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Centre piece of Great North Rail Project takes its place

The arches are the centre-piece of the Ordsall Chord.
Press release 21/02/2017 16:00 CET

The 600 tonnes steel arch that was lifted and fixed into position is the centerpiece of the new Ordsall Chord bridge. This bridge is part of Northern Hub's rail project, which will help relieve rail congestion, increase capacity and boost economic growth for the north of England.

A scheme to connect Manchester’s main railway stations moved a big step closer towards becoming a reality today as two arches, weighing a total of 600 tonnes, were dramatically craned into place.

The arches are the centre-piece of the Ordsall Chord, transforming the Greater Manchester skyline forever and achieving a major milestone in the Great North Rail Project, part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.

Once complete in December 2017 the Ordsall Chord, a 300-metre length of track, will link all three of Manchester’s main stations - Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria for the first time - bringing transformative benefits to train customers across the North of England.

By reducing railway congestion by 25% in the railway hub of Manchester, the chord will reduce journey times and enable faster, more frequent services to run through the city to and from other major economic centres in the north.

On behalf of the Northern Hub alliance, Keith Gardner, Skanska Project Director said: “The success of the complex arch lift is the result of a strong collaborative effort from everyone involved. I am extremely proud of the alliance team's dedication and focus on the job. We have made history with the first network arch railway bridge erected in the UK. We are now one step closer to opening a vital link that will improve rail journeys for people across the region.”

The project is steeped in historical resonance. Ordsall’s location is the birthplace of modern intercity railways. In September 1830 ‘father of railways’ George Stephenson opened the Liverpool-Manchester line, which ran adjacent to the location of the arches which were lifted into place today.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “I’m delighted this crucial step has been completed successfully. The Ordsall Chord is a key part of the government’s £1bn-plus investment in upgrading the rail infrastructure across the North of England.

“These improvements are at the heart of our plans for the Northern Powerhouse. This is a demonstration of our commitment to deliver change that passengers want, such as increasing direct links between Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and other cities, providing more room and faster, more frequent services by 2020.”

Customers as far afield as Newcastle will benefit from reduced journey times. The chord will enable new direct links to Manchester Airport from locations including Rochdale and Bradford. Trains will be able to run from Macclesfield, Greenbank and New Mills in Cheshire and south Manchester. 

The River Irwell crossing will be the first arch bridge of its kind in the UK.  The design uses inclined hangers which cross each other at least twice instead of vertical hangers, which allows for a more elegant design that is thinner and uses less material. This is particularly important due to the proximity of Stephenson’s bridge, built in 1830.

Two huge bridge arches, weighing 600 tonnes and designed and constructed in Greater Manchester, were lifted and fixed into position forming a new bridge. 

The crane used to install the arches is the largest in the UK and one of the biggest in Europe. 

The crane was constructed at the work site next to the River Irwell, which links Manchester and Salford, after its component parts were delivered by 35 wagons.

Programme Manager Allan Parker from Network Rail said: “This latest piece of work signifies we are getting ever closer to the Ordsall Chord being completed.  Once finished, passengers from across the north will have more direct services to Manchester Airport and a reduction in congestion due to some services from the east being rerouted through to Victoria station first.  This will mean an increase in services as more trains will be able to run to Piccadilly.

"As you can imagine, the sheer size of the arches and the accuracy needed to position them meant there was a lot of planning that took place previously.  I have been working on this project from the very beginning and I am extremely proud of every milestone we have achieved.  However, the sight of the arches elevated over the River Irwell was very special and will live long in my memory.”

David Brown, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “This new rail link in the heart of the North is among the first of many major changes that will help transform connectivity and give people more choice around where they live and work. It is exactly the sort of initiative that Transport for the North is encouraging across rail, road, air and water – a project that unleashes new potential and which will help the North to grow its potential.”

Liam Sumpter, Regional Director for Northern said: “It’s fantastic to see another vital part of the Ordsall Chord being put in place. The bridge will undoubtedly become a iconic part of the Manchester skyline and I am looking forward to seeing the new Northern services carrying our customers across it.”

Paul Staples, Fleet Director for TransPennine Express said: “It’s been great to witness this milestone moment which brings us one step closer to the completion of this great engineering feat.

“The Ordsall Chord is an essential component in improving not only Manchester’s railway, but rail travel across the entire North of England. It will allow us to introduce additional journey opportunities, more frequent services and brand new trains which is fantastic news for our customers.”

Project Manager for Severfield, Jarrod Hulme said: “Today, after months of detailed design planning workshops, we successfully completed the tandem lift of the network arches onto the bridge deck, over the River Irwell. I am extremely proud of everyone involved in reaching this milestone. Over the last few weeks the Severfield team have been working incredibly hard to get everything in place for today’s tandem lift and we are delighted with today’s achievement on this fabulous project.”

Peter Jenkins, BDP Transport Architect Director and project lead architect, said: “The BDP team has designed with the engineers from WSP, Aecom and Mott MacDonald an 89-metre single-span network arch bridge to carry twin heavy-rail tracks.

“I still have my original sketch of the bridge concept from when BDP started work on this exciting and challenging project over five years ago. It is therefore hugely satisfying to reach the dramatic moment of the bridge arches being lifted into place over the river.”

Watch the team’s inspiring feat of engineering captured on film.