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EXCLUSIVE: New city centre tram system

Jonathan Schofield looks at a revolutionary idea for Manchester city centre from Steve Davies of MOSI

Written by . Published on April 22nd 2009.

EXCLUSIVE: New city centre tram system

Steve Davies, the director of the MOSI, has a plan. It’s a plan that would transform the city centre. It would also boost Manchester’s tourist status in a charming, distinctive and huge way. Every school kid in the region would have to have a go as would every conference delegate and every visiting football fan.

The plan is either astonishingly visionary or quite crazy. And Steve Davies knows it.

The MOSI director wants to bring back the trams.

Not another version of nippy, modern (‘this service is currently experiencing delays of up to twelve minutes’) trams, but old ones, as in these pictures.

But why?

“We need to break out of here,” says Davies, “and play a broader city role. We had 750,000 visitors last year and we want them to spend time not only in the museum but in the wider Castlefield area, we need to make the whole area a major city centre visitor attraction in its own right. I really don’t want MOSI to be seen as something which operates within the battlements of its outer walls but a place that also communicates with this remarkable two thousand year old area. So I asked myself a question: 'how does one link Castlefield with the city centre?' ”

Davies continues: “The answer to that is not bricks and mortar or signage but a transport link. I understand that people may think this is the most barking mad idea ever thought of but what I want to do is establish a 1920s vintage tram system which would operate from the lower car park at MOSI travelling all the way up Liverpool Road, via Windmill Street and Manchester Central to the Central Library or St Peter’s Square. This would mean the heritage experience of Castlefield would begin in the city centre. We would recycle trams from Blackpool, in the Manchester livery, and we would have a tourist attraction in its own right which would bring in large numbers of visitors and be used by residents too.

“The first step is to create awareness of an idea. We’ve produced a visualisation of what the system might look like and we have that possible route – it may eventually go a different way, perhaps through Spinningfields and help animate that space. Remember the system would be an experience in its own right, it doesn’t have to go quickly from A to B, the journey itself is part of the excitement that would attract investment all along its route.”

But this would be astronomically expensive wouldn’t it?

“Stage one is to get a critical mass of awareness,” says Davies. “Stage two is to produce a feasibility study to look at the real practicalities - there are professional tramway people we would engage with - and look at the price tag.”

So does Steve Davies really see that his tram plan may happen?

“Look, I’m here at the museum for the long term. I want to get more people to the museum. The plan is to have a visitor attraction in its own right that brings visitors to the city in large numbers. I want to get them from the city centre and down to Castlefield. Whatever it costs it will be serious value for money.”

Davies articulates this with passion and conviction. He's convinced of its value. The idea would certainly be a massive tourist boost for the city. Inevitably people will use the argument that we don’t want to turn Manchester into a tourist theme park, a north western Beamish (the re-created tourist town in County Durham). It's an argument that readers have used on these pages before, but a moment's consideration makes a nonsense of such worries.

This writer has been a tourist guide in the city for many years and what we lack desperately is obvious tourism, we need to give the impression to tourists, conference delegates and people visiting friends and family, that we are really geared up for tourism. We need to make it obvious, slap them in the face with it, make them spend.

We might wish to compare ourselves with Liverpool in this, in the way their museums (in part due to their administration) work together, how they have coordinated the Beatles tourism, how they have the Dukw vehicle trundling through the streets and into the docks and so forth. At present all we have is an occasional and truly crap tourist bus with recorded commentary

Starting from simple information signs and history boards, via statues of, say, The Smiths to major projects such as Davies' tramway, we need to up the game. If that means bringing in some cheesy or obvious tourism then so be it. Back to The Smiths statue for instance, thousands of Morrissey and Smiths' fans come to Manchester every year and would love a city centre focus where they could have their photo taken. At present, despite making big strides forward with good work from agencies such as Visit and Marketing Manchester, we are simply not making the most of Manchester’s remarkable story.

Being visionary has always been part of the city’s psyche. Take the Manchester Plan of 1945 after war damage: it was part crazy in that it wanted to demolish the Town Hall, but it also had seriously good ideas, many of which have come to fruition over the years - such as a purpose built concert hall and the greening of city squares and making the city easier to travel through for pedestrians.

Steve Davies’s ideas for a vintage tramway are welcome, their realisation would be remarkable. Think of all the money spent on canals, many of which travel down the back sides of redundant mills and through brick fields: few people use them relative to the cost of restoration. Of course waterways are lovely and of course it's grand that they’ve been restored, but a city centre vintage tram way system would surely have more visitors in a month than Rochdale Canal gets in a year.

The Castlefield debate at the Town Hall last night (Tuesday 22 April) with Sir Howard Bernstein in attendance will be reported on this Friday.

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59 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

paul johnsonApril 22nd 2009.

another thing that Labour will put in their manifesto and then rescind on in the unlikely event they won again.remember their metrolink promise in 97 and how it was shelved for crossrail in London

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Hmmmm, thought it was 'original modern' not 'retro toytown'. Buses fine, trams no.

Ali McGowanApril 22nd 2009.

Burt - I saw some very cool mini-playgrounds in Spain (Barcelona and Seville). I absolutely did not go on either when slightly drunk as that would have been childish and a total breach of health and safety. My mate certainly didn't, as he was drunk and scared of the wooden ducks.

Bill CobbettApril 22nd 2009.

Lisbon still has its old trams (small single deckers to cope with the hills and narrow streets) and they are part of an impressive integrated transport system.Bring back the trams, re-regulate the buses. Ban the car!!

curly sophApril 22nd 2009.

a great idea. My mates are put off comign over to ours from northern quarter as they all consider it out in the sticks and can't face the trek back into the centre at the end of the night.Yes, they are lazy but I can see their point.

Ali McGowanApril 22nd 2009.

Oh - one other thing... makes me feel a bit sad every time contractors dig up the roads and you can still see the original tram tracks burried under the Tarmac. What a waste!!!!! Now then, if someone would just scrape off the Tarmac so we could reveal the beautiful cobbles... ;) Nostalgic, yes. Beautiful, yes. Likely, errrrmmmmmm...

Bay BridgeApril 22nd 2009.

As a one time local resident currently living in San Francisco, I can certainly say that Manchester would benefit from greater investment of this sort in its efforts to attract more tourism. The proposed tram idea would be nice, if only you can add to it: Coit Tower, The Ferry Building, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, not to mention a couple of bridges and a park, then that would be really nice.

MaggieApril 22nd 2009.

I love this man!! My partner and I are Mancunians born and bred (Beswick & Ancoats) and we LOVE our city and are immensely proud of it. Anything we can do to support fantastic ideas like this - just count us in!!

burt CodeineApril 22nd 2009.

Is it time for a new set of 'city fathers'? Seriously? So much has been promised of late but less delivered (the recession, of course, doesn't help). I think another huge push over the next few years will get us that little higher. Aye, San Francisco's trams (the BART system/MUNI in general is also superb) serve little more purpose than for tourism but a purpose they do serve.Does many of you on here have young kids? I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find anything for them to do on a weekend (I like to 'bob' into town every weekend if I can)? We use to have a quick mooch around Daisy & Tom (not that I could afford to buy much in that place, but at least they have some kind of non urine smelling play dens with a decent cafe to boot) but aside from the museums (which we've done countless times) there ain't much more to do...consume in the chains is about the only option. Some smallish, decent parks with playgrounds (done well as in much of the large cities in Europe) would help...or are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Good on Steve for having some weight behind his ideas.

PeterApril 22nd 2009.

NB burt Codeine & others - San Fran not only has the hill trams you see in the pics, but fab 1920-40's'Streetcar named Desire' type trams going round the edge of the city that are heavily used by locals - and us when we were there last year. Roll on trams in Mcr! BTW - does Heaton Park still have it's trams? - and could historic trams also be loaned from the National Tramway Museum just 50 miles away in Crich, Derbyshire?

M30April 22nd 2009.

Mint! If Blackpool can do it, I'm darned sure we can.

Scouse tommyApril 22nd 2009.

EDITORIALLY REMOVED - hey fella we like our readers to show a little more wit than this rant displays.

BenApril 22nd 2009.

I've lived in Manchester for almost 5 years and even in that short space of time, I've seen so much change - predominantly for the better. The one issue I've always had is what an eye sore those trams are - especially when other cities have managed to do a tram system so much better. I think something like bringing back the old ones would be a fantastic idea and really bring in a reminding element of history to the city - especially when everything has been geared to cutting edge, futuristic buildings over the past few years.

foolish apeApril 22nd 2009.

Yeah! Let's strip down the streets to the cobbles... massively increasing stopping distances (esp in the wet), increasing noise, increasing fuel consumption (and thus pollution), not to mention catching ladies' heels... Hell, they'd only require massive, expensive maintenance... but it'd look nice eh?

LeeApril 22nd 2009.

Yes whgy on earth do the council always re tarmac side streets instead of exposing the cobbles! this is a nateral speed reducer and gives charm to the interesting streets and alleys

LukeApril 22nd 2009.

Cool idea but why not do what Manchester has often done best - look forward - and make the trams very eco-friendly i.e convert to run on hydrogen fuel cells or solar-panels on the roof?.... just a thought.also, agree that probably needs to be longer... and possibly a circular route

LeeApril 22nd 2009.

What a fantastic idea! and what a refreshingly simple concept too! I mean it was the liveblood of Manchester during the 1900's and 1920's, everyone used the trams because they were cheep, accessable and frequent. Sod those bloody modern new trams, they look horrid and have no charm whatsoever. We need something that will bring people into the city and harmonise with our fantastic Victorian architecture, and also make the city vibrent again, if they can do it in San Fransisco! I hope this goes all the way and i hope MCC see's a good idea when it smacks them in the face.

LyndaApril 22nd 2009.

Do it! San Francisco has an amazing transport system, cheap too at $1 a ride on their MUNI bus system, or a pass that save you loads of dollars. Not only are their trams a massive tourist pull, they actually work as an effective transport system, despite their age and limited routes. Now, if we can only redesign Manchester on a grid system.....

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Hmmmm, thought it was 'original modern' not 'retro toytown'. Buses fine, trams no.

Greater MancunianApril 22nd 2009.

Simply inspired! We need more like him....

Felicity HarrisApril 22nd 2009.

Sounds great and I remember them from my childhood in Glasgow but they would not be accessible for disabled people, including lots of older adults who can't use steps. This means it would breach the current legislation.

MissMApril 22nd 2009.

Fabulous idea! Something I've thought of myself before - why did we stop using them in the first place! As much as I'd love to see more tourist attractions in Manchester to take visitors too - tourists can annoy the hell out of you too! Just ask Londoners!! I kinda like it that we have our own little secret up here :o)

JackApril 22nd 2009.

I like it .. why not trail the idea by providing regular scheduled vintage buses along this route from the Manchester Transport Museum - saves digging up the roads and laying tracks.

BCApril 22nd 2009.

Great idea!!! Have we got any money though....?Stuff it, lets put it on the credit card like Darling does... DO IT DO IT DO IT!!!

JedsterApril 22nd 2009.

Although I strongly agree that we should do more to highlight Manchester's rich cultural history and heritage and that it would be great to see the old trams back, I feel that the suggested route is just too short (a 5-10 minutes' walk at best?) and that they should serve a more purposeful and practical need for the city and its people, rather than just that of a museum's.

burt CodeineApril 22nd 2009.

good point re cobbles...it's almost as if we're embarrassed by the image of them, not unlike we were with Victorian buildings not too long ago. Hire a flash PR firm to sprite up their image, get em back in vogue, h and we're good to go.

bApril 22nd 2009.

I think this is a great idea. Is it me or does manchester need a bit of relivening up rather than just sticking a few new chain bar and restaurants about. I for one would encourage this my only fear is that like a lot of ideas in this city the population will not follow it because they are scared of change and ultimately if it does get the go ahead it will get ruined by the disrespectful types about!...

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

I think this is a great idea and really hope that it is becomes a reality if it can be funded. I think Castlefield does need more links with the city centre and this is a fantasic way to do it.

vampsintheApril 22nd 2009.

Last year I moved to Stockholm and I've been totally amazed by how modern the place is AND by how they cherish what history they have. Excluding the really dark months, they have a great 30s-40s tram system complete with besuited ticket collectors to go from the centrum to the museum district. They look great and are a huge hit with tourists and visitors... Do it!

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Bring back a Zoo in Bellvue! People want to look at more interestng things, than boring old motors and another thing...the museum is in a constant state of repairs!!

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Let's get the MOSI 'Revolution' project back on [non tram] track first...surely enough work to be getting on with?

PhillApril 22nd 2009.

It's a fantastic idea. The city council would be stupid and very short sighted if they didn't take up the plan. The only negative is that the route isn't long enough. It should run right across the city, through the Northern Quarter and into the New Izlington marina development. You'd be a fool to think this wouldn't enliven and rejuvenate the city. It would help bring in lots more tourism. Manchester in recent years has undergone radical redevelopment. Many people outside of Manchester just don't realise how the city has changed. This plan would help showcase Manchester as the vibrant, cosmopolitan city it is.

crazyjohnApril 22nd 2009.

If we can sound out the right signals and do so in the right carriage of time this sounds like a good idea but I hope this plan doesn't hit the buffers and derail.

espionagemanchester.comApril 22nd 2009.

This is inspired. Give the man a cigar. You could have school trips starting at the library, and taking the tram down to the museum (i'm sure someone must have thought of this one already). Plus, you could replace the metrolink tram on the opening credits of Corrie with one of these, just to plug it. (i'm sure nobody has thought of this idea, as it's not very good).They should get that old disused underground canal open too while they're at it!

make more of ManchesterApril 22nd 2009.

Good point about Liverpool. Manchester has a far more interesting story to tell than Liverpool does, but they don't half harp on about The beatles and the Shankley era. Bloody hell, we had the Busby era and very soon we'll have the Fergie era to look back on, and music wise there are famous bands and artists galore from almost every decade, not just one 60's band. 'Beatles mania' is sure to take a dip over the coming decades as there become less and less people of that generation who go to Liverpool for nostalgic reasons. There's a steady supply of 30-40 somethings from far and wide who will be interested in the Smiths and Stone Roses etc for years to come, then many more 20-30 somethings who'll be lifelong love Oasis and Take That etc. Who knows, in 30 years time we might be adding a statue of George Sampson on route doing his 'Singing in the rain' dance on Britains got Talent! (ok that's probably less likely).I'm not sure a mega expensive tram route is the ideal thing, but true the city centre should be one gigantic mosaic of our cultural history - and I agree it should guide you towards Castlefield

EditorialApril 22nd 2009.

Castlefield, Avo, sorry was editing then, and cut you out. Please repost. Apologies.

tramendousApril 22nd 2009.

tram me up

DamianApril 22nd 2009.

If you hadn't noticed but the power cables are single decker height on the existing lines but I like the idea of the 'rocket' with lights ask Blackpool Golden Mile trams!!!

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

the 1945 plan was to demolish the whole city centre and rebuild in concrete which they nearly pulled off with the disastrous Arndale etc...

esquiloApril 22nd 2009.

Surely this could be achieved much more cheaply, and quickly by replacing the metroshuttles and the dire citytour buses with vintage buses - and sticking on another couple of routes - isn't there a bus museum on Queens Rd that could help out?

SausagesApril 22nd 2009.

If only there were more people in the world like this man. Fresh ideas, passionately expressed. If you want a signature on a petition or even a small cheque, I'm here.

Cllr Mike AmesburyApril 22nd 2009.

Steve has spoke with me and other colleagues at the city council with regards to this idea. His lobbying and his determination to take this concept further impress me. Any project that adds to our cultural economy is welcome by me.

John McrApril 22nd 2009.

You can walk across the whole of this city in around 20/25 minutes, how about not being so lazy and walk around instead of wanting to rely on more public transport. Castlefield needs more than a vintage tram, so when tourists arrive what do we show them? the tramps sleeping under the train arches or maybe the boarded up Barca bar? Also have you seen the traffic on Liverpool road? Im sure everyone would love to be stuck behind a vintage tram on their way back from work.

Ali McGowanApril 22nd 2009.

Iris - what a great idea regarding statues!!! You could have a tree-lined/landscaped boulevard-type approach, with statues of great Manchester icons right through the ages, tastefully done (and well lit at night) with interesting information about each person... or you could position the statues all around the city, placing the statue (a nice big one) in the area most connected with the city. That was you could create an Icon Trail all around the city for visitors to follow. I really should get back to work...

burt CodeineApril 22nd 2009.

Oh...should add that with tourism what the city does well is it's festivals (especially during the summer) - the upcoming Spanish festivals in Albert Square should be tip top...more of these please (these imported ones are arguably done with much more thought than the likes of the Chinese New Year and Irish festivals unfortunately).

CastlefieldApril 22nd 2009.

ManCon, something for you to get onto, I'd love it if you did! In the Sunday Times there was an ad for the head of GMPTE, the wage was 200k PLUS final salary pension, they also want a paltry second in command who will be paid just 150k. How can this be justified? We're not Paris, nor London, our public transport system is not THAT big. I find it hard to understand why they need to pay this wage to attract good people, especially in these times. Can you get them to justify it? See what they have to say? Please.

Forever ManchesterApril 22nd 2009.

Brilliant idea from Steve Davies. However....the 'City Fathers' have absolutely no real understanding of this great city's heritage, culture or people - what happened to the original modern concept? I haven't seen one idea that embraces that

KnowledgeableApril 22nd 2009.

This is not really a scouser!

Ali McGowanApril 22nd 2009.

New eco transport? Bit boring, sorry. It's so bloody cool to be green. This council can't even recycle yet. Anyway, we've got some bloody heritage up here - let's make use of it!!!! Anyway, these old trams would presumably be electric... so as long as the energy is sourced from a renewable supplier, they'd still be green, just not as efficient as a "Modern Hybrid Lightweight Composite Sleekly Angularly Boring Dull Modern Transportation System". Oh and as for clogging the roads, bloody hell, it's not like we're swamping the roads with 100 trams - we're talking a small number in total... and John Mcr - if we had a heritage tram, perhaps visitors wouldn't see the tramps of which you speak... cos the tourists would be on the tram n not on foot!! Think bigger picture, people. We live in a bloody great city - we just need to make it even better! 'Yes' to charming tram idea, 'no' to more buses.

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Great idea we need to look at outside the box thinking. However being realistic its probably too costly for such a short route both in capital terms and on-going revenue; without even considering the disruption to the roads during construction etc. It would also take several years to lobby; raise funds; obtain consents and construct. However, we definately need to connect Castlefield to the rest of Manchester & bring in more tourists so buses would be the easiest option. But rather than vintage buses which aren't very eco friendly why not look at providing an Electric; solar panelled or other greener energy tourist bus. Therefore using advanced technology to bring in tourists to view historic forms of transport and energy provision?

Kev PApril 22nd 2009.

I LOVE this idea! I think it'd cost a fortune and it's unlikely to ever happen, but I'd happily support a campaign to give it a go!

championApril 22nd 2009.

great idea - but aren't the gauges different widths? suggest they contact the excellent tram museum at Crich for advice

stevenApril 22nd 2009.

great idear as the place around the museums are the theam of trams may be a place to put more thing in castlefield and the water ways .bemish nr angal of the north(jordy land ) i had a fab time theare i tork lots of pics

Bill CobbettApril 22nd 2009.

Fantastic idea!But it does need integrating with a proper intergrated low carbon transport policy for the city and beyond. Let's not get distracted, this is the absolute priority.see http://greendealmanchester.wordpress.com/and http://www.calltorealaction.wordpress.com/

AnonymousApril 22nd 2009.

Sounds great! but will they be safe?

Broke BritainApril 22nd 2009.

Very nice idea but I don't think people have yet woken up to the fact that there is going to be no money to do anything like this for decades to come. The country is broke and we are going to see a very different Manchester in future. More like it was in the 1970's and 1980's. A major shock for the younger generation who have only known good times.

JimHApril 22nd 2009.

A tourist tram for manchester would be the best thing from sliced bread and would not be as expensive a Metrolink. The major cost is moving the utilities, gas, water etc., who benefit from renewals at public purse, at it is a tourist tram, it will be seasonal and excepting emergency repairs so the repairs etc could be done off season. There is no legislation thats forces the tramway company to pay for the utilities ugrade if the tramway is prepared to stop running and give access. The Highways Act with the costs of overuns being charged to the digger up of the road, the trams won't be stopped for long. This will bring down the cost per track Kilometre from approx £19 million to around £3 million per track kilometre. If it was built to standard gauge, there are sufficient restore trams around in the UK & Europe to supply vehicles with possible advertising sponsership. It the would be possible to have Transport Extravaganzas with visiting trams along the lines that happens in the preserved steam engine world. The footprint of the roof of the MOSI fitted with photo voltaic cells (grants are available from Brussels, several European tramways use this method of local power generation). The tourist tram could with a bit of thought, be complementary to the existing tram scheme. The tourist F line in San Fransisco is so successful that the have become a second transport icon after the cable cars

Ali McGowanApril 22nd 2009.

This is a truly fantastic idea. I've lived in Manchester 12 years and live in Castlefield at the moment. A tram system would add a whole new element of interest to this sector of the city - bring it on! Melbourne goes one further - I was there in Jan and saw how they have a heritage loop tram, which runs free until about 6pm around a large chunk of the central business district. There's no reason we couldn't emulate this... and we could make it free too, just as we have the free Metroshuttle buses. You can argue over who'll fund it :) (and one note to Jonathan... a colleague of mine, who has never visited Manchester, asked me just yesterday 'So, Ali, what is there to do in the city? I am visiting and want to do all the big things...' - you are right about the lack of really obvious tourist stuff. There is an absolute shed load to do, but little of it is very obvious...)

IrisApril 22nd 2009.

I think the trams we have now are a load of rubbish, the vintage ones are a good idea and Manchester does need to up the game and get more tourist type attractions, we should have monuments for our fqamous past to sell Manchester to the world, it would bring in jobs, as long as the council does it properly not like that disaster with the TV screen in Piccadilly at the Rangers match!

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