Could tram-trains finally connect Stockport to Manchester’s Metrolink network?

A tram, in Manchester. It’s going to Eccles, btw. Image: Getty.

On the January 22, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, announced plans to extend Manchester’s Metrolink to Stockport. The extension relies on the success of the trials of tram-trains, which local Tories have previously signalled support for.

According to Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), tram-train refers to “a light-rail public transport system where tram services like Metrolink can share lines with conventional trains”. The idea is that tram-train routes would “help to improve access to the city centre at the busiest times, while also offering more capacity on the heavy rail network”. Using existing or re-opened railway lines would also be cheaper than building new tram lines. 

It’s probably worth noting at this point that Stockport has two Tory MPs and that the Johnson government currently has a strong desire to please voters in the north.

While the prospect of Metrolink coming to Stockport is good news for the town, residents can be forgiven for shrugging and saying, “Believe it when I see it mate”. 

Aside from being glass half empty people a lot of the time, we have been here before.

Stockport should have had the Metrolink 15 years ago: It was promised to the town under the ‘Big Bang’ plan of the early 2000’s, which included a new line to Manchester Airport which would have continued on to Stockport. That line was scrapped, along with new lines to Oldham and Rochdale, by then transport minister Alistair Darling in 2004. Having been burnt once, Stopfordians won’t believe we’re getting Metrolink until we see the first tram pull into the town centre. 

Why should we be more hopeful this time? For one thing, Metrolink and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) seem to have learned a series of very hard lessons since 2004. Chief among these is that, rather than going for large, expensive projects, any extensions to the Metrolink would have to be achieved by smaller projects, such as the lines to Manchester Airport (but not to Stockport), Rochdale and Oldham (which were all eventually built as separate projects) in a slower, more piecemeal fashion. 

Another reason why the Metrolink is more likely to come to Stockport this time is that work starts this year on the Stockport Interchange building project, intended to improve the existing bus station. The project was first mooted as one of the projects that would have been funded by a proposed congestion charge in 2008. Having spent £120m on Stockport Interchange, keeping it solely for the use of our far from perfect buses while providing a better linking route to our atrocious trains would be a missed opportunity: space for a tram route and tram stop are apparently included in the plans.

A tram-train network would also be cheaper than building a series of tram lines to Stockport. It’s been proposed before, alongside suggestions that closed railway lines could be re-opened to run the tram-trains. Three of the four potential routes TFGM has identified for possible tram-train development are in Stockport, or would pass through Stockport. 

A map of possible new routes and stations. Image: TfGM.

It’s this compromise of tram-trains rather than “proper” trams that makes me feel like a poor country cousin though. Not only have I spent the past 15 years feeling like an urchin peering in through the windows of the big house at the rich children with their luxurious toys, but I’m now not even going to get the same toys as those children. Personally, I’d take second hand toys, but there is still a suggestion of the Stockport Metrolink being an afterthought. 

Still, better second hand toys than no toys at all. The population of Bolton aren’t even mentioned in TfGM’s future plans for the Metrolink, despite having a better designed transport interchange than Stockport currently has. God only knows when Bolton will be getting any trams. 


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.