A reward for getting to the airport early

On the opening day, Chancellor George Osborne visited the Metrolink depot at Trafford to announce further government funding for Metrolink’s proposed extension to Trafford Park, before then travelling along the new Airport line.

Services on Metrolink are operated by a fleet of Bombardier/Vossloh M5000 trams, with the earlier T68 and T68A fleets having been retired from service between 2012 and 2014. Although the trams are capable of operating as coupled units, services on the Airport line are currently operated using single trams, as capacity does not currently demand coupled units. 

Eight trams are required each day for operating the 12-minute frequency of services between Cornbrook and Manchester Airport, and the end-to-end journey time is currently 42 minutes. Due to the existing city centre line operating at capacity, the Airport service is the only Metrolink service to terminate outside the Manchester city centre area.

The use of Cornbrook as a terminus is a temporary measure. Passengers travelling into and beyond the city centre have to change services at Cornbrook because of a large amount of civil engineering works that are under way in the city centre, as TfGM and MPT build a second tram crossing of the city centre.

Once the second city crossing is completed in 2017, plans are in place for the Airport services to be extended towards Manchester Victoria station, giving passengers on the line the opportunity to travel directly into the city centre without having to change trams. 

And it seems users of the new line approve. Within 12 months of services being launched, the route is already carrying 20% more passengers than had been predicted for the first year. With a regular service between 0600 and midnight, it is proving to be a flexible and popular form of transport for locals, as well as airport employees and passengers. 

Another boon from the arrival of the trams has been the regeneration effect, with areas served by tram routes becoming increasingly popular for people looking to move house. This has certainly been the case in Wythenshawe, where initiatives have been under way for some time to regenerate the area. 

In the summer, website Rightmove reported that the M22 postcode area (Wythenshawe) had experienced a growth of more than 60% in house prices over a four-month period, second only to Chelsea. The arrival of Metrolink services is clearly part of the appeal - estate agents around Greater Manchester have reported increased house prices for areas that are directly served by Metrolink services, against those that do not have a tram service in their locality. 

At Wythenshawe, a new bus interchange station has been built alongside the new tram stop, offering better transport links to passengers using both the local bus and tram services. TfGM is currently going through a programme of improving its bus interchange stations, with high-quality interchanges replacing more outdated facilities at several locations. 

One problem that has seemingly dogged the new Airport line more than some of the other new Metrolink routes has been an unfortunate spate of incidents whereby cars have been driven onto segregated sections of the line and become stuck. This causes tram services to be suspended while the offending vehicles are removed from the tracks, which is often a time-consuming and costly exercise. TfGM is carrying out a programme of installing improved road signage across the network, to discourage motorists from encroaching onto the tram tracks. 

After winning the NRA Civil Engineering Achievement prize, TfGM Chief Executive Dr Jon Lamonte said: “The Metrolink Airport line provides a vital connection between Manchester city centre, Wythenshawe and Manchester Airport, improving access to thousands of jobs. It really is a transformative project that delivers real economic benefits to Greater Manchester, and one that we completed a whole year ahead of schedule. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the success of these projects, and to those who helped to prepare the awards submissions and spread the word about the positive work we’re doing.”

The success of the Airport line and the achievements of its early completion has been a real boost for TfGM. And hot on the heels of the NRA, the project has also won a Light Rail Award and a British Construction Industry Award. 

But TfGM clearly has no intention of resting on its laurels. Construction of the Second City Crossing of Manchester city centre is advancing rapidly, with the first section of the route due to be opened before Christmas, and the project due for completion in 2017. Once it has been completed, it is anticipated that Airport services will be extended to operate into Victoria station.

This route will allow services to be improved, as well as relieving some pressure on the existing congested city centre line. A public inquiry is due to take place into the construction of a new Metrolink line to Trafford Park, which it is hoped will be completed in 2019. 

Metrolink has come a long way in its 23-year history, and the recognition by the NRA judges shows that the expanded network really has become the jewel in Manchester’s crown. 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 787 (November 11 2015)

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