Expanding the Manchester Metrolink network

Posted: 6 May 2015 | Peter Cushing, Metrolink Director, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)

Peter Cushing is Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink Director, and as he explains here, he counts himself very lucky to have been involved in the Greater Manchester Metrolink network expansion project. Since he joined the team in 2007, they have accomplished a phenomenal amount, in very challenging circumstances. Metrolink is a remarkable achievement, driven entirely by its own success…

Expanding the Manchester Metrolink network

We’ve managed the largest transport project in the country outside London – at the same time as running an effective day-to-day operation, aiming to provide a first-rate service for our existing and new passengers.

Through a £1.5 billion expansion over the past seven years, Metrolink has tripled in size to become the largest light-rail network in the UK. When Metrolink opened in 1992, it consisted of 30km of track, 27 stops, 26 trams and one depot. Following the completion of 11 phased extensions, it now covers almost 60 miles across seven distinct lines, with a fleet of close to 100 trams running to 92 stops across Greater Manchester.

2014 alone saw the launch of three new extensions – to Oldham and Rochdale town centres, and in November a major 15-stop line to Manchester Airport via Wythenshawe town centre. This new Airport extension was launched over a year ahead of schedule: a truly amazing achievement. It has already proven its worth with people making more than half a million journeys on it in its first four months up and running.

The news comes as people made a record-breaking 30 million journeys on Metrolink in 2014, able to travel further afield for leisure and work as Metrolink spurred on local regeneration and economic development, as well as boosting house prices in areas it runs through.

The major expansion of Metrolink has gone hand-in-hand with improvements across the existing system. A new tram management system is being introduced across the network, which is allowing us to deliver a more flexible service and provide real-time passenger information at all stops.

Around 85% of the network has been migrated to the new system so far, with the last sections of the Bury and Altrincham lines to follow later in 2015.

We’ve replaced an older fleet of trams with 96 new M5000 Bombardier trams, bringing many benefits for passengers, such as a roomier interior, extra legroom, wider doorways, clearer information displays and better handrails for standing passengers.

Passengers are experiencing quieter, smoother journeys on these new trams, with a more reliable service and more double-trams leading to less overcrowding at peak times. We’ve also built a new state-of-the-art depot in south Manchester to stable these trams and complement the existing depot on the north side.

The expansion work continues apace, with a Second City Crossing due to open in 2017 when the Metrolink fleet will be 120-vehicles strong. That means more trams and more frequent services to cope with millions more passenger journeys running through transformed city centre stops, including a brand new stop in Exchange Square.

And we’re not stopping there. In November 2014, £350 million of funding was also confirmed for a new line to Trafford Park and the Trafford Centre – and we’re powering ahead to deliver that as soon as possible.

The Second City Crossing

The major scale of the expansion means that another new tram line is now being built through Manchester city centre. The £165 million Second City Crossing (2CC) will play a vital role in providing the necessary capacity and reliability for the expanded network to operate more frequently and more flexibly across the heart of the city.

The Second City Crossing, due to open in 2017, will branch-off from the existing network on Lower Mosley Street, passing through a relocated and expanded St Peter’s Square stop before running alongside Manchester Town Hall down Princess Street. It then travels along the busy shopping, leisure and business areas of Cross Street and Corporation Street, before re-joining the existing Metrolink line at the Manchester Victoria stop.

Preparatory work started in 2014 and extensive utility works continue along the route. Real signs of progress are now visible on the ground with the laying of the first tracks in November 2014, on the section of the new line between Manchester Victoria and Exchange Square.

We’re building a brand new stop at Exchange Square – near to shops, restaurants, cinemas, the National Football Museum and the historic Grade 2 listed Corn Exchange building. Thanks to a major grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), this section is being fast-tracked and trams could be running between Victoria Station and the new Exchange Square stop as early as winter 2015/16, allowing more frequent services to run between Oldham in the north and the city centre.

Upgrading city centre stops

Alongside the major 2CC work programme, three major city centre stops – Deansgate-Castlefield, St Peter’s Square and Manchester Victoria – are being completely transformed with new platforms and more capacity to cope with millions more journeys.

We reached a major milestone in February 2015 with Metrolink trams once again running to the Manchester Victoria stop after a complete overhaul to build new platforms and tracks. The multi-million pound transformation of Victoria stop is an integral part of Network Rail’s major redevelopment of the entire station, due to complete later in 2015.

The opening of the new-look stop means that passengers are once again enjoying a six-minute service from Bury to the city centre and a direct Victoria to Piccadilly link.

Also in the city, work is now well advanced at Deansgate-Castlefield, where Metrolink services are now running through the busy stop on a brand new section of line after a new island platform – with a huge passenger shelter – fully opened to passengers in late-2014. Ultimately this will give much greater service flexibility and improve reliability by allowing trams to turn back in both directions.

An overhaul of the old outbound platform is now underway, and thanks to funding from the ERDF, the old footbridge linking the stop with Deansgate Railway station is also being completely modernised. A new lift and steps will also be installed at the Deansgate end of the stop and a bright, modern new walkway will be built at the Albion Street end.

The transformation of Deansgate-Castlefield will also result in a much greener environment – with trees, a ‘living wall’ and a complete revamp meaning that this stop, a gateway to the south of the city, will become an oasis right in the heart of Manchester.

The new-look stop is on target to be finished and unveiled in summer 2015, when work will start on the nearby St Peter’s Square stop. This stop, outside the city’s iconic Central Library, will be completely rebuilt to allow room for greater public space as part of Manchester City Council’s flagship redevelopment of the square.

The expanded stop will have two new island platforms and four sets of new track, meaning more trams and more frequent services can run through the city.

This is undoubtedly a major piece of work which has been planned carefully to lessen the impact, as far as possible, on our customers and the service we offer them.

During the 14-month work programme, there will be two separate eight-week periods – both during the quieter summer school-holiday period from July to August – when all tram services through St Peter’s Square will be temporarily suspended.

The stop will be closed throughout the programme, but trams will run on a single line through the square for 10 months, meaning less disruption for passengers by keeping services running right through the city.

In the run up to the closure of the St Peter’s Square stop, we are also modernising the busy city centre Market Street stop, making more room for passengers and providing a huge single shelter and new-look yorkstone finish.

Building through a busy city centre

As you would expect, building a tram line through the city centre has brought with it a number of major challenges. The most interesting of these has been the archaeology along the route, particularly in the St Peter’s Square and Cross Street area, with some unique finds.

At Cross Street, a major graveyard site was discovered within the footprint of the tramway. More than 150 burials were made from 1720 to 1852, and graves were found to be very shallow, some at just 350mm under the surface of the road. A license to exhume the bodies was granted by the Ministry of Justice, and specialist archaeological contractors are currently working to move and reinter the human remains sensitively and respectfully, before the Metrolink line can be constructed.

Another archaeological feature containing buried human remains has had to be managed carefully in St Peter’s Square, where the crypt of the former church is sited. A design solution has been developed that will allow tram tracks to run over the undisturbed crypt area supported on a ‘floating’ concrete slab, which will be supported on the walls of the crypt, and by a single row of piled supports down the central nave of the crypt.

Being sensitive to the heritage of the area has also been key element of the programme. The tram line will run alongside many historic and protected buildings – including the historic Midland Hotel and Manchester Town Hall – both of which need to have overhead line equipment fixed to them to reduce the number of support poles. Designs have been developed in consultation with Manchester City Council with consideration to minimising their impact and developing a design in keeping with the heritage of the area and its many historic buildings.

These unique challenges come hand-in-hand with the need to ensure as little disruption as possible while working on a scheme of this magnitude in a busy city centre.

In the process of delivering nine extensions, Metrolink has developed a tried and tested approach to excellent stakeholder engagement, which has been essential while building through the city, where stakeholders range from pedestrians, road users, visitors and local politicians through to businesses, restaurants and a major regional museum, art gallery and theatre.

Regular monthly meetings continue to take place with key stakeholders across the city, and the work programme has been developed to take into account the local impact, for example restricting utility diversion works during major city-wide events such as the Chinese New Year celebrations and the popular Christmas markets, which are a major city centre attraction. Over Christmas a successful public relations campaign was also launched to help support trade at local businesses.

Future Metrolink

2CC is not the only current area of expansion for Metrolink. In November 2014, £350 million of funding was also confirmed for a new line to the busy industrial area of Trafford Park and to a major regional shopping centre and leisure complex, the intu Trafford Centre.

The plans have proved hugely popular with the public, who gave a resounding thumbs-up during the 12-week public consultation held in summer 2014: 89% of comments were in favour of plans to build the 5.5km line, which will provide hugely improved sustainable transport links to some of the region’s largest employers. Six new stops are planned near to key destinations – Wharfside, Imperial War Museum, Village, Parkway, EventCity and intu Trafford Centre.

We’re getting everything in place so that this scheme is shovel-ready to start work in 2016 with a view to opening it by the end of the decade.

2015 will also see the roll-out of smart ticketing to the tram network, offering a faster, easier, more flexible way to pay for travel by tram.

It’s expected that by end of the decade – and thanks to 2CC – more than 40 million passenger journeys could be made by Metrolink every year, helping to tackle congestion and move more people around Greater Manchester for work, education and play.

Metrolink has become an emblem of success, an exemplar demonstrating that transport truly is the lifeblood of economic growth. The Greater Manchester combined authorities’ ability to work together to successfully agree a funding package and deliver such a large-scale project has no doubt been an influencing factor in persuading government to see the benefits of devolution – signalling as it does Manchester’s ambitions to become the north’s economic hub and the UK’s second city.

For more information on the Metrolink expansion and improvement programme, visit


Peter Cushing was appointed as Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink Director in February 2013, having worked in the Metrolink team since 2007 overseeing day-to-day operations. Peter has brought a wealth of expertise and experience in the rail industry to the role, not least in rejuvenating Central Trains as Operations Director between March 2003 and January 2005. He was part of the team involved in the Department for Transport’s remapping of the heavy-rail network that saw the creation of the East Midlands Trains, London Midland and Cross Country franchises, and has also worked on several rail franchise bids, winning three.