Next stop for Metrolink

The release of this funding would allow construction of the Oldham Town Centre and Rochdale Town Centre works to the Oldham Rochdale line, the extension of the East Manchester Line from Droylsden to Ashton-under-Lyne, while at St Werburgh’s Road the lines to East Didsbury and Manchester Airport could now also be completed. 

Additionally, the funding package allowed TfGM to announce plans to build a second city crossing for Metrolink services through Manchester city centre, relieving pressure on the original city corridor as well as providing an alternative means of moving trams through the city in the event of one of the lines becoming blocked during an incident.  

With funds now secured for the full Phase 3 development, a further 22 M5000 trams (3041-3062) were ordered from Bombardier to serve the lines to be constructed under the Phase 3B works.

Meanwhile, studies by TfGM (as GMPTE had by then been named) had found that as well as being much more unreliable than the new M5000 design, the original T68 trams were suffering from extensive corrosion to their solebars. Keeping them in service would require expensive repairs, as well as extensive overhauls. 

The decision was taken to initially withdraw 12 of the original T68s, with the first example stood down in April 2012. It was subsequently decided that rather than overhaul the original fleet, it would be more cost-effective to replace the entire T68 and the 1999-built T68A fleets with new M5000s. Thus 32 M5000s were ordered in two batches (3063-3074 and 3075-3094) to replace the old order, taking the Bombardier orders to a total of 94 trams. 

All of the Phase 3A lines opened in stages between September 2010 and February 2013, although by this time MPT was also making excellent progress on many of the Phase 3B routes. It would be only another three months before the first of the Phase 3B extensions was brought into use, with the opening of the line to East Didsbury in May 2013.

MPT has received a high amount of praise for the speed and high quality of the work it has done on the new lines. While some of the earlier lines were opened later than originally anticipated, the East Didsbury line, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham Town Centre sections were all opened ahead of schedule. And the Manchester Airport line opened in November 2014, an impressive 18 months ahead of its original planned opening date. The short section of the Second City Crossing from Victoria to Exchange Square was also opened a lot earlier than expected, coming into use in December 2015. 

Work is now complete on the econd City Crossing between Exchange Square and St Peter’s Square, and it opened on February 26. The first test trams along the new line had operated under their own power in early December. 

Services will be re-cast to operate some trams along the new line, thus freeing up capacity on the original city crossing, which is currently operating at near capacity. It is also planned that at some stage Manchester Airport services will operate through to Victoria, rather than currently terminating at Cornbrook. 

But TfGM is not stopping there. A major shopping centre, the intu Trafford Centre, opened in 1998. Built by the Peel Group on mainly derelict former industrial land at Dumplington, near Trafford Park, the shopping centre is the second largest retail development in the UK and attracts thousands of visitors each week. 

Initially there were fears that the Trafford Centre would take trade away from retailers in Manchester city centre and the surrounding towns, but this appears to have been negligible and in line with retail experiences across the UK. Located on land close to two junctions on the M60 motorway, the Trafford Centre has 11,500 free car parking spaces. It is also well served by local bus companies.

When the centre opened in 1998 a shuttle bus service was provided, operated by Arriva and linking the Trafford Centre with Metrolink services at Stretford station on the Altrincham line. This service continued until 2013, before being withdrawn when bus services in the area were rearranged. Other local bus services continued to serve the shopping centre from bus stops located close to Metrolink stations. 

However, TfGM realised that building a new route to the Trafford Centre would allow it to operate Metrolink services directly into the shopping centre. Hopefully, this would persuade more car users to choose to take the tram when they go shopping, rather than using the already heavily-congested M60 motorway corridor. 

The new line would also run through Trafford Park, which employs over 30,000 people from more than 1,300 businesses based in the area, although plans for the line to operate through to Port Salford have been put on hold for the time being. 

In October 2016 TfGM was granted legal powers from Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling to build its new route to the Trafford Centre, following a Public Inquiry into the project. The new line will cost £350m, with the necessary funds already secured by Greater Manchester Combined Authority through an ‘earn back’ funding arrangement as part of the Greater Manchester devolution deal.

The new line will deviate from the current Metrolink Eccles line at Pomona, and will then pass under the Trafford Road Bridge, running alongside the existing promenade next to Manchester Ship Canal before joining Trafford Wharf Road.

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