The new Manchester Metrolink map is both prettier and easier to use

The trams in action. Image: Getty.

In September 2016, in these pages, I asked a hugely important question: is it time to rethink the Manchester Metrolink map?

Back then, the official map was entirely in grey, making it both horribly ugly and remarkably difficult to follow. I argued that a new version, with actual colours, would be bother prettier and more useful.

Click to expand. Image: TfGM.

Six months later, I breathlessly reported that someone out there in the wilds of the internet had been smart enough to take my advice – and in the process, had made the map “made it much, much better”.

Click to expand. Image: Project Mapping.

And now, a mere 16 months after my initial thundering, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has finally redesigned its map – and it, too, has made it much, much better. Look upon my works, ye mighty:

Click to expand. Image: TfGM.

This is, to be fair, not quite the redesign I’d suggested. That would have seen routes colour-coded by the path they took through the city centre, mostly out of concern that showing them individually would have made the Cornbrook-St Peter’s Square section about eight lines thick.

As it turns out, that’s less of a problem than I’d feared – the service pattern has been simplified somewhat since the Second City Crossing via Exchange Square opened, which helps.

The new map instead gives each route its own colour – and it is significantly better looking. What’s more, a coloured-route map will be vastly easier to follow than one where all routes are in the same, dull grey, for almost everyone. The only exception I can think of is those who are colour-blind, but I can’t, off the top of my head, think why the new map would be any harder for them to read. 

My only slight objection is the choice of colours. Including two yellows and two greens on the map before colouring a line red makes it feel oddly unbalanced. My first thought was that perhaps the designer simply hates Manchester United, but on reflection this might also be an attempt to ensure usability for those colour-blind passengers I mentioned a mere one paragraph earlier.

There are other changes. The new map has replaced the letters labelling the routes on the last version of the map with numbers. It’s also tinkered with some of the routes slightly. Here, best I can tell, are the changes:

  • Route A – Altrincham to Bury – now route 1, unchanged
  • Route B – Altrincham to Etihad Campus – now route 2, Altrincham-Piccadilly
  • Route C – Bury to Piccadilly – now route 4, unchanged
  • Route D – MediaCityUK to Piccadilly – now route 7, MediaCity-UK-Etihad Campus
  • Route E – Eccles to Ashton-under-Lyme – now route 3, unchanged.
  • Route F – Manchester Airport to Deansgate-Castlefield – now route 6, extended across the city centre to Victoria via Shudehill
  • Route G – East Didsbury to Rochdale Town Centre – now route 5, unchanged
  • Route H – East Disbury to Shaw & Crompton – missing in action; but since this was a truncated version of route G, one assumes it’s effectively been subsumed into route 5.

So, to sum up: routes 2 & 7 have swapped eastern termini; route 6 has extended northwards to Victoria; and H has disappeared altogether.

I think that’s everything.


You see, this is what happens when people write in to complain I write too much about the tube map: lengthy, nerdy commentary about slight changes to the Manchester Metrolink map. Are you happy now, “not everyone lives in London” brigade? Are you happy?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.