Government steps in to help keep Metrolink services running

The Government has agreed to provide vital funding for Manchester’s Metrolink system.

The move follows warnings from Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham last week that the service would have to be “mothballed” due to the scale of losses it was suffering due to low passenger numbers.

Now, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said it was working with networks in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear “to identify what support is needed”.

A DfT spokesman could not outlined how much could be made available, saying funding was still being calculated, but said the assistance would “enable key routes to remain open for people travelling to hospitals, supermarkets or those who cannot work from home, such as NHS staff”.

He added that as light rail was a devolved issue in London, Transport for London would need to “consider any measures to support the sector”, while Blackpool’s tram network, which was taken out of service at the end of March, “does not support key workers”.

Last Tuesday, in a joint online press conference with his Liverpool counterpart Steve Rotheram, Mr Burnham warned that unless the Government stepped forward with aid the Metrolink system would grind to a halt.

He said monthly revenues of around £6m are now well below £1m, due to the dramatic fall in passenger numbers because of the social distancing measures introduced to suppress the spread of the virus.

He added: “We are losing millions of pounds every month trying to run public transport in these circumstances and if there’s no deal with government we would face a decision to mothball the Metrolink system.

“On the Metrolink we get £6m a month, now we’re down to well below £1m.

“We can’t lose £5m a month. The Government needs to help us. We’re talking about a deal in days, not weeks.”

Following the DfT announcement over the weekend, he said he was “pleased this has been recognised by the government and welcome their commitment to… light rail networks around the country”.

He added: “However, we urgently need the detail of this funding, as well as the funding itself, so we can ensure these vital services can continue to run during the lockdown period.”

And he said he was already “looking closely at what services will look like once lockdown is lifted,” adding: “The road to recovery is going to be a very long one, and we are already stressing to government the financial help that will be needed throughout 2020 and beyond.”