Manchester Victoria station is not one of the country’s great stations. Voted “the worst station in the country” in a 2009 Department for Transport-commissioned report, it was badly in need of improvement. Network Rail’s plans to rectify this undesirable status and to transform the station into a key interchange location for transport in the city of Manchester were outlined in issue 105 (July 2013). Writes Colin Carr

So, one year on, it was time to revisit the site to meet Faisal Farooq, Network Rail’s scheme project manager and Nick Culshaw, Morgan Sindall’s project director, to find out what progress had been made. The changes were very evident and quite significant.

Detailed heritage survey

Throughout the early stages of the project, there had been detailed discussions with Manchester City Council and English Heritage about the removal of the existing station roof. This was not a simple process given that the station is a Grade II listed building, so a detailed heritage survey was commissioned to establish whether there were any unique engineering aspects to the roof that needed to be retained and preserved for future generations. As none were found, full demolition was allowed and the old train shed no longer exists.

As Faisal pointed out, the demolition was really a careful dismantling of the roof. It was carried out as part of the Morgan Sindall contract using the services of Crossways Scaffolding (Elland) group to supply and erect the scaffold.

The scaffold is a new lightweight system provided by a Dutch company, Van Thiel. It uses fewer loose components, thus reducing the risk to the public passing underneath – a detail that will be appreciated by one of the key stakeholders for this project, Northern Rail. It is also more efficient to erect than conventional scaffolding, since construction requires less manpower, and takes less time because of its push/fit system, an advantage when working over a live railway.

Before the £16 million new roof consisting of fifteen steel box girder rib units, each weighing up to 70 tonnes, could be erected, a considerable amount of ground work was required. Each rib unit is designed to be supported by an 18 metre high steel tubular column and anchored on a four metre high reinforced concrete buttress. Therefore, more than 100 continuous flight auger (CFA) piles have been284 [online] installed for the buttresses and 66 auger piles for the columns.

Protecting the culvert

In addition, there is an 8 metre high by 11 metre wide culvert, which has a shallow cover, carrying the river Irk under part of the site. Therefore, to protect the culvert from additional loading, the design required two reinforced concrete bridge spans approximately 22 metres long by 4 metres wide, to carry loading from specific columns and buttresses. An additional bridge span of similar size but using precast concrete construction was needed for distribution of loading from railway tracks. Auger piling was necessary for all three bridge decks. All this work has now been completed.

Whilst the ground works were underway, fifteen steel box-girder rib units were fabricated for Morgan Sindall by Severfield-Watson Structures Ltd. As part of the contract, Severfield is also responsible for site preparation and final positioning of all the rib units. To date, five of the 1.2 metre deep and 0.5 metre wide rib units are now in place.

The units are delivered by road to site in 24 metre sections. They are then welded together and lifted directly from the welding area seated onto a buttress and fixed into position on one of the 18 metre high tubular columns with a pin joint. To complete this very challenging lift sequence, a 1,200 tonne mobile crane is being used. Cranes of this size are a very scarce resource and everything is being put into place so that the remaining 10 rib units can be installed as one batch later in this summer.

Once the main rib units are in place, lateral steel bracing is being fitted to provide a framework designed to support cushioned clear light reflecting panels made from ETFE (ethylene tetraflouroethylene). This material was used for the refurbishment of Piccadilly station in Manchester ten years ago and also forms the roof of another highly prestigious building – the Eden  project in Cornwall. ETFE has everything going for it since it is lighter than glass and cheaper as well as safer. The manufacturers also claim that it lets in more light than glass. It has certainly succeeded in making the station brighter and more inviting to pass through or visit.

Working with TfGM

Network Rail has 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 services would not be hindered whilst construction work took place. To minimise passenger disruption, and for design synergy and cost benefits, TfGM IMG_8558 [online]decided to include the full remodelling of the Victoria station tram stop which comprises three new tram lines, two island platforms, switches and overhead lines in the works. Network Rail agreed to deliver these works on behalf of TfGM as part of the scheme.

At present, metro trains are able to pass through the station without stopping using a simple train token system for safety. This process is in place whilst the additional island platform is being constructed in preparation for two new tracks to be installed and the third track to be realigned ready to receive the next phase of development for this rapidly expanding metro system.

Besides the existing TfGM island platform, Victoria station has two bay platforms, numbered 1 and 2. There are also through platforms, 3 to 6, which are 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. 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.

Congested site

This was not an ideal arrangement and following detailed discussions with the Arena, it was agreed that a fourth bridge was required for the project. This new, much longer and wider footbridge is now nearly complete. It consists of a steel deck with reinforced concrete flooring finished with terrazzo tiling.

As both Nick and Faisal frequently pointed out, the site is very congested and, when there is a live event taking place, the influx of an additional mass of people is challenging for the hardiest  of project managers. The completion of this bridge will lead people to the station exit for rail or Metrolink services. This separates visitors to the Arena from the travelling passenger, a much needed improvement that will be most welcome by everyone.

Protecting our heritage

The need to preserve the heritage of this station is a topic that keeps re-emerging.

For example, even though the old roof had no specific heritage value it was decided to construct a zinc outline profile of the old roof onto the wall of the station building. This zinc outline will be illuminated by LED lighting at night to remind everyone what was there before.

c04(3) [online]Sections of the existing Victorian building are also being refurbished, including mosaic floors, wooden panelling and an ornate stained glass dome over the current bar area of the station buffet. Three war memorials within the station will be restored including an archway that was the entrance for troops going off to the trenches in the First World War – a timely memorial. An old tiled map of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway is being cleaned plus an old canopy stretching the whole length of the station building is currently being repainted and refurbished.

Every effort is being made to turn Victoria Station into a location that is at the heart of the Network Rail northern hub, an investment of over £1 billion which will provide faster, more frequent services across the north. The existing footfall is significant, the impact of huge numbers of additional people is being managed, and new modern innovative ideas such as the new roof are being introduced.

Yet, while all this is happening, there is a noticeable acknowledgement and respect for the social, historical and architectural heritage that clearly evident throughout the site. The refurbishment of this site seems to be in good hands and passengers and local people will appreciate the attention to detail that is being included in the revitalisation of this very important transport interchange.