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.