Ordsall Chord: Setting the benchmark

Mike Heywood, project director for Network Rail and Ordsall Chord alliance manager, reflects on the fantastic success of the innovative scheme, which now proudly sits at the heart of Manchester as an iconic addition to the city’s transport infrastructure.

After many years of hard work, I am delighted to see the Ordsall Chord complete. It is a fantastic achievement and to see the iconic network arch bridge adding to the Greater Manchester skyline makes me extremely proud.

Throughout the project, thousands of men and women have contributed to the delivery of this major section of the Great North Rail Project and every single one of them can take great pride in not only what has been achieved, but how it has been achieved.

As director of the alliance, which has involved Network Rail, Skanska BAM, Amey Sersa, Siemens and many other organisations, this project has been really challenging from a delivery perspective.

The challenges?

  • Truly multi-disciplinary in nature;
  • Working at a site that is so steeped in history;
  • A difficult TWA process;
  • The new chord line spanning a big area like the Manchester inner ring-road and River Irwell, as well as having to tie into the existing Victorian arches;
  • Renewing track, signalling and OLE on this side of central Manchester, and doing it whilst maintaining an operational railway;
  • Installing the world’s first asymmetrical rail bridge.

So with all these considerable challenges, how did we make it a success? I believe there were three key steps which helped make building the Ordsall Chord a real triumph for all involved.

Scheme development

The first point was undoubtedly having the right amount of time before any soil was touched to develop the scheme.

Whilst we spent just over two to three years in the detail design and construction stage, prior to that we spent many years working the options, locking down the scope and obtaining the consents. That upfront investment in the development was vital.

Parsons Brinkerhoff, who was involved during those early stages and who worked alongside a great NR project, route sponsor, and RAM team, was crucial. This included a brilliant consents & legal team who led the TWA submission, presented the case in the courts, and successfully navigated us through the well-documented legal challenges.

Contracting model

Second item was the contracting model that was adopted. I passionately believe the pure alliance model was exactly right for this scheme.

This was a single target cost and integrated delivery programme that all alliance partners had bought into, with a single shared risk.This meant we win together or lose together.

All of the management are united in the opinion we would not have made it here today without that approach. We spent all our energy resolving problems collectively as opposed to blaming each other. The partnership between Network Rail, Skanska BAM, Siemens, Amey, Severfield and the designers, AECOM Mott MacDonald and Balfour Beatty, worked extremely well.

I would also like to recognise the role of the wider supply chain. The alliance awarded over 200 sub-contracts, 94 of those within 25-mile radius of this site – and 62% of them were SMEs.

Great people working collaboratively

The third and final point is undoubtedly the brilliant people and teams we have had working on supporting the project.

The industry does have a fantastic skill base, with the knowledge and ingenuity to solve any problem that arises.

The key has been to enable these individuals and teams to get on with what they are good at and to work together as opposed to operating in silos or against each other.

We have absolutely worked as one team.Behaviours have been key to that and we selected suppliers on that basis.

We have also been very fortunate on this project to have stakeholders who have been incredibly engaged and supportive.Manchester City Council and Salford City Council have backed the TWA and helped facilitating road closures.

The train and freight operating companies have played vital roles in helping develop the access strategies.

We would not have delivered this job without their help.

The future is bright

From an engineering perspective, we have all achieved something quite brilliant; but, more importantly, it will benefit passengers and the economy for future generations.

The chord will not only connect Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria as well as create new links to Manchester Airport from the north, but will help boost the local economy. With this increased connectivity, there will be higher passenger footfall, meaning a chance for new businesses to set up and grow and improved job prospects in the region.

I truly believe the model we adopted has set the benchmark for many alliances going forward in the future and if it is, I expect they will achieve the same success as we did with the Ordsall Chord.

For more information



Andrew Gwilt   26/01/2018 at 23:49

It’s good to see the new Ordsall Chord which has been built last year is now being used for trains coming to and from Manchester stations and further afield. Along with new services to be announced aswell as new trains that are coming. This new rail link has reconnected 4 Manchester railway stations-Victoria, Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Deansgate along with Salford Central and Salford Crescent.

Add your comment


rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

Versatile coating system enhances Indestructible Paint rail industry role

12/08/2020Versatile coating system enhances Indestructible Paint rail industry role

A highly versatile and robust epoxy coating s... more >
Network Rail partners with Cycling UK for new initiative

03/08/2020Network Rail partners with Cycling UK for new initiative

Network Rail and Cycling UK have launched a p... more >

editor's comment

23/01/2018Out with the old...

Despite a few disappointing policy announcements, especially for the electrification aficionados amongst us, 2017 was, like Darren Caplan writes on page 20, a year generally marked by positive news for the rail industry. We polished off the iconic Ordsall Chord (p32), hit some solid milestones on Thameslink (p40), progressed on ambitious rolling stock orders (p16), and finally started moving forward on HS2 (p14) ‒ paving the way for a New Year with brand-new infrastructrure to... read more >

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >

'the sleepers' daily blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s network of independent repair facilities across the UK and further afield in its global network. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he wo... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projec... more >
Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

12/03/2019Women in rail - is the industry on the right track?

RTM sits down with Samantha Smith, sole female member of the TransPennine Route Upgrade Alliance Leadership Team, to find out more about encourag... more >
TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

22/01/2019TfN Strategic Transport Plan: not just for transport's sake

Peter Molyneux, Transport for the North’s (TfN’s) strategic roads director, has been leading on the development of the seven economic... more >