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National Rail Stations in Central Manchester

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Manchester Piccadilly Station

At one time or another there have been nine railway stations in central Manchester. While some have closed, there are still four stations serving the central area of the city. This is a brief guide to all the stations past and present, starting with the existing stations.

Current Stations

At the time of writing there are four stations in Manchester. Piccadilly (the largest) and Victoria are the two main terminuses, while Oxford Road and Deansgate both serve the south and west of the city centre on a line that links Piccadilly to Trafford and Salford.

Piccadilly Station

Piccadilly Station is the main railway station for Manchester and sits on pillars next to the A6 London Road. With 14 National Rail platforms it is both the largest and busiest station in the city and is also a terminus for the Metrolink tram system.

The station opened as a terminus for the Manchester and Birmingham Railway in 1842 and was originally called Store Street, being renamed London Road Station in 1847. The line to Sheffield via the Woodhead tunnel opened in 1845, and platforms 13 and 14 opened four years later in 1849, serving the Manchester South Junction and Altrincham1 Railway. Passengers received some protection from the famously wet Manchester weather when a cast iron and glass roof supported on cast iron columns was built over the platforms in the 1860s. The roof was extended in the 1880s and the entire four-arch train shed is now a Grade II listed building. In the 1960s the lines running into the station were electrified and it was renamed Manchester Piccadilly. In 1989 the Trans-Pennine services were moved from Victoria to Piccadilly, and a new link at the Ordsall Road Junction near the old Liverpool Road station was opened which allowed trains from Preston and Bolton to run into Piccadilly. The roof was refurbished in the late 1990s.

The current station, which underwent massive improvements ahead of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, is an impressive, modern affair. The main entrance is reached by a long shop-lined ramp from the A6 and a new secondary entrance combined with a taxi rank has been opened on street level at the junction between the A6 and Fairfield Street. There are further entrances for the Metrolink and for platforms 13 and 14.

The concourse is centred around a large display telling you where the next trains to each destination depart from. Bars and eateries are perched on balconies around the concourse and provide a great place to people-watch. There are several shops and a small supermarket in the station allowing travellers to stock up with snacks, books, magazines and newspapers for their journey.

The train shed itself is separated from the concourse by a huge glass partition with doors to allow access to the platforms. Platforms 1-11 are all directly accessible from the concourse, with platform 12 close by. Platforms 13 and 14 are for through trains, which include all the west-bound trains; they are reached by a bridge at the far end of the main platforms and they are the busiest part of the station. To reach them you can use the travelator to take you out up to a waiting area where passengers wait to be called forward. Both of the through platforms are so long that they are divided into front and back sections, and care should be taken to make sure that you get on the right train.

Piccadilly is the terminus for trains to Buxton, Marple, Sheffield and Glossop in the east as well as for trains into Cheshire and Wales. The station is also the terminus for Virgin Trains' West Coast and Cross Country services. There is a twice-hourly Pendalino2 service to London Euston. Midland Mainline tried and failed to establish a HST3 to London St Pancras. Occasional through services run to both London Paddington and London Waterloo though journey times are best measured by calendars rather than clocks. All trains from Manchester to its airport run from Piccadilly.

Many cross-country trains run though platforms 13 and 14, including all the Liverpool trains, as well as trains to places further afield such as Blackpool, Norwich and Glasgow. Trains departing westward from these platforms travel over a brick viaduct which bisects the UMIST4 campus before arriving at Oxford Road Station.

Approximately 1,000 train movements are handled daily at the station.

Piccadilly is also the main terminus of the Metrolink tram system with two platforms at street level in the station undercroft. All the trams to Eccles as well as many of the trams to Bury and Altrincham5 leave from Piccadilly. There are plans for a Metrolink extension which call for a new westbound line heading towards the City of Manchester Stadium6 and Ashton-under-Lyne.

The best way to get from Piccadilly station to the city centre is by walking north along London Road/Piccadilly for a quarter of a mile, which brings you to Piccadilly Square Gardens where you can get buses and trams to just about every part of Manchester, and is within walking distance of most of the entertainment and cultural attractions of the city centre. It should be noted that Fairfield Street, around the entrance to platforms 13 and 14, is the red light district and really should be avoided after dark.

Victoria Station

Juxtaposed with Piccadilly's busy 'spanglyness', Manchester's other main terminus is a deserted relic, comparatively speaking. With Victorian ticket windows, elegant destination lettering on the outside and a vast tiled map showing all the routes it used to serve on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, it is tempting to wonder which decade (or even which century) you have just stepped into. This sense of confusion is heightened when you find out how badly the roof stops the rain coming in.

The station approach and taxi rank overlook the Urbis Centre7 and Chetham's School of Music, and are in turn overlooked by the station's 160-foot-long Edwardian façade which includes an elegant wrought iron and glass canopy showing the names of towns and cities once served by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway8. At one point, somebody decided that the best way to highlight the architectural merits of the station was to build a massive indoor arena on top of part of it. The Manchester Arena (formerly the MEN Arena) was built in anticipation of Manchester's bid for the 2000 summer Olympics (unsuccessful) and entry from inside the station can be made from the bridge across the platforms.

The original station building, completed in 1844, was designed by George Stephenson9 and had just a single platform to serve the Manchester and Leeds railway. This was linked to the line out of Liverpool Road via the Salford terminus of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Railway later in the year. The station expanded quickly, the current 700-yard-long train shed was built to cover the platforms, and by the 1880s Manchester Victoria was one of Britain's biggest stations. Local architect William Dawes masterminded the extension to the station that opened in 1909 which included the 160-foot-long façade. The station frontage was damaged by an IRA bomb that exploded close by in 1996, but most of it has been repaired and returned to its former grandeur.

Victoria is a terminus for trains to Yorkshire, Rochdale, Southport and Liverpool via East Lancashire; all westbound services except for the Liverpool trains run via Salford Central. The train from Kirby, Merseyside to Manchester undergoes a series of destination changes. At the Merseyside end, it says that it goes as far as Wigan; at Wigan it changes to being Manchester-bound; and at Victoria it changes to being bound for Yorkshire. On the way back, it is signed to Kirby all the way from Manchester. At one point in the late 1990s there was a train from London Euston to Manchester Victoria. It was seen by some people, generally members of the media who have never used a train in their life, as competition to Virgin's Euston to Piccadilly route. Passengers never really favoured this route, possibly because the route took more than twice as long, used a small two-car train and went via Wales.

Victoria does not have particularly clear train time and destination indicators and there is no obvious information point for train information.

Like Piccadilly, Victoria is on the Metrolink system, on the Bury branch. The tram tracks enter the station from Corporation Street and leave alongside the northbound tracks. The rail tracks to Rochdale via Oldham are being converted to become a new Metrolink line.

Oxford Road Station

Oxford Road Station sits on the aforementioned viaduct that leads in and out of the through platforms at Piccadilly station. It has four through platforms as well as a single bay platform10. You can leave the station down a steep cobbled ramp which leads to the crossroads of Oxford Street11 and Whitworth Street, or you can walk down a set of dark grimy steps and up some equally steep and slippery (when wet) cobbles between three pubs.

Almost all the passenger trains that come through Piccadilly also stop at Oxford Road, so it is possible to get to anywhere from Liverpool to Northampton. Some of the local stopping trains from Liverpool terminate at Oxford Road, and some trains to Wales start from the bay platform. The westbound track from Oxford Road is carried along the viaduct next to Whitworth Street before arriving at Deansgate Station, less than half a mile away.

The station building itself is a wooden, low-budget take on the Sydney Opera House, with a white-peaked top.

Oxford Road is the only road in central Manchester without its own Metrolink station, but St Peter's Square is only five minutes' walk away. The stretch of Oxford Street outside the station is the busiest bus route in Europe and so Oxford Road is a useful interchange for continuing your journey. Disabled passengers should note that because of its lack of lifts, access to platforms 1, 2 and 3 is not possible in a wheelchair.

Deansgate Station

Deansgate is undoubtedly the poor relation of the Manchester stations. It sits at the junction of Deansgate and Whitworth Street in the historic area of Castlefield.

The station was opened in 1849 as Manchester Knott Hill. It only has two through platforms and most of the cross-country trains do not stop here. Some stopping trains that come from places like Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield terminate at Deansgate. West of Deansgate, the line splits. Some lines head north to Salford while the others run through west though Trafford Park towards Warrington.

The station is linked via a walkway to Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station, which is on the Eccles and Altrincham branches of the tram system. From Deansgate-Castlefield you can get good views over Castlefield, including Liverpool Road Station, as well as walk into the Great Northern Complex12. Deansgate is the near the bars at Deansgate Locks and Castlefield.

Former Stations

Two of the former five stations, Liverpool Road and Oldham Road, were the original termini of lines that ran into Manchester. They were built on the edge of the city centre and it would have proved too costly to link up the two stations directly. Two others, Exchange and Central, were built by companies who wanted their own facilities, but after nationalisation of the railways (1948) and Dr Beeching's cuts (beginning in 1963) there was not enough traffic to keep them open. The other, Mayfield, was only opened as an overflow station, and the prospect of reopening it hasn't been ruled out.

Central Station

Of all the former stations in Manchester, Central Station is the most visually impressive. The vast, 210-foot-wide, 90-foot-high single arch of its 550-foot-long train shed still sits proud in Peters Fields, near the site of the Peterloo Massacre13. Its current incarnation is as the Manchester Central Exhibition Centre 14, an exhibition centre which, before the Manchester arena, was also the major indoor venue for touring bands visiting Manchester.

The station opened in 1880 for the Cheshire Lines Committee, a group made up of the Great Northern Railway, The Midland Railway and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, and served a large network including trains to London St Pancras, Sheffield and Liverpool Central. More and more services were moved to Piccadilly in the 1960s, especially after the west coast line was electrified, and the station closed in 1969. The building was listed Grade II* in 1983 and reopened as the G-MEX in 1986 before regaining its original name, in honour of its place in the history of Manchester's railways.

It should be mentioned at this point that the trains from Manchester Central to Liverpool Central that ran at the turn of the 20th Century made the trip between the two cities faster than trains between Lime Street and Piccadilly at the turn of the 21st Century.

The Crown Midland Hotel that sits on Peter Street was originally built for the station and was linked to the station by a covered walkway.

Manchester Central is served by the Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station15. Some of the Altrincham Metrolink route is laid on the old CLC route once served by Central. The third phase expansion plans for the Metrolink laid out plans to use sections of former CLC lines towards Chorlton and Didsbury.

Exchange Station

Almost nothing remains of Exchange Station except for a bit of a platform; most of the rest of it is buried under various car parks. Exchange station used to stand at the southern end of Victoria station and even used to share one platform. At the time this was the longest railway platform in the world.

It was opened by the London and North Western Railway in 1884 as the company was not happy with arrangements at Victoria. The LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) linked the two stations by Platform 11 in 1923. Exchange served north Wales, Liverpool via Earlstown and some Trans-Pennine services. The station suffered extensive bombing during the war, and when traffic at Victoria lightened in the 1960s, Exchange was closed in 1969. The roof survived into the 1980s but now only some of the platforms and a footbridge remain.

Mayfield Station

Mayfield Station didn't have a long life and wasn't a particularly important station. It was built in 1910 across Fairfield Street from Piccadilly Station16 as an overflow station for when the terminus was very busy, and consisted of a few bay platforms. The station was closed in 1960 and reopened ten years later as a parcel depot. It closed again soon after.

Much of the station remained, and like many of the other buildings in the area it is a derelict reminder of the industrial past of the city in the seedy surroundings of the red light district, seen by many every day but noticed by few of the passengers from Piccadilly. A fire gutted the building in the summer of 2005.

Plans have been put forward to reopen Mayfield, as Piccadilly is operating close to its capacity.

Liverpool Road Station

This is where it all started, the first terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Built in 1830, it was from here that the Rocket used to run. This line was linked to Birmingham in 1837 by the Grand Junction railway, and the terminus was moved to Victoria in 1844 to link up with the lines from Yorkshire. Liverpool Road, which is the furthest out from the city centre of all nine Manchester stations, operated as a goods station until 1975.

Most of the buildings and platforms have become part of the Museum of Science and Industry, a centrepiece of Castlefield Heritage Park. At weekends, a replica of the steam locomotive, Planet, makes short runs down to where the tracks from the station meet the line that links Salford to Deansgate, and back again.

Oldham Road Station

Oldham Road station, which was about half a mile from Piccadilly Gardens, opened in 1841 as the terminus for the Manchester and Leeds Railway. When the line was moved to the newly opened Victoria Station, Oldham Road was used a goods yard. It is now completely demolished.

Which Station to Use?

As a rule of thumb, unless you want to go to west or north Yorkshire, or south Lancashire, it is best to use Piccadilly or Oxford Road. Destinations such as Liverpool and Southport are served by Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria. Huddersfield is served by Piccadilly and Victoria.

Getting Between the Stations

Walking is the simplest way. Manchester city centre is not a large place, and it is only about a ten minute walk between Oxford Road and Deansgate or Piccadilly. Victoria is about 15 minutes from Piccadilly and 25 minutes from Oxford Road. Not that there really is any reason to walk from Deansgate or Oxford Road to Piccadilly, as almost all the trains through the stations stop at Piccadilly.

The Metrolink is fast and economical
- Starbase 109

Rail companies had struggled for more than 100 years to link the two termini, but only when the Metrolink light rail began operating did it finally come about. The trip between the two stations is quick, and on some rail tickets it's free.

A free shuttle bus service roams around the city and links up all the stations with various places of interest.

1Altrincham is pronounced 'Altringham'.2New high-speed electric trains that are designed to run at 140mph, which is a shame because the track is designed for 125mph trains.3High Speed Train, 1970s diesel trains that run at 125mph.4Formerly the semi-autonomous University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, now fully merged with the University of Manchester.5It should be noted that there are also trains from Piccadilly to Altrincham, which are quicker but less frequent.6The new home of Manchester City Football Club.7A museum and exhibition venue.8Including, somewhat incongruously, Belgium, between Hull and Liverpool.9Yes, that George Stephenson (see below in the Liverpool Road section).10A bay platform is one that has a dead end, like platforms at a terminus.11Yes, you read that right. The name changes from Oxford Road (south of the viaduct) to Oxford Street (north) as it passes underneath the railway.12This is a vast, and almost completely barren entertainment complex based in an old railway goods warehouse.13An incident in 1819 when a crowd of many tens of thousands gathered demanding parliamentary reform. They were charged by cavalry on horseback; 15 were killed and hundreds injured.14Formerly the G-MEX (Greater Manchester Exhibition) Centre15Known simply as G-MEX until the exhibition centre was renamed.16Then London Road.

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