In what the Manchester Evening News is calling a “shock move,” operation of the Manchester Metrolink light rail network has been taken over by a subsidiary of Paris transport operator RATP, who have “bought Manchester light rail operator Stagecoach Metrolink Ltd from Stagecoach Group,” as reported by Railway Gazette International.
Formed in 1948 as La Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, RATP’s original mission was to assume operation of public transport operations in the French capital and its suburbs. RATP did for transport in postwar Paris what London Transport had done for the British capital in 1933. According to its website a state-funded public corporation, RATP’s Parisian system currently comprises 351 bus routes, two regional rail lines, three tramway lines and 14 metro lines. (The capital’s second-generation tram system opened its first line in 1992, in suburban Saint-Denis. Paris now has four unconnected tram lines, with routes T1-T3 operated by RATP and T4 by state-owned railway operator SNCF.)
The agency has gone on to become a global player in urban and interurban transportation. While RATP has for decades performed consulting work for metros and regional rail lines around the world, it created RATP Développement in 2002 to bid for operating contracts hors de Paris. RATP DEV now has 50 subsidiaries, operating buses, trams, metros and rail lines in 12 countries spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Its diverse collection of operations ranges from the historic Hong Kong Tramways (as I blogged about here) to South Africa’s brand new Gautrain between Pretoria and Johannesburg (read more about its opening today here) to small city transit operations in U.S. cities such as Athens, Ohio, run by contract operator McDonald Transit Associates Inc.
Back to Manchester. The move has been termed a shock because, as MEN reporter Dean Kirby wrote, it “comes with Metrolink in the middle of a £1.4bn expansion programme and with six years left on Stagecoach’s contract.” The pending “secret deal” was revealed in an exclusive report by the Manchester paper just two days ago. An announcement was made on the London Stock Exchange this morning.
It remains unclear why Stagecoach decided to pull out. Both MEN and Railway Gazette International report the system’s assets have been valued at £16.2m. While insiders are not disclosing the sale price, MEN is reporting that Stagecoach still made a pre-tax profit of more than £4 million last year.
For more on this story see:
- BBC News Manchester, “Manchester Metrolink to be operated by French firm RATP.”
- Guardian.co.uk’s The Northerner Blog: “Manchester’s tram company changes owner.”
- The Independent’s John Lichfield offered this humorous take on the bombshell, noting that “the most startling French story of the week was missed by Le Monde and Le Figaro but not by the Manchester Evening News.”
- Le Figaro has caught up, meanwhile, reporting today (in French, of course) that “La RATP prend le tram de Manchester.”
Under the deal, the network’s vehicles and infrastructure will continue to be owned by Transport for Greater Manchester, while employees will continue to work for Metrolink, MEN reports.
Readers may recall this post from nearly a year ago, in which I quipped about imagining “Manchester with the Germans in charge.” It was inspired by the observations of MEN columnist Eamonn O’Neal, who bemoaned a series of Metrolink disruptions by suggesting that the city could “do with a dose of Asian ambition and Teutonic efficiency.”
In the end, it seems that what Manchester will actually receive is an injection of Gallic transport know-how from the people who translated the institutional experience gained running one of the world’s great transit systems into a successful worldwide franchise. Several of today’s news articles note how local officials in Manchester have been waxing poetic on benefiting from RATP’s growing tramway prowess earned in Paris and Florence.
With the proliferation of embarassing delays, computer malfunctions and other mishaps which have befallen Metrolink over the past year, it’s hard not to wonder whether Stagecoach’s sudden departure was not much of a shock at all — at least not to Manchester officials who must have felt that Britain’s leading modern tramway system was suffering unnecessary and damaging indignities at the very moment when local officials were embarking on a hard-fought and costly expansion program.
Well might Metrolink bid Stagecoach au revoir.