When talking with colleagues about Victoria Station Manchester, built in 1844, the invariable response is: “That’s the station with the longest platform in the UK, isn’t it?” Which, of course, used to be true. Today, Victoria Station is also the station which, in an independent report commissioned by the Department for Transport carried out in 2009, was voted the worst station in the country. Coupled with that, the station roof, which is a muddle of a design, is in very poor condition, a situation exacerbated by the IRA bomb in 1996 that caused significant damage in the centre of the city.

So, the image Victoria Station projects today is not very attractive and it is also not in tune with the plans and aspirations of a city like Manchester. However, that is all going to change according to Marcus Barnes, Network Rail’s sponsor for a project to transform the station into a key interchange location for transport in the city.

Unique engineering aspects

Developing this scheme has not been easy. To start with, the station is a Grade II listed building and an essential aspect of the proposed scheme requires the removal of the existing station roof to enable increased capacity. For some time now, detailed discussions with both Manchester City Council and English Heritage have been taking place about the removal of the roof. To help the discussions, a detailed heritage survey was commissioned to establish whether there were any unique engineering aspects to the roof that need to be retained and preserved for future generations. Fortunately, none were found and it was agreed that full demolition would be allowed and full planning and building consent to do this was granted.

New design concepts for the station were developed by Network Rail’s representatives, BDP architects who are based in Manchester. Apart from the roof there are many other features within the station that do need to be preserved. For example, there is a wonderful Victorian glazed dome situated over a cafe area that is in need of substantial repair.

There is also a very interesting map on white glazed brickwork which displays the old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway network. The map dominates the booking hall area reminding us how complex the pre-Beeching railway network used to be. Underneath the map is a large bronze WW1 memorial and in another part of the station there is a “soldiers’ gate” which was used by those who were going off to the Continent to fight in the trenches. All these features, plus the booking offices and the Victoria Station buildings and canopy, will be part of the project restoration works.

Additional tramway line

Marcus also needed to liaise with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), another key stakeholder, to preserve its operations that pass through the station either side of an island platform. Network Rail had to ensure and reassure TfGM that its services would not be hindered whilst construction work took place. To minimise passenger disruption and for design synergy and cost benefits, a decision was made by TfGM to include in the works an additional new line, island platform, switches and overhead lines. Network Rail will deliver these works on behalf of TfGM.

Besides the existing TfGM island platform, Victoria Station has two bay platforms, numbered 1 and 2, and four through platforms (3 to 6) now located under the modern Manchester Arena which was built in 1995. The Arena has quite a significant impact on the footfall of the station since it can accommodate 21,000 people.

Crowd control measures

One of the main exit routes from the Manchester Arena leads onto a stairway situated alongside the main entrance to Platforms 3 to 6 and the existing concourse area. This is not an ideal arrangement and, following detailed discussions with the Arena, a new, much longer footbridge will
be constructed that will lead people to the station exit for rail or Metrolink services. This will separate visitors to the Arena from the travelling passenger. Marcus outlined the many issues that had to be resolved before this arrangement for the footbridge was agreed.

He then went on to explain that the Arena complex includes retail outlets, as well as a call centre which employs up to 1,000 people, pointing out that this will represent a considerable challenge on-site and noise will have to be very carefully monitored throughout the project. To strengthen the need for noise control, across the road from the station is the residential Chetham’s School of Music.

The Co-operative Society, which owns much of the land in the area, intends to build a new 14-storey hotel alongside the station and one must not forget Northern Rail, which has the franchise for managing the station, and the other train operators that use it. In all, Marcus reckons that there are more than 40 different organisations involved in this project – without even mentioning the huge public interest in the consultation process.

Photo: Network Rail.

Photo: Network Rail.

Developing the design

Richard Davies, Network Rail’s project manager for the scheme, oversees the £31.5 million target cost contract recently granted to Morgan Sindall, the principal contractor. Site manager for Morgan Sindall is Grahame Kirsopp. Both Richard and Grahame explained how the original concepts were developed up to GRIP 3 by Hyder Consulting with architect BDP and then progressed through a competitive tender to design in principle. Morgan Sindall, having won the contract, acquired the services of Hyder Consulting for the finished design.

Richard described how, to help other stakeholders and to gain a better understanding of cost and programming, they were developing a five-dimensional perspective Building Information Model (BIM). This is essentially a three-dimensional model with the cost and programme aligned to it, offering greater visibility of the build process. This is a new approach for both Network Rail and Morgan Sindall. The opportunity to visualise exactly what is to be built has enhanced their ability to adopt a coordinated design approach as well as to identify the preferred and most efficient sequence of building.

A short while ago, the first phase of scaffolding was in place, ready to start the demolition of the existing roof. Morgan Sindall has brought in Crossway Scaffolding (Elland) group to supply and erect the scaffold using a new lightweight system provided by a Dutch company, Van Thiel. One advantage of this system is that there are fewer loose components, thus reducing the risk to the public passing underneath. It is also more efficient to erect than conventional scaffolding since construction takes less time and is achieved using less manpower.

The plan is to have the old roof removed by the autumn of this year. Meanwhile, a network of continuous flight auger (CFA) piles will be driven and, where headroom is tight, grout piles will be used. This is in preparation for the next stage which is for fifteen steel box-girder rib units, fabricated by Severfield-Watson Structures Ltd, to be erected. The largest of these units is 120 metres long and the intention is to lift all the box girders into place as complete units. However, the crane will have to be positioned over a seven metre diameter tunnel that carries the River Irk under the station area. This is one of the many occasions when the 5D modelling will become invaluable to Grahame and his team.

Better than glass

Lateral steel bracing will be fitted to stabilise the ribbed units. This will form a framework designed to support cushioned clear light reflecting panels using a material known as ETFE (ethylene tetraflouroethylene), the material used on the Eden project in Cornwall and Piccadilly Station in Manchester. ETFE is lighter than glass; it is also cheaper as well as safer. The manufacturers also claim that it lets in more light than glass. It will certainly make the station brighter and more inviting to pass through or visit.

Given that this is Manchester, it would be remiss not to mention drainage. The rain water, if there ever is any in Manchester, will be directed down the new roof away from the station building and into new attenuation tanks designed to control release of rain water into the existing drainage systems.

Whilst this work is in progress, the new footbridge will be constructed from the Arena entrance to the far end of the concourse and an existing footbridge, spanning Platforms 3 to 6, will have an additional staircase added. External work to the station buildings will also be underway, as will work to restore the railway network map and war memorials with completion planned for late 2014.

Bring out the bodies

All this work is expected to take place whilst Network Rail continues to provide a 24-hour service maintaining the main line station, Metrolink tramway and the Manchester Arena activities.

However, there is another group that hasn’t yet been mentioned – the bodies. The station is built on an early nineteenth-century paupers’ graveyard. In 2010, Richard worked there reconstructing Platforms 1 and 2 which is when they started to uncover skeletal remains. So, this time they are prepared and they are being supported by SLR Archaeology Consultants. The intention is to move any remains to Southern Cemetery. It is just another not-insignificant issue that will have to be managed very carefully.

So it is early days. The funding is extremely complex, as is the location, and the engineering challenges are interesting. Nevertheless, the expectation is that Victoria Station will be returned from being a rundown backwater station to one that forms an integral part of a revitalised rail network on the north side of Manchester. This includes electrification of the routes to Liverpool and Preston and over the Pennines to Leeds. In addition, the major recast of rail services across Manchester proposed under the Northern Hub scheme will see Victoria once again accommodate the main east-west Transpennine Express services between Liverpool and Yorkshire and additional services on other lines north of the city.

Updating this station will transform it into an important modern transport hub capable of dealing with the expected increase in passenger throughput to over 13 million people per annum, thus providing an essential service to the transport system of this very important city.