Rail Industry Focus


Restoring the grandeur of Manchester Victoria

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Oct/Nov 2013

Adam Hewitt reports on the major upgrade at Manchester Victoria station.

In 2009, Manchester Victoria was voted passengers’ least favourite station, and no wonder – it was dark and dingy, had a leaking roof, a problematic layout and a layer of grime.

Not only did the station need an urgent facelift just to bring it up to today’s standards, it had to be made ready for the future. Thanks to the Northern Hub upgrade, associated electrification works and Metrolink modernisation, the station will soon have to handle more trains and more passengers, so funding was found for a major refurbishment.

Platforms 1 and 2 were rebuilt in 2010, but main works on the new upgrade began earlier this year, with the most striking feature being a completely new roof costing £16m and made of an advanced plastic membrane designed to significantly increase the amount of natural light in the concourse.

Richard Davies, Network Rail’s project manager for the £44m scheme, gave RTM a tour of the station and the worksites, managed by principal contractor Morgan Sindall.

Demolition and scaffolding

The team are currently in the demolition phase – of the five roof sections, C and D have been taken down, as has B (which covers the Metrolink platforms and tracks). Roof E is smaller and is being restored rather than replaced, while roof A was still being worked on while RTM visited. Its position – closest to the Arena and furthest from the main works compound – meant that cranes were not a viable option, so that roof section is being dismantled in situ. Fortunately it’s much lighter than the other sections, so easier to tackle without the use of heavy equipment, and should take about ten weeks once water integrity checks have been done on the temporary decking.

The team is having to be wary of lead and asbestos coverings during the work, but is benefiting from the properties of the scaffolding system used on the project, supplied by Crossway. It uses far fewer couplers than is typical, cutting the fitting time required and increasing safety by reducing the number of components that could possibly drop down onto the concourse below.

Davies told us: “The number of couplers has been a big issue on previous construction projects, so this is a big advantage.

“This scaffolding is significantly lighter, too. If we were using conventional scaffolding, we wouldn’t be able to have the width and distance between the towers we have here, which opens out the station for passengers.”

Avoiding disruption

Careful pedestrian-flow analyses have already been carried out to test scenarios during the demolition and construction work, looking at both train passenger movements and those of people getting to and from the Manchester Arena venue. A new link bridge from the arena being built over the top of the main concourse as part of the upgrade will help segregate train passengers for platforms 1-6 from concert-goers, while the existing footbridge is being improved.

“Everything is being done to keep disruption to a minimum,” Davies told us – but there is a balance to be struck between not interfering with the operational railway (night-time and Sunday works are preferable) and avoiding noise disturbance for nearby businesses and residents (they would prefer daytime works).

Safety is another major concern, as it is across Network Rail. Marcus Barnes, Network Rail’s senior commercial scheme sponsor, said: “Safety lies at the heart of everything we do and safety is the number one priority on the Manchester Victoria station redevelopment. It’s vital that the whole team and all our contractors work collaboratively to keep us all safe and to maintain a safe working environment for all.”

Heritage and conservation

The project team is also having to carefully consider archaeological and conservation issues. In 2010, during the works on platforms 1 and 2, an old paupers grave was discovered by contractor J Murphy & Sons Ltd. Bones were found close to the foundations of the island platform, and work had to be immediately halted. It turned out part of the station is built over what was once Walker’s Croft Cemetery.

Davies led a small ceremony in 2011 with station manager Stephen Green and railway chaplain Richard Cook at the unveiling of a plaque to mark the location of the old cemetery and those buried there, including Henry Bailey, deputy constable of Cheetham, who drowned in 1835 trying to save a child who’d fallen into the Irwell. The bones were re-interred at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery.

There has been nothing similar found so far during these latest works, but the project team has been in contact the Ministry of Justice, British Transport Police and coroners to ensure it has robust processes in place if anything is uncovered, with help from consultants SRL.

The entire station is Grade II listed. Davies explained: “A lot of the works are about the appearance, the façade and refurbishment works.

“We’ll be bringing the interior back to its former glory. If you talk to people in Manchester, the dome has always been a main feature of the station – something which in terms of its stained glass and its impact, people will be able to easily pick out as something we’ve restored.”

Brighter and more attractive

As part of the ‘cosmetic’ refurbishments – which will take place in early 2014 and be done by the spring – the station frontage will also be improved and foliage cleared from the stonework, with new paving outside the station.

The ticket office will be renovated and the war memorial will be improved, while the famous map showing the old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (pictured below) will also be surveyed, cleaned and sealed. “It’s part of the Grade II listing of the station and we’re keen to see it restored for the coming decades,” Davies said.

With the electrical and communications aspects – lighting, PA systems, fire alarms and so on – cabling and ducting is being run down fewer channels, allowing more of the station brickwork to be seen.

Heritage was also an important factor in designing the new roof for the station, Davies explained. “The new roof is significantly higher than the existing roof – that’s key. It will allow a significant amount of light in, particularly with the materials we’re using, making a more attractive environment for passengers.

“We wanted the modern look of the new roof to be sympathetic, not to dominate the existing buildings.”

The new roof will be made of ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene), used most famously at the Eden Project but also at Manchester Piccadilly and Newport stations and soon at Birmingham New Street. It is very energy efficient, easy to maintain and has a low slip co-efficiency. It even lets more light in than glass.

The hodge-podge of old roofs being replaced were not deemed of particular interest in conservation terms: there are others with similar features on other stations. But removing those roofs has shown up how dirty the external brickwork is, so it will be cleaned. “But we don’t want to strip it right back because you’d lose the heritage ‘look and feel’,” Davies told us.


The project team is working closely with Northern Rail (the station operator) and TfGM/MRDL (the project’s co-funder, and operator of Metrolink), and holding update meetings every six weeks with those directly affected by the works.

This includes the station retailers, Chetham’s School of Music, the Arena and others.

“For passengers, there is lots of info around the concourse – so Northern staff are not being constantly asked by people what’s happening, it’s clear.”

As well as improving the station to ensure it can handle more passengers (usage is currently 9.8m, predicted to rise to 13m by 2020) and bringing asset condition throughout the building back to where it should be, the works have also been timed to coincide with another key part of the Northern Hub – electrification.

The station will close over Christmas 2013 as part of those works, including trackbed lowering under the arena for the OLE.

Network Rail is also carrying out works on behalf of TfGM to upgrade the Metrolink facilities, including going from a two-track, single-island platform layout to a three-track, double-island one, OLE and traction and power works.

That is a key enabler for the planned Metrolink ‘second city crossing’ across Manchester, from St Peter’s Square down Cross Street, rejoining the existing cross-city route at Victoria (more on page 47)

Cllr Andrew Fender, chair of the TfGM Committee, said: “While it is a very popular station, Manchester Victoria is still punching below its weight. It’s been prevented from achieving its full potential – particularly in architectural terms – because of a lack of investment in recent years.

“So I am delighted that work is now beginning to transform it into an outstanding, heavyweight destination befitting its heritage and its strategic importance both now and long into the future.”

Lee Wasnidge, area director for Northern Rail, said: “Complementing the wider Northern Hub and electrification capacity enhancements, these improvements will ensure that Manchester Victoria provides a fitting gateway to the city.

“This scheme will preserve the heritage of the station while providing a bright and modern environment for passengers.”


Spring 2013: Scaffolding erected, temporary roof deck installed. Work begins on dismantling old roof and on concourse substructure.

Summer 2013: Work starts on mezzanine level. Cleaning starts on Victoria Buildings façade. Metrolink upgrade begins.

Winter 2013: Old roof fully dismantled and installation of new roof trusses begins.

Winter 2013/14: Installation of new ETFE roof begins.

Spring 2014: Ticket gates installed. Mezzanine level structural work completes. Victoria Buildings façade fully cleaned and internal restoration complete.

Summer 2014: Completion of ETFE roof and concourse resurfacing.

Autumn/Winter 2014: Completion of external works on Victoria Buidlings Metrolink upgrades complete.

Early 2015: Project complete.

(Source: Network Rail) 

Manchester Victoria station redevelopment suppliers  2013-2015

Supplier     Area
Morgan Sindall    Principal contractor
BDP     Architects
Hyder Consulting  Original concepts
Crossway Scaffolding (Elland) Scaffolding (using Van Thiel lightweight system)
Severfield-Watson Structures Steel box-girders for roof
SRL Archaeology        On-site archaeologists

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