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Manchester Metrolink calls for all kinds of connections

Creating 60 km of light railway provided some complex engineering, logistical and relationship challenges for the MPT team.

The £1.5bn Manchester Metrolink project is a major project to extend the light rail network in the city. The job involves 60 km of new track to extend the network from Rochdale to East Didsbury and out to Manchester Airport.

The project was awarded in 2008 to a consortium of Laing O’Rourke, VolkerRail and Thales.

Challenging interfaces

This is a complex scheme for several reasons including its size, the number of stakeholders involved and the interfaces between converted heavy rail, new lines and disused track.

“We’ve completed and got up and running about 45 km out of 60 km,” says MPT project director Bryan Diggins. “That’s operational fee paying passengers using the line.”

“The biggest challenge is the number of interfaces and stakeholders we have to deal with”

Bryan Diggins, MPT

“The last 15 km is a line out to the airport, extended from the city centre to the airport. I’ve been working on it since early 2008 – I was personally involved in the tender right the way through construction to final completion, which will be towards the end of the year.”

The new light railway is not entirely new infrastructure and has several different components.

“One 22 km section of the line involved changing Network Rail heavy track to light rail,” Mr Diggins says. “Around 5 km was existing railway line which had been suspended during cuts in the 1960s, while other sections were new street-level lines.

“So it’s a mixture of what was there originally from closing out a heavy rail to building a tram system down the route of the existing road.”

Working with stakeholders

The new rail lines are expansive and go through seven different local authorities, creating interfaces with lots of local businesses and communities.

“The biggest challenge is the number of interfaces and stakeholders we have to deal with,” Mr Diggins says. “What’s been most successful is the relationship we’ve had with those stakeholders.

“We’ve worked as a team with the local authorities; the project goes through seven different local authorities, and we’ve built up a fantastic relationship with them and have been mutually supportive and that’s what creates the biggest success.”

“We glided the bridges place and opened both motorways ahead of schedule”

Bryan Diggins, MPT

This has included working in the same offices where possible and working closely with all the shareholders involved.

“We needed to manage the expectations of all the stakeholders.

“The public interface is vital to the success of a light rail system. We’ve organised our team so they have very local relationships with the people that we’re working next door to.”

Dealing with a series of complex interfaces meant the team needed to plan the works extremely carefully and ensure this was communicated effectively with the local community and shareholders.

Gliding in new bridges

One particular engineering challenge was to construct two new 580-tonne bridges over the M60 and M65 motorways.

“We closed the motorways and moved the bridges into place using multipurpose vehicles,” Mr Diggins explains. “We glided them into place and opened both motorways ahead of schedule.”

Another 52 m bridge was lifted into place over the Manchester to Leeds railway during a 72-hour possession.

“In some areas the system engineering was pretty challenging,” he says. Some areas had been in disrepair for years, so the team had to clear large amounts of flora and fauna before any construction work could begin.

They put in place natural habitat replacement provisions, relocated rare plant species and provided wildlife habitats including bat boxes, bee hotels and badger sets.

Using offsite manufacturing, MPT constructed 55 tram stops using modular concrete units that were assembled onsite.

Almost 3,000 units were required to deliver the new tram stops, with the onsite construction process reduced from a typical 10-12 weeks to just four days.

Completion of Metrolink Phase 3 will see Greater Manchester’s metrolink network expanded threefold.

Facts and stats

  • 60 km of new track/highway alignment
  • 55 new tram stops
  • A fully equipped depot accommodating an extended fleet of 90 new vehicles
  • 240 km of new rail requiring 14,000 welds
  • 200 km of copper wire and 2,700 poles installed for the overhead power lines
  • 19 new bridges
  • 250 refurbished existing structures
  • 1.5m design hours producing 120,000 drawings
  • More than 300 staff and 2,000 site operatives at peak
  • £1m spent every two days at the project’s peak
  • Interfaces with seven local planning authorities requiring more than 1,200 separate statutory approvals

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