The Anonymous Widower

Possibly One Of The Best Underground Railways In A Smaller City In The World!

I took these pictures, as I took the Wirral Line between James Street and Lime Street stations.

I do compare them with the dingy inside of Essex Road station, which was refurbished by British Rail about the same time.

Merseyrail’s stations and trains are generally immaculate and that can’t be said for the dirty and tired infrastructure on the Northern City Line. As I indicated in the title of this post, t is one of the best underground railways under the centre of a smaller city. Liverpool would probably be regarded as a second size of city as it lacks the several millions of London, Paris or Berlin.

The tunnels of Merseyrail’s Northern and Wirral Lines, would have been probably been used as a model for British Rail’s proposed Picc-Vic Tunnel, that sadly never got to be built!

Manchester would be very different today, if it had an underground railway across the City to the standard of that in Liverpool or Newcastle.

This map clipped from Wikipedia show the proposed route of the Picc-Vic Tunnel.

Some of the other proposals included.

  • The tunnel would be twin bores and jus under three miles long.
  • The tunnel would be electrified with 25 KVAC overhead wires.
  • The rolling stock would have been Class 316 trains, which would have been similar to those on Merseyrail.
  • Train frequency could have been forty trains per hour (tph)

In some ways the specification was more ambitious than Crossrail, which might be able to handle 30 tph, at some time in the future. But Dear Old Vicky, which was designed at the same time, is now handling forty tph.

Wikipedia says the following routes could have run through the tunnel.


  1. The Styal Line now provides the link to Manchester Airport.
  2. The route map on the Wikipedia entry, shows only Bury and Bolton as Northern destinations. But surely fanning out the trains could have run to Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley, Clitheroe, Colne, Hebden Bridge, Kirkby, Preston, Rawtenstall, Tochdale, Southport, Stalybridge, Todmorden, Wigan and Windermere

The only problem, I could see would be that there would need to be a lot of electrification North of Manchester, some of which has now been done.

There have also been developments in recent years that would fit nicely with a system of lines running through the Picc-Vic Tunnel.

More Services In Manchester Piccadilly And Manchester Victoria Stations

If you look at Liverpool Lime Street station after the remodelling of the last few years, the station is now ready for High Speed Two.

You could argue, that it would be more ready, if the Wapping Tunnel connected services to and from the East to the Northern Line, as I wrote about in Liverpool’s Forgotten Tunnel, as this would remove a lot of local trains from the station.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel would have done the same thing for Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations and removed the local services.

This would have left more space for High Speed Two and other long distance services.

Northern Powerhouse Rail

The original plan also envisaged an East-West Tunnel at a later date. – Northern Powerhouse Rail?

But the creation of capacity by the diversion of local services from Manchester Victoria into the Picc-Vic Tunnel, would surely have enabled the station to be developed thirty years ago as a station on an improved TransPennine route.


The system would have accepted tram-trains, which hadn’t been invented in the 1970s.

Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport had only one runway in the 1970s and I think only a few would have believed, it would have expanded like it has.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel would create a superb service to the Airport, at a frequency upwards of six tph.

High Speed Two

The Picc-Vic Tunnel would have created the capacity in  for Manchester Piccadilly station and allowed High Speed Two services to use the station.

In The Rival Plans For Piccadilly Station, That Architects Say Will ‘Save Millions’, I talked about a radical plan for extending Manchester Piccadilly station for High Speed Two, that has been put forward by Weston Williamson; the architects.

This sort of scheme would also fit well with the Picc-Vic Tunnel.


Manchester was short-changed and not building the Picc-Vic Tunnel was a major mistake.

It would have created an underground railway in a similar mould to that of Liverpool’s, but it would probably have served a larger network.

They would probably be the best pair of underground railways for smaller cities in the world.

August 20, 2020 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Grayling: No Solution To Oxford Road Woes

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Place North West.

This is the first two paragraphs.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said there is no “simple, quick, non-disruptive solution” to improving journeys on one of the most congested rail routes in and out of Manchester, arguing the cost of the original scheme was “way out of kilter”.

Plans to extend platforms at Oxford Road station have been mooted for a number of years, and were designed to take advantage of the completion of the Ordsall Chord to allow more frequent trains between Piccadilly, Victoria, and beyond.

The more I read about the problems of the Castlefield corridor through Manchester, the more I’m coming to the conclusion, that British Rail’s three tunnel scheme for the North was the right solution.


Liverpool got the Loop And Link Project, which is described like this in Wikipedia.

The major engineering works required to integrate the Northern and Wirral lines became known as the ‘Loop’ and ‘Link’ Project. The ‘Loop’ was the Wirral Line tunnel and the ‘Link’ the Northern Line tunnel, both under Liverpool’s city centre. The main works were undertaken between 1972 and 1977. A further project, known as the Edge Hill Spur, would have integrated the City Lines into the city centre underground network. This would have meshed the eastern section of the city into the core underground electric city centre section of the network, releasing platforms at mainline Lime Street station for mid to long haul routes.

The Edge Hill Spur was never built and if it had, it may have created the extra capacity, that Liverpool Lime Street station has now finally got, but several years ago.

Liverpool’s Underground railways are getting a new fleet of Class 777 trains and will be expanded in the next few years.

British Rail’s scheme for Liverpool has been successful.

Although, I am surprised that the layout of a single-track loop tunnel, that is used to terminate the Wirral Line, has not been copied more.


Newcastle got tunnels under the city, to join up the Tyne and Wear Metro in the late 1970s.

The Metro is now getting a new fleet of trains and will be further expanded.

British Rail’s scheme for Newcastle has been successful.


Manchester had a scheme in the pipeline called the Picc-Vic Tunnel.

This Proposal section in Wikipedia gives a full description of the project. This is the first paragraph.

The South-East Lancashire and North-East Cheshire Public Transport Executive (SELNEC PTE) – the local transport authority which became the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) in 1974 (now Transport for Greater Manchester – TfGM) – made a proposal in 1971 to connect the unjoined railways running through Manchester city centre under the Picc-Vic scheme. The Picc-Vic proposal envisaged joining the two halves of the rail network by constructing new tunnels under the city centre, connecting Manchester’s two main railway stations, Piccadilly and Victoria. This new underground railway would be served by three new underground stations, joining together the regional, national and local rail networks with an underground rapid transit system for Manchester.

It also gives these three objectives for the scheme.

  • To improve the distribution arrangements from the existing railway stations which are on the periphery of the central core
  • To link the separated northern and southern railway systems
  • To improve passenger movement within the central area.

This is also said.

It formed part of a four-phase, Long Term Strategy for GMPTE over 25 years, which included bus priority and an East-West railway network, as well as a light rapid transport system.

The scheme was cancelled by Harold Wilson’s government, partly because he believed that railways were of the past and that everybody would be able to afford their own car and wouldn’t need to use trains.

It should also be remembered that his government also cancelled the Channel Tunnel and London’s Third Airport at Maplin.

It’s funny, but I thought, I’d used the Channel Tunnel several times. Perhaps, Harold Wilson didn’t get his out-of-kilter thinking sufficiently into the minds of Civil Servants. Although, there is still the Treasury’s periodic attempts to kill High Speed Two. But that is driven by the belief of the average Oxford graduate, that there is nothing worth visiting North of Watford.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel may not have completely solved Manchester’s rail connectivity, but it is my belief that it would have been a good start.

A Few Random Thoughts

These are a few random thoughts on the various schemes in Manchester.

Development of Piccadilly And Victoria After A Picc-Vic Tunnel

One of the reasons for cancellation, was that after the building of the tunnel, two large stations would still be maintained in the City.

Looking at various schemes across Europe including Kassel and Leipzig in Germany, where central tunnels have been built, this releases the terminals for development with smaller numbers of platforms.

I think if the Picc-Vic Tunnel had been built, then Piccadilly and Victoria might have morphed into combined through and terminal station like the excellent London Bridge. The released space at Piccadilly would have allowed High Speed Two to be integrated.

But of course, the elite in the Civil Service isn’t interested in High Speed Trains, except on their holidays in France.

TransPennines New Trains

Greater Anglia needed to have new rolling stock for services between London and Norwich.

They needed trains with following.

  1. 100 mph running
  2. Eight coaches
  3. Powerful traction
  4. Short station dwell times.
  5. High quality.

So they ordered a fleet of new Class 745 trains.

  • 100 mph running
  • Twelve coaches
  • Walk-through trains
  • 757 seats
  • Double doors for easy entry and exit.

It’s also rumoured that platform height will be adjusted so that that buggy-pushers and wheelchair-users will have level access between train and platform at all stations.

  • If you want to do Norwich-in-90 for all trains, then a short station dwell time is essential.
  • It also means if passenger numbers need another station to be added to a route, the extra stop only blows a small hole in the schedule, as opposed to a large one for a train of Mark 3 coaches.
  • I have a feeling Greater Anglia are aiming to send all their disabled ramps to the scrapyard.

So what trains have TransPennine ordered?

AQll these trains will have single-doors at both end of each car. That’s classic crap design!

It will be interesting to see the average dwell time of a train on the Castlefield Corridor and compare it with that of Class 745 trains calling at Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford.

My money’s on Swiss clockwork!

Northern’s New Trains

Northern’s new Class 195 and Class 331 trains appear to have two sets of double-doors on each side of each car.

Now that’s more like it!

Improving Throughput On The Castlefield Corridor

If you look at successful high-capacity lines with a lot of stopping trains like most lines on the London Underground, Thameslink the Tyne and Wear Metro and the Merseyrail Northern Line, all trains are the same.

One of the problems with the trains through Castlefield, is that there are a lot of diffeent trains. So doors on your train may be in a different position to those on the previous train.

This means that passengers will be more likely to be in the wrong place, which means loading takes longer.

It is probably too much to get identical trains running on the route, but TransPennine’s trains with end doors will make matters worse for capacity.

I don’t think, any train should be allowed on the route, unless it has two sets of double-doors on each side of all cars.

The route should also have digital signalling.

If the North London Line can handle eight passenger and two freight trains per hour, then surely the Castlefield Corridor can do the same.

Passenger Behaviour

I was chatting to a station guy on Platform 14 at Piccadilly, who had also worked on the London Underground.

He told me, that Londoners obey his instructions to stand-back, whereas Mancunians don’t!

I watched for about twenty minutes and I think because the trains are rather bad time keepers, when one arrives everybody wants to get on immediately.

Single doors on TransPennine’s trains will make this behaviour worse!


I think Chris Grayling mades a good summary of the problems of doing major work on a busy passenger and freight corridor through a major city.

The only way to deal with the problems of the Castlefield Corridor, is a series of small improvements to the existing system.

  • All trains through the corridor must have two double-doors on each side of each car.
  • Digital signalling must be installed.
  • Platform access must be improved with lots of lifts and escalators.

I also feel that if the trains were running to the timetable, then passengers wouldn’t crowd the platforms.




May 22, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Is It Back To The Future In Manchester?

In the 1970s British Rail, proposed three tunnel projects in the North

  • A Loop and Link  in Liverpool that linked railways from North, South and the Wirral underneath the City Centre.
  • A tunnel under Newcastle.
  • The Picc-Vic Tunnel,  under Manchester.

All three tunnels were designed to connect the railways on both sides of the cities.

  • Liverpool got the much-loved and successful Northern and Wirral Lines of Merseyrail in 1977.
  • Newcastle got the much-loved and successful Tyne and Wear Metro in 1980.
  • Manchester got nothing, as Harold Wilson cancelled it, like Maplin Airport and the Channel Tunnel.

Am I right in thinking that the Channel Tunnel was resurrected later and opened in 1994? It is now much-loved and successful!

Finally, the Government and a lot of opposition MPs and unions have decided that Maplin be replaced by a third runway at Heathrow.

Will that be cancelled by Boris, David, Jeremy, Ruth or Vince?

Today, this article has been published on Rail Magazine, which is entitled Option For Underground Station At Manchester Piccadilly.

Apparently, to integrate Northern Powerhouse Rail into the HS2 station at Manchester Piccadiily station, one option is to go underground.

So are those ideas and surveys of the 1970s being looked at for a solution?


July 9, 2018 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Expanding Manchester Piccadilly Station

This announcement on the Government web site is entitled Put HS3 at the heart of a High Speed North – Adonis.

This is an extract.

Recommendation six: Proposals for the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly station should be prepared jointly by TfN, Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester City Council, Network Rail, DfT and HS2 Ltd.

These organisations should work to together to deliver:

a) Detailed plans for the new east-west platforms 15/16 to facilitate delivery early in Control Period 6 and unlock the development potential of the Mayfield site;

b) A masterplan for the longer-term development of Manchester Piccadilly station as a whole, incorporating capacity for HS2 services and options for the delivery and timing of platform capacity for HS3; and

c) Proposals for funding and financing the station redevelopment, including for private sector and local contributions.

I know Manchester Piccadilly station well  and it has multiple space problems. These pictures illustrate some of the problems on the North side of the station.

You have lots of short trains and long platforms, which means the following.

  • Passengers have to walk long distances.
  • There is confusion of which train to take with more than one in the platform.
  • It must be a nightmare for train operators and their staff.

Surely some reorganisation could improve this mess, that was probably designed by Topsy.

On the South side of the station, there are two of the most crowded platforms in the UK. Platforms 13/14 need a serious sorting out.

Currently, services from Platform 13 seem to go to the following.

  • Huddersfield
  • Leeds
  • Manchester Airport
  • Norwich
  • Scarborough
  • Sheffield
  • York

And from Platform 14 to the following.

  • Blackpool
  • Edinburgh
  • Liverpool
  • Southport

Most of the services seem to be provided by TransPennine Express and I think it is true to say, that when and if the Ordsall Chord is opened, there will be a sorting out of services on these two platforms.

But I do feel that the solution is Network Rail’s preferred one of adding platforms 15/16. They can’t be built soon enough, to ease the overcrowding.

This Google Map shows the layout of Manchester Piccadilly station.

Manchester Piccadilly Station

Manchester Piccadilly Station

The current Platforms 13/14 are along the bottom of the station, connected to the main station by the two small bridges. I would assume that the two new platforms will go on the south side of 13/14.

Wikipedia gives more details of developments related to the Northern Hub and HS2.

It is going to be a tight fit to get all the lines and platforms into the area.

The more I look at the station, the more I tend to think that the Picc-Vic Tunnel might have been a good solution.

It makes me wonder if it would be more efficient for HS2 and HS3 to share a route through Manchester from the Airport to Victoria and on to Huddersfield and Leeds. It would need to be mainly in tunnel and could go right under the city with underground stations. I wrote about it in Rethinking HS2 And HS3.

Surely, if two high speed lines are to go through Manchester, they should share a route?

I have also received this image from a reader; Ben.

An Alternative Cross-Manchester Tunnel

An Alternative Cross-Manchester Tunnel

Ben’s plan illustrates some advantages of a cross-city tunnel, which probably include.

  • Less demolition at stations served by HS2.
  • HS2 and HS3 could probably share platforms.
  • Release of platforms at Piccadilly.
  • A station in the centre of the city.
  • Better links to the trams and local train services
  • Ability to continue in tunnel towards Huddersfield and Leeds.

Remember that we’ve improved our tunnelling capability by a large amount in recent years.

Crossrail in London has also developed station designs and layouts, that could be used in Manchester.

  • Massive double-ended stations to effectively serve two separate locations.
  • Lines and station layouts to ease and encourage same platform interchange.
  • Moving walkways and inclined lifts, where necessary to ease passenger movement.
  • Island platforms to ease interchange between directions and branches, as at Whitechapel.

So could the most passenger friendly station, just called Manchester, be built under the city?

I don’t think that the current plans for Piccadilly, which are just so much conservative dross will be realised, as someone will come up with something much better. But then recommendation six encourages that!


March 15, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adonis Promises Milk And Honey In The Future, But The North Needs Unblocking Now!

I don’t have much time for Lord Adonis, as I always think that unelected politicians who change sides are a bit like the Vicar of Bray.

And lets face it, he was part of Tony Blair’s gang of idiots, who felt that licking Dubya’s arse and making war in Afghanistan and Iraq was more important than creating proper transport links across the north.

But they were only following the lead set by Harold Wilson, when he cancelled the Picc-Vic Tunnel. Wikipedia says this about how the need for the tunnel has been and is being fulfilled.

In 1992, the Metrolink system opened and linked both stations via tram, negating the requirement for a direct rail connection to an extent. In 2011, the Ordsall Chord was announced; it is an overground railway scheme designed to directly link Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria in a comparable fashion to Picc-Vic.

Wouldn’t it have been better to dig the tunnel in the first place?

I heard Lord Haskins and Chris Hyomes from Railfuture on Wake Up To Money this morning and they were aggressive in demanding that something happen sooner rather than later.

After my last trip to Huddersfield and writing Welcome To Huddersfield, I can say, that the Class 185 trains are a sick joke inflicted on the North by Tony Blair as Prime Minister and Gordon Brown as Chancellor. The trains are both too short and to few in number.

And then we have Lord Adonis saying on BBC Breakfast, that the line needs to be electrified as soon as possible.

So how long will the misery of the TransPennine routes continue before the line is electrified? 2022 is mentioned!

In my view there are four solutions for acceptable trains across the Pennines.

  1. Introduce the first bi-mode Class 800 trains on the route.
  2. Introduce the first bi-mode Class 800 trains on the East Coast to release InterCity 125s for the route.
  3. Introduce some locomotive-hauled stock.
  4. Create Class 387 trains with an IPEMU capability, so they could use energy storage to bridge the electrification gaps.

One of these must be implemented before the end of this year.

The first two options are impossible, as the Class 800 trains won’t be ready for passenger service until 2017.

I also think that Option 3 would be unacceptable to passengers, but is probably impossible, as there are no modern diesel locomotives available and probably very few coaches in good condition.

So we’re left with the Class 387 IPEMUs.

  • They are modern four car electric trains, with everything passengers expect. Only wi-fi is missing.
  • The IPEMU technology was successfully demonstrated in early 2015 using a Class 379 train.
  • I rode the demonstrator and was impressed for what that is worth!
  • Bombardier have won awards for the technology.
  • There are well upwards of twenty four-car trains available or being built, that could be modified.
  • There are rumours that IPEMUs could be used on the Great Western.
  • They can work in eight or twelve car trains, where platforms allow.
  • They can travel for over fifty miles on battery power, after charging on electrified track. So Leeds to Manchester is no problem!
  • Liverpool to Newcastle and Edinburgh via Leeds could be served by 110 mph electric trains.

Would a Northern Powerhouse built on battery trains be acceptable to politicians?

In my view, it will have to be, as Derby-built Bombardier Class 387 trains with an IPEMU capability are all we’ve got.

I shall be listening to George Osborne tomorrow!

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Saga Of The Ordsall Chord Goes Into Extra Time

If there is one railway project that sums up one of the worst problems often faced by rail planners in this country it is the endless saga of the Ordsall Chord. Wikipedia describes the chord and the reason for building it in this paragraph.

The Ordsall Chord is a proposed short railway line in the Ordsall area of Greater Manchester. It will link Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria and it is expected to increase capacity in the region and reduce journey times into and through Manchester.

Sadly, the endless fights, that this worthy aim, which would be to the good of millions of rail travellers, could have been avoided if history was different.

The Picc-Vic Tunnel was one of three major tunnels under Northern cities to improve rail services. The other two in Liverpool and Newcastle were built, but Manchester’s solution was cancelled by that very bad friend of trains in the North; Harold Wilson.

And then, the Ordsall Chord was proposed as an alternative to the tunnel. Wikipedia says this.

The chord was first proposed in the late 1970s. Parliamentary powers for its construction were received in 1979, but the project was cancelled. Network Rail revived the proposal in 2010 as part of its Manchester Northern Hub proposal. Funding for its construction was announced in the 2011 United Kingdom budget. It is scheduled to be completed by December 2016, and will cost around £85 million to construct.

So the proposal has been around a long time and since 2011, there has been the money to build it.

In A Single Objector Holds Up The Ordsall Chord, I expressed my despair at the delay and said this.

I will not judge this case one way or the other, but one of the reasons for bad economic progress in the North is  poor and outdated rail infrastructure. So surely, it would have been better to have got this argument out of the way a couple of years ago.

I do wonder in this country, how many projects don’t ever get started because organisations like Network Rail feel it is better not to have a fight and leave the inadequate status quo alone.

So now according to this article in Rail Magazine, which is entitled Whitby issues new challenge to Ordsall Chord, the original objector is taking his challenge to a higher court. This is said in the article.

That High Court ruling also refused Whitby the right to appeal. However, Whitby has appealed this refusal, and on January 11 the Court of Appeal granted Leave to Appeal. Thus the former President of the Institution of Civil Engineers is set to launch his third attempt to derail the Ordsall Chord project, on a date to be set later this year. “The grounds of appeal raise important points and have real prospects of success,” the Court of Appeal said.

Comments from Council leaders in the area are less than pleased.

In another article in Manchester Confidential, there is this user comment.

If Mark Whitby is so right why did he lose the Judicial Review? The judge who heard the hearing Mrs Justice Lang who is no pushover in these matters. Ruled that the Public Enquiry was legally flawless and agreed with the planning inspector that the common good over ruled the objections to the Chord.

I don’t think its about historic buildings more Mr. Whitby’s dented big ego because his route was rejected. 

Hopefully if he loses he should be made to pick up the bill for all the public money he’s wasted.

I think a lot of people feel that way about Mark Whitby.

What worries me is that if the Court of Appeal turns down the appeal, will the case go to the Supreme Court and then an appropriate European one.

The only winners in this sad saga are the lawyers.

But there are millions all over the North, who just want to get about their business, who are very big losers.

And that doesn’t count, all taxpayers from Lands End to John O’Groats, who are eventually footing the bill, for one man’s stubbornness.



January 24, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 6 Comments

Did Manchester Railways Ever Have A Plot?

What are the two odd ones out of these British cities?

Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield

It’s actually, Glasgow and Manchester, as they are only cities other than London with two main stations. The pedantic could argue that Birmingham has more than one, but New Street is very much larger than the others.

Glasgow’s two station; Central and Queen Street, split their services geographically, but at least they could be connected by Crossrail Glasgow, which is summed up like this.

The proposed Crossrail initiative involves electrifying and reopening the City Union Line for regular passenger use in conjunction with new filler sections of track which will connect the North Clyde, Ayrshire, and Kilmarnock and East Kilbride suburban routes together, therefore allowing through running of services through the centre of Glasgow in a North-South axis. 

The scheme never saw fruition however. Will any Glaswegian tell me why, as on paper it looks sensible?

Manchester has a similar problem with two stations at Piccadilly and Victoria. If I’m going to say Burnley or Blackburn, as I often have and want to have lunch at Carluccio’s in Piccadilly, I find I have to traipse across Manchester, usually in the rain, to get the train out of Victoria.

There was a plan in the 1970s for the Picc-Vicc Tunnel, but like the Crossrail Glasgow it has been cancelled.

So now the Ordsall Chord is being built to allow trains to cross Manchester city centre.

It may work well in the end, but it has a touch of the old answer of “I wouldn’t start from here!” to the question of how to get to X.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but it doesn’t seem to be a concept that can catch the imagination of the public, like some public transport schemes do.




June 23, 2014 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Wasn’t The Picc-Vic Tunnel Built?

The Picc-Vicc Tunnel, which would have been a rail bypass under Manchester. Having experienced the tunnel under Liverpool,earlier in the day, I was wondering, why a similar tunnel hadn’t been built in Manchester.

On the way back from Huddersfield to Manchester, I was discussing with several Huddersfield fans, how the Northern Hub would affect their journeys.  All seemed to be welcoming the upgrade, so I asked why the Picc-Vicc tunnel wasn’t built.

One guy, said that he’d been to a lecture at the local historical society. He said that British Rail and the government were planning three tunnels in the 1970s; Liverpool, Manchester and the Tyneside Metro.

So because of cost, one had to be dropped, and Manchester was chosen.

As we’re getting much better with tunnels every year, I wouldn’t say that the Picc-Vicc tunnel is dead. Crossrail was on the back-burner for so long, no-one ever thought it would happen!

Could we for instance see a tunnel under part of Manchester for HS2?

April 8, 2014 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is The Northern Hub Bold Enough?

Yesterday, on my trip to Blackburn, some of the problems that will be addressed by the Northern Hub developments became obvious.

Admittedly, my problems are slightly worse than most passengers as I’m a coeliac, so my chance of buying a decent gluten free meal in Blackburn is about the sane as finding a cold bottle of water in Hell. There isn’t even a Pizza Express, although they do have restaurants in Blackheath and Blackpool.

So to be safe, I have to go via Manchester or Leeds, where there are several good gluten-free restaurants, or at a pinch Preston, where there is a pleasant Pizza Express.

The main problem is that I’m coming up from London and I want to leave Manchester going to the North. Trains from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn are rather decrepit and cramped Class 150 Sprinter DMU or scrapyard specials as I called them in this post. They seem to run twice an hour, which is better than those from Leeds and Preston, which are just hourly.

You can get from Piccadilly to Blackburn, but it involves a change of train at either Salford Crescent or Bolton. The service is two trains per hour and is probably the best way to do it.

Linking the two main stations in Manchester is the key part of the Northern Hub and involves creating the Ordsall Chord. A plan with a similar objective from 1977 was the Picc-Vic Tunnel, but this much bolder plan was cancelled.

The Ordsall Chord won’t particularly help my journey of yesterday, as I would still do the same short journey to Salford Crescent  or Bolton for a train to Blackburn.  The stillborn Picc-Vic Tunnel would probably have had a similar effect to Thameslink in London, where for example arriving passengers from Newcastle going to say Sevenoaks dive into the low-level St. Pancras Thameslink station to get their train. So I would have probably dived into Piccadilly low-level station and got the next half-hourly train to Blackburn.

So I have to ask if the Northern Hub plan is bold enough!

But Manchester isn’t London and there is one big difference! London is very much bigger and the numbers of commuters and other rail users is substantially higher.

Another important factor is that Northern Rail runs trains, that discourage rather than encourage more users.

Because of this last point, the fact that a large amount of railway electrification and refurbishment of trains is taking place is very much a positive influence. Some voices in the North may have sniffed at refurbished Class 319 for their new electric services. But if the refurbishment is as good as it was for the Class 455 of South West Trains, no-one except the new train manufacturers will be complaining.

One great advantage of the Class 319, is that there are 86 trainsets, which would mean that electrifying further lines wouldn’t require the purchase of new trains.

We also have the problem in Europe, that there is a shortage of train building capability. So would we prefer to say buy new Chinese trains or refurbish sound trains in places like Allerton, Doncaster, Ilford and Derby? Especially, if the refurbished trains are just as reliable and comfortable, at a fraction of the cost!

In some ways though, the Northern Hub is an extremely bold project, as it is a bit like Topsy on Speed.

The idea of the Northern Hub was only first mooted in 2009 and now there a lot of work in progress like the restoration and roofing of Manchester Victoria station and the electrification of routes. I took this picture yesterday, as I travelled towards Blackburn.

Electrification In Progress

Electrification In Progress

Already the first parts of the project are in place, with new Class 350 electric trains now running from Manchester Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh via Newton-le-Willows under newly installed wires.

Before the end of this year, you should see a new roof on Manchester Victoria and electric trains connecting Liverpool and Manchester for the first time. When you consider that both cities were electrified for important services to Crewe and the South by 1961 and to London in 1966, it is a disgrace that Liverpool and Manchester have had to wait nearly another fifty years for the electrified link to be inserted.

I described the Northern Hub project as Topsy on speed.  In some ways, a project like Topsy is a nightmare to manage, but in one way the scope of this project is expanding relentlessly. And that is in the area of electrification. When first proposed it was intended to electrify the main lines between Liverpool, Preston and Manchester.  Since then Blackpool and Huddersfield have been added. There is thought to be no connection between the fact that part of the Huddersfield line is known as the Real Ale Trail and the decision to electrify that line.

Knowing the area and its problems well as I do, I can’t believe that by 2020 there aren’t plans in place to add more lines to the electrification program.

Already the Todmorden Curve is being rebuilt, so that direct diesel services from Manchester Victoria to Burnley can begin later this year. Although Wikipedia says that services might not begin, due to lack of suitable rolling stock. Every line electrified would need new electric trains, but would also release some diesel ones for use elsewhere.

So do we have the virtuous circle, where by refurbishing Class 319 trains, we get the rolling stock to electrify lines, which releases much needed diesel trains to be used to provide a better and more frequent service on other lines to increase the passenger traffic, so that the lines are worth electrifying. And as any number of examples have shown, clean, reliable and frequent electric train services generate a momentum of their own.

In some ways, these lines are very similar to the Valley Lines  in Wales. Important to their communities, but neglected and depending on scrapyard specials to move everybody around. But the government has plans for the Valley Lines, as detailed in this extract from Wikipedia.

On 16 July 2012 the UK Government announced plans to extend the electrification of the network at a cost of £350 million. This was at the same time of the announcement of electrification of the South Wales Main Line from Cardiff to Swansea. This would also see investment in new trains and continued improvements to stations. It is thought to start between 2014 and 2019.

We should boldly go on the development of the Northern Hub. On the other hand, progress has been so good this far, perhaps we just need to ensure that it continues at this rate.

I would also suggest that those in charge of the Valley Lines upgrade, take note of what must be good practice in Lancashire.



April 6, 2014 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 2 Comments