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Best of the North West | Ordsall Chord

Laurie Mentiplay WSPWe can look back with pride at some tremendous train and tram schemes over the last decade. The Metrolink Second City Crossing, Victoria Station and Ordsall Chord are three examples that spring to mind, writes Laurie Mentiplay, associate director at WSP.

A common thread, in my experience, has been clients employing good architects who understand and challenge the technical, engineering requirements. This approach has helped transform our tram and train infrastructure from the functional to the fabulous. Given that these projects are going to be part of the fabric of our cities for generations, this should be the norm. I think infrastructure should be beautiful and lift our spirits.

One of the Best of the North West in my opinion is the Ordsall Chord. Opening in late 2017, this 350 metre long elevated railway provides a direct link between Manchester’s three stations for the first time.

Our client Network Rail was faced with some unique challenges. The railway needed to tie into historic viaducts, and cross the River Irwell, dual carriageway and canal. There were 24 listed buildings, including the world’s first passenger railway, and a conservation area. The site was next to homes, businesses, a museum and strategically important regeneration sites.

There was an approved alignment. But it went straight through a grade one-listed bridge. We explored and tested many alignment options to avoid the bridge, seven bridge options and a multitude of materials and methods.

What we see now is the world’s first asymmetrical network arch bridge. I think it’s a stunning new landmark on the city centre skyline. And it’s not just a railway; the grade one-listed bridge has been restored, floodlit and is visible to Mancunians and Salfordians for the first time in over a century. Network Rail has restored buildings and renovated archways. There are better pedestrian and cycle facilities, including two new bridges. There are new public spaces facing the river and fully integrated with the Factory Manchester design. I like how the project joins together two great cities who have traditionally faced away from each other and from their river boundary.

Reflecting on the Ordsall Chord, I think of the great team we had. The architects at BDP and structural engineers at WSP and Aecom with Mott McDonald who created the stunning ribbon form in Corten steel. The talented town planners at WSP, conservation experts at BB Heritage Studio and BAM-Skanska and Severfield who built the scheme to such a high quality.

I think of the Network Rail individuals, who managed their own internal people and processes so well and championed the design through a long, long planning process. I think of the city councils and Historic England. Special mentions to the Manchester officer who was relentless in challenging the technical standards and pushed for the best outcomes for his city. And to the two Historic England inspectors who were opposed to the alignment but conducted themselves with great dignity and professionalism.

Summing up, I think Ordsall Chord is a great example of design flair, innovation and collaboration. It’s an example of successful contextual, place-based approach to infrastructure and a catalyst for growth and regeneration. It shows the value in an approach which sees the local planning authority as part of the solution and not the problem. I think it provides valuable lessons to HS2, NPR and other infrastructure projects coming to the North West.

I’ve been fortunate to have been part of an incredible team of committed people dedicated to creating something special. I look back on what we have achieved with great satisfaction and pride.

As a new decade nears, throughout December Place North West will be publishing views from the property industry on the best buildings completed between 2000 and 2019, highlighting the design and development successes of the past 20 years.

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Whilst it may be the technically excellent and visually impressive, it currently stands as testament to the lack of joined up planning and delivery of our infrastructure. The chord has added to the problems experienced on the Castlefield corridor and the misery of late trains experienced by so many.
Far more impressive would be the design of a 4 track railway between Castlefield junction and Manchester Piccadilly

By Anonymous

I personally don’t see the Ordsall Chord in such great light as Laurie Mentiplay. Fairplay, it has a nice rusty curve and a bridge there is needed, but it seems to me to be yet another typical cost cutting exercise for the north. While this article talks boldly of preserving conservation areas and history, it cut the world’s oldest railway station from the main line. Not only does this mean we no longer have the world’s oldest railway station (it’s not a station if trains can no longer stop at it) but it looks quite stupid how the bridge to the previous station is cut in half and unusable – let me just put this into perspective again. Until this bridge came along, we had the world’s oldest railway station and we gave that up to save money and spend it down south. From an infrastructure point of view, it also fails as it retains the old problem by having only a double track – forcing both slower all-station trains and express trains to share the same tracks – which means of course we are denied a high frequency urban transit line. Once again thanks for the rusty curve. It’s nice. But if this is what we are calling the “Best of the North West”, gosh, we really are in trouble.


Network Rail were warned that the Chord was useless without extra platforms at Oxford Road and Piccadilly but they built it first to set a precedent for compensating people living close to Picc/Ox works .It should have cost £85 million but will probably come in nearer to £250 million , not bad for two trains per hour.

By Barny

And who was the planning officer Laurie Mentiplay.

By Barny

This isn’t the Victorian era, Manchester needs wider roads rather than cramming people onto trains

By Dan

Dan – so you keep saying. But you might have noticed that already wide roads like the Mancunian Way are constantly jammed with traffic. At what point do you realise that cars are really inefficient ways of transporting people around cities and that railways are, in fact, the future? A growing city cannot support cars, they take up way too much room.

By Anonymous

Isn’t the world’s oldest in use railway station Newton-Le-Willows?

By Elephant

As usual. Money no object. Network Rail and/or Highways England NW. Both Mcr based. What Mcr wants Mcr gets. At the expense of everyone else in the northwest.

By George

Fao EOD. Edge Hill is the world’s oldest commercial railway station.

By George

This is little more than an advert for WSP!! Must do better

By Disgruntled Goat

@Dan, you are very correct, we are not in the Victorian era. But we’re also not in the 1960s anymore either. Widening roads in the city centre to increase innercity traffic has been overwhelmingly proven to have negative consequences and is no. 1 on urban planner’s rules on what not to do in inner cities. On the other hand, it is widely accepted that improving public transport – especially rail – into the city centre is a far better solution. This isn’t just talk, it’s real


London rail planners wanted the “throat” at Piccadilly cleared for more trains from London. That is all; there is nothing more to it. Trains from Yorks and beyond to Man Airport via Guide Bridge and Piccadilly had to cross the London lines. By building just one bridge at Ordsall these cross-over services can now be run around Manchester via Victoria to Man Airport and do not cross the London lines. They thought, let us sell this to the fools up North by calling it a mega-project with a mega-name: What about Northern Hub? That will fool them.
Don’t be fooled again!

By James Yates

Still think it needs a coat of paint

By Tha'Knows

Broad Green (one station along from Edge Hill) is the oldest station still operating on same site….. its older than Edge Hill as that replaced one known as Olive Mount.

By Bo

Funny how this has turned into a history lesson;
The Crown Street site still exists, the original terminus, but you would never know; doest even have a Blue Plaque. Replaced by Lime St 1836.
Next station was at Chatsworth Street, you can still get photos of this on line. It still exists also, but is a mess. A side tunnel linked to Wapping Dock. There is a great photo of slum clearance in the early 70s of the area, showing this station and the ‘new’ line into Lime Street.
Then it was Edge Hill. The original platform still exists, but isn’t used. Then it was Olive Mount.
So technically the oldest ‘first’ still used is Olive Mount.

By Billy

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