The second weekend in December marks the start of a new year for the railways of Britain and Europe, when timetable alterations are made and new projects unveiled. When revised services start on Sunday morning, the UK’s most significant new train link will be a non-stop hop between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road.
The 8.40am departure of a service scheduled to take just six minutes is expected to be crowded with rail enthusiasts. It marks the first run by a scheduled passenger train around the Ordsall Chord, a 300-metre stretch of new track over what is claimed to be “the world’s first asymmetrical rail bridge”.
The link, to the west of Manchester city centre, has been on the drawing board since the 1970s.
The train operator Northern will run the first service. David Brown, Northern’s managing director, called it “tangible evidence of the Great North Rail Project and the rail industry working together”.
The rail minister, Paul Maynard. said: “This is a historic day for the north and for rail travel in the UK because Manchester’s three main stations are linked for the first time.”
Network Rail, which has created the £85m link, says: “Congestion currently seen at Manchester Piccadilly will reduce by a quarter with some services being rerouted through Manchester Victoria.
“There will be more capacity on the railway, meaning more frequent trains to run.”
By connecting Victoria and Oxford Road stations for the first time, the Ordsall Chord will provide a link from Leeds to Manchester airport which does not require trains to reverse, and free up space by reducing the number of services terminating at Victoria.
But initially only one train every two hours will run on the chord on weekdays – a service from Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Rochdale.
Passengers will have to wait until May 2018 for more trains to be added.
The promised new station for Kenilworth in Warwickshire, which had been due to open on Sunday, has been delayed until February. The town, south of Coventry and close to the University of Warwick, has been without a station for over half a century.
Monica Fogarty, joint managing director of Warwickshire County Council, said: “We worked around the clock to get the station ready for early December.
“The hugely disappointing news is that the Department for Transport (DfT) has not been able to meet the same pace as the Council. The DfT tells us there will be no train service until February 2018. The Department is unable to supply the train and drivers in order to meet the December opening date, and this is beyond disappointing for the people of Kenilworth.”
Abroad, a new 107km stretch of high-speed line between Erfurt and Ebensfeld in Germany will cut journey times in the former DDR dramatically. New 300km/h trains will slice two hours from the previous six-hour trip between Berlin and Munich, and stepping up competition against the airlines.
Chris Woodcock, editor of the European Rail Timetable, said: “The trains that will complete the journey in around four hours also avoid the reversal in Leipzig travelling directly via Halle.” But for travellers with time on his hands he still recommends the old route via Leipzig and Bamberg as “particularly sinuous and very scenic”.
In Turkey, the European Rail Timetable reveals the fastest-ever passenger service between Istanbul and Ankara, taking just under four hours. But at present there is just one train at this pace each way: a morning eastbound departure from Istanbul at 6.45am, with the return service departing the Turkish capital at 7pm.
Mr Woodcock’s timetable also brings rail news from Africa. “In Kenya, the Mombasa-Nairobi service now runs twice a day with one fast and one stopping service provided in each direction,” it reports.
Rail passengers in Congo, however, are not so fortunate: “Just as we were going to press we were informed of major alterations to services in the Congo. This is due to a bridge on the railway east of Loutété having been destroyed.“
The town of Loutété is about halfway between the capital, Brazzaville, and Pointe-Noire on the coast