TRANSPORT FOR Greater Manchester is to explore the possibility of introducing tunnelled metro services beneath the city centre. The scheme has echoes of the Picc-Vic (Piccadilly to Victoria) tunnel proposal of the early 1970s, which was deemed too expensive and abandoned in 1977. Conversion of suburban lines into Metrolink light rail services, with the first routes opening in 1992, was adopted as a cheaper alternative.

The detail of the new proposal is contained in TfGM’s ‘Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040’, which additionally advocates adoption of tram-train as a means of boosting rapid transit networks. The strategy also supports ongoing heavy rail developments, including the Northern Hub programme, improvements in the current Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, construction of HS2, development of a Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network and redevelopment of major stations including Manchester Piccadilly.

The strategy says that by 2040 it is anticipated that there will be a need for ‘significant additional rapid transit capacity, particularly in the city centre’. While ongoing Metrolink developments, including completion of the Second City Crossing, Trafford Park extension (and potential future projection of this route to the AJ Bell Stadium and on to the Port Salford area) along with operation of more double-unit services will assist in this, TfGM believes that more radical solutions will need to be adopted in the longer term. It notes that ‘the high cost of constructing and operating Metrolink means that we must undertake detailed analysis of rapid transit potential’.

In the medium term, it is suggested that tram-train offers the potential to deliver metro services to areas without building new rail lines, thereby improving access to the city centre and releasing capacity on the heavy rail network. In the longer term (from the mid-2030s) it is concluded that ‘significant additional cross-city capacity’ will be needed, which ‘may best be delivered through the construction of new rail tunnels beneath the city centre’. Under the new proposals, suburban rail lines with poor financial performance could be converted to metro-style services, with suburban rail enhancements complementing the development of NPR, the planned high-speed network across the north of England.

As well as development of a major transport hub at Manchester Piccadilly following the arrival of HS2 and NPR services, it is suggested that Manchester Airport is established as a second rapid transit hub, with exploration of opportunities for new orbital bus- or rail-based rapid transit services.