Oui, c’est vrai: RATP assumes control of Manchester Metrolink.

Operation of Manchester Metrolink has been handed over to RATP Dev UK, a subsidiary of the state-owned French firm that runs the Paris public transport system. In this June 22, 2010 photo by Flickr user Ingy the Wingy. Click for photostream.

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.)

An RATP Paris tram is seen on Route T3 on June 8, 2008 in Vaugirard-Parc des Expositions, Paris. Photo by Flickr user (Jc) and used via Creative Commons license. Click for photostream.

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:

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.

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4 Responses to Oui, c’est vrai: RATP assumes control of Manchester Metrolink.

  1. James McCollom says:

    I doubt Mancunians will be bidding Arriva-derci to Stagecoach just yet, as they are still one of the two big bus operators in the city. In fact, they’re the main provider of buses between Chorlton/Airport/East Didsbury/Ashton and the city centre – could have been a great example of integration (if TfGM had allowed it) but maybe we’ll have to go with a bit of modal competition?

    • DuPuis says:

      Hello, James!

      Good to hear from you again. Your point is well taken. While I am well familiar with Stagecoach buses in Manchester (one of the first things I recognized as my plane approached Ringway was a Stagecoach bus with its distinctive stripes) I was thinking rather
      single-mindedly of the trams. Accordingly, I have changed Manicunians (I confess I really like the word!) to Metrolink.

      Hope you are well.

  2. Christine says:

    I had to check to see if it was April Fool’s Day. Wow, this is very interesting news. Does it mean the employees will strike twice a year?

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