Two years ago the atmosphere was upbeat at the Modern Railways Fourth Friday Club inaugural Rail in the North conference in York. The new TransPennine and Northern franchises had just begun, with promises of new and faster trains courtesy of upgrades by Network Rail. Electrification of the lines north west from Manchester was underway, wiring of the Midland main line at least as far north as Sheffield seemed assured, and there was widespread expectation that electrification of the TransPennine route from York through to Manchester, electrically linking east and west, would follow. Virgin Trains East Coast, then one year into its franchise, was busy telling stakeholders about its plans for more trains on the East Coast main line and new services to the likes of Harrogate and Middlesbrough.
The Ordsall Chord was under construction, and in association with proposed additional platforms and tracks on the Castlefield corridor to Piccadilly would provide the long sought-after connection between Manchester Victoria and Piccadilly.