Wigan is among Greater Manchester towns waiting to be hooked up to Metrolink

It’s over four years since Andy Burnham announced that Wigan, Bolton and Stockport were next in line to be connected to the Metrolink network.
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The Greater Manchester mayor said back in 2019 that he hoped to see the three boroughs with trams by 2022.

“It is a bugbear for people who live in boroughs that don’t have the tram network,” Mr Burnham said back in January 2019 . “I would like it to go to Bolton, to Wigan, to Stockport and build out this system and I would like to agree a plan to take more control of the suburban rail system.”

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Although Bolton, Wigan and Stockport all have railway stations and bus services that can take their residents towards Manchester city centre, transport bosses want to provide a more diverse and comprehensive range of options for commuters – and futureproof sustainable travel within and between boroughs as the population grows.

A Metrolink tramA Metrolink tram
A Metrolink tram
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So what’s happening with the extension scheme now? Here, the Local Democracy Reporting Service looks at what we know about the progress of the plans laid out in Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)’s five-year Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26.


Arguably one of the least connected boroughs in Greater Manchester when it comes to getting into the city centre, interconnectivity between Wigan’s towns itself is an issue, as previously stated by Coun John O’Brien.

Proposed transport map for 2026 as pictured in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26Proposed transport map for 2026 as pictured in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26
Proposed transport map for 2026 as pictured in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26

A tram service that went through the area could help bring better interconnectivity as well as provide another transport option towards the city centre. With fewer train stations in its towns than the other boroughs touted from a tram extension, driving is currently the only reliable option for many.

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Leigh is famously known as one of the largest towns in the North West without a train station, after the rail line was axed back in 1969. The Leigh Guided Busway was launched in 2016 to improve things – with buses boasting a service that can get people between the town and Manchester in under 40 minutes.

Hopes of an improved service on the Guided Busway could be answered when the Bee Network is launched on September 24. This would bring a London-style transport system to GM starting with Bolton and Wigan, as well as parts of Manchester, Salford and Bury.

Under current Metrolink plans, a tram to Wigan would go through the south-west of Bolton via Atherton. This is likely to be the furthest away from becoming reality as TfGM say the project would rely on a new tram-train system that is yet to be piloted and no feasibility study is in place.

This is not good enough for one local politician though, as a full council meeting on April 12 heard how Leigh had “limitations” when it came to transport – with those getting to Manchester from the town having to choose between the Leigh Guided Busway or travelling by car. Coun Dane Anderton said he wants to see that diversified.

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He said back in Spring: “Now is the right time to address this. This is the moment we are seeking to bring Metrolink to this borough.

“This is happening, it’s gone to Trafford, it’s gone to Trafford Park, it’s gone to Manchester Airport, it’s supposed to be going to Stockport. It’s going north, it’s going south, it’s going east, but it isn’t going west – why?

“We want to get this as a priority.”


Under the plan, a tram service could be delivered to Bolton via Radcliffe. Currently a feasibility study is earmarked to see if this could work.

Back in 2019, it was reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the Transport Minister at the time, Grant Shapps, said that if the Conservatives won the December election Bolton would get a tram service. This news was labelled as ‘phenomenal’ by the council’s leader at the time.

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The LDRS has learned from TfGM and the Department for Transport that the government has provided £50,000 to fund the feasibility study for Bolton, but the money won’t be released until the DfT has considered the business case for it.

DfT states that the government has recently agreed a five-year £1.07 billion a year funding settlement for Greater Manchester Combined Authority from 2022 as part of a devolution deal for the region, to advance the transport delivery plan. But the feasibility study needs to happen before cash can be unlocked to spend on trams in Bolton.


Under plans tabled in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26, a tram to Stockport would come through an extension of the line that runs between Rochdale and East Didsbury on the south side. The feasibility study on that extension is currently underway and if that comes back positive TfGM could be looking towards the next phase – which would be construction if spending on it could be approved by DfT.

Arguably Stockport enjoys the best public transport system of the three boroughs touted for tram extensions, with a number of suburbs having their own train stations outside the main hub of the town – with Cheadle Village getting the green light for a new station last year.

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Meanwhile, the central train station is currently the subject of a town centre transformation which would connect a new cycling and walking link between the new transport interchange and Station Road.

With Stockport bordering Manchester – as well as already having a tram route heading in its direction ending at East Didsbury, the tram line going there is likely to be the first to become a reality. However, this is all dependent on funding as building new tram lines and hubs will cost hundreds of millions to fund.

The most recent tram line extension – which was completed two years ago – cost £350m to create 5.5km of track and six stops to the system, connecting Metrolink to the Trafford Centre and Trafford Park.

While all the mooted tram extensions approach, or sit at the feasibility study phase – working out if the service is actually viable -the key issue is money. It’s needed to fund not just the studies themselves, but the extension work, and tests on a new type of tram-train service.

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Approached by the LDRS, the Department for Transport confirmed details of the funding settlement it had provided Greater Manchester with, but did not provide deadlines for when key decisions would be made, or further comment.

While TfGM awaits government decisions, as well as pilot schemes for new technology, they insist they are ‘making progress’.

A TfGM spokesperson said: “Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)’s five-year Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26 sets out Greater Manchester’s ambitious plans to transform its public transport networks, including metro and tram-train services. Map 3 sets out schemes that we will develop options for, subject to funding being secured.

“This includes developing options for extensions to Bolton, Stockport and Wigan.

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“Our allocation from the government’s City Regional Sustainable Transport Scheme includes funding for scheme development as set out in our delivery plan, and feasibility studies for potential new extensions are making progress.”

Other transport services and progress on the tram-train system

TfGM has stated they continue to make progress on the GM tram-train pathfinder scheme. Currently they are looking at connecting the town centres of Bury, Heywood, Rochdale and Oldham around Atom Valley – the high-tech manufacturing hub in a ‘Mayoral Development Zone’ earmarked for a site to the north of Manchester.

An initial business case for the infrastructure and the next-generation vehicles that would be needed was completed earlier this year, and is under consideration by DfT. A tram-train is a type of light rail vehicle that both meets the standards of a light rail system and national mainline standards at the same time.

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However the crown jewel for TfGM is the launch of the Bee Network. Transport bosses hope this will see bus services improve not just the connectivity between boroughs and the city centre, but the interconnectivity within each borough as well.

A spokesperson for TfGM said: “All of GM will benefit from the creation of the Bee Network in the short and medium term, with buses coming under local control between now and 2025, a contactless payment trial on the rail network in 2025, and local trains joining the Bee Network from 2030.

“Developing new line extensions is a longer-term activity, taking many years from the development of business cases and obtaining statutory powers through to construction. All of this remains subject to funding.”