Manchester Victoria Station, built in 1844, boasting the longest platform in the UK and cringing under its reputation as “the worst station in the country”, has now been totally transformed into a key transport interchange for the city.

Work started in 2013, and the station now has a bright new roof, an extended raised footbridge over the concourse area, additional platform facilities for the Metrolink tram service and a high level of restoration for the many outstanding Victorian station buildings and features. The redevelopment is part of over £1 billion of investment which will improve rail services across the north of England.

The station is a Grade II listed building and, at an early stage of the project, Network Rail instructed architects BDP to develop a number of schemes to revitalise the station. Additional support for this work was provided by Hyder Consulting so that competitive tenders could be invited to “design in principle”.

Effective crowd management

The principal contractor, Morgan Sindall, continued to use Hyder to complete the design work. This took into account a variety of challenging issues which included keeping the station open for Northern Rail passengers, working alongside many neighbours including the Manchester Arena events centre, and ensuring that the Metrolink tram service retained a pathway through the station throughout the work.

To assist both Network Rail and Morgan Sindall in this complex set of challenges, a BIM five-dimensional model of the work was developed – the fourth and fifth dimensions represent cost and scheduling in case you are wondering. Other suppliers were able to contribute to the model as required and it proved to be an invaluable asset, helping the team to anticipate the many challenges that emerged.

Permission to demolish old roof

An early concern was whether permission would be granted to remove the old station roof, which was in very poor condition. Detailed discussions were held with the Manchester City Council, Railway Heritage and English Heritage to gain approval for this to take place and for the design proposed.

To facilitate this process, 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. Fortunately, none were found and it was agreed that full demolition would be allowed and planning and building consent to do this was eventually granted.

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However, there were also many other features within the station that did need to be preserved, for example, a wonderful Victorian coloured glass dome situated over a cafe area was in desperate need of repair and a good clean. It now sparkles over a refurbished cafe! There is also a white glazed brickwork map, towering over the booking hall area, displaying the old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway network which needed and received similar attention.

Underneath the map is a large bronze WW1 memorial featuring St George, who now has his spear returned. There is a ‘soldiers gate’ which was used by those who were going off to fight in the trenches. All these features, plus the Victorian booking offices and station buildings and canopy, have now been restored.

Complex track layout installed

The whole project has been delivered in partnership between Network Rail and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) which wanted to preserve its Metrolink tram operations that pass through the station either side of an island platform throughout the project. Therefore, Network Rail had to ensure the tram service was not hindered whilst construction work took place and possession of their tracks was confined to only 3.5 hours per night.

Two of the TfGM platforms have been demolished, four new platforms constructed and an additional new line has been added to the existing two tracks alongside switches and overhead lines that were constructed by Network Rail on behalf of TfGM. This is considered to be one of the most complex layouts installed for any tram system in Europe.

Victoria Station has through platforms, numbered 3 to 6, located under the modern Manchester Arena which was built in 1995. The Arena accommodates 21,000 people and only closes for one week in the year. One of its main exit routes used to lead onto a stairway situated alongside the main entrance to platforms 3 to 6 and the existing concourse area and so it has quite a significant impact on the footfall of the station.

This caused major congestion and was not an ideal arrangement so a new steel-framed footbridge, 30 metres long by 10 metres wide, with a cast in-situ concrete deck, has been constructed. This structure now separates the thousands of people visiting the Arena from the travelling passengers who can now pass unimpeded below.

Lightweight scaffolding

IMG-18 [online]Back to the roof! In the spring of 2013, the demolition or, more realistically, the careful dismantling, of the roof was carried out as part of the Morgan Sindall contract. They subcontracted the work to Crossways Scaffolding (Elland) group to supply and erect the scaffold – a new lightweight system provided by Dutch company Van Thiel. This was chosen because it is more efficient to erect and uses less manpower than conventional scaffolding because of its push/fit system. It also has fewer loose components, which was considered an added bonus as it reduced the risk to the public passing underneath. The scaffolding sealed and contained the work required to demolish the old roof, completed by the autumn of 2013.

The new roof consisted of 15 steel box girder rib units up to 98 metres long, fabricated by Severfield-Watson Structures Ltd, each weighing up to 80 tonnes. Before they could be erected, a considerable amount of ground work was required. Each rib unit was 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 had to be installed for the buttresses and 66 auger piles for the columns.

Rib construction

As part of the contract, Severfield was also responsible for site preparation and final positioning of all the rib units. These were delivered to site by road in 24-metre sections. They were then welded together, lifted directly from the welding area and seated onto a buttress, then fixed into position on one of the 18 metre high tubular columns with a pin joint.

The work started in the spring of 2014. Several cranes were required for the lifts, including a 1,200 tonne mobile crane and a 750 tonne Liebherr crawler crane, and these had to be positioned in the vicinity culvert that carries the River Irk under the station area. To protect the culvert, monitoring equipment, which would trigger an alarm for any movement above 3mm and stop work, was installed in the culvert. Fortunately, the alarm was never activated.

The lifting and construction work that took place in the vicinity of the culvert was one of the many occasions when the BIM 5D modelling demonstrated the benefits of this invaluable asset.

The cover was shallow so the culvert had to be protected from additional loading, not only from the cranes but also from the columns supporting the roof and the roof buttresses. Two reinforced concrete bridge spans, 22 metres long by 4 metres wide, were constructed on site. Also, 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.

Once the main rib units were in place, lateral steel bracing was fixed to provide support and a framework designed to support cushioned, clear, light-reflecting ETFE (ethylene tetraflouroethylene) panels.

This material was used for the refurbishment of Piccadilly Station in Manchester 10 years ago and for the Eden project in Cornwall.

A brighter environment

ETFE appears to have everything going for it since it is lighter than glass, cheaper and 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. Let’s hope that it passes the test of time!

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The new roof spans over the tracks and station concourse folding over the parapet wall of the Victorian main station building. The old station roof was supported by the station building at a lower level so, 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 is illuminated by LED lighting at night to remind everyone what was there before. It looks very impressive, enhancing the new environment that has been created.

An opening that wasn’t Network Rail arranged an official opening of the refurbished station but, in truth, it never closed. It has been an excellent example of crowd management with Metrolink, Arena and train passengers all continuing their life, walking under and round the screens and scaffolding containing the surrounding work.

Before this project started, people who used the station would have never considered the station environment itself. It was just somewhere that enabled passengers to get to work or catch their train home.

Today, people stop to look at the architecture and surroundings. Some meet friends and go for a coffee in one of the many emerging outlets.

It is evident that, not only has the station itself experienced a revival, but it appears to have had a positive impact on this often-neglected part of the city. This is good to see and a credit to those who were involved in the project.