The M.E.N was given an exclusive trains-eye view of the £85m project. Aimed at slashing railway congestion and allowing for faster trains and more frequent services, it will make way for future east-west links
The Ordsall Chord is finally complete – and in just over one month’s time the first trains will run direct between Piccadilly and Victoria rail stations.
The M.E.N was given an exclusive trains-eye view of the £85m project. Aimed at slashing railway congestion and allowing for faster trains and more frequent services, it will make way for future east-west links.
It’s an historic moment, not only for the Network Rail team behind two years of graft on a true feat of engineering, but for Manchester and the future of rail travel.
At its heart of architect Peter Jenkin’s design is the 90m Network Arch bridge.
The first of its kind in the world, its completion is also a poignant reminder of the city’s place at the heart of modern railway.
Straddling both the River Irwell and Trinity Way, it sits alongside Stephenson’s Bridge – a Grade I masterpiece designed by George Stephenson and built in 1830 as the birthplace of the first passenger trains.
Patrick Cumming, project manager for Skanska Bam, said: “It’s an amazing experience for me as an engineer when you’re standing on a new bridge and looking at STephenson’s Bridge – the first commercial rail line – and to be part of the team that’s built this is amazing.
“All my family has been up to look at the various stages and after Christmas we’ll all be sitting on the rain and in 50 years, when my grandson is a grandad, he’ll be able to tell his grandson he was part of this.
“WE’ll always be remembered – perhaps not by name but this will be an iconic bridge, the first of its kind in the world.
“It’s an amazing engineering achievement, it’s a landmark in Manchester.”
The 1,600-tonne single-span network arch bridge is the second-longest in the world to carry twin heavy-rail tracks.
Earlier this year, two 89m-long arches were lifted into position. And when the M.E.N visited in August – shortly after the installation of the final 40-tonne steelwork ‘swoosh’ – it was just the tracks left to lay.
But the sleepers and ballast are now in place, 300m of tracks are laid and, aside from some landscaping on the surrounding site, the Ordsall Chord is ready to carry Manchester into the future.
Mark Chambers, project manager for Network Rail, said: “The electrification is all energised, the signalling system is connected up and working so we’re ready for trains and we’re just making the final touches to Stephenson’s Bridge and we’re nearly there with the Ordsall Chord. It’s exciting.”
The entire project, which features a series of bridges and viaducts, will welcome its first rail passengers on December 10.
Bringing new direct links to Manchester Airport from towns including Rochdale and Bradford and more direct services from Cheshire and south Manchester, it ties into two existing railway lines and crosses the River Irwell, Trinity Way and the Manchester, Bolton and Bury canal plus local roads and the Hampson Street pedestrian bridge.
Below the Chord is a footbridge spanning the Irwell, from which people will be able to view the now-restored Stephenson’s Bridge for the first time.
That’s thanks to the removal of a steel girder bridge built in 1860 alongside the historic piece of architecture, which blocked it from view.
Great headway has also been made on the surrounding area, which will become a public space with benches, walkways and piazzas.
In all, there will be 7,000 sqm of public spaces and 2,000sqm of Yorkstone-paved pedestrian routes.
Public piazzas will run on either side of the river – with a series of interconnected spaces of regeneration.
The scheme was delayed after engineer Mark Whitby challenged the plans, which cut through listed heritage buildings.
Objections focused on the former Liverpool Road station, which was part of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the first passenger railway in the world.
Historic England and others fought the scheme and government planning inspector, Brendan Lyons, recognised the substantial harm it would cause to the heritage assets.
But following a 13-day public inquiry, Mr Lyons decided that the dramatic public benefits of the new railway outweighed the objections.
Mr Whitby fought his case to the High Court, but a judge ruled it could go ahead.
It’s strange to think, as we stride out over the Ordsall Chord, that we’ll be among both the first and final few to walk these tracks before train services begin next month.
The 300-metre line, linking Piccadilly and Victoria stations, is now complete.
Led by the project’s masterminds, photographer Vince Cole and I are walking the newly-laid tracks of the Network Arch bridge, the only railway design of its kind in the world.
Spanning the River Irwell and Trinity Way, its rusted orange spokes criss-cross Manchester’s crane-filled skyline.
The sun glints through its steelwork and off the bespoke overhead line rig, casting a spotlight on Stephenson’s Bridge below – built in 1830 by the father of modern railway.
Now lovingly restored, there’s a also new footbridge so it can be celebrated by all.
The sound of drilling fills the air as work continues on-site below, set to become a public space with walkways and piazzas.
The M.E.N has paid many visits to this site since work first began nearly two years ago. The transformation of a rubble-strewn tract of land into this impressive feat of modern engineering has been a sight to behold.
On Thursday, Government transport leaders will descend to officially launch this historic railway line.
Hopefully, it will remind them of the vital importance of the expansion of Piccadilly rail station – a project understood to hang in the balance – so the Ordsall Chord can work to boost passenger capacity as planned.
And fingers crossed that in future years, Manchester will look back on this iconic bridge in the same way we reflect now on Stephenson’s vision – and the feats of engineering that made it possible. As the catalyst for a rail and transport revolution to carry Manchester and the north of England to its full and true potential.