Underground tunnels being considered as part of plan to improve Greater Manchester transport

Peter H / Pixabay

Underground tunnels are being considered as part of a new plan to improve transport across Greater Manchester, the council has revealed.

A comprehensive report compiled in 2017 by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) concluded that by 2040, the city would require “significant additional cross-city capacity” – and one potential solution raised was the construction of new rail tunnels beneath the city centre.

TfGM said that an underground network would “deliver the excellent connectivity and faster journey times we need into and across the Regional Centre, without taking up valuable land or creating further severance by building new lines at street level.”

Three years later, tunnels remain on the table.

Since 2017, Manchester city centre has gotten increasingly busier and more populous – attracting hundreds of thousands of commuters on a daily basis.

A fresh report – the Draft City Centre Transport Strategy 2020 – reveals that the council are all set to give the prospect of underground travel serious consideration in the coming months, whilst acquiring feedback from the wider public.

“We will look at the feasibility of further capacity expansions of the network through a Metro tunnel
under the city centre,” the council states.

“This solution would avoid taking scarce street level space to expand the network and to facilitate longer vehicles.

“We will also enhance connectivity between Metrolink and rail at key city centre stations, including Deansgate.”

Those in favour of an underground network might argue that the project is in fact forty years late.

Manchester was planning a subterranean network as long ago as the seventies, with aims to assemble an ambitious Picc-Vic tunnel that linked the city from top to bottom.

Almost a decade’s worth of planning went into the exciting travel system. Only for the government to abruptly turn off the money tap.

When finances were stopped, everyone involved in the Picc-Vic tunnel simply had to walk away – leaving a gaping hole in the city where construction had already started.

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The first attempt might have ended in disappointment, but the council and TfGM appear to be contemplating modern Manchester tunnels with earnestness.

They’ve included underground travel as part of a prospective long-term strategy for the city. According to the report, this will initially involve creating more Metrolink connections between Salford and the city centre, before making a series of enhancements that prepare the network to dip below street level circa 2035-2040.

More immediate solutions presented in the plan include a completely pedestrianised Deansgate; a facelift for the permanently-busy Great Ancoats Street; an upgrade to Salford Central Railway Station; redevelopment of Albert Square and Piccadilly Gardens; and important improvements to Mancunian Way.

The council is also aiming to install new cycle routes for Northern Quarter and Chapel Street East, as well as Ancoats & New Islington.

David Dixon / Geograph

Despite the setbacks suffered from the onset of coronavirus, which has hit Greater Manchester particularly hard since the summer, the council remain committed to “recovery” and significant investment, whilst aiming to become entirely zero-carbon by 2038.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our plans focus on how the city centre can lead a strong, sustainable, healthy and inclusive recovery, taking the achievements made since 2010 to the next level,” the report states.

“By 2040, there is potential for 100,000 more jobs and 50,000 more homes in the city centre. Much of this is driven by planned growth accounted for in Greater Manchester’s plan for Homes, Jobs and the Environment, the Spatial Framework.

“This includes providing the right locations for homes and creating jobs to ensure the future prosperity of the city-region, whilst prioritising development of brownfield sites and reducing unnecessary green belt release. Planning for the future city centre requires us to balance sometimes competing demands, as growth puts additional pressure on transport systems and streets.”

The report has been made available for public access and can be downloaded from the Manchester City Council website.

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