Extending Metrolink to Manchester Airport
Liz West, Transport for Greater Manchester, Peter Cushing, Transport for Greater Manchester
The new Metrolink line to Manchester Airport opened on the 3/11/14, over 12 months ahead of schedule and is delivering a step in public transport services and supporting regeneration and economic development.
Since 2008, Transport for Greater Manchester has been delivering a £1.5 billion scheme to triple the size of Manchester’s iconic tram system, Metrolink, and deliver a step change in service and customer facilities across the entire network. The latest line to open is the extension to Manchester Airport, via Wythenshawe. Opening on the 3rd November 2014, over 12 months ahead of schedule, it provides significantly improved links to employment, retail and leisure opportunities as well as supporting regeneration and economic growth.
The Manchester Airport line is 14.5km long, with communities along the route benefiting from its 15 new stops and frequent, fully accessible services as well as a brand new Park & Ride facility conveniently located just off the M60 motorway. This will play a vital role in supporting the ongoing regeneration of the Wythenshawe area and improving access for residents to jobs and services across Greater Manchester including key employers, such as Wythenshawe hospital and Manchester Airport – one of the largest employers in the North West. This extension will also support and provide connectivity to Airport City, an £800m landmark property development. This will be the first ‘airport city’ in the UK and is one of the most significant regeneration schemes since the 2012 Olympics redevelopment.
The sheer scale of the challenges this project presented make its early completion a truly phenomenal achievement. At 14.5km long, the tramway has been constructed in a range of urban environments – from ecologically sensitive areas to heavily populated residential and town centre areas. Challenges included extensive utility diversions to move often ageing, even pre-war assets, away from the new tramline. The project also included the construction of major new structures including two new motorway crossings and a new viaduct over the Mersey Valley, an area of Special Biological Importance, which was carefully designed and delivered in a manner to minimise the impact on this highly sensitive area.
One of the most complex parts of the scheme was the final 2km of the route into Manchester Airport. As well as complex interfaces with both the airport and heavy rail infrastructure, Metrolink is also part of a bigger picture that will deliver significant improvements to the infrastructure and commercial offer for Manchester Airport. This included delivering a major highway improvement scheme – the dualing of Ringway Road. As part of this a 140m underpass for the tram to pass under the main access road to the Airport, was constructed. This is the longest Light Rail underpass in the UK. This enabled highways improvements to be delivered that would integrate with the wider proposals for the A6 to Manchester Relief Road Scheme whilst reducing the risk of future disruption to tram passengers.
The Metrolink team also delivered the main platform infrastructure for the 4th heavy rail platform at the Airport’s Ground Transport Interchange. The fourth platform is part Northern Hub scheme that will provide for 44 million passenger journeys a year in the North of England. Originally scheduled for delivery in 2018, by delivering the fourth platform alongside the Metrolink works significantly reduced long term disruption in the area. This work was incorporated alongside delivering the Metrolink extension a year ahead of schedule.
Delivering this far ahead of schedule is due to a number of reasons – the lessons learned from previous extensions driving efficiencies across the project, resource flexibility due to delivering previous extensions early and the development of innovative and robust process, tools and techniques. This is underpinned by the effective working relationships, collaboration and teamwork between Manchester City Council and Trafford Metropolitan Council, TfGM, the principal contractor MPact-ThalesT, the operator MRDL, Manchester Airport Group and key stakeholders.
The new line has already seen nearly 300,000 passenger journeys in its first couple of months of operations. This comes as the Metrolink network has seen a record-breaking 30 million journeys by tram in 2014. This represents a 50% increase in passenger journeys in the last three years, demonstrating the success of Metrolink network that is the largest tram system in the UK, covering almost 60 miles with 92 stops across Greater Manchester.
The expansion of the Metrolink network has improved public transport choices across the region and is acting as a catalyst for regeneration and economic development, including boosting house prices in areas it runs through. It’s expected that by end of the decade over 40 million passenger journeys could be made by Metrolink every year, helping to tackle congestion and move more people around Greater Manchester for work and leisure.
Association for European Transport