Second City Crossing: a new line through the heart of Manchester city centre

Source: RTM Apr/May 17

Danny Vaughan, head of Metrolink at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), reflects on the successes and challenges of the innovative Second City Crossing project.

Metrolink has helped to create the modern Greater Manchester city-region by driving regeneration and employment in the areas it serves. Last year saw a record-breaking 37 million passenger journeys and that number is continually growing. 

Since it opened in 1992, the Metrolink system has trebled in size to become the largest light rail system in the UK: 93 stops across seven lines spanning more than 60 route miles, with two depots and 120 trams. 

Second City Crossing 

Earlier this year we opened the ‘Second City Crossing’ – a new line through the heart of the city centre. This marked the final stage of a £1.5bn ‘Phase 3’ expansion programme which has seen extensions to MediaCityUK, East Didsbury, Rochdale via Oldham, Ashton and Manchester Airport. 

Although just a relatively short stretch of track at 1.3km, the new line is offering much-needed capacity and operational resilience, and will support the tram network’s future growth as we connect even more people across Greater Manchester. 

The Second City Crossing runs from the iconic St Peter’s Square – where we’ve totally transformed this flagship stop – through to a new stop at Exchange Square, finishing at Manchester Victoria station. TfGM worked in close partnership with the Phase 3 expansion contractor MPact Thales (a consortium consisting of Laing O’Rourke, VolkerRail and Thales) to deliver the scheme on time and on budget. 

The project also had to be adapted to ensure city centre events vital to the local economy could be facilitated without disruption, including, but not limited to, the 2016 Olympic Athletes’ Homecoming Parade, Somme 100 Commemorations, Manchester Day, Chinese New Year and the Manchester International Festival. 

While we’ve passed some major challenges along the way, our long track record and award-winning partnership gave us the collective experience to manage the work programme, keeping the city open, the tram network running and, importantly, keeping on time and budget. 

Exchange Square

A challenging construction programme 

Construction on the Second City Crossing started in January 2014. Building a 21st century transport system in a city with Victorian infrastructure unearthed some unexpected challenges. One of the most unusual we faced came early on in the project, when engineers discovered the remains of approximately 250 bodies under Cross Street in the bustling city centre. 

The remains, which dated from around the 1720s to the 1850s, were of members of the original chapel that stood in this location. We were surprised to uncover more than double the remains initially identified in available church burial records and other historical documents. 

Exhumation work was carried out sensitively and respectfully, and away from public view under cover of a large enclosed tent, by specialist archaeologists. The final remains were reinterred together at a local cemetery in January 2017 attended by members of the present Cross Street Chapel and also by members of the project. 

In St Peter’s Square, the need to build a tram line over the old St Peter’s Church Crypt posed a special challenge for engineers. Working with archaeologists to first record and preserve what was found in the crypt, we specially reinforced the crypt walls to make sure they could withstand the weight of overhead trams. 

Of course, before we could lay any tram track, major utilities had to be upgraded and diverted, from water and sewage pipes to telephone and electricity lines. Collectively United Utilities, Electricity North West, National Grid and BT Openreach laid more than 61,000 metres of new sewer, cable, duct or mains – that’s longer than the M60 motorway. 

The biggest utility project challenge was United Utilities’ major sewer renewal work to repair a collapsed Victorian sewer dating back to the late 1800s. This huge project included building replacement tunnels approximately 6.5m underground. As well as 185m of new sewer installed, a further 567m of existing sewers were re-lined, 27 new manholes installed and 3,386m of new clean water mains laid. 

Tram Mcr Town Hall edit

Building through St Peter’s Square 

Historic St Peter’s Square is home to one of Metrolink’s busiest ‘City Zone’ tram stops: millions of passengers pass through it every year. As part of the Second City Crossing project, our customers are now enjoying a much bigger, better stop in the heart of St Peter’s Square, with two large new easy-access platforms and two sets of track running through it. 

But construction in this area presented a significant challenge. Given the location and the work involved, there was no easy way to carry it out without causing some disruption. Both the scale and complexities involved were set against the importance of maintaining tram passenger services through the city, as far as practicable. 

A 14-month long, three-phased construction approach was taken. Trams ran through the square on a temporary ‘bi-directional’ single line for 10 months to allow vital engineering works to be carried out as quickly as possible – while minimising disruption for passengers by maintaining a service through the city, the centre of the whole Manchester Metrolink network. 

In addition, services were suspended through the square for two eight-week periods either side of the single line running, during the quieter summer periods in 2015 and 2016 to limit the impact. Alternative options included a full closure of the line for a minimum of nine months. 

The end result is a striking stop carrying new services through a green, vibrant and contemporary square for Manchester, with more than 20 semi-mature trees, including four on the stop itself. 

Transforming city centre tram stops 

To get ready for more frequent services, as part of the Second City Crossing project we’ve radically overhauled several other city centre stops – and built a new one. 

Thanks to ERDF funding, we were able to fast-track the first phase of the route – a section of track from Manchester Victoria to a new build stop in Exchange Square, in a busy shopping and leisure district. The new stop opened in December 2015, allowing us to increase services from Oldham into the city centre. 

The Deansgate-Castlefield and Victoria tram stops have also been radically overhauled. As part of Network Rail’s £44m major redevelopment of Manchester Victoria Station, a new-look Metrolink stop sits right at the very heart of the station. The new-look ‘green’ Deansgate-Castlefield stop is now a favourite with customers – with a huge ‘living wall’ of plants and flowers, it’s a real oasis in the city centre. 

Metrolink’s future 

The Second City Crossing is allowing us to deliver new services on a more reliable, resilient network, helping connect more people across Greater Manchester. Not one to rest on our laurels, we’ve also started work on our latest extension: a new line through Trafford Park (Europe’s largest industrial estate) to the popular Trafford Centre. 

As well as completing one exciting project and starting another, 2017 is Metrolink’s silver jubilee year and there simply couldn’t be a better time to celebrate our impressive history and the many successes of the past 25 years. As we turn our attention to the next 25 years, we look forward to seeing Metrolink cement its reputation as the premiere UK light rail network.

For More Information



Andrew Gwilt   08/05/2017 at 23:25

What about the future Metrolink expansion (proposed extension) to Stockport. Would Tram-Trains be ideal for the extension to Stockport Town Centre and to terminate at Stockport Railway Station. And the extension to Manchester Airport via Wythenshawe Town Centre.

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