Another week, another high-profile Metrolink failure, as the Altrincham line was suspended on Thursday evening due to a points failure at Timperley. Awkward timing given the UEFA Cup fixture at Old Trafford – and some interesting accounts from different perspectives. But shouldn’t we have had new lines opening already? Where are they? TfGM is keeping its cards close to its chest, but thankfully the TfGMC Capital Projects and Policy Sub Committee received a briefing last week: so what’s the state of play?
We’ve reported previously on the unreliability of the older “T-68” trams and how TfGM wants to phase them out by introducing new trams sooner. There are 74 new trams on order in total, with 15 currently in service across the existing network. All the new trams can work with the new signalling system, but only these first 15 have been retrofitted to work with the old signalling, which works around Cornbrook and Victoria. The 50th new tram has just been delivered, but it joins over 30 sets which are in storage at the new Trafford depot waiting for the expansion of services.
Twelve of the older trams will be withdrawn later this year, with the old signalling equipment salvaged and retrofitted to an equal number of newer trams in order to allow them to enter service earlier than planned. Hopefully this should alleviate some of the issues with old trams breaking down. It’s somewhat telling that Birmingham is replacing its fleet of trams, which was built by the same defunct Italian company that built our own beloved “T-68s”.
Which brings us to the nub of the problem: the new signalling system. The transition from old to new is being done in stages, with the line from Pomona to MediaCityUK and Eccles already converted, along with the new line to Chorlton. Earlier migration plans had the city centre sections being converted late last year, but imagine the outcry if it all went wrong and interfered with Christmas shopping. The new migration plan is reported as being for “new Trafford Depot at Firswood, Cornbrook, Victoria and Oldham/Rochdale connection”, presumably in that order. When? The outlook is not great:
Progress has been limited and dynamic testing of the Firswood junction (Trafford Depot entrance) will continue through February/March to verify resolution of these technical issues.
What technical issues are these?
In developing the bespoke requirements at the major rail junctions on the network, a number of technical complexities have emerged that have delayed the rollout of the TMS* across the network. The technical interfaces between equipment required to identify vehicle location, on board vehicle equipment, the control of the infrastructure and signals is complex and needs to be robust to ensure a safe operational system.
* aka new signalling system
Fair enough. So what work needs doing?
These complexities have required detailed rework and testing to meet requirements which have resulted in delays in migrating the system across the network.
We only hope that the testing at Firswood goes well. What news from the other lines?
- East Didsbury: tracklaying has begun at the southern end and is currently just short of Didsbury Village stop; construction work continues throughout the year
- Oldham: trams were meant to be going to Central Park by now, but delays with the new signalling system means that service will commence straight through to Oldham Mumps temporary stop, with track, overhead wire and tram stops largely complete, and test trams having run
- Rochdale: a 3-6 month delay past the Summer 2012 date is still expected, with a review closer to that date – with no firm date on Oldham, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were a further delay
- East Manchester: most of the rails are laid as far as Droylsden, with the overhead lines live between Piccadilly and Velopark; an interim service to the stadium is a possibility pending new signalling system, whilst work continues onwards to Ashton.
- Airport: construction work has begun in Chorlton and Wythenshawe, and at the airport, and TfGM is consulting on a new bus/tram interchange at Wythenshawe
As far as closures are concerned: Woodlands Road remains off-peak weekdays only whilst Mosley Street gains a temporary reprieve due to the delays with the new signalling system: TfGM can only close once a next tram display has been erected, and that relies on the new signalling system in order to work out where the trams are.