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Largest U.K. Light-Rail System Keeps Expanding

Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens station (Photo by Rept0n1x)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

New Tram Line Section Opens in Manchester
The second section of Manchester Metrolink’s Second City Crossing, which was delayed when construction workers unearthed an ancient burial ground, opened for service Feb. 26.

The Guardian reports that the 185 million British pound ($230.6 million U.S.) line connecting Manchester Victoria Station with its neo-Gothic town hall, is the final part of a 1.5 billion British pound ($1.8 billion U.S.) transit expansion plan.

Two years ago, construction workers discovered the remains of 280 bodies buried in shallow graves about a foot and a half below Cross Street. The graveyard was attached to a 1694 church that had been destroyed during World War II. Work on the line was delayed for several months while archaeologists exhumed the bodies.

Peter Cushing, director of Metrolink for Transport for Greater Manchester, said the new line will add capacity and improve the reliability of service through the city center: “If we ever have an issue, for example, in Piccadilly Gardens, we can run things along the Second City Crossing rather than have to wait to resolve the issue.”

The 25-year-old Manchester Metrolink is the largest light-rail system in the United Kingdom, spanning almost 62 miles with 93 stations. A further extension planned for 2020 will add 4 more miles and six more stations to the system.

Memphis Trolleys Will Roll Again This Summer (But You Can’t Ride Them Yet)
Memphis’ downtown heritage trolley line, which was shut down in 2013 after two of its vintage Melbourne tramcars were destroyed by fires, will get rolling again this summer, the Memphis Business Journal reports, but residents and visitors won’t be able to board the cars again until the end of the year.

Memphis trolley in 2006 (Photo by Christian Banck)

The cars will run test trips as part of the ongoing repair process being carried out in accordance with safety directives from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

Last year, the Memphis Area Transportation Authority (MATA) brought in an international transit and rail consulting group, SNC-Lavalin, to help document the repair process in accordance with the FTA and TDOT requirements.

MATA has spent $10 million so far on restoring the neglected cars. To date, the agency has purchased one new car and refurbished two, with two more now being restored. Restoration of the first cars took longer than expected because of their age and documentation requirements.

Seattle Transit Tunnel Being Carved Out by Hand
Given that it took almost two years to unstick Bertha, the tunnel boring machine that was digging the replacement for Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, it may be no surprise to read that it will take two years to dig a 10-block-long tunnel under downtown Bellevue for a Sound Transit light-rail extension.

According to a news story in The Seattle Times, though, this time it’s because workers are digging the tunnel out by hand, so to speak.

The tunnel under 110th Ave. NE is being dug out 4 feet at a time using conventional construction equipment with carving attachments and handheld power tools when needed. Once the crew has advanced 4 feet, it will spray the dirt with fast-drying concrete before it crumbles, insert an arc-shaped steel lattice, and spray more concrete into the lattice.

The technique is known as “sequential excavation,” and Sound Transit chose it in order to minimize noise and disruption on the surface. A Sound Transit official said that boring machines would be expensive and require staging areas on the surface, while a cut-and-cover tunnel would have required expensive relocation of utility lines.

Sequential excavation carries with it the risk that a section of exposed dirt will collapse before it can be stabilized, but workers can spot trouble quickly using this method.

The tunnel and downtown Bellevue station being built represent a compromise between Bellevue city officials, who wanted a subway station closer to Bellevue Square mall, and cost-conscious Sound Transit officials, who said the shorter, shallower tunnel saved $200 million of what would have been an extra $320 million to build a subway through central Bellevue instead of the elevated route included in the ST2 funding package as a placeholder.

Know of a project that should be included in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.