HomeInfrastructure'I built Ordsall Chord'

The ambition and scale of the Ordsall Chord project has given MPs and other local leaders plenty of opportunities to dust off their favourite superlatives.

It was a project of firsts – both for Manchester and the country as a whole. The structure is the UK’s first network arch bridge and the world’s first asymmetrical rail bridge. Its completion also signifies the first time the city’s three largest stations (Piccadilly, Victoria and Oxford Road) have all been linked together.

More than 4,000 tonnes of steel was used to construct Ordsall Chord. Three major blockades were required to deliver the structure and two of the biggest cranes in the country had to be brought in to lift the two 600-tonne arches into place.

The engineers who have designed and delivered the chord have had to work within a confined construction site to deliver a huge new piece of infrastructure alongside the Grade- I-listed bridge – built by George Stephenson in 1830 – which carried the Manchester-Liverpool railway to the former Liverpool Road station.

Six trains an hour off-peak will initially use the link when it opens in December, connecting Victoria and Oxford Road and providing services from the Calder Valley direct to Oxford Road. Further improvements will be needed to create the capacity at Manchester Piccadilly. The project had originally included the provision of two new through platforms at Piccadilly. Network Rail says this is still on the table and that it is waiting for a decision from the Secretary of State regarding its application for the construction of platforms 15 and 16.

The project sits at the centre of a £13 billion investment in the North’s transport infrastructure. On November 9, Rail Minister Paul Maynard installed the final rail clip and provided a ceremonial ending to the project. To celebrate its completion, RailStaff is featuring several members of the team that will be able to tell their grandchildren that they helped build the Ordsall Chord.

Natalie Todt, project manager assistant, Network Rail.
Natalie Todt, project manager assistant, Network Rail.

Not too long ago Natalie was living in Monaco, travelling the world working as a deckhand on multi-million pound super yachts. She traded that lifestyle in to join the railway industry and went straight into the Ordsall Chord project team.

“It’s been fantastic to be honest,” said Natalie, explaining the approach taken by the integrated project team. “It’s just changed the way we approached the project from the get go.”

Natalie has worked as a project management assistant within the integration team for Network Rail. The role has involved keeping stakeholders in the loop and ensuring everything is in place prior to major blockades. Natalie is now working towards becoming a scheme project manager. She said: “I’ve done lots of travelling and to come home and be part of something so iconic, I’m just bursting with pride really.”

The highlight for Natalie was the demolition of Chapel Street Bridge. “They had five arches to go in and it was all done; it was just seamless.”

Reflecting on the project as a whole, she said: “Keeping such a close eye on everything whilst maintaining everybody’s safety was a big ask, but we had such a fantastic team.”

Paul Bolton, lead engineer CRE, Amey.
Paul Bolton, lead engineer CRE, Amey.

The opening of the Ordsall Chord marks the end of 20 months of “solid work” said Paul, who joined the project in February 2016 after talking to former colleagues about the project.

“By the time I’d got there, the majority of the early planning had been done and the long- term planning had been done. It was actually about executing the plan,” said Paul. “When I started in February about eight weeks later we did the first major blockade.”

Paul joined the rail industry as a trainee and has spent the past 10 years delivering conventional plain line, S&C renewals and high output track renewals.

He described the Ordsall Chord project as a “whole different monster” because of the challenge of delivering such a complicated scheme in the middle of a busy city.

Paul’s official end date is December 22 – at which point he’ll pack up his things and return home to York to work on the Transpennine route upgrade. He sees the Ordsall Chord as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I don’t think I’ll get involved in anything as complex and challenging as this in my career.”

James Davies, senior project manager, Siemens.
James Davies, senior project manager, Siemens.

James is a chartered engineer and has more than 20 years’ experience in major project and programme management. He joined the Ordsall Chord project in early 2014 as the signalling, power and comms (SP&C) lead.

Constructing the bridge itself was just one part of a much wider programme. The project also included the most complicated resignalling scheme to be delivered in the North West for the last 40 years, said James.

James said: “Collaboration has been key to our success across the organisations and stakeholders involved. Fundamentally this project would not have been successfully delivered if it was not an alliance; with a single target cost to ensure collaboration. I’ve been proud and privileged to have worked on a great project with great people.”

Alesha Hancock, project planner, D2 Rail.
Alesha Hancock, project planner, D2 Rail.

Before she joined D2 Rail in 2015, Alesha had been planning the construction of Australia’s mining railways. Delivering brand new infrastructure alongside one of the oldest railways in the world, in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, is a very different proposition.

Alesha, who studied at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, has looked after the construction planning for weekend works across the Ordsall Chord scheme. She admits that she hasn’t had a weekend to herself for over a year, spending a large portion of her time out on site helping to manage the interface between the various construction and engineering disciplines.

Alesha said she had been fascinated by the many archaeological and historical elements of the project, but also by the opportunities she had to pilot new technology, including providing programme updates via smartphone. “I had the freedom to be a bit more experimental.”

From her office on site, Alesha saw the project progress from start to finish. Now finished, she, like many of her industry colleagues, has moved onto the Transpennine upgrade scheme. Alesha said she is still very happy in the UK and sees plenty of opportunities ahead. “There’s so much for me still to learn here and so much to offer me as well… The opportunities for growth, especially for planning, is huge.”

Patrick Cumming, project manager, Skanska BAM JV.
Patrick Cumming, project manager, Skanska BAM JV.

Patrick had to call on his 33 years of civil engineering and infrastructure experience while overseeing the civils construction of the main River Irwell bridge, Trinity Way viaduct and the restoration of listed structures.

He joined the scheme at the start of the main construction phase, having been transferred to the project. He praised the collaboration across the construction disciplines.

Patrick said: “As an engineer, I feel humbled that I am part of the team which has changed the landscape of Manchester on a project situated next to George Stephenson’s first commercial rail line. It is not very often that you can say in life that you made history but with this project we have.

“All my family has been up to look at the various stages and after Christmas we’ll all be sitting on the train crossing the chord. I will have my grandson with me and in 50 years, when my grandson is a grandad, he’ll be able to tell his grandson that his grandad was part of this landmark project.”

Read more: Powerlifting train driver talks about his journey to the Invictus Games

Correction: Ordsall Chord is part of a £13 billion (not million) investment in the North’s transport infrastructure.