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Has Manchester benefited by replacing heavy rail with Metrolink?

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Intercity 225

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It's now been 24 years since Metrolink launched in Manchester and it's widely considered to have been a success. However, in the areas it replaced heavy rail does it really cater the travelling public better?

I've personally been resident in Manchester City Centre for almost two years and can see the value Metrolink has provided. It's a large city and the light rail link is very important when it comes to providing connectivity between areas of the city that historically were only linked by road. However I'm not convinced that Metrolink has improved the service from areas that saw their heavy rail link replaced to accommodate it e.g. Altrincham or Oldham.

Let's use Altrincham as an example - it's post-Metrolink rail service to Manchester via Stockport is inadequate when you consider that had Metrolink not been launched it could today be served by fast & comfy Class 323s running direct to the city centre in less than 15 minutes. Whilst the Metrolink services are frequent they're slow and the ride quality is poor when compared to heavy rail (even when in comparison with a Pacer). As such can Metrolink really be considered an improvement?

Would be great to hear everyone's thoughts.
 
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Ianno87

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In the Altrincham example, the side benefit of Metrolink that is always forgotten is the release of capacity that this enabled between Castlefield Jn and Piccadilly. Without this, nowhere near the level of service could be operated from Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, the Lakes and Scotland that is operated today (and eventually TPE services via the Ordsall Chord) could be contemplated.

Similarly, the removal of Oldham Loop heavy rail services from Victoria will help enable the eventual Northerm Hub service pattern.

The Bury Line was life-expired and needed total renewal in some form anyway.

Metrolink has almost certainly been part of the catalyst for the development of Salford Quays in the last 15 years too. Remember the semi-derelect wasteland some of it was back when the Broadway extensin opened in December 1999.
 

fowler9

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I think sometimes the increased frequency is better than a slightly quicker journey time. From where I live in south Liverpool I would welcome an increased frequency with improved connectivity over a slightly quicker journey time. Over the years the journey from West Allerton to Lime Street on heavy rail is just getting longer anyway to allow for slack in the timetable, even if the train is on time it just ends up sat somewhere on the way in to Lime Street so it arrives on time and doesn't conflict with other movements.
 

tbtc

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Let's use Altrincham as an example - it's post-Metrolink rail service to Manchester via Stockport is inadequate when you consider that had Metrolink not been launched it could today be served by fast & comfy Class 323s running direct to the city centre in less than 15 minutes

In the Altrincham example, the side benefit of Metrolink that is always forgotten is the release of capacity that this enabled between Castlefield Jn and Piccadilly. Without this, nowhere near the level of service could be operated from Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, the Lakes and Scotland that is operated today (and eventually TPE services via the Ordsall Chord) could be contemplated

I'm with Ianno87 on this one. Where's the space at Piccadilly/ Victoria for all of these additional services?

The problem that you have with these arguments is that someone will soon suggest that if there were no Metrolink then funds would have magically been found to upgrade all of the heavy rail routes concerned, or to fulfil GMPTE's wish lists (PicVic tunnel, bi-mode 210s etc).

In reality, the money comes from different purses, and there was no guarantee that leaving these lines as heavy rail would have meant any additional funds for stock. There was little genuine scope for a Ordeal Chord twenty five years ago.

Also, if there were no Bury/ Altrincham/ Oldham then there would have been no Etihad/ Salford Quays - heavy rail wouldn't have worked in those corridors and there'd be no scope for building the city centre tram links based only on those more marginal markets.

I know that a heavy rail forum will always see people who think that heavy rail is the answer to everything (and I'm not saying that light rail is perfect) but look at how passenger numbers increased on the Oldham line when four trains an hour were replaced by five trams an hour to see whether it has been a success.
 

yorksrob

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Similarly, the removal of Oldham Loop heavy rail services from Victoria will help enable the eventual Northerm Hub service pattern.
.

I'm not convinced.

Capacity has been created at Victoria but the Northern Hub will just create another bottleneck between O Road and Piccadilly.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Let's use Altrincham as an example - it's post-Metrolink rail service to Manchester via Stockport is inadequate when you consider that had Metrolink not been launched it could today be served by fast & comfy Class 323s running direct to the city centre in less than 15 minutes. Whilst the Metrolink services are frequent they're slow and the ride quality is poor when compared to heavy rail (even when in comparison with a Pacer). As such can Metrolink really be considered an improvement?

Altrincham last had a 15-minute journey time to Manchester with the CLC DMU service to Central/Oxford Road (stopping only at Sale).
All the EMUs to Oxford Road were tedious stoppers taking 20 minutes or more.
Services from stations further out (eg Hale and Knutsford) have a significantly worse journey time with either the Stockport diversion or a change to the tram.
At the same time, Altrincham to Stockport was a useful new route, not used since 1946.
 
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Xenophon PCDGS

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When you consider that the East Manchester Metrolink line passes through the central areas of all the places that it serves, look where the still-running (but stationless) heavy rail line to Ashton-under-Lyne that once had stations at Miles Platting, Park, Clayton Bridge and Droylsden runs at the very periphery of those areas in comparison.
 

Ianno87

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I'm not convinced.

Capacity has been created at Victoria but the Northern Hub will just create another bottleneck between O Road and Piccadilly.

Platforms 15 & 16 at Piccadilly, plus the remodelling of Oxford Rd, still enable extra train paths to operate compared to today. Although I agree it'll immediately become full again. Still, it enables net extra trains serving central Manchester for a relatively modest cost....
 

snowball

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Metrolink also serves the town centres of Oldham, Rochdale and Wythenshawe, which heavy rail could never have done (for topographical reasons in the cases of Oldham and Rochdale).
 

bramling

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It's now been 24 years since Metrolink launched in Manchester and it's widely considered to have been a success. However, in the areas it replaced heavy rail does it really cater the travelling public better?

I've personally been resident in Manchester City Centre for almost two years and can see the value Metrolink has provided. It's a large city and the light rail link is very important when it comes to providing connectivity between areas of the city that historically were only linked by road. However I'm not convinced that Metrolink has improved the service from areas that saw their heavy rail link replaced to accommodate it e.g. Altrincham or Oldham.

Let's use Altrincham as an example - it's post-Metrolink rail service to Manchester via Stockport is inadequate when you consider that had Metrolink not been launched it could today be served by fast & comfy Class 323s running direct to the city centre in less than 15 minutes. Whilst the Metrolink services are frequent they're slow and the ride quality is poor when compared to heavy rail (even when in comparison with a Pacer). As such can Metrolink really be considered an improvement?

Would be great to hear everyone's thoughts.

In my view Altrincham and Bury are probably better with Metrolink.

I'm less convinced about the Oldham loop. For those coming from further out, Metrolink brings more stops, and a detour through Oldham town centre. In theory train should also be more comfortable, although in practice the trains on this line weren't particularly so, except perhaps the odd class 156. Boils down to the old question of whether people prefer frequency, ease of access or speed. Personally I'd prefer a less frequent but faster service, other people may have different priorities. An electrified Oldham loop operated by class 323s or 319s would in my view be superior to Metrolink.

Perhaps the ideal solution would have been a completely new Metrolink route to Oldham, with the rail route retained too. No idea how practicable this would have been!
 

markem41

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The obvious advantage of the Altrincham Metrolink for commuters and shoppers is that it drops them off in the heart of the city centre, rather than at the wrong end of Deansgate or half way down Oxford Road. Having done this rather well, the experience is then ruined on the way back as there is no room for shopping bags!
 

GRALISTAIR

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In the Altrincham example, the side benefit of Metrolink that is always forgotten is the release of capacity that this enabled between Castlefield Jn and Piccadilly. Without this, nowhere near the level of service could be operated from Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, the Lakes and Scotland that is operated today (and eventually TPE services via the Ordsall Chord) could be contemplated.

Similarly, the removal of Oldham Loop heavy rail services from Victoria will help enable the eventual Northerm Hub service pattern.

The Bury Line was life-expired and needed total renewal in some form anyway.

Metrolink has almost certainly been part of the catalyst for the development of Salford Quays in the last 15 years too. Remember the semi-derelect wasteland some of it was back when the Broadway extensin opened in December 1999.

I'm with Ianno87 on this one. Where's the space at Piccadilly/ Victoria for all of these additional services?

The problem that you have with these arguments is that someone will soon suggest that if there were no Metrolink then funds would have magically been found to upgrade all of the heavy rail routes concerned, or to fulfil GMPTE's wish lists (PicVic tunnel, bi-mode 210s etc).

In reality, the money comes from different purses, and there was no guarantee that leaving these lines as heavy rail would have meant any additional funds for stock. There was little genuine scope for a Orsdal Chord twenty five years ago.

Also, if there were no Bury/ Altrincham/ Oldham then there would have been no Etihad/ Salford Quays - heavy rail wouldn't have worked in those corridors and there'd be no scope for building the city centre tram links based only on those more marginal markets.

I know that a heavy rail forum will always see people who think that heavy rail is the answer to everything (and I'm not saying that light rail is perfect) but look at how passenger numbers increased on the Oldham line when four trains an hour were replaced by five trams an hour to see whether it has been a success.

Metrolink also serves the town centres of Oldham, Rochdale and Wythenshawe, which heavy rail could never have done (for topographical reasons in the cases of Oldham and Rochdale).

Have to agree with all sentiments- Metrolink has been a success compared to heavy rail.
 

ivanhoe

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Metrolink is an unqualified success achieving passenger growth on a scale that national rail could not have done( in that region).However, I would like it to think outside the box, a bit more for future expansion. Roads between Bury, Rochdale and Bolton are busy , making Bus journeys difficult to keep to timetables. A link between say Bury and Rochdale may have the desired effect of modal change but whether it is possible, I'm unsure.
 

CaptainHaddock

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Anyone who has to put up with Sheffield's Supertram can only look longingly as how the Manchester Metrolink has expanded to cover a substantial amount of commuter and leisure routes. Whereas the Metrolink seems to be about taking people from outlying towns and suburbs into a thriving city centre, the Supertram's main purpose seems to be to take people away from Sheffield's rundown centre to out of town retail parks!

Though I do agree that Metrolink's trams are too small and inadequate for peak time commuters, the same is true of other tram networks such as Nottingham's.
 

YorkshireBear

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Metrolink is an unqualified success achieving passenger growth on a scale that national rail could not have done( in that region).However, I would like it to think outside the box, a bit more for future expansion. Roads between Bury, Rochdale and Bolton are busy , making Bus journeys difficult to keep to timetables. A link between say Bury and Rochdale may have the desired effect of modal change but whether it is possible, I'm unsure.

Something i think a lot of light rail systems should try looking at is cheap orbital travel. My hotel when i stopped in munich was on an orbital service and was always well loaded.
 

misterredmist

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From my own personal experience when I lived in Manchester, the Metro has been excellent - yes, there are times when the sets are far too small for the demand so it pays to plan journeys accordingly. The people I know who use Metrolink from Wythenshawe to the City Centre, the Airport and Old Trafford consider it a blessing.
 

northwichcat

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In the Altrincham example, the side benefit of Metrolink that is always forgotten is the release of capacity that this enabled between Castlefield Jn and Piccadilly. Without this, nowhere near the level of service could be operated from Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Bolton, Preston, Blackpool, the Lakes and Scotland that is operated today (and eventually TPE services via the Ordsall Chord) could be contemplated.

Really? I thought there was an issue with too many services between Slade Lane Junction and Piccadilly since December 2008 and before Metrolink services from Chester via Altrincham didn't need to use capacity between Slade Lane Junction and Piccadilly but now they do.

You're also overlooking freight from the West Midlands goes through the very busy platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly to get to/from Trafford Park. If the Sale line was still heavy rail freight running between Trafford Park and the West Midlands could by-pass Manchester city centre.

The morning peak frequency from Sale in the 1950s matched the current Metrolink frequency - there was a thread on this somewhere from a couple of years ago. Altrincham and Sale also got express services to Manchester so Metrolink doesn't compete on time from those stations, even if the smaller stations now get a lot more services.

Heavy rail also allowed 8 car EMUs to clear crowds from Warwick Road (now Old Trafford) after matches and for through services to Chester to make additional calls at Warwick Road for even more capacity and not requiring such high numbers of passengers to change at Altrincham. A 50 seater tram even doubled up isn't comparable to a pair of 4 car EMUs!
 

johntea

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I find the Metrolink great value for money, one example being just £8 for unlimited travel on the entire network between 6pm on Friday and end of play on Sunday for an entire family! (Or up to two adults and three children anyway)
 

northwichcat

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Something i think a lot of light rail systems should try looking at is cheap orbital travel.

There's a number of lines where trams or tram-trains could be used to provide a new service such as East Didsbury to Stockport and Stockport/Denton to Stalybridge/Victoria or even Altrincham to the Airport via Baguley.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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You're also overlooking freight from the West Midlands goes through the very busy platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly to get to/from Trafford Park. If the Sale line was still heavy rail freight running between Trafford Park and the West Midlands could by-pass Manchester city centre.

There's never been a direct route from Old Trafford (Trafford Park) to Altrincham via Sale.
Freight trains would have had to reverse on the Central viaduct near Cornbrook.
But freight is an issue, because of the very poor connections the CLC route has with other routes - thanks to non-cooperation back in the day.
It should really be accessing Trafford Park from the west, from the WCML at Warrington.
Some of the HS3 planning might solve the Castlefield problem (underground loops/stations etc) but a long way off.
 

Ianno87

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Really? I thought there was an issue with too many services between Slade Lane Junction and Piccadilly since December 2008 and before Metrolink services from Chester via Altrincham didn't need to use capacity between Slade Lane Junction and Piccadilly but now they do.

Still the lesser of two evils. 1-2 trains per hour extra through Slade Lane from the Mid-Cheshire against the ~6tph extra made possible via the Castlefield corridor through the removal of Altrincham services:
-Liverpool-Norwich (taking advantage of the Hazel Grove chord)
-Liverpool-Scarborough
-Liverpool-Manchester Airport
-Southport-Mancheser Airport (using the Windsor Link)
-Blackpool-Airport (Windsor Link)
-Lakes/Scotland-Airport (Windsor Link)
-Blackpool/Preston-Hazel Frove/Buxton (Windsor Link)

I doubt any of these services would be possible in the same way if Heavy Rail had been retained via Sale.

It's only with the Dec 2008 recast that capacity inwards of Slade Lane Jn became an issue, and the Mid Cheshire peak trains are the ones that fell off the graph.

You're also overlooking freight from the West Midlands goes through the very busy platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly to get to/from Trafford Park. If the Sale line was still heavy rail freight running between Trafford Park and the West Midlands could by-pass Manchester city centre.[\QUOTE]

Using what route? How do you get to the Southern WCML (i.e. Crewe) from the Sale route without an extensive detour or a run round somewhere. Plus you can't access the Sale route from Trafford Park FLT unless the Throstle Nest tunnels were connected into the Sale route in an elaborate way in tbe Old Trafford atea. South of Altrincham is not electrified either.


The morning peak frequency from Sale in the 1950s matched the current Metrolink frequency - there was a thread on this somewhere from a couple of years ago. Altrincham and Sale also got express services to Manchester so Metrolink doesn't compete on time from those stations, even if the smaller stations now get a lot more services.

Heavy rail also allowed 8 car EMUs to clear crowds from Warwick Road (now Old Trafford) after matches and for through services to Chester to make additional calls at Warwick Road for even more capacity and not requiring such high numbers of passengers to change at Altrincham. A 50 seater tram even doubled up isn't comparable to a pair of 4 car EMUs!

Again, frequency at all stations vs. fast services for some is a choice to be made. A frequent, all stations service is more attractive for local journeys on the route rather than just being Manchester-focused.

As in my previous post, Metrolink enabled more frequent jouney opportunities for several heavy rail corridors into Manchester whilst retaining (and improving) Sale's frequency of service, if not headline journey time (although access to the city centre of Manchester will be quicker due to not having to walk from Deansgate or Oxford Road.

Plus EMU dwell times today could not match those that slam door trains could achieve back in the olden days. Metrolink trams can, combined with superior acceleration.
 
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northwichcat

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There's never been a direct route from Old Trafford (Trafford Park) to Altrincham via Sale.
Freight trains would have had to reverse on the Central viaduct near Cornbrook.

It wouldn't have been too difficult to have built a new link if Sale had remained heavy rail, it would have been far simpler than all the Metrolink conversion work which was done in the Deansgate area.

It should really be accessing Trafford Park from the west, from the WCML at Warrington.

Crewe to Weaver Junction is pretty much at maximum capacity as well.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
(although access to the city centre of Manchester will be quicker due to not having to walk from Deansgate or Oxford Road.

Altrincham to Oxford Road could be done in 20 minutes under British Rail, it takes around 30 minutes from Altrincham to Market Street under Metrolink. There is also the option of taking the Metroshuttle north from Deansgate towards Victoria now if you don't want to walk from Deansgate.

Plus EMU dwell times today could not match those that slam door trains could achieve back in the olden days. Metrolink trams can, combined with superior acceleration.

They can't? Merseyrail manage 14tph between Birkenhead Hamilton Square and Liverpool using 'modern' EMUs. We were talking about a level of 10tph between Sale and Manchester.
 

yorksrob

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You're also overlooking freight from the West Midlands goes through the very busy platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly to get to/from Trafford Park. If the Sale line was still heavy rail freight running between Trafford Park and the West Midlands could by-pass Manchester city centre.[\QUOTE]

Using what route? How do you get to the Southern WCML (i.e. Crewe) from the Sale route without an extensive detour or a run round somewhere. Plus you can't access the Sale route from Trafford Park FLT unless the Throstle Nest tunnels were connected into the Sale route in an elaborate way in tbe Old Trafford atea. South of Altrincham is not electrified either.




Again, frequency at all stations vs. fast services for some is a choice to be made. A frequent, all stations service is more attractive for local journeys on the route rather than just being Manchester-focused.

As in my previous post, Metrolink enabled more frequent jouney opportunities for several heavy rail corridors into Manchester whilst retaining (and improving) Sale's frequency of service, if not headline journey time (although access to the city centre of Manchester will be quicker due to not having to walk from Deansgate or Oxford Road.

Plus EMU dwell times today could not match those that slam door trains could achieve back in the olden days. Metrolink trams can, combined with superior acceleration.

Undoubtedly true, but I do think there's a limit to how far metrolink should go in converting railway lines.

I wonder whether the Oldham loop has attracted people satisfied with slower journays who would otherwise have used the bus by displacing longer distance rail passengers to the main line from Rochdale.

As a heavy rail user I won't be impressed if the Atherton route gets diverted round the houses as a tram route as has been rumoured.
 
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edwin_m

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I think it's entirely possible at some time in the future that there will be a tunnel under central Manchester, probably to Metrolink standards but able to take much longer formations as it is not constrained by road junctions. This will allow a big capacity uplift on lines such as Altrincham and Bury that are similarly unconstrained.

With hindsight, the Oldham-Ashton and Oldham-Greenfield lines could have been two of the worst pre-Beeching closures. If these had stayed open then some Transpennine services could have been routed via Oldham, providing capacity relief for the Stalybridge route and fast journeys from Oldham to Manchester and Huddersfield. The route via Hollinwood and probably the onward section to Rochdale are in my view better as light rail because of the frequent stops and severe gradients.

As to the extra journey time for stations on the Oldham-Rochdale section, the answer here could be a change to the ticketing system to allow penalty-free interchange at Rochdale onto trains that make between zero and two stops on their way to Victoria. I hope TfGM have this on their list somewhere.
 

Xenophon PCDGS

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As a heavy rail user I won't be impressed if the Atherton route gets diverted round the houses as a tram route as has been rumoured.

Is the heavy rail Atherton route still a recognised heavy rail diversionary route?
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
As to the extra journey time for stations on the Oldham-Rochdale section, the answer here could be a change to the ticketing system to allow penalty-free interchange at Rochdale onto trains that make between zero and two stops on their way to Victoria. I hope TfGM have this on their list somewhere.

It is the case, though, that with the single exception of the bridge into Rochdale, the Metrolink route from Shaw into Rochdale was once again made into a double-track route.
 

futureA

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Well judging by the increases in passenger numbers on all lines converted from heavy rail I would say that Metrolink is an unquestionable success and that Manchester has benefitted from its introduction.

Most people are more comfortable knowing they can just turn up at a station and know that a tram will be there within a few minutes rather than consult a time table to check of how often their station is served.
I also think that people trying to get to or from Oldham Town Centre are happier than the tram drops them right in the centre rather than at mumps at the bottom of a big hill.

And what use is a 5 or 10 minute journey time saving for Altincham line passengers when you are deposited a 15 minute walk away from the main part of the city centre at Oxford Road?

Stopping at every station and higher frequency is also a lot better for local journeys. Not everyone wants to go to Manchester.

I do agree that Metrolink cannot please everyone in all cases. But it is better than the services it replaced for most people.
 
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thenorthern

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Metrolink has essentially allowed services to run into the city center from the locations formally served by heavy rail instead of the edge of it as well as more frequent services. There have been some complaints though from the people in Stretford that the trams are slower than the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham railway was.

Got to remember before the metrolink there were very few services running through Deansgate as some went into Manchester Central (closed 1969) and the Windsor Link didn't open until 1988 meaning that the Piccadilly Deansgate corridor was quite empty.
 

61653 HTAFC

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Is the heavy rail Atherton route still a recognised heavy rail diversionary route?.

I assume so, as my Victoria to Blackpool North service was diverted via Atherton and Wigan North Western a few weeks ago. Think it was because of the electrification works through Chorley, and allowed the pair of Merseytravel 142s a very spirited run up the WCML!
 

Xenophon PCDGS

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Something i think a lot of light rail systems should try looking at is cheap orbital travel. My hotel when i stopped in munich was on an orbital service and was always well loaded.

TfGM still awaits official blessing to be conferred upon its proposed Trafford Park line and when granted, that will be the project to last some time.

What occurs elsewhere is somewhat immaterial to the future expansion of the Manchester Metrolink system and the tram-train ongoing trials fiasco in South Yorkshire is more likely to be a matter higher on the TfGM agenda.
 
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