Calls for new circular line backed by MPs and councillors

Metrolink Circle Line diagram
A good idea? One wonders. I know for sure that Walkden Interchange should actually be Swinton Interchange, but the map is for diagrammatic purposes (So Ner!).

The Metrolink: the bane or joy of its 30 million or so passengers, is as much a Manchester icon as The Haçienda, Coronation Street, and Alan Turing. Its use of former BR lines and on-street sections is for many a suitable alternative to the car or the bus. Much of the system up to Phase 3B is complete. At this moment, a route to the Trafford Centre and a Stockport extension is next to follow.

Though Metrolink is effective in the swift transit of people to and from Manchester city centre, the 409 remains a faster option from Rochdale to Ashton. Likewise by rail changing at Manchester Victoria. The A560 is often clogged west of Woodley. In 2008, a BBC Two documentary taught us one thing: running from Marple to Stockport was faster than the same journey by car. There hasn’t been a rail connection between the two points since 1967 (other than changing at Manchester Piccadilly).

Prior to September 2004, it was possible to go from Bury to Ashton via one bus: the 400 or 401 Trans-Lancs Express service. Traffic was lost to the railways and private car – the former leading to the loss of the 400’s Manchester Airport link in May 1999.

After much speculation on social networking sites and transport forums, some of Greater Manchester’s MPs and councillors have showed support for a new circular line. It is hoped that the future line would improve links with heavy rail and Metrolink services. Particularly in South Manchester where the fastest route from Altrincham to Stockport is once hourly.

As detailed in a previous post on East of the M60, it was stated that Denton and Reddish South stations could gain regular trains to Manchester Victoria. Elaborating on this notion, the Metro Circle (or Trams-Lancs Express as a nod to the defunct 400/401 bus routes) could take in the CLC line from Skelton Junction to Edgeley, then the Stockport – Stalybridge line up to Denton Junction.

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We at East of the M60 have wondered how the circular line could work. Most of the stuff below is mere speculation, but who knows.

Possible Alignments

1. Ashton to Rochdale

Much of the work can be done along existing track bedding, used at present as bridleways or cycle paths. The Ashton to Rochdale section may demand extra work. Supposing the Park Bridge cycle route remains in situ, extra work may stymie town centre penetration of the Metro Circle in Ashton.

If the Park Bridge route sees Metrolink trams in the near future, trams could turn left before the Prince of Orange onto Turner Lane and join the OA&GB route (with a new viaduct) through Park Bridge. Oldham could be reached via Waterloo Street and Wellington Street, turning left onto Oldham Central and King Street stations before running parallel with Oldham Way and Chadderton Way up to Boundary Park. From there, trams could turn towards Broadway and Royton. Interchange between tram and 409 bus could be possible.

The section from Royton to Rochdale would be challenging with the bulk of that section on Rochdale Road. The A671 could be observed up to Balderstone Park. From there, the line could follow Platting Lane, then Well I’Th’ Lane and Milkstone Road. The junction of Milkstone Road could be realigned with a chord leading to the Rochdale Railway Station tram stop. From there, trams could continue and terminate at Rochdale Interchange, or turn left onto Drake Street.

Possible intermediate stops:

  • Waterloo and Broadoak (off Wood Lane);
  • Park Bridge;
  • Fitton Hill;
  • Alexandra (for Alexandra Park);
  • Coliseum (for proposed new Oldham Coliseum building);
  • Oldham Central (present stop);
  • King Street (present stop);
  • Boundary Park (pretty obvious – Oldham Athletic Football Club);
  • Royton;
  • Thornham;
  • Kirkholt;
  • Balderstone;
  • Deeplish;
  • Rochdale Railway Station (present stop).

2. Rochdale to Castleton and Bury

This section could follow the A58 up to Sudden and join National Rail metals at Castleton. After Heywood, it could share the line with East Lancashire Railway up to Bury. A section along existing track bedding could continue to Bolton via Little Lever.

Possible intermediate stops:

  • Sudden;
  • Castleton Interchange (with Northern Rail services);
  • Heywood (shared with ELR);
  • Broadfield and Darn Hill;
  • Bury High Level (off Knowsley Road – plus walkway to Bury Interchange).

3. Bury to Trafford Centre

Instead of Bolton, our tram could reverse at the existing Bury Interchange – or use Bury Bolton Street where trams could continue to Radcliffe. The line via Clifton Junction could be reopened, with the knock-on effect being a new town centre stop for Radcliffe. This could be placed next to the bus station.

Clifton Junction could become a train-tram interchange with the Metro Circle approaching Eccles via Swinton and Hope Hospital. Beyond Eccles, trams could continue to intu Trafford Centre via Barton Road and Barton-upon-Irwell.

Possible intermediate stops:

  • Radcliffe Interchange (Bus/Tram);
  • Clifton Interchange (Train/Tram);
  • Swinton (Train/Tram);
  • Eccles Interchange (existing stop);
  • Barton-upon-Irwell;
  • Trafford Quays.

4. Trafford Centre to Skelton Junction

From the Trafford Quays, the line up to Port Salford could continue to Irlam. This could run along a future extension to Port Salford from the intu Trafford Centre. From Port Salford, up to Irlam with a new stop offering interchange with the railway station.

With this section running along Liverpool Road, a new station at Cadishead could be built, with an incline leading up to the former CLC line to Skelton Junction. With Partington seemingly out on a limb in terms of public transport access (besides Manchester or Altrincham buses), the overspill estate could be considered for a new tram stop.

Timperley Interchange could offer connections with Altrincham and Chester trains, whereas West Timperley could offer an alternative to the A56 or the 263 bus.

Possible intermediate stops:

  • Trafford Quays;
  • Salford Reds;
  • Port Salford;
  • City Airport and Heliport Manchester (Barton Aerodrome);
  • Irlam (Train/Tram);
  • Cadishead;
  • Partington;
  • West Timperley;
  • Timperley Interchange.

5a. Skelton Junction – Ashton Moss

This section could be purely train/tram. National Rail metals could be shared with Metro Circle rolling stock as well as Northern Rail’s service to Chester via Northwich. Key to this section could be interchange with Manchester Airport trams and the reintroduction of regular services for Reddish South and Denton stations.

Therefore, the line could follow the route up to Edgeley Junction with intermediate stops at:

  • Baguley (train/train-tram/tram);
  • Gatley (train/tram);
  • Cheadle;
  • Edgeley Park;
  • Stockport (existing mainline station);
  • Reddish South;
  • Denton;
  • Ashton West (existing Metrolink station).

Baguley could offer connections with the Manchester Airport line trams whereas Gatley would offer a similar link with heavy rail services. A new train/tram station at Cheadle could be accessed from Manchester Road and offer interchange facilities with the X57/157/130/11/11A bus routes. Similarly so with a further station at Edgeley Park with the 11/11A buses. Park and Ride facilities could be an income stream for Stockport County Football Club.

Joining the mainline, tram-train vehicles could share National Rail metals up to Ashton Moss. Reddish South and Denton stations could be upgraded to allow for a substantial increase in services. At Denton Junction, the train/tram line could continue up to Ashton Moss then join the Metrolink line prior to calling at Ashton West and Ashton-under-Lyne tram stations. An extension east of the Ashton tram station could allow for the continuation of the line to Stalybridge as well as completing the circle.

5b. Edgeley Park – Marple – Guide Bridge

After Edgeley Park, another double track section could deviate from the mainline towards Daw Bank. A new tram stop could be added alongside a refurbished Stockport Bus Station. This could connect with an extension of the East Didsbury line up to Marple. Stations. Subsequent stations after Stockport railway station could be as follows:

  • Merseyway (for the shops of course!);
  • Portwood;
  • Lower Bredbury;
  • Bredbury (low level station with access to Northern Rail station);
  • Romiley (present station);
  • Rose Hill Marple (present station).

This could follow as closely as possible the former Tiviot Dale route and join the mainline up to Rose Hill Marple. This allows for the tram-train conversion of the Romiley to Guide Bridge section.

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Could the Metro Circle work?

A circular line could come into its own as far as tram/train connections are concerned. Its effectiveness could be improved with the launch of TfGM’s GetMeThere Oyster style card. Bus/tram connectivity should also be considered; that could be a priority for the mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Journey times would have to be considerably faster than bus equivalents. The journey from Stockport to Altrincham is almost four times faster by rail than the 11/11A services. Could Altrincham to Ashton be done in 30 minutes? Or Ashton to Bury in 40? Partington to Irlam in 5 minutes would be just as revolutionary.

The idea of a Metro Circle line isn’t only the journeys from Ashton to Bury. It is also about effective small trips which would be enhanced. Partington to Irlam on public transport is an absolute ordeal: 35 to 50 minutes – via Manchester in several cases! The quickest way was via Cadishead on the Bobs Lane Ferry – which ceased operations on the 18 July 1993.

As always, this notion is subject to available funding. We hope the Metro Circle line goes beyond a few speculative diagrams and supportive words from our MPs and councillors. This is a plan that deserves to succeed.

S.V., 24 June 2015.

3 thoughts on “Trams-Lancs Express: The Next Generation Metrolink Project?

  1. No Middleton or Mills Hills for Links to Chaddy but a Stop at Elk Mill Retail Park could work for Oldham as there no connection at the minute.

    Could other option is bring back Royton Curve from Derker only prob is housing at the terminus of the curve.

    But like the stops defo boundary park as it could be use by hospital worker like me


  2. This is one of those schemes that demands the question; where is local transport strategy going? Are we simply planning for 100% car ownership (except for the housebound), or will political attitudes change to have a proper integrated transport system? In reality, there is little chance that true “integrated” transport would work in this country, and whimsical “money no object” rail schemes are one of the reasons why.
    Commercial demand means that Rail running alongside bus is not sustainable, and there is no political appetite to spend one penny more on subsidising buses than can be got away with. Consequently, faced with highly expensive (to the tax-payer), high frequency rail – on top of ever increasing car ownership – bus services will have to be cut. Thus, they would not be able to run at the same frequency as the rail system they are supposed to “integrate” with. Thus, the only integration will be between Rail and private transport.
    Also, the waiting environment is very unattractive, with long distance between “stops”, and waiting areas exposed to the elements (both climatic and human eg. pavement cyclists).
    The idea of resurecting the ridiculously named “Denton” Station is the epitome of this country’s blinkered obsession with rail. It is nowhere Denton town centre, and nowhere near any residential area. In fact the only thing it is near, is a Motorway junction! Says it all really.


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