Northern Hub


The £350m Northern Hub project was part of Network Rail’s £1.5bn rail upgrade plan for the North of England. The multi-award-winning project has improved medium-distance connections to, and across, Manchester. It also provided additional capacity for local services in Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds.

Central to the project, the Ordsall Chord was a series of new bridges and viaducts connecting Manchester’s Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Crossing busy roads, the River Irwell, and the UK’s second deepest canal lock, the route presented multiple risks which needed managing.

The new link integrates seamlessly with existing rail routes and interfaces sympathetically with the world’s first passenger terminal – George Stevenson’s Liverpool Road Station. It went on to win 16 industry awards, recognising exemplar project planning, design, and delivery.

D2’s Role

The Northern Hub was desperately needed to unlock network capacity around Manchester, but there were many risks associated with the delivery of such a major project. Network Rail’s eight-stage GRIP (Governance for Railway Investment Projects) process minimises and mitigates the risks associated with delivering rail enhancements or renewals.

In 2011 Network Rail asked us to assist with option selection at GRIP stage 3 and then provide continuous support for delivery of the multidisciplinary project.

We helped to develop the construction strategy before going on to assist with the procurement of a contractor to complete the detailed design and deliver the project. In Autumn 2013 we were integrated into The Northern Hub Alliance, along with Network Rail, Amey Sersa (track), Siemens (signalling, power, and telecoms), and Skanska BAM (civils).

Remaining an active part of the Alliance until project closeout in late 2017, D2’s Planners, Project Control professionals, and Document Controllers provided key services including:

  • Buildability Support
  • Access Negotiations
  • Utilities Management
  • Information Management
  • Planning and Project Controls

Our services were all supported by our in-house digital experts who provided bespoke data management tools, schematics, access planning software, training modules, dashboards.

Buildability Support

Reactions to the early proposals were mixed. Key challenges included potential disruption to arterial road and rail routes, and the environmental constraints presented by the River Irwell, and the Manchester, Bolton, and Bury Canal lock. The final option had to successfully manage every risk, put rail users first, and pass through the rigours of the statutory process.

Even before the design and construction team had been formed or selected, we used our in-depth experience of multidisciplinary projects, to provide scenario planning support to assess various options from a construction perspective.

Meticulous planning and sustained consultation with rail passenger and freight service operators, highway managers, residents, and businesses were key success factors. Our team produced and controlled a robust integrated schedule with 3rd party milestones, including Department for Transport funding, Transport, and Works Act Orders (TWAO), interface milestones, materials volumes, and resource profiling.

We led the development of a Construction Report and Schedule in parallel with the Single Option Selection Design. The report detailed resource and land requirements and, on several occasions prompted adjustments to the design and/or construction methodology to provide better efficiency and programme certainty.

Supporting the official Public Inquiry for the TWAO, the report resulted in the project passing unhindered passage through the statutory process.

During GRIP Stage 4 our 4D planning, and construction sequencing expertise, ensured that single option development aligned seamlessly with an efficient phasing and programme of works. This resulted in an optimised possession strategy which realised a cost saving of approximately £6m, whilst also enabling other 3rd party projects to be efficiently delivered.

Access negotiations

When planning and negotiating access and rail possessions, we avoided simple blockade requests. Instead, we discussed alternative proposals with train operators during early option selection, developing designs and construction around the needs of passengers and freight.

During this time, we identified potential improvements to access and possession planning. Our digital experts began to develop bespoke applications which visualise possessions in detail, and which enabled us to model impacts (and opportunities) relative to wider rail timetables. They also improved data input and management functions, making our work more efficient. We have, since then, integrated these applications to create Swiftview™, a user-friendly system that satisfies all the Network Rail Access Planning Programme (APP) requirements.

Utilities management

After stakeholders, managing utility diversions was one of the highest-risk areas in terms of cost and programme. Our utilities managers engaged with the various utility providers, and Manchester and Salford City Councils to gain their ‘buy-in’ from the start. This supported programme-based utilities coordination, and efficient consents/approvals procedures.

In some instances, we amended designs to avoid diversions, exploring protection options to save time, effort, and cost. Where diversions were the only option, we encouraged a coordinated approach that avoided multiple visits by different contractors. Our exhaustive management strategy featured trackers, and ‘countdown’ checks to further minimise delays.

Information management

Our in-house Document Controllers rolled out the use of Bentley’s ProjectWise™ information management system across all of the Alliance partners and suppliers, providing interactive training for new starters and existing project staff at every level. We agreed on common working methods, efficient document management protocols, and clear lines of communication. We also establishing naming and numbering conventions and metadata criteria, along with regular compliance checks.

All of this helped us with the effortless collation of the health and safety files, for which we devised and managed a document delivery matrix, formatting, approvals, and uploads.

Planning and project controls

D2 Planners and Project Controls specialists developed efficient programmes, and end-to-end reporting cycles that allowed sufficient data validation/review points without overly extending the length of the process. Our regular reviews removed bottlenecks and identified opportunities for automation, which our digital team’s bespoke software solutions realised.

As part of the financial reporting process, we implemented an Earned Value Management System (EVMS). This included the production of a requirements specification; designing and building the system; undertaking administration and maintenance; and delivering user training.

We also spearheaded the development and implementation of a robust integrated change control process. This included creating a standard Alliance change request form, defining triggers for change, creating a Delegated Authority Matrix, and developing a Change Register with KPI Metrics to drive continuous improvement in the process. To ensure approved changes were transacted in the relevant toolsets we designed a feedback loop.

Many of the lessons learned on Northern Hub, including integrating outputs from the change control process with the EVMS, have since been carried forward to other projects.

Northern Hub


The Ordsall Chord project formed a key part of the government’s programme of works to create a Northern Powerhouse. The project saw the construction of a new rail viaduct, providing (for the first time in history) a direct link between Manchester’s three main line stations (Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria Station).

The project spans the boundary between Manchester and Salford, passing through the area of the first passenger railway (with paying customers) in the world, based on Liverpool road. This new line will improve connectivity across towns and cities in the north of England, and create new direct links to Manchester Airport

The project was delivered from the commercial standpoint of a “Collaborative Alliance Agreement”, whereby D2 work in conjunction with Network Rail (the Client), as well as other alliance members such as Siemens, AMEY Sersa and Skanska BAM.


The key objectives identified to ensure successful delivery of the Northern Hub Programme were as follows:

  • Deliver Works efficiently with minimal disruption to key stakeholders, local neighbours, including train and freight operators, Manchester and Salford Councils, river and canal trusts, Highway’s agency, and local residents.
  • Provide a standard delivery process across all disciplines.
  • Development and maintenance of a detailed, underpinned and fully integrated schedule to drive deliver of the project on time, to budget, utilising accurate resource forecasting.
  • Develop and integrate effective and innovative ways of communicating project status/ performance

Solutions Provided

  • Deployed a Fully integrated alliance planning team including railway access and isolation planning team working alongside planners and delivery staff to ensure SQEP on hand for delivery.
  • Staged design requirements were identified early in the project via multi-disciplinary workshops ensuring all design requirements were fully understood.
  • Robust integrated schedule with resource profiling, risk and change management processes embedded in the project.
  • Alliance site management team formed to monitor progress of works on site and manage key disruptive possession works and blockades.
  • Weekly staging diagrams to communicate the complex staging arrangements.
  • Fully integrated construction, logistics and whiteboard meetings with consistent outputs showing all works planned.
  • Fully integrated reporting metrics established for all disciplines and combined periodic reviews with all project managers and planners to manage scheduled delays and agree mitigation measures.
  • Daily collaborative working sessions held each morning to ensure working methods are perfectly aligned, everyone works to a single safety principle, and the strengths of each organisation are employed to optimise outcomes.
  • Effective use of Quantitative Schedule Risk Analysis (QSRA) for stage enabling works and key disruptive possessions. This analysis has helped identify critical processes where additional mitigations were needed to ensure that works progressed as planned; Effective use of formal lessons learnt workshops after significant blockades ensured that innovations were implemented for subsequent works.


  • Delivery
    • To date, each key stage of the project has been successfully delivered on time, ensuring all safety requirements met, accounting for all disruptive possessions.
  • Remodelling
    • Over an 11-day blockade during Easter 2016, the alliance delivery team successfully completed track remodelling, and OLE / signalling commissioning work at Manchester Victoria Station West. During the same railway possession, we also completed the renewal of a bridge that forms the Ordsall Chord connection to the Chat Moss Lines at Salford Central
  • Alliance Reporting
    • A standard set of processes and controls have been fully embedded in the day-to-day working of the alliance.
    • The robust integrated schedule, effective change management and risk/opportunity processes have provided the alliance management team with accurate information that has been used to control the project and help us make informed decisions.
  • Stakeholder engagement
    • A number of significant outcomes have been achieved in terms of minimising disruption to the built and natural environment of Manchester City centre and keeping the many stakeholders in the project satisfied in what, on the face of it, may seem an impossible undertaking.


“Working with the Project Team, it very quickly became apparent that we were working with engineers who totally understood the work to be done and had an extremely detailed plan. We ultimately agreed a programme which involved partial and total blockades at the least busy times of year”

David Langton – Timetable Strategy Manager, TPE

“Brilliant achievement, well done on the successful completion of the Easter 2016 blockade…. now for next time”

Andy Gent – Regional Director – Network Rail IP Central

Gosforth Depot Development Scheme


Bam Nuttall presented D2 with the challenge of providing a working programme for the design and development of the Gosforth depot, incorporating key delivery/decommissioning dates for new/old rolling stock. D2 were presented with the challenge of providing constructability advice which would support these key dates, whilst maintaining the desired finish date. Additional to this, a level of contract management was required, helping to develop subcontractors’ individual programmes.


Our scope was as follows:

  • To provide a programme of works from contract award through to construction complete, which reflected the Stadler key delivery dates.
  • Ensure the construction programme was complete by the end of January 2024.
  • Provide constructability advice.
  • Highlight programme risks and issues.


There were several challenges that we encountered, including the following:

  • Time restrictions for submitting the tender programme and that the late change of construction staging meant that the subcontractors did not have an up-to-date design. Therefore, building a programme included several assumptions.
  • Validity of data provided by the project teams/subcontractors’ – This was due to a lack of designs.
  • Timeliness of data provided by the project teams/subcontractors’ – It was a challenge when requesting data be provided by specific times/dates. In most cases the data received was at the last minute, or late.
  • The new rolling stock delivery dates changed several times during the programme build, which meant ongoing amendments in order to align.


  • One D2 Planner was provided to take on key tasks, ensuring that the programme worked and met all desired key dates.
  • Baselines were taken each time there was a change made, to ensure that changes were measurable.
  • Risks to the schedule were highlighted and reported to the project team.
  • Assumptions made were highlighted and reported to the project team.
  • Daily skype calls with the project team took place, to ensure progress was common knowledge.


The benefits of taking on this work depend on the outcome of the tender. Assuming the job is won by Bam Nuttall, then the benefit will likely be additional Planning works on large depot development scheme. If the job is not won, at the very least, a positive working relationship has been further developed between D2 and Bam Nuttall, which will encourage further works in the future.



In September 2018, D2 were asked to provide planning support for the delivery of the TWAO (Transport Works Act Order) application to support the proposed improvements to the railway between Huddersfield and Westtown (Dewsbury). The improvements include:

  • Doubling the number of tracks from two to four on the railway.
  • Upgrading stations at Huddersfield, Deighton, Mirfield and providing a new station at Ravensthorpe.
  • Separating sections of track from each other with a bridge at Ravensthorpe.
  • Electrification of the Railway from Huddersfield to Ravensthorpe (continuing through to Leeds).


D2 supported the alliance by developing and maintaining a fully integrated P6 programme, which included activities relating to:

  • Surveys
  • Planning Drawings
  • Utilities Works
  • Land and Property
  • Environmental Impacts
  • Consultations
  • Listed Building Consents

The final TWAO application was submitted on 31st March 2021, which ensured an Inquiry date in 2021, which keeps the wider project on schedule.

Challenges and Solutions

The very nature of developing the TWAO application, highlights a number of potentially delay inducing problems. This meant that developing and maintaining a meaningful programme was a challenge from the start.

One of the biggest challenges in the past 12 months (March 2020 – March 2021) was the Covid-19 restrictions applied in the UK. These restrictions meant that activities such as site surveys and public consultations were required to be re-considered. Clearly this had a significant impact on the programme, and a lot of work was involved in re-planning to ensure the submission date did not slip. This was achieved by breaking down the programme, reviewing line by line, ensuring durations and logic were correct, and making the necessary amendments. What this did, was produce a programme with very little float, and therefore meant the programme required close attention. To manage this, we increased the number of programme updates from once a month, to twice a month. We also held a weekly lookahead/look back sessions to ensure any slippages were highlighted as soon as possible, therefore giving us more time to apply mitigation.


From a scheme point of view, following the first round of consultations, 85% of respondents were supportive of the scheme.

The benefit of the D2 planning team providing planning support was their ability to ensure the programme of works were re-worked effectively and continually maintained to ensure a timely TWAO submission. All involved had access to the programme, and therefore had the ability to see what impacts they had on other disciplines. The planner was able to provide lookahead reports, which highlighted upcoming issues, meaning they could be resolved proactively, thus ensuring minimum slippages. The planner also managed critical and sub-critical activities to ensure the team knew where to focus their attentions, when resources were limited.


David Crowe – ‘Teamwork’ in managing the West 3 TWAO programme”

March charter moment recognition from Mark Wroe (Planning and Project Controls Director)

Planning of route-wide survey delivery – Transpennine Route Upgrade

The Alliance engaged D2’s Planning team to coordinate and manage the various survey delivery programmes, which would help to inform the design deliverables across the route. This involved our team of Planners working with multiple supply chain partners to ensure the efficient coordination and progress of surveys.

These works were successful, enabling the TRU West of Leeds design team to progress the development of their proposals through the Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) process, which is how Network Rail manage and controls all projects that enhance or renew the national rail network.


The West of Leeds route is broken down into various sub-projects, each with its own design team at a different level of design maturity. The design teams provided D2 with a multi-discipline survey scope tailored to their requirements.

Our initial task was to programme the survey scope. Based on the known access for each area, we used the average outputs and resource availability of the site teams for each individual survey type to forecast each site activity to completion. For each survey type there was a requirement for production of a report to communicate data collected on site to the design team, this process was also forecasted upon completion of site works.

A key part of the role was liaising with the supply chain partners delivering the works to support them with planning of site activities and production of reports. The programme was constantly evolving due to the many obstacles that are encountered when delivering work. D2 were on hand to react to change and advise the best-for-programme options so the impact on design deliverables was minimalised.

D2’s Planning team also tracked the status of survey scope for each sub-project and provided metrics to the wider Alliance, as well as providing forecasts to assist with the bid process to secure the budgets required.

Challenges and Solutions

Track access restrictions

The main challenge we encountered was access restrictions. The standard ‘rules of the route’ possessions available on track did not allow us to consistently visit all areas of the route, and most often there was only 4 hours of time on track per shift for the teams to work with. On certain sections, we only had available to us Network Rail maintenance possessions, which were often very limited. We also had a number of branch lines which proved difficult to target.

To best plan for the restricted track access that was available, we had to work very closely with the Transpire access planners. This enabled us to clearly understand what was expected to be available to us throughout the year. We created easy-to-read summary sheets and distributed these out to the supply chain partners, so that they could get ahead with programming their works. We also hosted weekly construction meetings, where we ran through the programme for coming weeks as well as longer term plans for all working parties.

Third party access issues

Aside from track access, we have had major issues accessing 3rd party land to carry out several works across the route. There were instances where 3rd party access had been requested, and then not been granted some 12 months later. The nature of being granted 3rd party access is unpredictable, which meant forecasting 3rd party works within the programme accurately was difficult, and sometime required mobilising site teams on a relatively short notice basis.

In attempt to provide reasonable delivery dates for 3rd party works, D2 took a conservative approach initially in programming the works, in order to manage the expectations of the design team. We liaised with the Network Rail’s integration team regularly, as they are tasked with securing access, which helped us to be able to react quickly to any impending developments with landowners.

High survey volume

Another challenge is the volume of surveys across the route. The programmes were at times very fluid and a challenge to keep up with. There were also various contractors feeding information to our Planning team on a weekly basis, so being organised was the key to keeping on track.

To deal with the volume of surveys involved, we put clear systems in place so that the supply chain partners delivered to us information in a format that was both simplified and satisfied the programme requirements. In addition to the regular construction meeting, we had sessions with the supply chain partners to talk through issues they were encountering and provided regular support with what they were doing to help translate this into successful site delivery.

Changing scope

We also encountered challenges with the changing scope of works, which evolves from the projects’ initial release. Close contact was maintained throughout with the design teams, including regular attendance at meetings, to discuss any problems encountered, any change within the programme and changes to scope.


Providing a clear process and support vehicle to the supply chain partners was vital in order to help coordinate long term planning within the various programmes – helping to supply clear deliverable dates that inform future design.

Close liaison with regards to Third Party access enabled us to avoid as many surprises as possible, giving ourselves the best possible chance to plan in advance of receiving permission to access a certain plot of land. Safety of the staff on site was critical, so detailed planning is a must, and with D2’s approach we support the safe mobilisation of teams to carry out works and progress the programme in line with the baseline.

A collaborative approach ensures a healthy working relationship, enabling the teams to pull in the same direction towards a common goal. Supply chain partners are key to the Alliance and strong connections have been built. Confident communication of problems encountered, as well as errors made, are displayed allowing early combined efforts to rectify issues in an open and positive manner.

Close contact with the design teams has meant as two separate teams working toward the same objectives, we understand the challenges that each other face. As a result, there are no unreasonable requests coming from either direction. This level of transparency between design and delivery teams ensures everybody is on the same page.


“The two planners from D2 are an integral part of the Survey team. With an understanding of the work content and the constrained timescales, they sensibly apply a logic using historic outputs and access information to provide a robust and reliable programme.

“The Survey team would be lost without D2 providing the guidance and forward planning required to achieve the work. They are not seen as D2, but as integrated Planners within the Survey team.”

Richie Atkins
Surveys Project Lead