The BDP-designed 'squashed tennis racket' arches form the centrepiece of Network Rail’s £320m project

TWO of Europe’s largest crawler cranes, 600 tonnes of steel, four hours and just a few millimetres to work with, the brand new Ordsall Chord bridge has been lowered into place on the banks of the River Irwell today (Tues 21 Feb).

The bridge – the first ‘network arch’ of its kind in the UK and described by the architect, BDP’s Peter Jenkins, as a ‘squashed tennis racket’ – features two slender twin arches spanning 89 metres, diagonal splayed wires (as opposed to vertical suspension wires) and a dip in the steelwork the team here have affectionately titled ‘The Swoosh’.

Once stress tested and welded into place, the bridge will form the centrepiece of Network Rail’s £320m project, which will see Manchester’s three main stations, Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly, linked via heavy rail for the first time ever, increasing capacity and easing congestion at the latter by an estimated 25%.

Network Rail say the new 300 metre Ordsall Chord stretch will not only allow more frequent services to run through the city, but will increase direct links across Northern Powerhouse cities and open new routes directly to Manchester Airport from locations including Newcastle, Bradford and Rochdale.

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The Ordsall Chord bridge being lifted and fitted into place on Tuesday 21 February

The project – which began in October 2015 – had prompted objections and appeals from heritage groups on the grounds that the new stretch would involve the demolition of Grade II-listed buildings, throw George Stephenson’s nearby Grade I-listed viaduct into the shade, and break the link between the 1830 Liverpool Road Station – the world’s first passenger railway station – and the wider network (more here)

However, a decision by the Secretary of State for Transport concluded that the ‘harm to heritage assets in the vicinity would in this instance be outweighed by the public benefits’, whilst the nearby Museum of Science and Industry – which runs steam services along the original 1830 line – withdrew their objection following a £3m donation by Network Rail.

Network Rail’s programme manager, Allan Parker, said: “As you can imagine, the sheer size of the arches and the accuracy needed to position them meant there was a lot of planning that took place previously. I have been working on this project from the very beginning and I am extremely proud of every milestone we have achieved. However, the sight of the arches elevated over the River Irwell was very special and will live long in my memory.”

Works on the Ordsall Chord - part of Network Rail's wider Great North Rail Project - are expected to complete by December 2017.

Here's a CGI of how the bridge will eventually look plus more images from today's operation...

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