Greater Manchester has seen some changes to its transport network over the past few months with the introduction of the Bee Network and the announcement that trams will run later on Fridays and Saturdays. However, one topic that continues to spring up is whether the Metrolink will be extended further across the Greater Manchester region, but could this be on the cards?
The Metrolink has continued to grow over the years since its launch back in 1992. The network now covers over 60 miles of Greater Manchester, with calls for it to be extended further getting louder.
Although some towns already have train stations and bus services for commuters travelling towards Manchester, transport bosses are said to be looking to provide a range of transport options into the city centre such as the Metrolink. Greater Manchester towns such as Bolton, Stockport, Wigan and Heywood are some of the areas which could be potentially earmarked for the extension of Metrolink services.
But are all these services in the pipeline or just a pipe dream? Here’s a breakdown of the progress of the Metrolink being extended further across Greater Manchester.
Could the Metrolink be extended to Bolton?
It has been argued in the past that because Bolton is on the main railway route into Manchester and beyond, it doesn’t need a Metrolink. Yet, according to UKTram, the Trade Body for all British Isle Light Rail networks, the Metrolink had a 38.5% increase in journeys to the year ending March 2023. This equates to a total of 36 million journeys up to this point.
With a rise in tram journeys across Greater Manchester, it shows where there are Metrolink stops these are being used and proves the demand is there. With a Metrolink line, this could also alleviate the pressure on train services too. Based on plans laid out in Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)’s five-year Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26, a tram service could be delivered to Bolton via Radcliffe. However, currently a feasibility study is earmarked to see if this could potentially work.
Could the Metrolink be extended to Stockport?
As well as Bolton, a Metrolink line to Stockport has also appeared under plans in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26, through an extension of the line that runs between Rochdale and East Didsbury on the south side. The feasibility study on that extension is said to be currently underway and if the results are positive this could see TfGM looking towards the next phase, which would be construction should the Department of Transport approve spending.
With Stockport bordering Manchester, a feasibility study underway and a tram route heading in its direction ending at East Didsbury, there is reason to believe that this Metrolink line to the town is likely to be the first to become a reality. Recent updates have also revealed that space for a future tram track has been included as part of a development project in the town.
Network Rail is preparing plans to replace the deteriorating Greek Street and Stockholm Road bridges. The work includes tram-train futureproofing for one additional track through a tunnel which “ensures the bridge can be adapted when Metrolink comes to Stockport”.
The design proposes that a Metrolink service would travel through a new tunnel which would run under part of Mercian Way and King Street West between Booth Street and the Railway station, although the exact location has not yet been determined.
Could the Metrolink be extended to Wigan?
With fewer train stations in its towns than the other Greater Manchester boroughs, driving is currently the only reliable option for many in the Wigan area. With a Metrolink service that went through the area, this could help bring better interconnectivity as well as provide another transport option towards the city centre.
Leigh is well-known as one of the largest towns in the North West without a train station, after the rail line was axed back in 1969. However, in 2016, the Leigh Guided Busway was launched in order to improve transport links by boasting a bus service that could get commuters from the town into Manchester in under 40 minutes.
Under TfGM’s current plans, a Metrolink to Wigan would go through the south-west of Bolton via Atherton. Unfortunately, should the plans come into fruition, the project would need a new tram-train system, which is yet to be piloted and there is currently no feasibility study in place. In TfGM’s Transport Delivery Plan, a map shows a growth strategy with HS2, yet with the high speed rail project no longer continuing beyond Birmingham, a faster route in and out of the city might not be possible for some time.
Could there be a Metrolink line between Bury and Rochdale?
Bury Council recently announced new transport plans containing some major developments, with £68m to roll out the plans already secured via the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS). One proposal is to introduce new technology so that Metrolink services can be used on the previous rail network between Bury and Rochdale via Heywood.
The scheme, which would see the former Calder Valley line restored, could result in a rail link between Heywood, Rochdale and Oldham using tram-train technology, allowing Metrolink vehicles to travel on heavy rail lines.
Bury Council’s transport strategy also includes plans for a new Metrolink stop at Elton reservoir with this element part of the Places For Everyone masterplan, which could see more than 2,000 homes built close to the existing reservoir. Plus, the delivery of a new £84m Interchange in Bury town centre along with travel hubs at other Metrolink stops.
With all these potential extensions of the Metrolink, it is the case of time and funding for both studies and construction of new tram lines and hubs that are the major setbacks, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds to fund. The Metrolink line connecting Manchester city centre with the Trafford Centre and Trafford Park, which opened in 2020, cost £350m to complete with 5.5km of track and six stops added to the system.
However, with funding secured or feasibility studies being carried out, some Greater Manchester boroughs are moving that little bit closer towards faster, more sustainable connections to the city and surrounding areas.