A fresh study is under way to explore the prospect of bringing the Metrolink to Wigan.
Investigations will focus on the long-term possibility of bringing either a light transit system or more trains along the Atherton line, which arrives at Wigan also via Hindley and Ince.
And while catching a tram between Wallgate and the city centre may still be some way off, the prospective line is set to ignite a debate over the borough’s public transport requirements.
Transport for Greater Manchester, with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has commissioned the inquiry as part of their 2040 transport strategy.
Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue is in no doubt that a Metrolink extension, which would potentially be routed via Bolton and Atherton, is to be welcomed.
She said: “Getting people around is one of the great challenges we face as a borough and better public transport is a must for long-suffering passengers so I strongly support a Metrolink line.
“It is simply unacceptable that we cannot access Metrolink in the same way that other areas of Greater Manchester currently enjoy, so the prospect of a line serving Wigan via Hindley and Ince is to be welcomed.
“If devolution is to be a success then this is one issue that the Mayor, Andy Burnham, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority must address.”
But public transport campaigners have sounded a more cautious note, while accepting that the concept might be workable logistically.
Alan Fantom, chairman of the Southport, Ormskirk and Preston Travellers Association, which covers the line to the west of Wigan, said: “It would be possible to access Metrolink along the Atherton line, virtually all the way through.
“However the need to move an awful lot of people over quite long distances means that, for us, the argument should always go with conventional railways.
“We would certainly welcome organisations like TfGM consulting our association on issues like this.
“This matter does arise from time to time simply because of the sheer numbers who are using that line between Wigan and Atherton. But in our view it’s simply a matter of journey times and the number of passengers who would be using this service.”
An estimated 1.5million people used Wigan Wallgate station during 2016-17 and both Hindley and Atherton easily passed the 330,000 mark over the same period.
Simon Warburton, TfGM’s Strategy Director, said: “As set out in the 2040 strategy, we are working to improve the integration of our public transport networks, taking into account the
Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) to ensure there is an informed and integrated approach to future growth and development.
“As a part of this the North West Quadrant Rail Study will assess current and future demand on rail services and consider potential options for the Atherton line, including heavy rail and tram. The study will include the views of technical experts and also local feedback.
“This is an early study and its role is to explore and detail potential options. This will inform long-term work with local planning authorities and Network Rail to ensure that the rail system develops in the best way to support GMCA’s growth strategy.”