Is it time to rethink the Manchester Metrolink map?

A tram. Note the lack of letter telling you which route it's on. Image: Getty.

This is the official map of Manchester's Metrolink light rail network. It's horrible, but, click to expand it if you want to suffer:

It currently shows 11 different routes, every one of them in grey. Consequently, it's not obvious if there are direct trams between any two points on the network.

Let's say you want to get between Withington to Clayton Hall. To work out how you'd do it, you need to look at East Didsbury, to find out which trams serve Withington (C, H and K); then look at Ashton-under-Lyne to find out which trams serve Clayton Hall (E). There’s no direct tram between them.


So, you need to work out where to change. To do that, you need to look at where route E goes because it's easier to track one route than it is three.

Tram E runs to Eccles. So you look to see where it meets routes C, H and K – St Peter's Square, Deansgate-Castle-field and Cornbrook – and change at one of those stops.

By the time you've done all that you've missed your tram.

Not that you'd have noticed, because the letters used on this map aren't used on either trams or destination boards anyway.

Is there a better way? Well, London's famous tube map uses colour to show you, at a glance, which routes serve which stations.

The problem with replicating this in Manchester is that routes share tracks so much of the time. The core of the network is that Cornbrook-St Peter's Square section. Almost every line on the network serves that (route I doesn't; routes F and K both stop halfway along). Showing that section in 10 different colours is obviously impractical.

But what if, instead of showing every line in a different colour, the map coloured the various routes based on the path they took via the city centre?

Once the Second City Crossing (2CC) opens, there will be four different routes across central Manchester:

  • via Cornbrook and Piccadilly;
  • via Cornbrook, Market Street and Victoria;
  • via Cornbrook, Exchange Square and Victoria;
  • via Piccadilly and Victoria.

Here's another take on the central bit of the map, showing each of those routes as a separate line. We only spent an hour on it, so it’s messy, and it doesn’t show the whole network. Doing it properly would have taken rather longer than an hour.

But a map like this would make it at least a bit easier to see where you tram was going. On a branch served by red trams, trying to get to a stop served only by green or blue ones? Change at St Peter’s Square. Easy.

This system wouldn't be perfect. Many of the suburban branches would show routes in multiple colours (a bit like the northern side of London's Circle line). It also makes no allowance for trams that terminate in the city centre. Some of these routes will presumably extend across town once 2CC opens. Others may not.

And maps with coloured lines aren't great for one particular minority of transport users: those with colour-blindness. Making the map accessible to this group, Metrolink has said in the past, was the whole point of abandoning coloured lines in the first place.

But something of this sort would surely be an improvement on the current suffusion of grey.

(Thanks to Richard Gadsden for pointing all this out and inspiring us to make the map.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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