Victoria: the rebirth of a railway station

Piccadilly remains the principal station in Manchester, but the city’s second station - Victoria - has benefited from a huge redevelopment in recent years.

Under an extensive modernisation project undertaken by Network Rail, careful attention has been paid to the history and impressive architecture of this 173-year-old transport hub.

When it was opened in January 1844, Manchester Victoria had just one platform. Over the following few years the railway construction boom led to more lines being built throughout the North West, and the station was gradually expanded. However, it would be 1909 before the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) enlarged Victoria to 17 platforms, of which ten were terminus platforms and seven through platforms. 

Fronting the station was a large imposing stone station building, which featured an impressive clock tower on one corner. Over the years this building has provided office accommodation and training facilities for railway staff, and at one time it was also home to a renowned signalling school. The main station building survives to this day and is one of the most distinctive buildings in Manchester.

At one time Manchester Victoria featured the longest railway platform in Europe; Platform 11 was directly linked to Platform 3 of the neighbouring Manchester Exchange station, which had been built by the London and North Western Railway in 1884. While Manchester Exchange station was closed to passengers in May 1969, the long platform remained until the late 1980s. Exchange station was retained for use by newspaper trains until the same time, but has since been demolished and the land redeveloped. 

The first reduction in platform capacity took place in the early 1970s when terminus Platforms 1-3 were taken out of use. This was a result of fewer services needing to be accommodated at the station following the railway closures made under The Reshaping of British Railways report of 1963, commissioned by infamous British Railways Board Chairman Dr Richard Beeching. The trainshed roof bay which had covered Platforms 1-3 was subsequently removed and the adjoining side wall of the station, alongside Platform 1, was also demolished along most of its length.

During the 1990s Victoria underwent many changes. At the start of the decade construction of the pioneering Metrolink tram system began. The arrival of Metrolink would herald the end of the unique 1,200V DC side-contact Class 504 electric services between Bury and Victoria which, along with the Altrincham to Manchester service, would form the route of the first phase of a planned network of light rail lines into the city. 

The two busy commuter lines would be linked by a section of street-running tramway through the centre of Manchester, and the Metrolink trams would arrive at a new island platform at Manchester Victoria before leaving the station via a sharp radius curve and exiting through the wall of the station and into Manchester through Long Millgate and up Balloon Street. 

The British Rail (BR) electric services had used Platform 5 at Victoria for many years, with Platform 4 retained for emergency use (albeit being rarely used). However, Platforms 7 and 8 were demolished to make way for the new Metrolink platforms. The tram service would have three platforms at Victoria. Two of these, Platforms B and C, were located on the new island platform (the former for terminating services from Bury and the latter for through services towards Piccadilly and Altrincham). Platform A, for Bury-bound services, was constructed alongside the passenger concourse. 

The final BR services to Bury departed on July 13 1991, bringing an end to the operator’s services on the line. The trackwork into Platforms 4 and 5 was quickly removed, as were the platforms themselves, and this section of the station was swiftly redeveloped to provide additional car parking.

Nine months later, on April 6 1992, Metrolink services started operating between Bury and Victoria, with links extended through the city centre to G-Mex (alongside the former Manchester Central station) three weeks later. Metrolink quickly proved to be successful, and a number of extensions have been added over the past few years as it continues to build towards the network of lines into Manchester that the transport planners had always envisioned. 

One of the biggest changes at Victoria took place in late 1992, when the roof over Platforms 12 to 17 was removed in preparation for a remodelling of the station as part of the construction of the new Manchester Arena. 

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  • Manchester Mike - 15/03/2017 18:26

    Great history summary, thx.

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