If you listened in to the Budget this afternoon, you’d have heard George Osborne giving the green light for two regional rail schemes: redoubling the single line between Swindon and Kemble (rather outside our area of coverage) and an £85 million project to build a new railway line in Ordsall that will allow trains to link Piccadilly and Victoria stations via the outskirts of the cities. So what is this scheme all about?
The map above shows the current railways around Manchester in blue. The proposed Ordsall Curve is the red line that connects the existing lines from Salford Crescent to Deansgate and Salford Central, completing the missing side of the triangle (note that our map only shows a rough outline of where the curve will be located). It would form the first phase of the proposed £530 million Northern Hub scheme that will add capacity to the rail system across the region, allowing lots more trains to operate to Manchester.
The new chord would allow transpennine rail services from Leeds to be diverted to Victoria station, and then operate via Oxford Road and Piccadilly and onwards to Manchester Airport. This would also result in less conflicting movements on the approaches to Piccadilly station, as currently transpennine services to the airport have to cross from one side of the tracks to the other. By keeping them on the western side of the tracks (for the junction to the airport at Longsight) this would allow more commuter trains to operate into Piccadilly station from the south.
All good so far: train journeys to Leeds and Liverpool should be speeded up by several minutes, at least if you’re travelling from city centre to city centre. There will be new direct services between Victoria and the airport. And with electrification of routes to Liverpool and Blackpool currently in the pipeline, it makes sense to consider how the Ordsall Curve will impact upon this project. So what (if any) problems might be lurking?
The biggest obstacle we can see is how busy the existing double-track line between Deansgate and Piccadilly platforms 13 and 14 are already. We understand that the full half-billion pound Hub scheme provides for two additional through platforms at Piccadilly, though we’re not certain whether the scheme announced today will include these. Without them, there will be a limit to how many additional trains can be squeezed in between the existing services. There’s also a question mark over what will become of the current express trains between Piccadilly and Liverpool via Warrington Central and “Liverpool South Parkway for John Lennon International Airport” if the current service is diverted via Victoria. We await further details on this project with bated breath.
[Image credit: “Brick Railway Arches (Beetham Tower in the distance)” by Tom Blackwell on Flickr]