Why three Greater Manchester areas still have no Metrolink trams - and what’s being done about it

There is still nothing concrete in transport plans as to whether the three boroughs bereft of a tram service - Wigan, Bolton and Stockport - will get one.

Metrolink extension plans into Wigan, Bolton and Stockport remain on the cards but are still not in progress despite the Greater Manchester Mayor’s best intentions, he says. Almost four years on from when Andy Burnham claimed these extensions could come in the next three years – little has changed.

Burnham claimed it was ‘a bugbear’ for those in the three boroughs without a tram, it was reported back in January 2019. Currently there is only a feasibility study underway looking into a Metrolink extension towards Bolton. Trams to Wigan via Atherton and Stockport via Denton and Reddish are included in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26.

A Transport for Greater Manchester spokeswoman said: “Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)’s five-year Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26 sets out Greater Manchester’s ambitions for metro/tram-train services, and Map 3 sets out schemes that we will develop options for, subject to funding being secured. This includes developing options to potentially extend Metrolink to Bolton, Wigan and Stockport.

“Our recent allocation from the government’s City Regional Sustainable Transport Scheme includes funding for scheme development as set out in our delivery plan. TfGM has also undertaken an initial feasibility study looking at an extension through to Bolton under the government’s Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund and is awaiting a response from DfT.

“Developing new Metrolink lines is a long-term activity, taking many years from development of business bases and obtaining statutory powers through to construction. All of which remains subject to requisite levels of funding.”

Graham Thornton, head of rolling stock projects at Keolis Amey Metrolink, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Danny Vaughan, TfGM’s head of Metrolink

Although this sets out plans and options on paper – there is still nothing concrete as to whether the three boroughs bereft of a tram service will get one. This was not what Mr Burnham had hoped for at the start of 2019, but the world has changed since the Covid pandemic hit, he says.

“It is a bugbear for people who live in boroughs that don’t have the tram network,” Mr Burnham said back in January 2019 after announcing plans for a MerseyRail-style local light rail network at a visit to the Trafford Park tram line extension. “I would like it to go to Bolton, to Wigan, to Stockport and build out this system and I would like to agree a plan to take more control of the suburban rail system.”

Now in November 2022, transport is still a hot topic and something the team at TfGM ‘have ambitious plans’ to deliver on. This has become a more ever-present issue in Wigan – where councillors have called for better transport links.

This has come despite recent additions of buses (three more trips) to the Leigh Guided Busway service which has a growing demand due to recent housing developments increasing population numbers along the route. A petition was even set up back in September demanding improvements to the V1 and V2 bus services along the route. 

Leigh is notoriously known as one of the largest towns in the North West without a train station, after the rail line was axed back in 1969. The busway was launched in 2016 to improve things.

However, according to those signing the petition and the councillors concerns about the road networks, there is still work to be done. Wigan’s connection to Bolton is something that is currently being addressed through plans to continue with joining junction 5 of M61 with junction 28 of the M6 – the M61 link road. 

This was a rehatching of a plan made almost 80 years ago with a route first identified shortly after World War II. There are also plans for rail infrastructure improvements towards Bolton in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26.  

TfGM’s Head of Development, Martin Lax, said: “Greater Manchester has ambitious plans to transform its public transport networks, including potential extensions of the Metrolink network. Through funding secured from the government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Fund, we are continuing with work to progress with a tram-train pilot scheme connecting Oldham, Rochdale and Bury – and have funding to develop other schemes included in our delivery plan.

“The learnings from our tram-train pilot will be crucial to developing viable business cases for future schemes, which could underpin future expansions of Metrolink.”