The section of line in the city centre (Victoria/Piccadilly–G-Mex) is described in the City page.
The Altrincham line was part of the original, Phase One, network. The line runs along reserved track, from G-Mex to Altrincham, a town in the southwest corner of Greater Manchester. There is a junction at Cornbrook with the Phase 2 Eccles line. The line uses former railway formation, most of it the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway along which Metrolink directly relaced British Rail services. As with the Bury line, the infrastructure was largely unaltered, and the trams use the track, signalling, stations and overhead line equipment inherited from British Rail.
Unlike the Bury line, the Altrincham line is entirely suburban in nature, and runs through scenery which, after the dramatic exit from the city by way of the viaducts in Castlefields, changes little. From Stretford to Timperley trams run alongside the Bridgewater Canal, and between Sale and Timperley the line is virtually dead straight.
From G-Mex onwards, trams operate in reserved running mode. In this mode trams obey colour light signals, the sliding steps are disabled and trams may run at a maximum speed of 50mph.
After leaving G-Mex the tramway runs along a brick viaduct, which was the entrance to Manchester Central station. A cast iron viaduct then takes the line over the canals in Castlefield Basin. This alignment was originally the Cheshire Lines Committee route into Manchester Central, but was long-disused when Metrolink took it over. Running parallel to the tramway on one side is the National Rail line through Deansgate to Warrington and Liverpool, while on the other side is a disused viaduct which formerly gave the Great Northern Railway access to its goods wharehouse next to Manchester Central station.
The first stop is Cornbrook. Cornbrook stop opened in 1999, for interchange between the Altrincham and Eccles line. There is currently no street access, although work is being carried out to change this.
Shortly after Cornbrook, the Eccles line branches off. This is a flying junction, with the Eccles-bound track crossing the city-bound Altrincham track on a viaduct. Immediately after the junction there is a bridge carrying the Network Rail line to Warrington and Liverpool over the tramway, and this is where the rail and tram routes part company. As the tram tracks climb away from the junction, they join the former Manchester, Altrincham and South Junction Railway alignment. The connection between the Liverpool–Warrington–Manchester railway line was severed when the line was converted to a tramway.
The first stop after Cornbrook junction is Trafford Bar, the former Old Trafford British Rail station.
Between Trafford Bar and Timperley, Metrolink took over the infrastructure of the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham Railway, directly replacing British Rail's Manchester Oxford Road–Altrincham electric trains. There are stops at Old Trafford (formerly Warwick Road), Stretford, Dane Road, Sale, Brooklands and Timperley, which are all former British Rail stations.
Shortly after Trafford Bar stop the line crosses the route of the former railway line to Gorton and Didsbury, which is earmarked for use in Metrolink extensions to Didsbury, Wythenshawe and Stockport. From Stretford the line runs alongside the Bridgewater Canal.
Shortly after Timperley stop the tram line narrows to single track, and meets the main line railway from Stockport which. This railway line carries passenger trains from Manchester to Chester, which were diverted via Stockport when Metrolink took over the direct Manchester–Altrincham route.
At the point where the two lines meet the main line railway is also single track, and these two bidirectional lines share the alignment to Navigation Road stop. Here there are two platforms, one for trams in both directions and one for trains in both directions. On leaving the stop the lines cross Navigation Road by level crossing, and then both tram and train lines fan out to double track. Metrolink uses two terminal platforms at Altrincham station, which is shared with National Rail services. Trains use two through platforms and continue to Chester.
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