Rail Industry Focus


Ordsall Chord: History being made

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

RTM speaks to the many partners involved in the Ordsall Chord scheme after the team successfully completed a major 16-day blockade over Christmas and put in place the iconic 600-tonne network arch. Luana Salles reports.

Back in October 2015, Mark Carne told RTM he would like to see a swift decision over the then-ongoing legal challenge against the Ordsall Chord, describing the project as absolutely essential for regional passengers – while accepting that, due to major delays, it could unfortunately still be a long way off. 

His comments make it even more impressive that, fast-forward just over a year, the project is now on track – and on budget – for a completion date of December 2017. Sure, that may be a year after originally planned, but given the uncertainties surrounding the whole scheme as it passed through the Royal Courts of Justice and later the Court of Appeal, it is fair to say Network Rail has achieved nothing less than extraordinary. 

As we went to press, the Ordsall Chord project had hit two mammoth milestones: a large step forward after a 16-day blockade over Christmas and the cherry on top of the whole scheme – the lowering of the giant, 600-tonne network arch into place over the River Irwell. 

The arch is the first of its kind in the UK, an appropriate distinction for a structure that has now forever changed Manchester’s skyline. On 21 February, it was lifted into place in one continuous piece via a tandem crane lift – one of the biggest in Europe – after having been transported to Irwell Street in around 40 pieces. 

The structure – designed by BDP alongside engineers from WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, AECOM and Mott MacDonald, but fabricated by Severfield – now sits proudly alongside a reputable neighbour: George Stephenson’s Grade I listed bridge structure, built in 1830 and famous for being the first passenger railway in the world, as well as the first to have a signalling system.

Aside from being one of the toughest stages of the project, the arch also symbolises the Chord’s transition from a largely conceptual scheme to a visible one. Commuters into and out of the city will now be able to point out the iconic feature in Manchester’s landscape – one which they will soon be able to traverse. 

Speaking to RTM during the historic event, Transport for the North (TfN) CEO David Brown argued Network Rail will likely use the project as “one of their really good examples of how, when they’re given the support, the time and the money, they really can deliver these pieces of infrastructure”. 

“Now we need them to go on and do the rest across the north,” he added. “That’s what we want to see – we want to see Network Rail taking on board these big projects and delivering them within the budget and on time.” 

Christmas blockade achievements 

But while the arch does represent history being made, it is far from being the Chord’s only big success so far. Behind the scenes, the project’s alliance team – made up of a Skanska/BAM Nuttall JV, but with other partners including Siemens, Amey Sersa and the aforementioned architects and engineers – have been working night and day. 

During a 16-day blockade over the festive period, the team delivered what was perhaps the programme’s most complex stage. Mike Heywood, project director for the Northern Hub Alliance, told us that there were two main elements to that: completing the widening of the Castlefield viaduct and replacing the Grade II listed bridge on Water Street with a new structure, along with another bridge which carries the first section of the Chord. 

Engineers also remodelled the Ordsall Lane Junction to ensure trains can travel at a consistent 50mph in all directions. In total, one kilometre of track was renewed, eight sets of S&C were replaced, and three kilometres of new overhead wiring were installed.

Signalling-wise, Heywood said the team effectively re-controlled the whole area so that, ultimately, the entire central footprint will be operated from the Ashbury ROC. This was one of the most difficult signalling jobs in the north west, since the team had to combine the old technology already in place with new Siemens technology – all in a busy and sensitive city-centre location. 

“It was all successfully delivered and handed back on time, so we were really pleased with how it went,” he added. “We had over 1,500 people on site working throughout that blockade, and we didn’t have any incidents throughout the whole 16 days.” 

The complexity of the civils side was no different: a lot of the structures the team are working around are listed, and all Victorian arches are unique in shape, skew, angle and size. “We had to make sure we designed something that was sympathetic with the existing assets, but equally was quite impressive,” Heywood explained. “It was important from a design point of view, given the location, that it was of the right quality.” 

The Ordsall Chord arch about to be liften into place 21 February 2017

Pure alliance model 

As well as singing the project’s praises, every rail leader RTM spoke to agreed on one thing: a major force behind the Chord’s success so far was the alliance model of working. Heywood told us that the model, inspired by Staffordshire Alliance, effectively meant all participants were selected based on behaviour as well as cost-effectiveness back in 2012. 

“All participants are in it together, with a single risk pot and a single opportunity pot,” he argued. “For me, it’s absolutely the right model for complex programmes like this, because everybody is focused on working together as opposed to in a more traditional contractual model – so when issues do arise, everyone is focused on collectively sorting it out.” 

Keith Gardner, project director for Skanska, told us that suppliers have been working as one unified team as a result. “You don’t really have this client/contractor relationship; we’re all in it together, and that works really well,” he said. “If we didn’t have the alliance model, I don’t think we’d be here at this point in time.

“There’s been a lot of benefits, such as working more efficiently together and sharing resources. A lot of contractors will try and do everything, but some things they’re not particularly good at, whereas other contractors are. And we have this ability to swap scope to make it better for the project.” 

TfN’s Brown also hailed the project’s local supply chain, which comprises over 200 subcontractors and around 3,000 people. The network arch was put together in Bolton and the project’s other partners have worked together in the same office in the city. 

“It’s great for the local economy while they’re doing it, but these people also have the skills now. We’d love to find more projects for them to move onto in the north,” he added. 

“In my ideal world, we’d have people coming out of education that can come straight onto these projects to learn the experience, and then we give them a set of programmes and projects that they can work on for the whole of their career. Why do they need to go anywhere else if we have schemes like this across the north?” 

Despite these major triumphs, there’s no rest for the alliance team. As you read this, they are gearing up for an 11-day blockade at Easter, during which they will be working on the other side of the Chord line, including Middlewood and Salford Central station.

While that is the last major blockade, works will continue round-the-clock as the Chord quickly begins to take shape ahead of its December deadline, when Manchester’s three mainline stations will, for the first time in their history, be connected to each other.


W: www.tinyurl.com/RTM-Ordsall-Chord

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected] 


Andrew Gwilt   14/03/2017 at 10:19

Network Rail are doing a fantastic job. Keep up the good work at Ordsall Chord in Manchester.

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