Northern Hub

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Schematic map showing rail improvements through Manchester city centre as part of the Northern Hub.
Manchester Victoria station was voted the worst station in the UK in 2009. As part of the Northern Hub, the station will be modernised with a new roof which will be completed by early 2015.

The Northern Hub is a rail project across Northern England aimed at stimulating economic growth by increasing train services, reducing journey times and electrifying lines between the major cities and towns in the north.[1] The project has a steering partnership involving Network Rail, Deutsche Bahn, First TransPennine Express, Northern Rail, East Midlands Trains, CrossCountry Trains, Freightliner, the Department for Transport, Transport for Greater Manchester and Merseytravel.[2][3] The project was announced in 2009 as the Manchester Hub entailling a series of upgrades to cut journey times between cities in Northern England by alleviating rail bottlenecks around Manchester.[3][4]

Central to the project is the resolution of rail bottlenecks around Manchester city centre allowing more capacity and faster journey times between the northern cities. The construction of two through platforms at Piccadilly will allow 14 trains per hour as against 10. Manchester Victoria station is being modernised to become the east-west rail interchange in northern England. Trains from the north east to Manchester Airport will use a new section of railway, the £85 million Ordsall Chord, between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road to access Manchester Piccadilly and continue to the airport without the need to reverse at Piccadilly and without conflicting movements at the station throat. Services from Liverpool to Leeds and beyond will be diverted from the Cheshire Lines route via Warrington Central and Manchester Piccadilly to the electrified line via Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Victoria.

The Manchester Hub Study, outlining the project, was released by Network Rail in February 2010. Costs were estimated at £530 million, subsequently reassessed to £560 million.[3][5] Chancellor George Osborne approved expenditure of £85 million for the new track link in his budget on 23 March 2011,[6] and other aspects of the scheme were reviewed to ensure best value. A further £130 million was committed in Osborne's budget of March 2012,[7] and approval for the full scheme was confirmed by the government on 16 July 2012. The first trains are expected to run on the new linking track in 2016 and the project completed by 2018.[8]

Support for the scheme has been vociferous from civic and business leaders due to the high benefit-to-cost ratio and from politicians such as Chancellor George Osborne but criticised for being incremental and only improvingthe rail network in Northern England to "where it should have been a decade ago".[9] The scheme has a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of £4 for every £1 invested - double that of Crossrail and the proposed High Speed 2 which have a BCR of £2.10 and £2.30 respectively.[10][11] A more comprehensive upgrade of inter-city travel in northern England was proposed in 2014 dubbed 'High Speed 3' and the 'Crossrail of the North'.


Approximately 90% of Northern Rail's rolling stock was built in the 1980s, including the unpopular "Pacers" (pictured). As of 2014, the last investment in new-built rolling stock for Northern Rail was in 1998.[12][13]

The Northern Hub was proposed in February 2010 to resolve recurring problems around Manchester city centre which restricted route capacity and frequently caused delays.

  • Terminating trains in through platforms as opposed to terminal platforms at Manchester Victoria station removed capacity for trains passing through Manchester. The problem could have been mitigated by an additional terminating platform west of the station but operational efficiencies were achieved by altering route paths to relieve congestion.
  • Congestion at Manchester Piccadilly was caused by trains having to reverse to travel on to Manchester Airport and trains between Liverpool and Yorkshire or the East Midlands had to switch lines across the throat of the station temporarily blocking all other services.
  • Freight trains pass through Manchester city centre, unusual for a city centre rail network. Currently two freight trains per hour pass through Manchester to Trafford Park and no alternative route exists.[14] Freight trains using passenger routes through Manchester was raised in Parliament in 2002.[15]

Network Rail concluded that no single intervention would unlock the bottlenecks but that greater efficiency and enhancement to services was possible. A proposal to use Piccadilly primarily for north-south services and Victoria for east-west services was agreed as the most effective course of action.[16]

The re-alignment of services commenced in May 2014 when TransPennine Express services between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle Central were routed through Manchester Victoria rather than Manchester Piccadilly. It is expected most TransPennine Express services will pass through Victoria by 2018 after the construction of the Ordsall Chord.


Ten new Class 350 were introduced to coincide with Newton-le-Willows to Manchester electrification in 2013. The trains operate on the Edinburgh to Manchester route.

Network Rail's aim is for all schemes - including electrification, station upgrades and track work - to be completed by the end of 2018.

  • April - work begins on restoring Manchester Victoria station
  • 30 December - Manchester to West Coast Main Line and Newton-le-Willows electrification complete. New four-carriage Class 350s are introduced, reducing journey times and increasing capacity on the Edinburgh-Manchester Airport route.
  • 20 May - a new fast service between Liverpool and Newcastle via Manchester Victoria begins delivering journey time reductions
  • December - Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool Lime Street and Huyton to Wigan electrification complete - delayed, first services Liverpool to Manchester Airport did not run until March 2015. Four-carriage Class 319s will be introduced increasing capacity between Liverpool and Manchester Airport via Manchester Piccadilly.
  • Spring - Completion of Manchester Victoria station redevelopment
  • Early 2016 - work begins on building two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and re-configuring Manchester Oxford Road (subject to application approval, expected in late 2015)
  • May - Preston-Blackpool electrification complete
  • December - Manchester Victoria to Preston electrification complete
  • December - Manchester to Stalybridge electrification complete (TP phase 1)
  • Platforms 15 and 16 to be operational at Manchester Piccadilly
  • December
    • Manchester to Leeds and York electrification complete (TP phase 2)
    • Two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly completed and operational


The partially complete new roof at Manchester Victoria in July 2014

Major station upgrades[edit]

A number of major station upgrades which include new platforms, station layout re-configuration and redevelopment. Most of the improvements will be in Manchester to alleviate a 'major bottleneck' which frequently causes delays to passing services and restricts routes.

Manchester Victoria[edit]

Manchester Victoria station - the centrepiece of the Northern Hub, the station will be re-configured as the railway hub of Northern England by accepting east-west rail services. Once voted the worst station in the United Kingdom, Victoria will receive a £44 million transformation which includes a new £20 million roof encapsulating the entire concourse and four platforms.

Manchester Piccadily[edit]

Manchester Piccadilly - the two through platforms, 13 and 14, will be modernised and two new through platforms (15 and 16) will be built over Fairfield Street to alleviate congestion.[17]

Manchester Oxford Road[edit]

Manchester Oxford Road - the platforms will be lengthened and a new station footbridge will be built. The Grade II listed timber grid-shell roof will be incorporated into the new station.[18] As part of the redevelopment the surrounding site around Oxford Road station could be redeveloped with up to 500,000 sq ft of office, residential and leisure space.[19][20] It is expected Network Rail will operate Oxford Road directly following the completion of redevelopment in 2018.


Two new platforms will be built at a cost of £13.6 million to alleviate congestion.[21]

Salford Crescent[edit]

The station will receive a £12 million redevelopment programme with a view to further development should capacity be required.[22]

Station improvements[edit]

Many railway stations in need of further capacity will see improvements.

  • Manchester Airport - a new platform will be built at Manchester Airport to create more capacity allowing for direct services from other cities in Northern England. Construction of the new platform began in February 2014.[23]
  • Huyton and Roby - two new tracks through the stations to allow faster trains to pass and will also provide two additional platforms.
  • Burnley Manchester Road - will receive a £2.3 million upgrade ahead of the reinstatement of a direct rail service to Manchester Victoria (via re-opened Todmorden Curve) in 2015.[24]
  • Dore and Totley railway station - the station is to receive an extra platform, increasing the station to two platforms from one. The current single track will be upgraded to two tracks, with a footbridge for passengers to cross to the new platform.[25]

Expected benefits[edit]

A 1900 tiled mural of the rail network in Northern England at Manchester Victoria.

If funded in full, Northern Hub is expected to deliver the following benefits:[26]

  • 14 trains an hour through Manchester city centre - compared with 10 currently - allowing for more trains and new routes through Manchester
  • Up to 700 more trains per day with space for 44 million more people to travel by train each year
  • Two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Lime Street
  • Six fast trains an hour between Leeds and Manchester (as opposed to four now)
  • New rail services to Manchester Airport from Bradford, Calder Valley, Halifax, Chester
  • A 15-minute rail service to Manchester Airport running between Victoria, Oxford Road, Piccadilly and onwards to Manchester Airport.
  • A new express service between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle Central via Manchester Victoria and Leeds. This service started in May 2014.

Journey times[edit]

The Class 319 will provide faster journey times and greater capacity compared with pacer trains. The refurbished Class 319 will enter service in December 2014 between Liverpool and Manchester.

As part of the Northern Hub scheme; electrification of key lines will enable faster electric rolling stock which increases capacity and lowers journey times. Typically, diesel trains that operate between Manchester and Liverpool such as the Class 142 and Class 156 have a maximum speed limit of 75 mph. Following electrification, Class 319 will be used enabling a top speed of 100 mph.

Network Rail have published target times from Manchester which they hope will be achieved following improvements that the Northern Hub entails:[3]

  • Leeds and Manchester target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 14 minutes
  • Bradford and Manchester target time: 50 minutes - a reduction of 10 minutes
  • Manchester and Sheffield target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 8 minutes
  • Chester and Manchester target time: 40 minutes - a reduction of 23 minutes
  • Liverpool and Manchester target time: 30 minutes - a reduction of 17 minutes. A reduced journey time of 37 minutes was achieved in May 2014 with the introduction of a new 'express' route between Liverpool and Manchester. The introduction of Class 319 trains in May 2015 will reduce journey times between both cities to 30 minutes.
  • Manchester and Preston target time: 30 minutes - a reduction of 9 minutes
  • In addition, there will be faster journey times to the East Midlands via Sheffield, Chester, Halifax, Hull, Newcastle and the North East


A diagram showing the Ordsall Chord.

The plans that make up the Northern Hub include:[27]

  • Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria directly linked by the Ordsall Chord
  • Improvement of existing stations in need of renovation, most notably the roofless Manchester Victoria which was rated as the worst station in the United Kingdom in 2009.[28]
  • New platforms at Manchester Piccadilly for trains arriving from/going to Oxford Road, enabling traffic from the north and west of the city to get to the south side of the city.
  • New passing track on the line from Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows, between Roby and Huyton
  • New capacity on routes through the Pennines between Leeds, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Manchester
  • New passing tracks on the line between Sheffield and Manchester, at Chinley, Grindleford and Dore


A number of electrification projects for rail lines out of Manchester are underway, or have been approved.[29] While formally independent of the Northern Hub scheme, they directly complement it:

  • Manchester to Liverpool Line: Manchester to Newton-le-Willows was completed in December 2013 and onwards to Liverpool should have been completed by December 2014 - originally announced by the Department for Transport in July 2009.[30][31] The 32-mile line between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Victoria via Huyton and Newton Le-Willows currently has a maximum permitted speed of 75 mph. Following electrification and the addition of Class 319s, trains will be able to run at 90 mph cutting journey times from 47 minutes to 32 minutes. The Manchester to Newton-le-Willows section was completed on 17 July 2013 marked by a small ceremony at Eccles station at which the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin MP, was present. Electrified Manchester to Edinburgh and Glasgow services have been running since the timetable change in December 2013. Due to several delays the original target for the remaining section from Earlestown to Liverpool was missed but electric train services commenced in March 2015, initially between Liverpool and Manchester Airport.
  • Liverpool to Wigan Line This is a section of part two of the Northern Hub project. The Liverpool to Wigan line from its junction at Huyton is also to be electrified, providing a second, direct, connection to the WCML at Ince Moss Junction via St. Helens Central. Originally intended to be operational by December 2014, due to delays the target has been missed, but the vast majority of masts and wiring is in place between Huyton Junction and Ince Moss Junction. Electrification completion is expected during 2015.
  • Manchester to Preston Line (via Bolton): To be completed by December 2016.[29][30] - electrification announced in December 2009. Preparatory work on bridges and tunnels will commence in 2014 and installation of overhead lines will begin shortly afterwards.
  • Preston to Blackpool North: To be completed by May 2016[29][32] - an extension of the Manchester to Preston Line, this will provide an electrified route from Blackpool to Manchester and the West Coast Main Line
  • Huddersfield Line (also known as Manchester to Leeds and York via Stalybridge): Expected to be carried out between 2016 and 2018.[29][33] Electrification announced in November 2011.


See also: High Speed 3

A growing consensus has been reached that, following Crossrail and High Speed 2, the next key infrastructure requirement is a continuation of the Northern Hub which has been described as 'incremental'. David Higgins, chairman of the HS2, stated in March 2014 that the Northern Hub scheme is incremental and the benefits of the High Speed 2 will not be fully felt if rail links between Northern cities are not improved.[34] In June 2014, Chancellor of the Exchequer stated his vision to see improved transport links between Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds to increase economic productivity.[35] Osborne's proposals were nicknamed 'Crossrail of the North' and 'High Speed 3'.


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  2. ^ "Partners". Northern Hub. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
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  5. ^ "Rail investment proposed for North England cities". Network Rail. 16 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Rentoul, John (24 March 2011). "The speech: What Osborne said - and what he really meant". The Independent. 
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  15. ^ "Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-229)". 19 June 2002. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  16. ^ "Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority - Report for Resolution". GMPTE. 19 March 2010. 
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  18. ^ "Our plans: Manchester Oxford Road". Network Rail. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  19. ^ "DTZ to head development contest at Oxford Road Station". Place North West. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  20. ^ "Former Cornerhouse site set for redevelopment as office, hotel and leisure complex". Manchester Evening News. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Northern Hub among £37.5bn rail spending plan". Insider Media. 8 January 2013. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  22. ^ "A major upgrade for Salford Crescent station". Network Rail. 15 October 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "George Osborne launches £600m Northern Hub rail project". The Guardian. 7 February 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  24. ^ "Work starts on £2.3m Burnley railway station revamp". BBC News. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 
  25. ^ "Consultation on Sheffield rail upgrade plan". Sheffield Star. 25 October 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
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  30. ^ a b North West Electrification, Network Rail. Accessed 16 July 2012
  31. ^ "Rail Electrification - July 2009" (PDF). p. 22. 
  32. ^ "North-West Electrification". Network Rail. 
  33. ^ Electrification: Leeds-York is in, and more could follow, Rail News, 16 December 2011
  34. ^ "Higgins ditches High Speed 2 link to HS1 and Continent". 18 March 2014. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  35. ^ "New high-speed rail link needed to boost north of England, Osborne to say". BBC News. 23 June 2014. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 

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