Trams at the double?
Reporter: Richard Hooton
Date online: 17 June 2009
OLDHAM could get two tram lines running through the town centre — making it the big winner from Greater Manchester’s £1.5billion transport investment package.
Work to replace Oldham’s rail tracks with tram lines is continuing as planned to bring Metrolink to the borough by autumn, 2011 and into Rochdale by spring, 2012.
But it has emerged that the go-ahead for tracks to run along Union Street, revealed by the Chronicle last month, could result in trams running parallel through Oldham.
It could mean people catching one tram to take them into Oldham town centre — or a different one to send them round the outskirts and towards Manchester or Rochdale more quickly.
The extra line is possible because the £1.5billion fund for 15 transport schemes, agreed by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, comes on top of the £600 million scheme that GMPTE is already overseeing to replace the train line. The last train runs on October 3 to be replaced by express buses.
Oldham Council leader, Councillor Howard Sykes, said: “If we had both, one would assume some trams would go round the town centre and some would go through. It means the existing site of the railway line is kept while the original plans were that it would be given up.
“This is extra and I think we have got the best of both worlds this way. I want people to be aware that we are trying to get this to fit together as best we can. Bringing trams into Oldham town centre will transform our development prospects in so many ways and provide an unprecedented economic stimulus.”
But transport chiefs have cautioned that having two tram lines is only one option — a feasibility study is underway to take into account the effect on costings and timetables.
An alternative would be to close the existing loopline — after money has been spent laying down tram lines — and replacing it with the Union Street tracks.
No time scale has been put on building the Union Street line. It’s more difficult and takes longer to get a tramway down an urban street with gas, electricity and water pipes having to be moved — and the potential technical and operational challenges of fitting the two lines together.
To press ahead, a planning application to create a new Oldham Mumps stop between Bell Street and Brook Street — next to Mumps Bridge — will be submitted next month.
This will “future proof” the scheme by being able to serve either a Union Street line or the replaced rail line or both.
Other options being considered are a new stop at Rhodes Bank to serve the town centre or refurbishing the existing train station to serve that line.
Councillor Sykes added: “This is a decision that we have to get exactly right in order to maximise the benefits of Metrolink to the town centre and the borough as a whole.”
Inititial plans to route through the town centre were scrapped after the massive “No” vote to congestion charging across Greater Manchester last December.
But a new Metrolink expansion package, which could create 21,000 jobs and see all but the Trafford Centre Metrolink expansion built, was agreed last month with Oldham bumped up the priority list after intense lobbying.
Funding will come from a £2 a year raise in council tax and Greater Manchester councils handing over 40 per cent of the money they receive individually for transport and Manchester Airport.
Consultation will start in the next few weeks.
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