Rail Industry Focus


Marrying the old and new at Manchester Victoria

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

RTM’s David Stevenson reports from the official opening of Manchester Victoria’s refurbished station.

When RTM rolled in to Manchester Victoria station on Tuesday 6 October, one could almost be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed, especially as our old ‘reliable’ Pacer pulled in on platform 5.

But after making my way over to the new concourse it became quite clear where the £44m had been invested with a modern roof, made from the same material used at the Eden Project, shining a light on the vast, open concourse. There is also a modern-looking 60m mezzanine level bridge linking the station with the arena, four new platforms and three additional tracks.

The light that now floods through the roof, which consists of 410 ETFE cushions, really opens up the entire space – so much more than the old Victorian enclosure. It is truly awe-inspiring.

The only issue, however, is when you look back towards platforms 3-6 and the join. Despite marrying the station’s history with a nod to the future, it does look like two distinctly separate buildings. Almost like a mismatched semi-detached house: one side kept beautifully maintained with its garden full of roses while the other is dark, somewhat dilapidated and unkempt.

Official opening

Once all the dignitaries arrived, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP was on hand to officially open the refurbished station.

Speaking to a gathering of around 50 people, including local politicians, transport officials, Network Rail representatives, contractors and the press, he said: “It is truly magnificent. Who can believe that just a few years ago this station was voted the worst station in Britain.

“It is a great station with a great history. Yet over recent decades it has been in decline. Here we are, now, looking at the future. It is thrilling to see Manchester Victoria, once again, fit for a city like Manchester. It is no longer a symbol of neglect, but proof that we are building a Northern Powerhouse.”

The modernisation of the station, carried out while it remained operational, is part of a £1bn-plus investment programme to boost rail capacity and connectivity (and speed and service frequency) across the north of England.

During the Victoria work, engineers dismantled the old roof while keeping the station open by erecting a huge scaffolding structure built inside the station. The new £16m roof is held up with 15 giant steel ribs, and last year RTM reported how Bolton-based Severfield installed the ribs during short 3.5-hour overnight possessions, because the OLE used for the Metrolink tram system had to be isolated.

Talking to RTM about the scale of this work, Martin Frobisher, route MD for Network Rail, told us: “These steel ribs, the heaviest of which is 80 tonnes – just lifting that in, with regards to the logistics and construction, was vast. But now that you see it is done you think it was well worth it.

“Today we see the new station. It is fantastic; it is light, bright and connects this modern light arch with the old Victorian station.”

Manchester Victoria station Platform 1 and 2

On the cusp of transformation

During the ceremony, McLoughlin unveiled a commemorative plaque celebrating the refurbishment besides Soldiers’ Gate, through which men passed before heading off to fight in the first world war. The stone the soldiers walked across has been kept and a new commemorative feature has also been created in the gate.

Frobisher also formally handed the station back to Alex Hynes, managing director of Northern Rail, which manages its day-to-day running. Hynes told RTM: “Over the last few years, £44m has been well spent on transforming what was Britain’s worst station into something that is breath-taking. Every time I come here I take more and more of it in. It is a fitting gateway for Manchester.”

He added “we are on the cusp of a transformation” and that is even before the winner of the next Northern Rail franchise (due to start in April 2016) has been announced.

Hynes reiterated the fact that “the Pacers are going”, adding: “Between now and Christmas, someone is going to get the job of ordering and delivering those brand new trains. Make no bones about it: by the end of 2019, the service we provide to our customers will be unrecognisable to that of today.”

Integrated transport hub

The Manchester Victoria update, delivered in partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester, incorporated the expansion of the Metrolink tram platforms at the station too. The tram stop now has four platforms and three tracks.

Mark Carne, CEO of Network Rail, told RTM: “I’m really proud of the fact that, at this station in particular, we are really integrating transport systems. Bringing together the rail system with the metro system in a seamless customer experience shows that we are thinking more and more about total customer journeys and trying to make that as seamless as possible for passengers.

“This is a really important step forward in our journey, but it is another example of why Britain’s railways are so successful today.

“Passenger growth of 5% every year at the moment is an incredible wave of people choosing to travel by rail. That poses, for us, great challenges in terms of congestion on the network. So, we need to up our game as well and be one step ahead, and anticipate where that demand is going to come from and invest for the future.”


The station’s opening day was not lost on passengers, who were invited to celebrate with cake (Victoria sponge, of course), attended the re-dedication of Soldiers’ Gate and listened to performers from the Chetham School of Music, who were playing throughout the afternoon.

Tony Lloyd, police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and its interim metro-mayor, thanked contractors for the quality of their work, including the restoration of the first-class lounge and smoking room. Even the glazing in the dome has been cleaned and painted back to its original colour.  

He called it “the most beautiful station in the world”, and said the project “marries Manchester’s great Victorian past to something that speaks of our future”.

The day’s programme finished with the TransPennine Express Choir singing on the station’s new concourse, led by CEO Nick Donovan: a fitting finish to the celebrations.

It was just a shame we had to end the day getting back on-board a Pacer at platform 6.


Johnm   10/11/2015 at 09:49

Regardless of the new roof, the experience at Victoria is still very unpleasant, particularly on the enclosed through platforms where passengers are unable to escape the thick clouds of poisonous fumes emitted by ancient diesal stock, with no effective system for their disperal

Kevj   10/11/2015 at 16:10

Its certainly an improvement on what was there but is somewhat underwhelming in its bleakness ! Its ok plain ...but compare it to the quality extension at kings cross in London ....and that says it all ....that's London ....far more investment and money spent there . no escalators ...no doubt to keep costs down ....and certainly no improvement on the other oppressive ,dingy ,dirty platforms ! Oh well guess we should be grateful to get owt oop north .....

David Spencer   11/11/2015 at 08:35

I agreed with Johnm.

Fergus   03/12/2015 at 09:03

It's clear now that no-one intends any improvement for the rail passengers, most of whom use the smoke-laden 3-6: dark, soot stained roofs just over your head, poor lighting, some form of meccano with exposed bolts holding home-made looking dirty perspex on the bridges, dirty floors, still the most dingy station I've ever used. And even under the new roof, the pleasing open space is now full of temporary crowd barriers making it look as if they expect a riot. The barriers, involving passengers having to dismantle their season ticket wallet each time they use the station, are unreliable and very hard to use for anyone with luggage or health problems. Why are we not worth the same system London got with its contactless entry and exist.

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