Trams delay

Date published: 23 June 2011

Off track — technical hitches push Metrolink arrival back to March 2012

OLDHAMERS will have to wait until March next year to catch a tram to Manchester after delays in bringing Metrolink to the borough.

Oldham Mumps was due to be open for trams this autumn, but bringing in a state-of-the-art tram management system has pushed back the whole of the £1.4 billion Metrolink expansion.

Services to Shaw and Rochdale have been delayed by around three months until summer 2012 but construction work will continue around Oldham in preparation. A first section of the line from Manchester Victoria to Central Park opens in December.

Transport chiefs say there will be big benefits with the new management system as it allows more trams to run on the network, giving more flexibility to schedules and passengers real-time information about when trams will arrive.

But integrating the old and new system while keeping the current network running has caused difficulties.

A significant amount of further work than anticipated refurbishing bridges and structures along the route has also caused problems.

Delays have also been caused by getting drivers and control-room operators familiar with the complex section of the network. Driver training is due to start next month on the new line to Oldham.

The opening of the town-centre section that will take passengers along Union Street, replacing the loop line, has not been changed from its opening of spring 2014.

Transport for Greater Manchester’s Metrolink director Philip Purdy said: “The technical issues we have to overcome to integrate this new system with the old one are very challenging.

“We want to get all of our new lines open and in service as soon as possible. I know that people will want to be using their Metrolink. But we can’t rush what we are doing and I would urge potential customers along the Oldham line to please be patient.

“Metrolink does more than just help people get from A to B, it is a key catalyst for regeneration along the routes it serves.”

Oldham Council leader Councillor Jim McMahon said it was disappointing but not devastating, adding: “With any large infrastructure project we have to be realistic and expect that these things do happen at times. It can be very easy to be negative but the prize for Oldham when Metrolink does come will be huge and we must not lose sight of that.

“We have had so much bad news with major projects coming to a complete stop such as Housing Market Renewal that we must now concentrate our efforts on how to make the most of the opportunities Metrolink will bring.

“Unless we make serious improvements to the town centre all Metrolink will do is to take people out of town, not bring them in. I hope that when Metrolink does come to Oldham its timekeeping will improve as a result of these changes!”

THE Chronicle was given a tour of a new £24 million depot at Trafford - called “world class” by Mr Purdy - that will act as a hub for Metrolink.

The hi-tech facility is used for storing, cleaning, maintaining and repairing up to 96 vehicles. It has a tram wash facility that can clean and dry a vehicle in 40 seconds and a sanding facility to ensure trams maintain grip in poor weather. It’s opening makes the network better able to respond to peaks in demand.

Once built the new Metrolink network will be three times its current size, including extensions to Ashton, East Didsbury and Manchester Airport.

The new South Manchester line will open next week giving passengers a 15-minute link from Chorlton to St Peter’s Square.

Mr Purdy said: “This is a major milestone in Metrolink’s expansion and improvement programme, the largest single public transport investment project outside London.”

The brand new M5000 trams were also displayed and Oldham will use a mix of these new and older trams.