By Charlie Hulme

On my weekly visits to Manchester, I am in the habit of spending some of the afternoon watching and photographing trains, especially the freights which emerge from Trafford Park in the hourly departure paths available at 13:17, 14:17, 15:18 and 16:18 which are shared between three operators: DB Schenker, GB Railfreight and Freightliner.  There is a shortage of good vantage points from which to watch trains in the area: Deansgate station is my favourite for outbound trains, as the activity on the Metrolink line can also be observed.  The only inbound working in the afternoon is a Freightliner loco which runs light-engine from Crewe to Trafford Park, passing Deansgate at 14:35.  Using the 'real time trains' website it is quite easy to find out what trains are running there are a number of 'conditional' (Q) paths listed which are, in my experience, very rarely used.  If you want to see an inbound train, the best times are in the mornings at 10:35 and 11:35 through Deansgate.  All these trains normally run via the Styal line.

These pictures were all taken at Deansgate on Thursday 9 October 2014 after arriving at Deansgate by means of the 12:33 Hazel Grove - Preston service.

Among the passenger trains on this busy section of line are the services between Manchester Airport and Scotland, now in the hands of new Class 350/4 electric units.  These pass Deansgate station at 20 minutes past the hour northbound and 23 past southbound.  The picture, taken at 13:23 shows the 10:08 from Edinburgh, formed of 350 402.

The freight trains from Trafford Park are booked to pass at xx.26, but often will be held back to wait for the passage of the Manchester Airport - Southport which calls at xx.28 and the Southport Manchester Airport which calls at xx.29 as these occupy the junction.  The pair are seen here at 13:30.  'Merseyside Pacer' 142 057, with its electronic indicator, is on the left, and unmodified unit 142 040 on the right.  The 'R' sign is a reminder to drivers of trains calling at the station that there is a speed restriction ahead.

The road was then set for the Cheshire Lines route, and 66 102 appeared around the corner with the 13:17 Trafford Park Euroterminal to London Gateway.  The telephoto view reveals the forest of old and new overhead line equipment in the area, ranging from 1930s-era gantries for the Manchester - Altrincham service to the newly-installed supports for the Deansgate to Parkside electrification, with their white arms.  Fitting the wires under the two viaducts at Castlefield Junction, especially the disused one which is lower, was a challenge for the engineers.

A walk across the 'Exhibition Footbridge' built in 1985 and due for a much-needed rebuild, took me to Deansgate-Castlefield (formerly G-Mex) Metrolink station, where enlargement work is in progress.  Nearly-new tram 3032 is arriving at the new inbound island platform, replacing the original 'staggered' arrangement.  There is now to be a full-length awning at this draughty location.

Now that 'on-sight' working has been implemented, there is a very frequent flow through this station: on weekdays there are 25 trams per hour in each direction during the day.  No.3021 is departing towards St Peter's Square, with a new crossover in view and the new line on the other side of the island platform under construction.   Manchester Central's former train shed looms in the background.

The new track; new Metrolink lines make much use of 'slab track' with the rails clipped to blocks which are set in a concrete base and linked by an embedded steel tie bar.

Back at Deansgate station, this view is of the tram station and the controversial 'Beetham Tower' rising behind. The entertainment venues in the arches are alongside the locks of the Rochdale Canal.

The 11:44 Llandudno - Manchester Piccadilly passes Deansgate at 13:48, worked by 158 837.  Most trains on this service are Class 175 units, but there is one diagram for a 158, which runs coupled to another 158 on a morning working out of Manchester.  After arrival at Piccadilly, the train will spend 47 minutes in Mayfield Loop before forming the 14:50 to Llandudno.  From December 2014, some Manchester North Wales trains are to be locomotive-worked with Class 67 locos in push-pull mode.

I did not wait for the 14:17 GBRf train from Trafford Park on this occasion, but I was at Oxford Road station to see the passage of the 15:17 Trafford Park Freightliner to Southampton Docks, hauled by 66 559.  The freights normally, but not always, run through Platform 3 which creates 'against the light' conditions for photography.

The proposed changes to this station will abolish the bay platform 5 (the turnout to the right of the loco) and extend the other platforms towards Deansgate on a structure partially cantilevered out over Whitworth Street to allow 8-coach trains to call.  The 'listed' main building will remain, but the footbridge and shelters will be replaced by a new structure incorporating lifts to all platforms.

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