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 “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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Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).