Metrolink’s Silver Jubilee: 25 Things About Our Light Rail System

Twenty-five things you may have forgotten about Greater Manchester’s trams

Flexity Swift M5000 3060b, Ashton-under-Lyne
Tram 3060 loading at the Ashton-under-Lyne stop on its first day of operation.

Where were you on the 06 April 1992? For me, it was a bog standard Monday. I was in Second Year – officially Year Eight – at All Saints R.C. High School. With hindsight, I should have bunked off school and caught a 220 bus to Victoria station. On that very date, the first part of Greater Manchester’s Metrolink system opened, from Bury to Manchester Victoria station. The groundwork was set for a light rail system which took the city by storm.

It is hard to believe our that our tramway system is twenty-five years old. In the same way in which London is identified by its red buses and underground trains, the same can be said of our yellow trams. With this momentous occasion, East of the M60 celebrates the system’s Silver Jubilee with a few things you might have forgotten about.

  1. The Metrolink’s roots not only originate from the failed Picc-Vic project which was scrapped in 1977. An influential report from 1984 entitled Project Light Rail, laid the groundwork with plans for a 100km light rail network.
  2. The original scheme would have had three lines: Altrincham to Hadfield and Glossop; Bury to Marple and Rose Hill Marple; and Rochdale to East Didsbury (via Oldham).
  3. Royal Assent was granted in 1988 with two Acts of Parliament: the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Act 1988 and Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No.2) Act 1988. The Transport Minister at the time? Michael Portillo MP, now of BBC’s Great Railway Journeys and This Week fame.
  4. The first phase of the Metrolink system was completed on the 20 July 1992. The first part of which was the Bury to Victoria section (06 April), followed by its extension to the G-Mex (27 April), then the G-Mex to Altrincham section (15 June). The all-important Piccadilly section opened on the 20 July – three days after Queen Elizabeth the Second opened the Metrolink.
  5. Metrolink’s first trams were 26 T68s, constructed by the Firema Consortium in Italy. Each two car set seated 86 passengers with space for 115 standees. They were allocated fleet numbers in the 1000 series, starting with 1001.
  6. The Metrolink may have inspired a memorable Coronation Street storyline in 2010, but one of its earlier TV appearances was more modest: an episode of Sooty and Co., which saw Matthew Corbett, Sooty, Sweep, and Soo in central Manchester. The tram-based scenes begin 12 minutes into the episode.
  1. Since the start, Metrolink has been operated and maintained by private sector concerns, though the infrastructure has been owned by GMPTE and TfGM. So much so, former Manchester City Council leader and present-day Blackley and Broughton MP, Graham Stringer, referred to it as “Britain’s first privatised railway”.
  2. Rejected nicknames for the Metrolink system in a listeners’ competition on BBC GMR included the Reel, the Shuttle, and ABBA (Altrincham, Bury, and Back Again). Apart from the potential short shelf life, the members of a certain Swedish group would have objected. Instead of taking that chance, the Met was adopted, alongside the official Metrolink in its longhand form.
  3. Unless we know different, the Metrolink’s other claim to fame was an appearance on an Amiga music demo by Rob Baxter. Published by 17 Bit (the public domain library which spawned the Team 17 software house), it was slated in CU Amiga magazine as like “having Rod, Jane, and Freddy on your Amiga”. They awarded the demo a rating of 10%.
  4. The second phase which saw the opening of the Eccles line opened in 1999. Another fleet of trams were introduced – in the form of the T68-A. They were numbered within the 2000 series beginning from 2001.
  5. Phase 3, also known as The Big Bang could have almost been a whimper. On the 20 July 2004, the then Transport Secretary, Alastair Darling, pulled the plug on the £489m scheme. On the evening it was announced, Manchester councillors and Manchester City Council employees lined the platforms of St. Peter’s Square tram stop in protest.
  6. Thanks to a 50,000 name petition, continued lobbying and support from the Manchester Evening News, the plans were reinstated – albeit as Phases 3a and 3b. Whereas funding was sought for 3a, funding for 3b would have meant…
Metrolink Tram, Eccles terminus, College Croft
An Eccles tram, photographed outside its terminus in 2002. With a cheapo 35mm camera (it was the best I had at the time).
  1. The Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund: Phase 3b would have been funded by monies from congestion charging. Nine years before the EU Referendum did the same nationwide, this was put to a referendum and split Labour and Conservative voters alike. They were unanimously rejected, on a 50% turnout in an all postal ballot. Instead, Phase 3b was funded by Council Tax receipts, the Manchester Airports Group, other bodies within Greater Manchester, government grants, and tram fares.
  2. The typeface used by Metrolink since 2008 (and Transport for Greater Manchester since 2011) is Pantograph Sans Regular, commissioned from the Dalton Maag type foundry. The previous one was Futura, in medium and bold weights.
  3. Peter Saville (of Factory Communications fame) designed the present diamond shaped logo, with help from Hemisphere Design and Marketing Consultants.
  4. The Flexity Swift M5000 trams were introduced in December 2009 and made their début on services out of Altrincham. They are numbered within the 3000 and 3100 series, starting at 3001 and 3101 respectively.
  5. Of the tram stops on the Metrolink system, the only ones to have closed were High Street, Mosley Street, the temporary stop at Oldham Mumps, and Woodlands Road. High Street was rendered superfluous after the remodelling of Market Street; Mosley Street owing to its proximity to Piccadilly Gardens. Woodlands Road was replaced by new stations on Queen’s Road and Abraham Moss, whereas Oldham Mumps was moved to its present position near Mumps Bridge.
  6. The opening of the East Manchester Line was delayed due to problems with the rails on Manchester Road, between Velo Park and Audenshaw.
Central Park station
3014 seen at Central Park station in December 2012.
  1. The 2010 Coronation Street storyline featuring the tram crash resulted in six people asking the Metrolink control centre if their journeys have been affected!
  2. Metrolink fares are set by the TfGM Committee with fares changing on the same day as rail fares. Prior to then, they were set by the operator. The system receives no public subsidy.
  3. On introduction, there was originally going to be six to twelve trams per hour – a tram every ten or five minutes. Power limitations rather than patronage saw tram services running every six to twelve minutes.
  4. At present, the Metrolink network comprises of seven routes over 92km, two depots (Queen’s Road and Trafford) and 97 stops. The Trafford Park Extension will add 5.5km to the network – 2.5km short of the 100km envisaged in 1984.
  5. The East Manchester Line from Ashton-under-Lyne to Piccadilly has 29 traffic light controlled crossings.
  6. The Metrolink’s ticket inspectors are a common sight among regular passengers. As passenger pay for their tickets online, at TfGM Travelshops or via ticket vending machines, there are no conductors aboard trams. Those trying to board without a ticket could face the wrath of its inspectors, who perform spot checks at any given stop. From the 10 November 2014 to the 04 January 2015, nearly 3,000 fare dodgers were fined.
  7. Today, the Metrolink system has 120 trams – a far cry from 1992, when all 26 trams were based at Queen’s Road depot. The top speed of a tram is 80km/h (or 50 mph if you prefer).

So, where would Metrolink be in another 25 years from now? Could Stalybridge and Glossop be added to the system? Would the Park Bridge line see trams? As they say, only time will tell. We cannot see the Trafford Park line being its last route, given that Stopfordians may be clamouring for a piece of the Metrolink action.

S.V., 05 April 2017.

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