IT'S over four years since Andy Burnham announced Bolton, Stockport and Wigan were next in line to be connected to the Metrolink network.

The Greater Manchester mayor said back in 2019 that he hoped to see the three boroughs with trams by 2022.

“It is a bugbear for people who live in boroughs that don’t have the tram network,” Mr Burnham said back in January 2019 . “I would like it to go to Bolton, to Wigan, to Stockport and build out this system and I would like to agree a plan to take more control of the suburban rail system.”

Although Bolton, Wigan and Stockport all have train stations and bus services that can take their residents towards Manchester city centre, transport bosses want to provide a more diverse and comprehensive range of options for commuters – and futureproof sustainable travel within and between boroughs as the population grows.

READ > Dozens complain of delayed buses under new Bee Network

Leigh Journal: Proposed transport map for 2026 as pictured in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26.Proposed transport map for 2026 as pictured in the Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26. (Image: LDRS)
Arguably one of the least connected boroughs in Greater Manchester when it comes to getting into the city centre, interconnectivity between Wigan’s towns itself is an issue, as previously stated by Coun John O’Brien.

A tram service that went through the area could help bring better interconnectivity as well as provide another transport option towards the city centre. With fewer train stations in its towns than the other boroughs touted from a tram extension, driving is currently the only reliable option for many.

Leigh is famously known as one of the largest towns in the North West without a train station, after the rail line was axed back in 1969. The Leigh Guided Busway was launched in 2016 to improve things – with buses boasting a service that can get people between the town and Manchester in under 40 minutes.

Hopes of an improved service on the Guided Busway could be answered as the Bee Network was launched on September 24. This is hoped to bring a London-style transport system to GM starting with Bolton and Wigan, as well as parts of Manchester, Salford and Bury.

Leigh Journal: Labour councillors and former MPs with the new Bee Network bus in LeighLabour councillors and former MPs with the new Bee Network bus in Leigh (Image: Bee Network)
Under current Metrolink plans, a tram to Wigan would go through the south-west of Bolton via Atherton. This is likely to be the furthest away from becoming reality as TfGM say the project would rely on a new tram-train system that is yet to be piloted and no feasibility study is in place.

This is not good enough for one local politician though, as a full council meeting on April 12 heard how Leigh had “limitations” when it came to transport – with those getting to Manchester from the town having to choose between the Leigh Guided Busway or travelling by car. Coun Dane Anderton said he wants to see that diversified.

He said back in Spring: “Now is the right time to address this. This is the moment we are seeking to bring Metrolink to this borough.

“This is happening, it’s gone to Trafford, it’s gone to Trafford Park, it’s gone to Manchester Airport, it’s supposed to be going to Stockport. It’s going north, it’s going south, it’s going east, but it isn’t going west – why?

“We want to get this as a priority.”

While all the mooted tram extensions approach, or sit at the feasibility study phase – working out if the service is actually viable -the key issue is money. It’s needed to fund not just the studies themselves, but the extension work, and tests on a new type of tram-train service.

Approached by the LDRS, the Department for Transport confirmed details of the funding settlement it had provided Greater Manchester with, but did not provide deadlines for when key decisions would be made, or further comment.

While TfGM awaits government decisions, as well as pilot schemes for new technology, they insist they are ‘making progress’.

Leigh Journal: The Bee Network is aimed to provide a more affordable and integrated transport networkThe Bee Network is aimed to provide a more affordable and integrated transport network (Image: Michael McNiven)

A TfGM spokesperson said: “Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)’s five-year Transport Delivery Plan 2021-26 sets out Greater Manchester’s ambitious plans to transform its public transport networks, including metro and tram-train services. Map 3 sets out schemes that we will develop options for, subject to funding being secured.

“This includes developing options for extensions to Bolton, Stockport and Wigan.

“Our allocation from the government’s City Regional Sustainable Transport Scheme includes funding for scheme development as set out in our delivery plan, and feasibility studies for potential new extensions are making progress.”

A spokesperson for TfGM said: “All of GM will benefit from the creation of the Bee Network in the short and medium term, with buses coming under local control between now and 2025, a contactless payment trial on the rail network in 2025, and local trains joining the Bee Network from 2030.

“Developing new line extensions is a longer-term activity, taking many years from the development of business cases and obtaining statutory powers through to construction. All of this remains subject to funding.”