#didsburydoubles – How many trams do Metrolink need each day?

Just a quick post this evening.

Did you know that the main Monday to Friday service pattern running today, and the service pattern we had back in June, when we had through trams with a single-line operation through the St Peter’s Square worksite, with double trams on the Didsbury line, actually requires the same number of trams to be in service?

That’s 86 trams.

Out of a fleet of 119. That’s 73% availability. Hardly amazing by today’s standards.

Compare that to Alstom’s Pendolino fleet working Virgin Trains West Coast services. That currently requires 50 of the 56 sets to be available for traffic. That’s an amazing 89% availability for that fleet, which is now over 10 years old.

I guess what I’m saying is that for Metrolink to double the Didsbury – Shaw trams, it would require an extra 12 trams each day, which they do seem to have, and it would still only need 82% availability from the fleet – less than Virgin’s Pendolinos.

These are modern trams, some of which are brand new from the production line, and still being delivered, there will soon be a fleet of 120. They should not be maintenance intensive. Indeed a Manchester Evening News article a few years ago said that the current fleet has an average of 20000 miles between breakdowns, known in the industry as MPC – “Miles Per Casualty”(this doesn’t mean the tram runs someone over, the “Casualty” in this case is the tram itself!). That compares with only 5000 MPC for our old trams.

I surmise that the actual mileage being accumulated under the new timetables is less, because previously there were double trams out all day on Bury – Didsbury, Altrincham – Etihad, and Piccadilly – Eccles lines. Now there are only doubles out on Bury – Altrincham, but only during the main part of the day, and not first thing in the morning or later in the evening.

So it seems there is not a lack of resources preventing double trams being provided where there is clear demand. There is something else going on here. Quite what, I’ll leave up to the reader.

#didsburydoubles – PM Peak 5/9, AM Peak 6/9

A quick round-up of the continuing Didsbury double tram mither.

Here’s one from yesterday morning:

Metrolink did at least respond with an apology, but no real offer to do anything about it.

5/9 PM Commute:

Yesterday evening was very sultry in Manchester. Quite humid and sticky. I can only imagine how awful it must have been. One of those days when I was glad to be working from home.

Meanwhile, Metrolink continue to spin the 6 minute headway to Deansgate as an improvement:

Looks a bit hot and sticky on there, doesn’t it?

6/9 AM Commute:

Slightly less public moaning this morning, maybe people are getting used to their lot of packed sweaty trams, and Metrolink continuing to hold their ground, or they have given up and gone back to commuting on the bus?

Right to Reply:

Yesterday evening, Councillor Andrew Simcock, who I yesterday said seemed to be behaving as a TfGM apologist, chose to leave a comment on the post.

I’d like to go on record to thank the Councillor for using this right of reply to clarify his position.

While he reiterated his point of view that the 6 minute service was an improvement, it still seems terribly out of step with what I’m seeing social media, and out on the streets of Didsbury.

The Councillor also stated that he hoped with continuing TfGM investment in Metrolink, double trams may once again be provided in line with demand in the future, so this is positive.

Nevertheless, the Councillor has invited unhappy East Didsbury constituents to raise the issue with him at his regular surgery, which happens this Saturday morning , 11.30, at Didsbury Library.

If you are at all dissatisfied with the situation and Councillor Simcock is one of your representatives on the Council, please take the time to attend and make your voice heard.

I live in the Chorlton Park constituency, and have already raised the issue with my local representatives.

#didsburydoubles – the current state of play

So, the weekend has passed and the kids are back to school. I’m working from home today so haven’t experienced the Metrolink this morning.

Travelling in last Friday…

Following that tweet, I was told by Metrolink social media that they can’t discuss the matter over social media and I should put my complaint regarding the withdrawal of double trams in writing to TfGM’s “customer services”.

Over 24 hours later, while I have received an auto-reply acknowledging receipt, I’ve yet to get a case number or any other correspondance from TfGM.

Over the weekend I noticed that the advertised Double tram service Bury – Altrincham was running as single trams. I contacted Metrolink about that too. They say that Bury – Altrincham directs are now reduced to single trams at weekends and their own timetable is wrong!

What on earth is going on at TfGM and Metrolink towers?

I do wonder if the running of lots and lots of double trams (Bury-Dids, Alty-Etihad, Eccles line) during the period of “contraflow” on Mosely Street while St Peter’s Square was closed has actually caused the fleet to accumulate mileage quicker than anticipated, and the operation of single trams now is what is known in the industry as mileage conservation – stretching the period of time between planned examination and servicing by those affected trams running fewer miles.

This is also common in the aviation industry, where aircraft undergo checks based on hours flown – an aircraft approaching a major maintenance check can be put on restricted use, so it’s only used if absolutely necessary, until it’s place in the hangar is assured.

Back to the main subject, the loss of the much needed double trams from the Didsbury line, it seems people are still experiencing unpleasant journeys on overcrowded trams.

Here’s a quick scan of social media from this morning:

It’s also not just the Didsbury line. Eccles line users are grumpy too. Both about the basic quality of the service, and the fact that Eccles line trams don’t serve MediaCity UK for the majority of the day, which seems like a total chocolate teapot.

One can only imagine the answer to the question below:

What seems to be getting people’s hackles up further is the way we’re being talked down to by TfGM and Metrolink. The tone of the replies is like a parent trying to placate a child having a tantrum, rather than accept and acknowledge there has been a service delivery failure and that something positive will be done:

I don’t blame the people running the social media accounts at TfGM and Metrolink. I accept their hands are somewhat tied by the decisions of their bosses. But they need to stop talking down to us. We need to see there is some action being taken, rather than head-in-sand apologism.

However this particular exchange seems at least churlish, and possibly out-of-order, especially for a public servant talking to a member of the public they are meant to be working on behalf of. Maybe it’s a chink in the armour, showing that tempers are even getting frayed at Metrolink HQ, behind the calm veneer of the “Shush, shush… Everything’s okay, it will be all fine once 2CC opens” party-line:

What seems to be worse still is that at least one Didsbury councillor is acting as a TfGM apologist rather than representing their constituents:

Evidently, according to Andrew, we should just shut up and be grateful that we even have a tram:

This goes on to the extent that he’s openly disagreeing with other Manchester City Councillors from neighbouring wards who agree with residents that the new single tram service is a retrograde step:

Why would you change at Cornbrook and St Werburghs if you had the choice of a direct tram? The above feels like a load of old tosh. Also note that Andrew’s tweets there were sent from outside of Manchester, so it seems that he can’t have experienced this new single tram overcrowded fiasco for himself recently if he’s been out of town.

I’m honestly glad I’m not in the East Didsbury ward if that’s the standard of representation I can expect.

So what next?

Metrolink wish we would put up and shut up.

TfGM wish we would put up and shut up.

Now, one of our elected representatives also seems to wish we would put up and shut up – rather than doing what he’s been elected to do!

Remind me that we’re meant to be living in a democracy? Remind me that public servants are meant to be accountable?

A former BBC journalist friend said “Don’t give up. Keep kicking off. Make as much noise as you can until they open a proper two-way dialogue with you.”

We need to make as much noise as we possibly can until we are listened to on this issue:

  • Please tweet about your overcrowding experiences, and use the hashtag #didsburydoubles, so the trend is visible.
  • Tweet Metrolink every time you experience an overcrowded Didsbury line tram.
  • Please retweet what others say as well so we’re reaching as many people as possible.
  • Write to TfGM – customer.relations@tfgm.com – request that a formal complaint is opened.
  • Write to your Councillors – use www.writetothem.com

#didsburydoubles – What might it take to put doubles back on the Didsbury line?

I’m a transport geek. I find stuff like timetables absolutely irresistible.

So thanks to the working timetables exposed in the FOIA request I took a look over lunch to find out what extra resources would be required to provide double trams once again on the Didsbury line.

Firstly, the notionally “busier” Cross-City services – the Didsbury-Shaw trams.

The Didsbury-Shaw 12 minute frequency service requires 12 trams on a circuit to operate it – i.e. it takes 144 minutes for one tram to complete a full round-trip.

There are two Metrolink depots, the original one at Queens Road, and the newer and larger depot at Trafford.

The duties for the Didsbury-Shaw service are split between the depots, 5 duties are provided by Queens Road, and 7 by Trafford.

So, to increase all the Didsbury-Shaw trams, that would require all 12 duties to be double trams, an extra 5 trams provided by Queens Road, and 7 from Trafford.

I don’t know what sort of spare resources Metrolink has around. I can usually see more than 8 trams sat stabled at Trafford depot when I go past in the morning – though I accept they could be stopped due to a fault or awaiting scheduled maintenance such as a planned servicing.

Secondly, the Didsbury-Deansgate service.

This is a much simpler operation, composed of 4 single-tram duties from Trafford depot, on a self-contained “shuttle” operation between Didsbury and Deansgate.

It is therefore theoretically simpler to double, requiring an additional 4 trams to be supplied from Trafford.

To provide double trams on both the Didsbury-Shaw and Didsbury-Deansgate services would require 16 extra trams to be available for traffic.

We’ll assume providing all 16 trams is a non-starter, that Metrolink simply don’t have 16 spare trams available on a daily basis for the moment.

There are three options, as I see them, assuming no significant service changes:

  • The least resource intensive is for Trafford to provide an extra 4 trams each day and convert the 4 Didsbury-Deansgate shuttle duties to double trams.
  • The other is to double all the Didsbury-Shaw duties, which requires 12 extra trams, a somewhat tougher ask.
  • The slightly more radical option is to cancel the Didsbury-Deansgate shuttle, and revert to a 12 minute headway. Use those 4 released trams to strengthen 4 of the Trafford Dids-Shaw duties, only requiring a further 8 trams to be provided, 4 from each depot.

Right now, it seems that the path of least resistance and possibly most rapid solution is for Didsbury-Deansgate trams to be doubled. It feels less than ideal, as the notionally busier trams are the Cross-City ones. But this might at least encourage some passengers to choose to change at Deansgate rather than wait for the direct tram and alleviate some pressure on the Didsbury-Shaw.

However, I feel all doubles on a 12 minute headway used to work okay before. Do we want to go back to that?

#didsburydoubles update – Metrolink Working Timetable via FOIA request

Thanks to Twitter follower @ppixx I’ve been pointed in the direction of a FOIA request which resulted in the release of the Working Timetables currently in use (as of 28th August 2016) on Metrolink.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/manchester_metrolink_working_tim_5#incoming-849104

The “Working Timetable” is the hidden “technical” timetable that Metrolink staff use to manage and maintain the service. As such it contains movements of empty trams, like workings to and from depots at the start and end of service. It’s not written to be read by mere mortals.

In terms of what’s happened with our Cross-city Didsbury line commutes, the useful information here is the sequence of trams through the network. This is the bit of information I told you in my last post we didn’t readily have, yet need, to help us make decisions whether to wait for the direct tram or take the first tram and change.

I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to: What it shows is that if you are travelling to a point beyond Deansgate from the East Didsbury line, during the 6 minute headway period, you may as well almost always wait for the direct tram.

By taking the Deansgate tram and changing, you will have a 4 minute wait for the Altrincham – Bury tram to continue toward Market St, Shudehill and Victoria.

By leaving 6 minutes earlier – because we’re assuming for this example that the first tram is the Deansgate tram – and changing, this is reduced to a 2 minute advantage by the time you get off. The direct tram has almost “caught up”.

However if you are travelling to St Peter’s Square, Piccadilly Gardens or Piccadilly, it makes no significant difference which tram you take from the Didsbury line, both the Deansgate and the Shaw trams have good connections into Piccadilly-bound trams at Deansgate. Both are good options.

#didsburydoubles – can we get Metrolink to reinstate double trams to East Didsbury?

The summer is over, and it’s time to get back to work.

For many of us in Manchester, we breathe a sigh of relief as it also signals the reconnection of the Northern and Southern parts of the Metrolink tram network after almost two months of no service through the City Centre.

Our messed up commutes could return to something looking like normality, or so we thought…

Last week, Metrolink announced their new service patterns for the re-joined network, no longer constrained by the single-track contraflow system through the St Peter’s Square worksite:

“People of Didsbury rejoice! For we are improving your service, with trams every 6 minutes!”

Now here’s the catch and small print:

Note that while there are twice as many trams, 
they will only be half as long, 
and half of them will terminate at Deansgate, 
on the extreme south side of the city centre, 
which will mean they are no use to some of you.

So, while we get more frequent trams, at least as far as Deansgate, the overall capacity on the line has stayed the same, yet we were experiencing busy and crowded trams when they were double trams every 12 minutes, and we’ve now actually got reduced capacity on cross-city journeys.

We’re already seeing complaints about crowding and reduction of tram length:

So I’ve decided to start tweeting and hashtagging when I observe overcrowding due to single tram operation on the Didsbury line, using the hashtag #didsburydoubles and suggest those similarly affected do the same.

We then make it easier to track and hopefully get this trending on social media and get Metrolink & TfGM to sit up, listen to their users and understand how we actually use their tram network.

On paper the capacity is the same, so what’s happened?

Metrolink planners have made an assumption that passengers will always take the first tram and change where necessary.

Taking a look at my more usual trip into town, I’m normally heading to Market Street or Shudehill:

  • Under the old service pattern there was a direct double tram every 12 minutes.
  • Under the new service pattern there is a direct single tram every 12 minutes, or I can take the Deansgate tram, which runs in between the direct tram, and change at Deansgate.

I now have to make a decision, do I take whatever turns up first and proceed accordingly, or do I always wait for the direct?

I’m missing a vital piece of information if I take the Deansgate tram and change: How long will I need to wait at Deansgate for a Market Street/Shudehill tram?

What I don’t have is the planned sequence through Deansgate. I know that each “route” is planned to have a tram every 6 minutes, and it repeats on a 12 minute cycle. I just don’t know the order they are meant to come in, because Metrolink does not publish that information.

If the tram terminating at Deansgate is immediately followed by a cross-city Altrincham – Bury tram, then I’m fine. My end-to-end journey time remains basically the same, I have to change once, and don’t have to wait long.

But what if the sequence of trams means that I’m waiting, let’s say 4 minutes, for the Altrincham – Bury direct tram? Or worse still, my Didsbury – Deansgate tram arrives at Deansgate platform just in time to see the Altrincham – Bury tram pulling away?

I don’t gain anything and I may as well have taken the direct tram, and who’s to say I’ll be able to even get on to the next tram, that might be busy too?

They have not accounted for human nature: where a direct service exists we will prefer to take it.

Remember that I am a transport geek as well. I’ve studied this stuff, and have a degree from Aston Uni in Transport Management. The thought process above comes naturally to me. Heh… Maybe TfGM/Metrolink could hire me to tell them the blindingly obvious?

An average person won’t even bother going though the thought process above. They will just wait for the direct tram.

On outbound journeys in the evening commute, this situation is made even worse. People are less inclined to change on the way home, because the trams are already at their fullest in the City centre.

One simply daren’t take the first cross-city tram from Shudehill or Market Street and expect to change at Deansgate or Cornbrook because that will mean trying to board an already crowded tram.

This means evening commutes will likely be worse than morning commutes because people will almost certainly wait for the direct.

When the Didsbury line was first opened, there were waves of complaints because the use of the line outstripped Metrolink’s predictions, rapidly leading to the decision to run Didsbury trams as doubles, and this remained until this week.

It’s time to make sure TfGM and Metrolink hear our voices again.

We should at least have the through trams operating as double trams, so that cross-city capacity is restored to what it was before the St Peter’s Square works were completed.

This is how the Altrincham and Bury lines work – a 6 minute headway with alternate trams, the cross-city trams, as doubles.

If you experience an uncomfortably crowded journey on the East Didsbury line, or you have to let a tram depart without you onboard because it arrived already full, please tweet about it and use the #didsburydoubles hashtag.

Concilio et Labore – “it’s all about ME!”

…or, as I’m calling it, the “Manchester Experiment”.

Saying “It’s all about me” sounds terribly self-indulgent, doesn’t it? Maybe this is, but it’s something that I need to do:

I am going to try out living in Manchester for a couple of months.

2016 marks my 20th year of living in our hectic Capital.

For the first 3 years after arriving in London I was a young guy working at a small tech company, surrounded by lots of people of the same age. Many of us were recent graduates who had moved for the job and lived locally to our workplace. Some of us could be out almost every night. Very sociable. That changed as the company grew. We started to recruit people who lived further away, others moved on, some folks moved back home after a year or two. Some paired off with boyfriends and girlfriends and chose loved up nights in so this social group started to break up.

Then I changed job myself.

For the next 10 years I probably “lived in the world”, more than I lived in London.

I often found myself travelling internationally, both for work and pleasure. I had a frequent flyer “habit” that supported premium status in two different airline programmes. I wasn’t away so much I qualified for a tax exemption, but I had wondered on more than one occasion. I’d even dated people that weren’t in the same country (or at one point the same continent!) as me. My home in London really wasn’t much more than a bolt hole. A place to keep my stuff and sleep when I needed it, near the workplace that I sometimes went to.

Reading it back, it sounds like a lonely existence, but it wasn’t. I was in an almost continuous circuit of conferences and meetings, working with my colleagues, and leaping on planes to go and meet my international friends. The time that I did have at home was “me” time, a respite from the whirl of our conference circuit, and I really didn’t mind that.

The last 5 years have been different again, and during that time I feel that I’ve reconnected with the area I come from in so many ways.

I guess this started in 2010 when I became involved in volunteering with the East Lancashire Railway, and grew during a career-break that was extended by family illness.

My folks are still in the North West and they aren’t getting any younger. 5 years ago my father managed to survive cancer, but it brought me back “home” even more. I already regret that I haven’t seen as much of them as I’d like in the preceding years, so it’s time to make amends. Being around 5 hours drive away just isn’t working for me any more. I’d like to be able to drop in for a brew and a chat, not have to thrash my way through the misery Friday night London traffic and stay for the whole weekend to make it worthwhile.

Many of my closest friends are in the North, I’d say there are more there now than in the South East. Some of them moved there from the South over the years, Northerners that returned home themselves or Southerners that have been willingly “converted”, some are old friends from my early life, while others are new friends I’ve made along the way.

Because so many people I know down in the South East don’t even live in London, but in the circle of “Zone 6-plus” towns that people race home to at the end of their workday, I’ve grown tired of almost everything I do having to be seriously pre-meditated, orchestrated, arranged well in advance. Doesn’t lend itself to anything spontaneous like grabbing lunch together or meeting up for a quick coffee or cheeky pint when you’ve got an hour’s journey each way. For an extrovert like me, it’s a tough way to do things.

A couple of months ago I was talking about these feelings to a friend who lives in the North West. He asked me “Where is it that you feel alive?” “Here, in the North”, I answered, “In London, all I seem to do is exist.”

Another friend told me, “Your soul is already here. It’s time that the rest of you followed.”

I’ve been thinking off and on about this for a while. For more than the past 5 years if I’m honest. When I took my career break and no longer had a full time position in London, a lot of people asked when I was moving back North. They assumed it would happen. They probably know me better than I knew myself at the time.

For a while, things have conspired to stop me going ahead with it. Now they can’t. Now it is time, my turn to come “home”. Back where I feel I belong.

So, from mid May until mid July I’ve got myself a place to call home in the North.

I’ve decided to base myself in Didsbury. A great neighbourhood, close to transport links and lots of other good stuff. A quick hop onto the motorway to go and see my folks – close enough to visit easily, not so close I fall into the trap of being there all the time – a healthy distance! Easy day trips to friends on both sides of the Pennines that I simply don’t get to see enough of right now. A quick drive to my hobby of rail preservation over in Bury. I can even take my work with me too. Manchester has a great tech community which I’m looking forward to participating in.

As for what happens next, once the “Manchester Experiment” is over? Well, I’ll take things one step at a time. Walk before I try running. Come back and ask me in the first week of July.

The Manchester coat of arms contains the motto “Concilio et Labore” – this loosely means “By wisdom and effort”. It remains to be seen how much wisdom has been involved. I feel like I’m making the right choice, but only time will tell. One thing I can assure you of is that it’s certainly taken a lot of effort to get this far, and there’s likely more to come. This is just the first step.

In the back of my mind I hear “Wherever you go, there you are”: that even if you change your surroundings, you’re still the same person inside. But actually I liken it more to being a fish out of water. Twenty years ago, I almost literally washed up in London. Didn’t think I’d stay here this long. Now I’m getting back in the water – no jokes about the great Manchester weather – and I’m really looking forward to it.

Hopefully this is a wise move and it is worth the effort. Hopefully I’m not just being foolhardy and brave.