Metrolink Altrincham line timetable – A work of fiction? ….

Posted on January 5th, 2013, by The Chairman

Member, Mike Battman writes ….

Following the comments on the ‘overcrowding’ blog about connections or lack of them, I suggested the subject of the Metrolink timetable and how the trams run in practice should have its own post. The Chairman agreed and asked if I’d draft a post. Here it is ….

New Tram 3001 at Piccadilly Gardens around 1230 on 6/1/10 - (c) Mike Battman

New Tram 3001 at Piccadilly Gardens around 1230 on 6/1/10 - (c) Mike Battman

So, is there a timetable? If you go to the TfGM website and seek out the link to Tram Times, you will find a table that gives the time of the First and Last trams and the frequency that they run at. The frequency is normally a multiple of 6 minutes, although Sunday services can stretch to 15 minutes. We also know from Andrew’s comment on the ‘overcrowding’ post that the Altrincham line tram timetable is shown on TfGM’s website if you select “Journey Planner”, then “Timetables”, then where it asks for “bus number” enter “MET1″.

Although I’m sure that Metrolink have every intention of keeping to this timetable, in my experience it is an approximation and trams are frequent enough that it doesn’t really matter if they are a few minutes late (or even early). The only exceptions are the first and last trams of the day and those that travellers use to make connections into Mid Cheshire line services at Altrincham.

The problem is, especially in Manchester City Centre, they start to bunch up in one area and open out in others and once this starts to happen the effect only gets worse. If a gap between trams opens up, the more late of the two trams on arrival at each station finds a greater than average number of passengers waiting for it. This means that the waiting time at the stop is increased as it takes longer to board and alight. The tram is then further delayed.

Meanwhile the following tram (maybe only two minutes behind the previous tram) is suffering the opposite, fewer passengers and faster boarding – hence the gap reduces to one minute. Metrolink try to address this as best they can and often terminate trams at Timperley and use the siding to reverse or terminate at Navigation Road. This makes Mid Cheshire line travellers nervous about their connection if this happens to be the tram they expected to connect into their train service, especially as the following train is normally an hour later (two hours on Sundays).

The timing of the last tram is also given on the TfGM website, e.g. the last tram from Mosley Street to Altrincham is given as 23:52 Mon-Thu and 00:52 Fri-Sat; I have arrived at Mosley Street at 23:45 and finally caught the last tram as late as 00:10. The main website doesn’t give arrival times for this last tram at Altrincham or the intermediate stations, although it can be seen using the “MET1” option as 00:18 at Altrincham for the 23:52.

Which brings us to connections; Metrolink advertise the National Rail Interchanges but individual trams are not identified as ‘a connecting tram’. If you are wishing to catch the last Mid Cheshire line service from Altrincham at 23:43, to be sure of catching it you would want to arrive at no later than 23:40, which is a tram leaving Mosley Street at no later than 23:14. But what time such a tram arrives is a mystery, because if there is a tram that arrives at (say) 23:16, i.e. too late, the previous tram may have been well before 23:00.

Even the inter-tram connections at Cornbrook are poor with the Eccles/MediaCityUK tram often leaving as the tram from Altrincham arrives – at opposite ends of the centre platform!

Hopefully the new PIDs (Passenger Information Displays, I think) combined with the Tram Management System (if Thales ever get it to work!!) should lead to accurate displays of tram times at the stations which will give you better guidance for connections.

But run to a timetable? I don’t think so.

Thanks to Mike Battman for this post, and to him for allowing us to adapt it a little.

Please leave a comment

  1. Morris Minor Says:

    As I have said before, never go for the last tram / train.
    Be sensible in planning your trips. Allow time for the every day
    problem that exists and thrives on the transport systems of this country.

  2. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    The tram times are also shown if you plan a journey on the Journey Planner on the TfGM website http://www.tfgm.com. This morning I went for the 08.13 from Navigation Road towards Manchester (actually going to Bury today) and it departed bang on time.

  3. Charles Frankland Says:

    So gentlemen, your points are:

    1) There is a timetable, but don’t rely on it and catch an earlier one. Not much use then.

    2) The idea of having integrated transport (tram to train) is the responsibility of the traveller, not the transport companies.

    The reason the line wanders off round Stockport is because Metrolink was introduced. The exchange station of Altrincham is one of the busiest on the line due to people needing to interchange between train and tram. Therefore, I suggest that Metrolink and Northern Rail have a responsibility to introduce a more coordinated (integrated) timetable and protocol which minimises the potential inconvenience to travellers wishing to interchange.

    Or is that to much to ask for?

  4. WatcherZero Says:

    It seems the bunching issues is something that’s just as likely to affect buses and a result of short dwell times and tight timings making the system less resilient against unexpected delays than say a train driver with a 15 minute headway to the tram in front able to speed up or slow down without affecting the other timetabled trains.

    The other point is you wouldn’t book a train that arrived in Crewe to make a connection which departs 2 minutes later, you would ideally leave 5 minutes as an absoloute minimum and 15 minutes to feel a bit more comfortable, some stations which are either large, busy or require a short walk or bus trip your advised to allow 15 minutes, 30 minutes even upto an hour for Yeovil.

  5. Mike Battman Says:

    The East Manchester Line is unofficially open today! It officially opens on Monday, but today and the weekend are free days for residents; I was in Manchester, so passing St Peter’s Sq. I tried the ticket machine for Droylsden, sure enough it came up and I bought a ticket.
    I caught the first east/northbound tram and alighted at Market St. All Bury to Piccadilly trams are now continuing to Droylsden and it was signed Droylesden via Piccadilly.
    Despite some congestion at Piccadilly due to the earlier bomb scare, the tram made good time passing the Ethiad Campus (City’s ground to us mere mortals) and the Velopark.

    The tram was pretty full, most people waving their free residents passes.Lots of Metrolink staff helping the newcomers and many pensioners and kids enjoying the run out.

    So, if you’re at a loose end this weekend, have a trip out to Droylsden.

  6. Mike Battman Says:

    The extension of the Oldham/Shaw line to Rochdale Railway Station is due to open on 28th February, 2013.
    Sooner than I had expected

  7. Trevor Emmens Says:

    I couldn’t find a timetable for trams from Shaw to Manchester on the Metrolink website, so I phoned their helpline and told them I wanted to travel from Shaw to Manchester Victoria, but couldn’t find a timetable. Their response was that they didn’t publish a timetable because the trams run every 12 minutes.

    I said that without having a timetable or knowing the journey time, this wasn’t much help in deciding what time I need to catch the tram in order to arrive at Victoria by a certain time. Their response was “tell us what time you want to get there and we’ll tell you”.

    Very useful if you need to phone them every time you want to catch a tram to a new destination.

  8. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Trevor,

    You can find Metrolink times if you use the Journey Planner on the TfGM website http://www.tfgm.com. The full timetable for the Shaw line can be found if you select “Timetables” on the Journey Planner page and then when it prompts you for a “Bus Number” enter “MET5” in the box. I agree that it would be far better if Metrolink published a proper timetable.

  9. Edd Says:

    An experience I had last night travelling from Salford Quays:

    I was on a tram which arrived in Altrincham at 20:46, so I missed the 20:45 Northern Rail departure.

    I noticed a later tram arrive at 21:44, so people on that train could have caught the 21:48 Northern Rail departure, especially as it was delayed at Altrincham for a couple of minutes due to a door problem.

  10. Mike Battman Says:

    It is not easy; after all Metrolink is a separate system; do buses arrive in time for the Mid-Cheshire departures?
    I think because trams are at worst every 12-minutes (ok, 15 at weekends) the logic is that if you need to make a connection allow 12-minutes and catch the earlier tram, if possible.

  11. Edd Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve never looked at all the bus arrival and departure times for Altrincham in comparison to the train times. However, as far as I’m aware all the buses have timetabled departure and arrival times and are not allowed to leave before the scheduled departure time but like any public transport they could run late. Are any specific bus routes from Altrincham used by a lot of people from the Northwich and Knutsford areas (other than the 88 route which serves Knutsford and the 289 route which serves Knutsford and Northwich)? If not then it’s more important for Metrolink services to connect than bus services to connect.

    Last Monday I did hope to catch an earlier tram but the event I was at overran by around 15 minutes meaning that wasn’t possible. I’ve also experienced an occasion where I’ve left ample time to get to Altrincham but 2 consecutive trams arrived which were too full to pick up any more passengers so I arrived at Altrincham much closer to the Northern Rail departure time than I envisaged.

    Last Monday Northern were running a Monday service and Metrolink were running a Sunday service and there’s only a few days a year when that happens. However, I do think Metrolink need to publicise actual times for evening and Sunday services and try to organise an approx xx.40 arrival in Altrincham for their own benefit. I imagine they are losing a number of potential passengers in the evenings and on Sundays by not running to a public timetable and by not offering good connections at Altrincham.

  12. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Edd,

    Metrolink times can be found by using the Journey Planner on http://www.tfgm.com and the timetables for each line can be found by selecting “Timetables” on that Journey Planner and entering “MET1” or “MET2” or “MET3” or “MET4” or “MET5” in the box when it asks you for a “Bus Service Number”. From memory, MET1 is Bury-Altrincham and MET3 is Piccadilly-Altrincham.

  13. Edd Says:

    The TfGM site gives ‘not found’ for MET1, MET2 etc. but they can still be found on http://www.traveline-northwest.co.uk/timetableplanner/captureServiceDetails.do?method=reset&hss=REJDS269702041 However, some trams run 2-3 minutes ahead of the times given which doesn’t make the timetables all that useful.

  14. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Edd,

    Something you need to watch out for (and you may well already be aware of) is that the Journey Planner on the TfGM website always assumes that a normal tram service is in operation. It never shows times for replacement buses when trams are replaced by buses due to planned engineeering work. MET1 is actually Bury-Abraham Moss. MET2 is Bury-Altrincham and MET3 is Piccadilly-Altrincham.

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