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Manchester Ordsall Chord

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Manchester Ordsall Chord was featured in issue 137 (March 2016), including details of the benefits and challenges to the chosen route to link Manchester Piccadilly with Manchester Victoria. The outcome of the legal challenge was that the scheme has obtained the necessary approvals, and work has been steadily underway for some time.

The new chord is an essential part of the Northern Hub programme of enhancements which will allow an extra 700 trains to be run each day, providing space for 44 million passengers each year. It is expected to bring £4 billion of benefits to Manchester, along with 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs.

The construction of the Winsor Link in the 1980s routed all Liverpool to the North East traffic through Manchester Piccadilly. In the early 1990s, the construction of the Manchester airport link, and its subsequent expansion, resulted in significant new train paths from the airport, including services to Leeds, Newcastle and York, via Manchester Piccadilly. However, all these trains have to enter Manchester Piccadilly and reverse before continuing their journeys. They also have to cut across all other services into Manchester Piccadilly, which includes the intercity services to London and Birmingham. This effectively limits the throughput of services into Manchester and causes congestion.

Ordsall Chord

The solution is the Ordsall Chord, a 300-metre section of new track which will allow all trains from the East to be routed around the city via Manchester Victoria and Oxford Road to and from the airport. This will remove the need to cross the path of other trains from the south using Manchester Piccadilly, but will still allow services to call at Manchester Piccadilly platforms 13 and14. It will also eliminate the need for trains to reverse.

The benefits will be new direct links to Manchester airport from across the north of England. The congestion currently seen at Manchester Piccadilly will reduce by a quarter, and the three main Manchester stations being linked will provide connectivity for those traveling through the city and beyond.

Since our last update on the project, all the required steel work has been fabricated by Severfield at its factory, followed by construction on site throughout April to July. During July 2016, Princes’ Bridge was removed by crane and the new Irwell footbridge was lifted into place, although it won’t be open to the public until later in 2017.

By September 2016, construction of the sections of the new iconic network arch bridge across the river Irwell, together with new bridges for Water Street, was well underway. Finally, to end the year, between Sunday 18 December 2016 and Monday 2 January 2017, around 700 people worked on the longest and most complex stage of the project so far, known as stage A4.

The engineering works were significant, constrained and very complex. During the 15-day period, existing railway track between Eccles and Deansgate, Eccles and Manchester Victoria and Deansgate and Salford Crescent stations were reconfigured. These changes will allow the chord to connect with the new track layout when work is completed towards the end of 2017.

Working around the clock

An alliance of Skanska /BAM Nuttall (civil engineering), Siemens (signalling, telecoms and power), Amey Sersa (switches and crossings), Network Rail Overhead Conditional Renewal – OCR (overhead electric traction) and Network Rail (project management) is delivering the work.

Based near to the construction site at Regent Road/Water Street, the team has over 150 staff on site in nine compounds. The work site is very constrained, being nearly all on elevated railway, on grade 1 and 2 listed bridges and viaducts, in the middle of a residential development area. Stakeholder management is very important with it being both a heritage site and a renovation area.

The project team has a very close working relationship with the Museum of Science and Industry, known as MOSI, and some of the worksites are on land which developers are waiting to move onto, once the rail work is completed and city renovation takes over.

Over the holiday period, the project worked around the clock to install 250km of new signalling cables, train control changes, new train detection and signals, 3km of new overhead wiring, eight new sets of switches and crossings, 1km of new track with 9,000 tonnes of new ballast, along with lifting 500 tonnes of new steel into place for the two new bridges. Other work included Water Street bridge renovation and the widening of viaducts in the Castlefield area. Other viaducts have also been widened in order to get the required ‘sweep in’ for the chord.

The objections to the scheme over the last three years were understandably concerned with the damage to the historic location of the Chord. However, heritage also plays a key part in the project. A significant benefit is that, by removing the girder bridge that partly covers it, George Stephenson’s grade 1 listed bridge will be fully visible for the first time since the 1860s.

Incidentally, the 1860 extension had removed some of original Stevenson stonework, but this is being restored to its original condition. It can now be seen by members of the public and the painstaking task of rejuvenating the bridge (with cleaning by hand) to show how it first looked in 1830 continues. This includes full refurbishment, internally and externally, full waterproofing, together with sourcing stone from the original quarry to restore the parapets removed in 1860.

Signalling control

The signalling arrangements in the Manchester area are complicated, which has made the creation of a signalling control strategy to connect Manchester Piccadilly/Oxford Road to Manchester Victoria via the Ordsall Chord even more complex. Manchester Piccadilly Signalling Control Centre (SCC) was opened in October 1988 and controlled from Slade Lane Junction, Longsight, Ardwick Junction, Piccadilly Station and Oxford Road to Deansgate.

Rather than being a separate signalbox structure, the operating floor was located within tower block offices in the middle of Piccadilly Station. Entrance-exit ‘NX’ button panels were provided with links to remote trackside route relay interlockings (RRIs). The area of control was expanded to include all lines bounded by Ardwick, Levenshulme and Styal to the South; Urmston and Weale to the West; Blackrod, Crow Nest and Turton in the North. The SCC was provided with signaller’s panels for Heald Green & Airport, Longsight, Piccadilly Station, Oxford Road and Windsor Bridge & Bolton.

Manchester North Signalling Control Centre (MNSCC) was one of the early Railtrack-delivered resignalling schemes in 1998, located opposite Salford Crescent station. It was provided with a TEW entrance-exit panel operating four solid state interlockings (SSI) and controlled the area formerly signalled by seven signal boxes. The plan was always to eventually have a large signalling operating centre for the whole of the north and, while the interlockings were located in a brick-constructed equipment room, the operating panel was provided in a temporary wooden ‘shed’ building.

Manchester ROC

It was a good job that Railtrack used plenty of wood preservative on the temporary operating structure as it took another 17 years before the large building was finally ready. Manchester rail operating centre (ROC) was eventually constructed near Ashburys station. This will eventually control large parts of the railway in the north west of England, bordered by Crewe to the south, Todmorden in the east, Carlisle in the north and the Welsh border to the west. The state-of-the-art rail operating centre is one of a handful of ROCs which will eventually manage the entire rail network across Britain, replacing more than 800 signal boxes and other operational locations currently used to control trains.

The line between Huyton and Roby, near Liverpool, was the first section of railway being controlled from MROC following resignalling and upgrade work. This was shortly followed by the transfer, in 2015, of MNSCC into the ROC onto two signaller’s workstations known as Manchester North and Manchester Central, the latter designed to be ready for the Ordsall Curve project.

During the recent blockade over Christmas 2016, the Manchester Piccadilly SCC Oxford Road NX panel area was transferred onto a new workstation in the ROC known as Oxford Road, which is now controlling the line past the chord and which will eventually signal trains across the chord. The Castlefield and Ordsall Lane Junction areas have also been resignalled using Frauscher axle counters for train detection and with bi-directional working. The complexity of the design and controls cannot be overstated. This is a very complicated scheme.

Currently, a train leaving Manchester for the North West will be controlled from Manchester Piccadilly SCC ‘Piccadilly Panel’ before transferring onto Manchester ROC ‘Oxford Road’ workstation, over to Manchester ROC ‘Manchester North’ workstation, then back to Manchester Piccadilly SCC, but on the ‘Windsor Bridge & Bolton’ panel.

Eventually, all the panels will transfer into the Manchester ROC using workstations but, until this takes place, Manchester Piccadilly has been cleverly provided with a ‘repeater’ display showing trains stepping through the Manchester ROC workstations.

Commissioning and remaining stages

The signalling was commissioned in several stages and finally, on the last day of the blockade at 04:09 (Oxford Road) and 04:13 (Central), workstations in Manchester ROC were signed into the signaller’s use marking the completion of the most significant stage of works, and as a precursor to the full commissioning of the Ordsall Chord later in the year.

New piers for the bridge are being provided along Trinity Way and the steel work for the new 85-metre arch bridge over the Irwell is on site and is planned to be lifted during February.

The next significant rail stage is an 11-day blockade over Easter 2017 between Deal Street through to Ordsall Lane Junction during which new track will be installed between the redundant platforms at Salford Central station, although they will not be brought into use until later in the year. Chapel Street Bridge will also be replaced during this time.

Finally, the chord itself will be brought into use at the end of September, ready for new services to commence with the new timetable in December. The £85 million Ordsall Chord project and other aspects of the Northern Hub programme will ensure passengers in the north can access more frequent trains and with reduced journey times. The work on the Ordsall Chord – and other projects across the region – goes hand in hand with Northern Trains’ own modernisation programme which will see significant improvements to stations, carriages and services.

Network Rail and train operators were delighted that the vital work to transform train travel in the north was completed on time and thanked passengers and the local community for their patience. Martin Frobisher, route managing director for Network Rail, said: “The benefits of the Ordsall Chord will be felt for generations by customers as far off as Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool and countless other great towns and cities in the north”.

Thanks to Allan Parker and Colin Saunders of Network Rail for their help with this article.

Written by Paul Darlington


  1. Thanks for this article. But will Platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly be improved or added to? They are currently very busy with many trains stopping at A/B locations on the platform, so I would expect additional works to be able to handle the additional 700 trains each day. Plus expanding the platform island, which is sometimes already full at busy times.


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