Passenger services began using Manchester’s Ordsall Chord on December 10. ‘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‘, said Rail Minister Paul Maynard. ‘The Ordsall Chord will help to support faster, more flexible journeys for passengers across the region.‘

On December 12 Abellio, JR East and Mitsui finalised orders totalling £680m for new rolling stock for the West Midlands franchise, which began on December 10. Bombardier Transportation’s £542m contract covers the supply from Derby and maintenance for the duration of the franchise 36 three-car 145 km/h Aventra EMUs for suburban ‘metro’ services and 45 five-car 175 km/h EMUs for outer suburban and long-distance services. CAF will supply 12 two-car and 14 four-car DMUs for regional services around Birmingham. Financing is being led by the Corelink Rail Infrastructure joint venture of Infracapital and Deutsche Asset Management.

Transport for London has awarded J Murphy & Sons a contract to provide step-free access and other improvements at Hanwell, Iver, Langley and Taplow stations for the Elizabeth Line. This includes new lifts and footbridges, and a new station building at Iver.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire & Rescue Services and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland have published reports on the ‘leadership, legitimacy and efficiency’ of British Transport Police and BTP in Scotland, and a HMICS ‘strategic overview’ of the proposed transfer of BTP in Scotland to Police Scotland on April 2019.

On December 8 the West Midlands Combined Authority approved almost £50m to support the Wolverhampton Interchange project to improve links between the station and the extended Midland Metro tramway.

Network Rail has awarded Carillion Powerlines a £11·6m contract for platform modifications and upgrading of lighting, CCTV and information systems as part of the electrification of the Shotts line between Edinburgh and Glasgow Central via Shotts.

ORR published fitness for work guidance on December 12, aiming to bring together key legal requirements, set out good practice and signpost relevant information sources for the rail sector.

SNC-Lavalin and subcontractor DG8 have completed design work for Siemens' refurbishment of the Class 444 and Class 450 Desiro EMU fleets which Angel Trains leases to South Western Railway.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch makes four recommendations in its report into a freight train derailment at East Somerset Junction on March 20. These cover enhancements to procedures for plain-lining of points, mitigation of risk at locations where points have previously been plain-lined, improvements to planning the operation of track measurement trains and evaluating the delivery of key track maintenance activities. RAIB has also made a learning point, reinforcing the importance of identifying gauge spread on sections of curved track subject to high lateral loads.

More than 100 people took part in a hackathon organised by HS2 Ltd and the Transport Systems Catapult on December 8-9. The six ideas shortlisted for further development prior to the final round in February include: using virtual reality models to identify problems which might cause trips and falls; using train and track-mounted sensors and the Internet of Things to automatically dispatch drones for inspections; using facial recognition and artificial intelligence to raise an alarm if employees are showing signs of fatigue or illness; using augmented reality to provide on-site engineers.

Southeastern opened a station building at Strood on December 11, funded by Medway Council (£1·25m) and the National Station Improvement Programme (£1·34m). The first new station building delivered by Southeastern, it offers 'a bright modern' design with a larger booking hall, new waiting room and better facilities for passengers including step free access, a new ticket vending machine additional seating and a baby changing facility.

ScotRail began using Siemens Class 380 EMUs on the route from Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk on December 10, following 25 kV 50 Hz electrification of the line. ‘As we prepare for the arrival of our brand new Hitachi trains next year, which will deliver faster journeys, more seats, and better services, we will start running electric trains from our existing fleet’, said ScotRail Alliance Managing Director Alex Hynes.

Bradford Council is consulting on proposals to improve access and facilities at Bradford Forster Square station. 'We’ve got exciting plans for Forster Square station to really turn it into an entrance to the city centre we can be proud of', said Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Executive Member for Regeneration, Planning & Transport. 'There’s some fantastic architectural heritage at the station and this project will really bring that out.'

Trimble Technology Labs are to be established at the National College for High Speed Rail campuses in Birmingham and Doncaster, equipped with equipment given by Trimble including GEDO Vorsys, general construction lasers, laser scanners, robotic surveying systems, theodolites and automatic levels, GIS mapping receivers, global navigation satellite system receivers, RealWorks scanning software, GEDO office, Trimble Business Center, Tekla Structures, Tilos and 3D modeling software SketchUp Pro and SketchUp Viewer.

Grand Central is to withdraw its IC125 trainsets at the end of December. The open access operator said a consistent all-Class 180 DMU fleet would mean ‘greater capacity and more seats where the demand is highest, with the flexibility to run in a five or 10 carriage formation’, as well as the option to swap trains between its two routes.