IT’S BEEN a long time coming – but it’s finally here.
Today sees the official launch to the public of the new Metrolink 3A line from Oldham Mumps to Manchester Victoria.
Its arrival has – as we all know – suffered from delays.
It’s also a fact that construction work on this, the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken in our Borough, has caused unavoidable delays and inconvenience for many motorists, residents and traders alike.
We are continuing to work hard to mitigate those problems as best we possibly can, but I also do firmly believe that the overall prize at stake here is worth it.
I see today’s opening as being just the first major step on a very important journey towards transforming Oldham town centre.
I had the privilege of going on a ‘preview’ run of the tram on Monday alongside local and regional media, and the shared feeling from all present was that what we experienced was very impressive.
This new service – running every 12 minutes from the off, and with a pledge to increase to every six minutes as demand increases – offers a slick journey in a modern and comfortable environment.
The stations along the new seven-mile line have all been completely revamped and fantastic new ones added at Freehold, South Chadderton, Central Park and Monsall.
Having used the old rail line in the past, it was also striking how quiet the new tram system actually is: no more of those ear-piercing screeching sounds you used to experience as carriages pulled in and out of stations.
The 3A line is excellent facility. I think it will be well received by those who use it, but it is far from the end game here.
What we are really focussed on now is the delivery of 3B – Oldham’s town centre extension – which is due in 2014.
So many of the regeneration plans which we are currently working hard on are predicated on that town centre extension being delivered, and making the maximum benefit from having trams in future running from Mumps, down Union Street and on to new stops at Oldham Central, Oldham King Street and Westwood.
That line will be the real catalyst for several of the regeneration schemes we have outlined in recent months – such as our plans to turn the Old Town Hall into a cinema and restaurant venue, for example, and Hotel Future, the country’s first National Hospitality Training Academy, adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
These schemes are all about transforming Oldham town centre and getting people to see it differently.
Our vision is to deliver facilities that will not only serve our own residents better, but also attract new visitors by making it a family-friendly destination where people can spend their ‘leisure pound’, as well as doing their shopping.
The 3A line is a vital starting point in all this and, crucially, now links Oldham not just back up to Manchester Victoria, but also into a growing regional Metrolink network.
When all the network extensions are finished it will in future mean that you can travel from Oldham Mumps to Manchester Airport in the south, for example, or onto Media City, Bury, Eccles and Altrincham.
The construction work for 3B continues at pace and we fully recognise that it will continue to cause disruption as we head towards 2014.
Believe me, I’m as impatient as anyone when I am stuck in traffic queues and delays, but we must also all look forward.
We have to see the bigger picture and ensure that we capitalise fully on the fantastic opportunities that Metrolink is going to offer – not just to us but also to future generations.
Thanks for listening,