From Dead Bodies to Budgie Smugglers: 30 Years of Manchester's Metrolink

Three decades of random and strange happenings on the tram, plus how we got it in the first place...

By Ben Brown | Last updated 26 April 2022

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Since being launched back in 1992, the Metrolink has gone on to become the largest local transport network in the UK (after the London Underground of course) – carrying over 43.7 million passengers a year.

Unlike the London transport network, the Metrolink is entirely subsidised without government intervention, meaning that unfortunately this results in it being rather expensive, often famously unreliable and a little bit sketchy after hours on a Friday night.

It has undeniably been a success story though, with three decades of growth, improvements and very few setbacks.

Everyone has an opinion on the ‘Met’ and this isn’t the time or the place to go into all of that – now we’re just going to look back over those 30 years at some of the most interesting stories that have popped up…

The Original Tram System

Like most towns and cities across the UK, Manchester had a pretty extensive tram system back in the Victorian times, right up until 1949. Originally these were horse-drawn but from 1901 they became electric and linked up with similar tram systems in Bury and Rochdale. By 1930 the city’s tram network was 163 miles long (today it’s only 64 miles) and it was the third largest system in the UK.

After World War II though, buses started to become a much cheaper transport alternative, and by 1949 the last tram line was closed.

The Corrie Crash

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Corrie back in 2010, they decided to do a live episode and then crash a bloody Metrolink into the cobbles – killing Ashley Peacock and Molly Dobbs. There was also another death, that of Charlotte Hoyle, but she was in fact killed by Fiz’s fella John Stape. Oh, and a random taxi driver snuffed it too. It was a massive episode and it was watched by millions, if not for the tram crash, then also to see if anyone snuffed their lines.


Dogs on Board

A bit of a controversial one this, and it has been ever since the Metrolink started in the early 90s – but even more so in recent years. As the number of dog owners in the UK has skyrocketed, many of them are dismayed to learn that dogs are not allowed on the Metrolink. At all. Well, unless they’re a blind or deaf guide dog.

So, what’s going on? Safety apparently. Over the years there have been numerous investigations, reports and petitions on the ‘dog issue’ but TfGM are still unmoving. Due to the fact that the Metrolink is essentially unmanned (unlike a bus) – dogs just aren’t allowed. Back in 2015 Councillor Andrew Fender, chair of the TfGM committee said;

“While the vast majority of dog owners are responsible, there is no way to guarantee all dog owners will ensure their dogs behave appropriately and do not represent a nuisance, or worse still, a risk to passengers.”


The Swan’s Escaped

Credit: @pavbeee

Massive news this. Back in 2014 a swan must have got sick and tired of just biting toddlers and wanted to explore the world. Being in Eccles, there’s no better way to get out of there than on the tram and so she waddled off to catch it.

Obviously, with no opposable thumbs or a contactless debit card, she couldn’t get a ticket and ended up doing what most people do when they get caught out by the Ticket Inspectors – she had a massive tantrum and held the tram up for about 5 minutes.


The Manchester Underground

After the closure of the city’s tram system in 1949, Manchester was faced with four major train stations, each on opposite sides of the city and none of them actually connected in any meaningful way. Manchester Central (GMEX), Oxford Road, Piccadilly and Victoria thus became the focus of a proposed Manchester ‘underground’ which was considered throughout the 60s and 70s.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel project would see an underground railway between the city’s two principal stations, Piccadilly and Victoria, a link that would aim to merge the city’s rather disjointed transport system into one unified network.

Incorporating an additional 3 stations within the city centre, the line would run from Victoria, underneath the Royal Exchange, under the Central Library, down Princess Street and finally onto Piccadilly.

With many variations on this idea through the years, we are all aware now that they were finally incorporated into the design of the Metrolink, which was re-introduced into the city in 1992. The whole idea of an underground link was completely shelved in the late 70’s.


“Push the Tram!”

Credit: @JBwol

In a scene like you’d expect to see on the rickety old railways of Mumbai, rush hour tram passengers were asked to push the tram after it got stuck at Brooklands Station in Sale in 2018.

The tram had got stuck, with it unable to close its doors allowing it to pull away. So, the driver kindly asked passengers to get out and give it a right good shoving – to hopefully set it loose.

They were successful, they got back on the tram and presumably went to work. I don’t think anyone pulled a hammy either – which is extremely lucky.


Phase 1 Launches in 1992

It was the late eighties, and everyone was talking about ‘Light Rail’, a public transport system that had been massively successful in Canada and California and thus was looking to be developed for the UK.

As a result, the Fallowfield Loop hosted a group of MPs and the public in 1987 where they all got to test out this revolutionary form of rail – which resulted in the project being greenlit in the city – as long as it was built in phases.

Thus, the very first phase of the Manchester Metrolink came online on 6th April 1992 between Victoria and Bury. Even the Queen herself travelled up to the city, officially declaring the Metrolink open at a ceremony on 17th July 1992. Phase 1 was followed by the Eccles line in 1999, with further phases coming online as recently as 2017 with Phase 2CC – known as the ‘Second City Crossing’.


The Man Who’s Visited Every Station

One fella managed to visit every single Metrolink station on the network in one day, all 99 of them, back in 2021. Geoff Marshall is well known for travelling to all 2,563 railway stations in Great Britain, and on one overcast day he tackled Manchester’s tram.

Kicking off in Rochdale, it took him (and his mate Karl) just over 6 hours to do the full thing, passing through the many suburbs, towns and stops along the way.


The Metrolink Pub Crawl

Over the years there has been many an industrious drinker who has managed to utilise the Metrolink to create pub crawls – where you start off somewhere and then get off at every stop and visit a nearby pub.

Most famous of them all is the coveted Altrincham to Piccadilly Pub Crawl, which sees you visit some cracking boozers along the way. There’s plenty more though, and best of all – we’ve condensed all of the information you need into these handy guides right here:

The Metrolink Pub Crawl: Line 1 Pt. 1 – Altrincham to Market Street

The Metrolink Pub Crawl: Line 1 Pt. 2 – Bury to Shudehill


The 280 Dead Bodies

Back when they were building the Second City Crossing in 2015, the bit that goes from Victoria to St Peter’s Square, construction teams uncovered 280 bodies in a cemetery on Cross Street, a site that once belonged to the nearby Cross Street Chapel which was destroyed by German bombing in the Second World War.

The discovery of the bodies set back construction for several months while archeologists commenced the painstaking work of excavating and exhuming the bodies safely. Apparently they weren’t expecting nearly as many bodies as that – which probably goes to show that Manchester was a lot more densely populated in the past than was first thought.


No Trousers Travel Day

Image: MEN

Back in 2012, a group of friends got on the tram in just their undies – bemusing fellow travellers, and probably getting a bit of frost bite on their jiggly bits. It’s an annual event apparently, one that started in 2001 on the New York subway, probably as a bit of a laugh.

So, a group of friends got on in their budgie smugglers from St Werburgh’s to Trafford Bar and a few football fans and shoppers saw their hairy legs. It’s not hard to see why this never caught on.


Manchester Pride’s Metrolink Sessions

Back in 2016, there was a big party on a tram, with fizz and live performances from 90s pop star Kavanagh and drag act Danny Beard. What was it all in aid of? Well, I’m not so sure – I think it was a Manchester Pride stunt with Thomas Cook – something to do with the USA and perhaps winning a holiday?!

It wasn’t the first party on a tram and it won’t be the last, but I think it was the very first ‘official’ one. There’s been many a time when I’ve been on the Victoria to Oldham tram and someone has come on with a big speaker, playing some Happy Hardcore – that’s when you know you’re in for a good time.


The Metrolink in 2040?

The 2040 Metrolink Map // Click to enlarge

What does the future hold for the Metrolink network? Floating trains like in The Jetsons? Meals in pill form? Cats and dogs living together? The next 20 years or so will certainly be interesting let me tell you.

Back in 2020 a fella named Aidan Doherty created a proposed Metrolink expansion, one which incorporated not just natural progressions of the current lines, but also brought in most of the region’s rail network too.

With the proposed HS2 line coming at some point in the future, and the gradual growth of the city outwards towards the M60 and beyond, the Metrolink will have to grow and expand with it. This map is probably the most cohesive example of how the network can do it to meet the needs of everyone in the city and further afield.