Single Track Working on Metrolink

Manchester’s tramway network has grown with remarkable speed in recent years and it has become essential that a second route across the city centre be built to prevent excessive congestion along Mosley Street.    The first section of the Second Crossing from Victoria Station to Exchange Square  has already opened and is used by services through Oldham to either Shaw and Crompton (Route H) or Rochdale (Route I).     The Second route will join the initial route at an enlarged St Peter’s Square station close to the Central Conference and Exhibition Centre (which occupies the one-time Central Station, built by the Cheshire Lines Committee between 1875 and 1880, which still proudly retains its glorious arch roof).  While the  St Peter’s Square stop is being totally rebuilt and the track layout is rearranged, the route from the city centre ( from both Victoria and Piccadilly Stations) has been reduced to a single track along Mosley Street between the Art Gallery and the Conference Centre.     Only trams are allowed along this part of the road all other vehicles being diverted to alternative roads.   Three regular tram routes share the single track. –  Route A (Etihad Campus – Piccadilly –  Altrincham);   Route C  (Bury – Victoria – East Didsbury;  Route E (Piccadilly – Cornbrook – Media City (reverse) – Eccles.    Additional services are run when either Manchester City (to Etihad Campus) or Manchester United (to several stations within 10 minutes walk from Old Trafford Stadium) play their home games.    The single track operation has made it essential to operate a special system to keep things moving smoothly and this is controlled from the Control Centre but depends heavily on hard work by two “signallers” – one positioned at each end of the single track section.

The normal throughout the day service sees a tram on each route every six to twelve minutes and Control arranges that a group of three trams, one per route, form a queue on the last section of double track before the start of each single track section.    Sometimes extra services such as football specials are added to the group of three trams.     There is a single tablet, a stout rod with a bulky triangular shape at one end, and this allows access along the single track.    If the system is working properly the signaller at one end will have received the tablet from the last tram in the last group of three trams to operate along the single track.    After checking that the route along the single track is clear and receiving authority from Control the signaller gives the leading tram of the next batch authority to move on to the single track to be followed shortly by the second tram and finally by the last of the batch whose driver receives the tablet from the signaller who no longer has the tablet so cannot send any further trams on to the single track.    Any trams now arriving form the next queue.     The batch of trams make their stately progress along the single track and reach the start of the double track.   The driver of the last tram in the batch hands the tablet to the signaller who is now able to send the next queuing trams along the single track,.   The driver of the last of this batch receives the tablet which is handed to the first signaller.   The whole process can then be repeated.

If operations are performed slickly enough there is little delay to the services but at the rush hours when many additional trams are on the move a few minutes delay are sometimes encountered.  Many of the services are now worked by a pair of trams – indicated on the screens at the busier stops as “dbl” – a shortened version of “double”.

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