The £165 million Second City Crossing, due to open next year, will allow more frequent, reliable and flexible services to run on the busy tram network, which now hosts more than 35 million journeys a year.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) opened the first phase of the route, from Victoria Station through to a new stop at Exchange Square, in December 2015, fast-tracked thanks to a grant from the European Regional Development Fund.
All major civil engineering works – including installing overhead lines to power the trams along the route – are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
It means the city will be free of Metrolink construction work in time for the busy festive period, when Manchester City Council’s Christmas markets attract millions of visitors to the city.
Despite the city’s Victorian infrastructure throwing up several unforeseen and major construction challenges – including a collapsed Victorian sewer, and double the number of anticipated exhumations following the discovery of a former church graveyard on Cross Street – the Second City Crossing is expected to open in early 2017.
Due to the potential delays, TfGM had been expecting completion in summer 2017. However contractor M-Pact Thales (MPT) worked closely with utility companies and TfGM to ensure the line is on track to be finished earlier in the year, through collaborative management and mitigation of the construction work.
A thorough testing and commissioning programme will resume in early 2017 before the first passenger services can launch.
Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGM Committee, said: “It’s great to see these final sections of rail laid, one of the final jigsaw pieces in the puzzle.
“With some infrastructure still dating back to the Victorians, building through a busy city has not been an easy task. The scale of the venture has been impressive and, while there has been inevitable disruption, we’re close to the finish line and to customers, residents and businesses reaping the benefits.
“Since the Second City Crossing programme began we’ve seen a huge increase in Metrolink use across the network, from 27 to 35 million passenger journeys a year. The need for a new line through the city has never been more pressing.
“To make room for more customers we’ve also opened a new tram stop in Exchange Square and competed major rebuilds of a further four city centre tram stops.
“This major overhaul will mean we can continue supporting the demand to travel from workers, residents and visitors to our ever-growing city – connecting people with jobs, days out, family and friends.”
MPT has been at the heart of the huge expansion to Manchester’s Metrolink network since the project began in 2008. Peter Jones, MPT Project Director, said: “Over the past eight years of partnership with TfGM, we’ve built 58 new tram stops and more than 60km of new track.
“Reaching this milestone is a measure of our teams’ tenacity and we will work together to ensure the opening is achieved early next year.”
The Second City Crossing is part of the transformational Grow project, which is seeing more than £1 billion invested into Manchester city centre infrastructure improvements by 2017, including bus priority measures, six new and improved cycleways and major rail improvements.