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June 25, 2018updated 30 Jul 2021 2:08pm

Opinion: Manchester’s Ordsall Chord was not the cause of its rail network’s problems

By Philip Chandler

One of our occasional forays into the CityMetric postbag


Whilst the article on 11 reasons why Northern rail is in chaos was generally accurate and informative, I feel that the paragraph on the Ordsall Chord came to the erroneous conclusion that it is becoming a curse. I believe this was a result of a common misunderstanding of what the chord is actually there to do.

 The article stated, “The Ordsall Curve has created more demand without creating any new capacity.” This is not the case at all. The Ordsall Chord, at least with the services running over it in the current timetable, cannot create any new demand whatsoever. Besides journeys between the central Manchester stations (where you can often walk faster than the train, or get a much more frequent tram or bus), no direct journey opportunities are available now that weren’t available before the chord. The trains that use the chord do not gain any time through doing so. The idea of the chord is emphatically not to (directly) increase passenger demand.

It is true that there are now more services passing through Victoria, but this isn’t fundamentally a bad thing – Victoria is a through station and is used most effectively when trains run through it. Previously, most trains terminated there, so having them pass through – whether they are Transpennine trains going long distances or Northern ones terminating at Rochdale or Stalybridge instead – increases capacity at the station.

There is a case to be made that there are too many trains are at Victoria, and that the station isn’t big enough to cope. The solution is to make improvements at Victoria to help it cope with the number of trains, not to keep them causing similar trouble at Piccadilly.

It is also certainly true that problems do occur when these services are not running on time – but this is not, in general, caused by the Ordsall Chord, or by trains running through the station rather than terminating, but by wider issues with Northern at the moment.

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The real advantage of the chord is to improve capacity at Piccadilly. Piccadilly is built to be a terminus for trains from the south, not a through station for trains to and from the east – yet that is what Transpennine used it for until the timetable change.

The old timetable saw trains arriving from the Airport, reversing at Piccadilly and carrying on towards Huddersfield. This isn’t a very good use of the station. These trains were using the terminating platforms despite not terminating at the station, and were getting in the way of other trains as they came in and out.

Worse still was the Liverpool to Scarborough service, which used the through platforms at Piccadilly and then ran across the main lines out of the station in order to get towards Stalybridge, getting in the way of everything in the process.

It is far preferable to switch these services to Victoria, which is built as a through station, and to use that as the main station in Manchester for West Yorkshire and destinations beyond. To achieve this, the chord is needed – to get the airport trains to Victoria, and to maintain links to Piccadilly for the Transpennine trains.

The hope is that now paths will be freed up into Piccadilly from the south, allowing more trains to run on the lines that converge on Stockport, and improving reliability, too. These services haven’t yet been realised for many of the reasons you state, but will undoubtedly be of benefit when they do arrive.

Of course, all of these advantages of the chord are theoretical, and the reality since the change has not live up to the hopes. The important point, though, is that the Ordsall Chord was not the cause these problems: instead it’s an example of the kind of infrastructure that is needed to improve capacity in Manchester. It is indeed correct to say that the lack of extra through platforms at Piccadilly undermines the purpose of the chord – but to suggest that the chord is in itself a curse is very much mistaken. The problems highlighted have been despite the chord, not because of it.

Kind Regards,

Philip Chandler, Halifax

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