Mid Cheshire Line electrification! ….

Posted on March 6th, 2015, by The Chairman

As Jen has noted on another thread, hot on the heels of the Replacement Northern Franchise announcement of minimum specifications, there is more good news for the Mid Cheshire Line.

Rail North has identified a list of electrification priorities for the North of England for Control Period 6 and beyond (starting in 2019). The Mid Cheshire Line is in the top 5 list of priorities behind the Calder Vale line, the Liverpool-Warrington-Manchester line and Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent via Atherton.

The full report is here.

We’ve heard subsequently that the Mid Cheshire (Stockport to Chester via Knutsford) Line appears in Tier One because ….

“This line has many of the characteristics which make electrification attractive, including frequent stops and significant peak period crowding. It also links substantial areas of housing with the key business centre of Manchester, operating alongside already congested roads, and so the agglomeration benefits flowing from the faster acceleration of electric trains are much higher than might be the case elsewhere.”

Interesting times!

Please leave a comment

  1. Vince Chadwick Says:

    But will they use tired old 319s?

    I travelled from Manchester Airport to Liverpool Lime Street today on one of Northern Rail’s ‘new’ Class 319 electric trains. I say ‘new’ because these trains are in fact the thick end of 30 years old. I remember travelling on them 15 years ago between St Albans and London Bridge when they were operated by Thameslink.

    Well, Thameslink have got shiny new trains – and we peasants ‘oop north’ have inherited their cast-offs. These trains have not been refurbished – just repainted in ‘Northern Rail’ scheme. They are old technology with DC traction motors that whine like an old tram when they set off (reminded me of my visit to Crich Tramway Museum!). And they don’t set off in any sort of sprightly manner, either, having slow acceleration and a low top speed as belies their age. The Class 323 electric train that took me from Wilmslow to the airport seemed from a different era – because it is! With electronically driven AC traction motors it is quiet and fast-accelerating.

    I was expecting the usual Class 150 diesel on the journey and was surprised when the 319 rolled into the Airport platform this morning. They only entered service with Northern yesterday. I climbed aboard and looked at the tired poorly-designed seats (aligned with the window centres rather than edges, so you sit next to a solid wall not a window) and the train cleaner looked at me, read my mind, and smiled; “a polished turd, innit”. Well yes, but they were a bit tight with the polish!

    Better than a 150, but hey, what isn’t?

    Just why should Northern Rail passengers have to put up with either dirty noisy old diesel scrapyard-dodgers, or cast offs from the south east? Why can’t we have some new trains of our own?

  2. Mike Battman Says:

    Don’t worry Vince they’ve found some class 304s to run on our line!

    One thing I will comment on about the 319s having watched them for a couple of day leaving Oxford Road, they do seem to have a far superior acceleration than any of the DMUs

  3. Vince Chadwick Says:

    I remember when there were lines of withdrawn 304s in the sidings south of Crewe. I think one set was earmarked for preservation but thankfully it didn’t happen!

  4. The Chairman Says:

    Good coverage in the Northwich Guardian spotted by Andrew Macfarlane ….


    Interesting picture, too. A Class 315 heading through Essex towards Liverpool Street, a slightly newer AC version of the DC Class 507s and 508s running on Merseyrail. Rumour has it these 35 year-old units are destined for the electrification of the Valleys in South Wales in 3-5 years’ time.

  5. Ian Moore Says:

    Mid Cheshire Electrification would of course facilitate running Tram-Trains from, say, Knutsford via Metrolink between Altrincham and Manchester as an alternative to the Stockport route; more convenient for some journeys.

  6. Ian Moore Says:

    If electrification were to go ahead then the Cost / Benefit performance of a Tram-Train to Hale or Knutsford should hopefully improve dramatically. There still would be a demand for conventional electric rail service via Stockport.

  7. Simon Barber Says:

    Ian, I don’t think so. The trams use 750V dc. Main line electrification is 25kV AC. This study does not facilitate tram-train in any way. For a quicker route to Manchester, I’d rate our chances of getting the airport western spur higher than tram-train!

  8. Mike Battman Says:

    Not sure that electrification will facilitate Tram-Train.
    Trams run on 750V DC and the electrification will be at 25,000V AC

  9. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Noooo! We don’t want trams! It will be great if our line is indeed electrified at 25KV AC as part of the main line network, not be lost to that network by being electrified at low voltage DC for tram use.

    If it wasn’t for trams we wouldn’t have lost the direct route into Manchester via Sale, either!

  10. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    You could in theory have dual-voltage tram-trains like they have in Karlsruhe, where they run on the DB main line, which is electrified at 15kv ac.

  11. Ian Moore Says:

    The forthcoming Sheffield trials of Tram-Train will use vehicles designed with the capability of working on both 750V dc and 25kV ac; something that would be necessary if the local Network Rail lines get mainline electrification and the Meadowhall South – Parkgate section needs to have its electrification changed; overhead structure spacing will take this possibility into account. In Germany, of course, some Tram-Trains are equipped for both dc and the local mainline electrification standard of 15kV 16 2/3Hz.
    My point was that, with 25kV electrification of the Mid Cheshire Line, the additional infrastructure costs to accommodate dual-voltage Tram-Trains could be much smaller than with a free standing scheme and that would hopefully dramatically improve the Cost / Benefit ratio.

  12. Mike Battman Says:

    I stand corrected.
    I know when travelling from Brussels to Cologne there is a voltage change at Aachem, I think that’s 15000V AC to 3000V DC.

  13. Simon Barber Says:

    With two passenger trains an hour on the Mid Cheshire, electric or not, plus the large number of freight paths timetabled on our line, I can’t see there being any line capacity for trams even if dual voltage stock was available and inter-running between Metrolink and Network Rail was agreed. I know I would much rather travel in a main line EMU than an tram any day, especially on a journey of ten miles or more!

  14. Jen Says:

    Now that the Airport Metrolink line is open and sharing the same track as Altrincham services between Trafford Bar and the city centre I’m not sure a tram-train from Knutsford to Manchester could manage a journey time of less than 40 minutes.

    Hopefully long-term we see electrification and the Airport link built.

  15. Vince Chadwick Says:

    The Airport link would make a lot of sense as it would allow a northern connection via our line to WCML from the Airport, easing congestion at the Airport and in Manchester. However it would involve extensive tunnelling under the Airport which would obviously be expensive. What chance do we think there is of such a large investment (the road lobby will call it ‘subsidy’) being made to achieve construction of the link? (Ed: Typos amended – see next comment).

  16. Vince Chadwick Says:

    There are a couple of typos in my last post. this is due to the text being tiny as it is typed, and not easily seen. It only becomes of legible size after it’s been submitted. I have mentioned this before and I think for a while it was rectified, but it’s been tiny again for quite a while now. Is there anything that can be done to make it bigger? (Ed: It shows OK on mine! Perhaps John Hulme can let you know how to make the text bigger).

  17. Jen Says:

    Vince my understanding is all the paths on the Airport to Piccadilly line are set to be taken up by the December 2019 timetable change. If there is then demand for additional Airport services, Network Rail will examine the viability of extending the Airport spur to the Mid-Cheshire line. That would then allow services such as Chester to Northwich to Manchester Airport to Manchester Piccadilly to Blackpool or Liverpool to Runcorn to Manchester Airport to Manchester to York, meaning the paths on the Airport to Piccadilly line are used more efficiently.

  18. Simon Barber Says:

    Another significant use of the airport spur would be for a North Wales to Airport service. Manchester serves as North Wales’ international airport yet there is no direct train service. I understand the Welsh Assembly is keen on the spur for this reason and this could see the Network Rail study conducted sooner than 2019. However, I am keen on it because it would be a much shorter and faster route to Manchester than via Stockport! Knutsford and Northwich would see a return to the pre-1990 journey times, when trains ran via Sale. Sadly, there’d be no beneft for Altrincham and Hale (or Sale!).

  19. Vince Chadwick Says:

    It could be argued that there’s nothing to prevent an Airport – North Wales service being run with the present layout, via Crewe and Chester. Indeed it could run into the bay platform at Crewe to reverse, replacing some of the Crewe – Chester shuttles that would normally use that bay.

    I’d love to see the northern extension to our line from the Airport and it does make a lot of sense for the reasons stated on this thread, but it would be a very expensive undertaking.

  20. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Vince!

    Trains from the Manchester lines can only run into platforms 1, 5 & 6 at Crewe due to the way the track layout was redesigned into the 1970s. So, “No” to the bay platform (9).

  21. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    Just to be pedantic,the Crewe remodelling, which in hindsight was far too drastic, was in 1985.

  22. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Thanks, I didn’t know that. I do remember when the local trains off the Manchester branch used to run into those bays before the track layout was altered. It does seem an odd limitation as South Wales trains and Pendolinos do of course cross to/from platform 6 from the Manchester branch thus blocking the fast through lines as they do. To allow access just one platform further, to the bay, would not compromise the fast lines any more than they now are.

  23. The Chairman Says:

    Thanks, Andrew!

    Yes, you’re right. I remember being part of a party allowed to walk round the station and along the (then closed) tracks during the 6 weeks that the station was closed for remodelling. I remember there was severe disquiet then amongst railway staff that the remodelling (pruning) was far to drastic and was taking out the extra capacity needed to cope when disruption occurred. Since then, this has proved the case with Crewe regularly becoming “stitched up” when disruption arises due to the lack of options the signallers have for alternative actions. I heard this simplification was forced on the London Midland Region by the Treasury who were quite insistent that the maintenance costs on BR had to be reduced and this would be achieved through simplified track layouts

  24. Vince Chadwick Says:

    That sounds familiar! Cash-strapped BR begging at the Treasury door for sufficient funds to run a decent railway and being thrown a fraction of what was required. Lines got closed, junctions simplified, signalling block longer as signalling infrastructure was removed, lines were singled and lots of other short-term cuts implemented to fit the Treasury-limited budget.

    There a lot not right with privatisation, but it sorted that out!

  25. Simon Barber Says:

    To add to the picture about the Crewe track plan, trains from Chester can only use platforms 6, 9, 10, 11 and 12, which means that a working from the Chester line to the Manchester line must use platform 6 and no other. As no. 6 is already the busiest platform in the station, it’s unlikely that any new workings reversing there could be allowed. There is a good view of the junction layout from the viewing area at Crewe North signal box (part of the Heritage Centre). From there you can see the remarkable length of bay platform 9 (extended to accommodate a loco and 6 coaches, with ease, when such trains worked the Crewe-Holyhead service). Platform 9 is so long now that there would be no room for the necessary crossovers to connect it to the Manchester branch, quite apart from the line occupancy that using such crossovers would require.

  26. Mike Battman Says:

    A couple of points on the recent discussion.

    Firstly, and it doesn’t help our line, but surely the obvious way to get a North Wales to Airport direct is to extend the ATW trains that currently terminate at Piccadilly to the Airport.

    Regarding the Airport Western Link; why can’t the link be piggy-backed onto HS2? HS2 is supposed to cross the MCL near to Ashley, if an extra 2-tracks were added (non high speed) between the Airport and the MCL, the additional land take/disruption would be minimised.

  27. Simon Barber Says:

    HS2 runs west of the airport (if it is built on the currently-proposed alignment), and doesn’t go near the existing airport station. (It is planned to squeeze HS2 in between the west side of the M56 and Hale Barns before passing through an ‘airport station’ which will have no car parking and will be west of the M56, so not exactly convenient. I can’t see that plan working, myself). The extension of the existing airport branch towards Mobberley is provided for in the current airport station design and doing it increases the capacity of the airport branch by reducing the number of turn-backs at the airport. Diverting some Mid Cheshire trains this way would free up paths at Slade Lane junction (because MCL trains would be extensions of existing airport services), so the ‘Mobberley spur’ has operational benefits for the existing railway as Jen suggested above. Moreover, I think we could realistically hope to get the airport spur built about ten years sooner than HS2 will come to the area! And, although this is probably not the clincher, it would be a good half an hour quicker from the airport to Chester and North Wales to run via the ‘Mobberley spur’ than running via Piccadilly and Bank Quay.

  28. Jen Says:

    Re: Mike. The Northern ITT specifies bidders must do one of the following:

    1. Leave a path for North Wales to Manchester services to be extended to the Airport.
    2. Leave a path for North Wales to Manchester services to be diverted to Victoria.

    So it sounds like what happens will depend on how many Airport services the operators of the next Northern and TPE franchises run.

  29. Jen Says:

    Andrew Jones who chaired the Rail North Electrification Taskforce has been given a cabinet role at the Department for Transport.

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