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from 2nd June 2022

Manchester Metrolink's new Trafford Park Line

Finally, Manchester's flagship transport system serves Manchester's flagship shopping destination

I hope to add images to this article at a later date.

The Metrolink light rail system has become an icon of Manchester. It has nearly 140 trams, serving a total of 99 stops, and in the city centre you can’t miss its bright yellow and silver colour scheme and the iconic “toot” of the trams. It’s had various extensions over its years, and the latest of those opened in late March 2020, at pretty much the same time Metrolink’s passenger numbers fell off a cliff thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It looks like those numbers are managing to climb back now, as we’ll see shortly.

The Route

Trams on the new extension - officially called the Trafford Park line - branch off after Pomona - where, in an exceedingly un-British act of forward planning, the designers of the viaduct built in the 1990s left space for the junction, anticipating that the construction of a new line in that direction might be desirable in the future. They winds down to Wharfside, the first of six new stops. The section between Pomona and Wharfside is an excruciatingly slow bit of the journey - at some points, the tram seems to be travelling barely faster than walking pace - so hopefully they’ll speed this section up in the future, though it may not be possible due to the tight curves and gradients required.

Thankfully, the pace does pick up a bit on the way to the next stop, Imperial War Museum. The IWM itself is a rather architecturally impressive, dominating building next to the Manchester Ship Canal. The line runs along the back of it so it doesn’t look quite as impressive from the tram, but you can easily get out and walk round the front if you want.

The tram continues for a short distance, following the path of Trafford Wharf Road but in its own dedicated lane, before abruptly turning off and cutting through a back-street and across a large roundabout to the next stops - the unintuitively named “Village”, and a little down the road, the slightly better “Parkway”. The line then cuts across another roundabout, continues alongside a dual carriageway for about a kilometre, then turns off onto Barton Dock Road, on which it serves two more stops, Barton Dock Road and the terminus at The Trafford Centre, which are also badly named (more on that later).

My view

Overall, there’s not much that’s especially unique about the Trafford Park line, and it’s hardly the most scenic journey - but that’s not the point. This line gives a light rail connection not only to the Trafford Centre - which is one of Europe’s largest shopping centres - but also to the Trafford Park industrial estate, which provides employment for thousands of people.

There is a catch which I haven’t discussed yet. The trams don’t actually run into Manchester city centre; they terminate at Cornbrook, a stop just outside the city centre primarily intended as an interchange. The plan at some point is that they will run through Victoria onto the Bury line and terminate in the suburbs at Crumpsall, which will not only give the new line a connection into the city centre, but also increase the service frequency on the busiest section of the Bury line.

The line also gets the “bare minimum” service for Metrolink, of a single tram every 12 minutes - some of the busier lines get a double-length tram every 6 minutes.

However, the change at Cornbrook and relatively low capacity compared to other Metrolink routes definitely didn’t dissuade everyone from using the service. When I was there, the trams were seemingly quite full at all times of day (all seats taken and a few people standing) - mostly with shoppers, who would probably otherwise have used a car, creating congestion, noise and pollution. If it’s going to be this well used, even with a bare-minimum service that requires a change to get anywhere useful, imagine what it will be like when it’s properly connected up. I really think it’s insane that it wasn’t built earlier.

I will now discuss each of the new stops in a little more detail:

Wharfside

This is fairly standard design Metrolink stop, a platform for each direction, with a couple of differences - the platforms are unsually wide, and extra exit gates are provided that aren’t usually in use. It felt quite deserted when I was there, but the apparent overbuilding is actually because it’s now the closest stop to Old Trafford stadium, so on matchdays the capacity will be needed. You’ll find similarly wide platforms at Etihad Campus, an older stop which serves the other large football stadium in Manchester.

There’s several cycle parking stands here, for what it’s worth.

Imperial War Museum

From an unusually large stop, to an unusually small one. Because this stop was built next to an existing road, space appears to have been somewhat constrained, so rather than a platform for each direction, an island platform was built. Most island platforms on Metrolink are effectively two normal platforms back-to-back - twice the width of a normal platform, passenger with facilities on both sides. However, this one seems to be more akin to two short, normal-width platforms placed end-to-end and facing in opposite directions. It does make the stop feel a bit cramped, but it’s not a major issue.

The presence of this stop does present a bit of a conundrum though. From some places in the Salford Quays area - such as the area surrounding The Lowry theatre - the walk to Imperial War Museum is a similar length but in the opposite direction to MediaCityUK on the older Eccles line. So which way should you walk? Until the Trafford Park trams extend through to Crumpsall, the Eccles line is probably a better bet if you’re heading into the city centre, because there’s no need to change at Cornbrook - but if you would need to change anyway to reach your destination, it’s pot luck which route is fastest. It would be nice if Metrolink would provide some information screens in the Lowry area showing the departures for both stops to allow people to decide which one to walk to (they already do this where Moseley Street meets Piccadilly Gardens in the city centre, for example).

The Imperial War Museum itself, as mentioned earlier is quite an impressive building. It’s not huge, but it is architecturally unique. The exhibitions in the museum are of very good quality, and there is a semi-open-air viewing gallery, which used to be open to the public for a modest fee. Unfortunately it’s now closed off, and has been for several years.

Village

This is a very standard two-platform Metrolink stop. The only noteworthy thing about it is the ridiculous name. It’s presumably named after Village Way - the road it’s on - but in my opinion it should be called the full name of the road, Village Way, as just Village makes it sound incredibly generic. This serves part of the Trafford Park industrial estate, from which the line takes its name.

Parkway

A slightly more sensible, but still generic-sounding, name. I would have called it “Parkway Circle”. Like Village, this stop serves the Trafford Park industrial estate. But it’s also a park and ride, with space for 360 cars and 20 bicycles. The bicycle parking spaces are located along a path next to the platforms, and are under a covered shelter, which is handy - less handy is the fact that the shelter has unfortunately already been vandalised. The car parking spaces are located much less conveniently - about 200m away, on the other side of the Parkway Circle roundabout! On the upside, there are electric car charging points, and the roundabout is provided with pedestrian crossings to make the walk a bit easier.

Barton Dock Road

This is another standard two-platform stop. It’s right next to the entrance to the Barton Square section of the Trafford Centre, and it’s also near the EventCity exhibition centre, which is now permanently closed, and various other bits of the Trafford Centre, including John Lewis. Barton Square has recently been rebranded to “Trafford Palazzo”. “Palazzo” is apparently Italian for “building”, and it’s certainly a building, so I suppose the name is accurate.

As we’ll see shortly, this is counterintuitively the best stop to get off at if you intend to visit the Trafford Centre.

The Trafford Centre

This stop is the terminus of the line. It has one of the double-width island platforms I was talking about earlier, and is otherwise quite standard.

A few months after this stop opened, the owners, Intu Properties, of what was then called “intu Trafford Centre”, fell into administration, which eventually resulted in the Intu name being dropped from the shopping centre’s branding. This meant that in January 2022, less than a year after opening, this stop had to be renamed from “intu Trafford Centre” to “The Trafford Centre”. I believe this makes “intu Trafford Centre” the shortest-lived name a Metrolink stop has ever had.

I’m really not sure why they bothered build this stop to begin with. It’s actually further from an entrance to the Centre than Barton Dock Road. I would have just given Barton Dock Road stop the Trafford Centre name, and terminated the line there, which would have saved some money and made the journey shorter, without reducing the utility of the line.

And one extra little fun fact to conclude this article: most of the businesses outside of the Trafford Centre on Barton Dock Road are actually closer to this stop than to Barton Dock Road stop. So this means that, in general, for Barton Dock Road you want the stop called The Trafford Centre, and for the Trafford Centre you want the stop called Barton Dock Road. Which makes no sense at all.

Rants about stop naming notwithstanding, I do like the Trafford Park line, and I wish it continued success into the future. There are suggestions that it may extended further beyond Trafford Park to Port Salford, but I imagine they’ll have to get through running to Crumpsall sorted before they can think about that… we shall see.