][20] Unlike Serco, Stagecoach do not own the concession, merely operate it on a fixed-term management contract.

See also


  1. ^ Yearsley, Ian (1962) The Manchester Tram. Huddersfield: Advertiser Press
  2. ^ SELNEC (October 1971), SELNEC Picc-Vic Line, SELNEC  publicity brochure
  3. ^ a b Docherty, Iain; Shaw, Jon (2003). A New Deal for Transport?: The UK's Struggle with the Sustainable Transport Agenda. Blackwell Publishing. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4051-0631-3. 
  4. ^ a b c d Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (1984), Light Rapid Transit in Greater Manchester, GMPTE  - publicity brochure
  5. ^ a b c Metrolink Community Liaison (1987). "Metrolink - Light Rail in Greater Manchester". publicity brochure (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive). 
  6. ^ Ferguson-Lee, Neil. "Project Light Rail". Neil's Railway Photos. http://neilsrailwayphotos.fotopic.net/c1513976.html. Retrieved 15 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Debdale Park". Subterranea Britannica. Disused Stations. http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/stations/d/debdale_park/index.shtml. Retrieved 15 March 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "Past, Present and Future". Metrolink. 2003. http://www.metrolink.co.uk/pdf/past_present_future.pdf. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  9. ^ "Mid-Cheshire Rail Users Association: Response to Draft North-West Rail Utilisation Strategy". Network Rail. 2007-01-02. http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browse%20documents/rus%20documents/route%20utilisation%20strategies/north%20west/consultation%20responses/m/mid%20cheshire%20rail%20users%20association.pdf. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 
  10. ^ [1] Manchester Museum of Transport, Metrolink prototype exhibit, 7 December 2008
  11. ^ Williams, Tony (2007-11-27). "Mediacity:UK and Enhanced Salford Quays Service". Light Rail Transit Association. http://www.lrta.org/Manchester/mlnn2007.html#nov.c. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  12. ^ ":The Trams: Metrolink Liveries". The Trams. 2008. http://www.thetrams.co.uk/metrolink/trams/. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  13. ^ "Metrolink: Transforming our Future". GMPTE. 2003. http://www.gmpte.com/images/metmap.gif. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  14. ^ "Work: a taster". Hemisphere Design and Marketing Consultants. 2008. http://www.hemispheredmc.com/work.html. Retrieved 2009-06-13. 
  15. ^ "Linking It All Up". Infoletter. Dalton Maag. March 2009. http://www.daltonmaag.com/news/109.html. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  16. ^ a b RAIL Issue 603
  17. ^ "Tram design on the right track". Manchester Evening News. 2008-10-14. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/business/s/1072244_tram_design_on_the_right_track. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  18. ^ "New look for new trams". GMPTE. 2008-10-08. http://www.gmpte.com/news.cfm?news_id=6080519. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  19. ^ "Stagecoach signs Manchester Metrolink contract". Press release (Stagecoach Group). 2007-05-29. http://www.stagecoachgroup.com/scg/media/press/pr2007/2007-05-29/. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  20. ^ "Stagecoach take over tram service". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 15 July 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/6899507.stm. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 

Further reading

  • Holt, David (1992). Manchester Metrolink. UK light rail systems; no. 1. Sheffield: Platform 5. p. 96. ISBN 1-872524-36-2. 

External links

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