Mid Cheshire Overcrowding ….

Posted on December 6th, 2017, by The Chairman

Vince Chadwick writes ….

I travelled on a Chester to Manchester train last Saturday lunchtime as far as Knutsford. It was a 2-coach class 150 and set off from Chester about half full. By the time it reached Cuddington it was full.

At Greenbank it was well overfull with passengers standing in the vestibules and aisles. At Northwich the driver and guard walked down the outside knocking on the windows for people to move right down the aisles and somehow everyone squeezed on. At Lostock Grahlam some passengers could not get on and about 10 were left behind. At Plumley no-one could get on (about 3 waiting).

I had to get off at Knutsford and wondered if this would be physically possible (I was seated about half way down the front coach). Luckily quite a few (maybe 50) got off at Knutsford so I was able to get off as well, but there were about 150 people on the platform hoping to get on!

As we know, the Mid Cheshire Line is noted for overcrowding at peak times and for only having one train an hour each way. But when loadings are expected to be exceptional, such as when Chester Races are on, the trains are strengthened to 4 coaches (2 units). With Manchester Christmas Markets on and Christmas shopping attracting many more passengers to the city, why didn’t Northern strengthen these trains this weekend? If they can find the stock to do it for the races, why not pre-Christmas weekends as well?

Please leave a comment

  1. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Vince,

    Not good to hear.

    For the last 3 years following requests from MCRUA Northern, previously Northern Rail have strengthened Saturday services to 4 coaches as standard. Your story shows how necessary this is.

    I have sympathy for the passengers, and on this occasion for Northern as well. Saturday was a difficult day for Northern at Piccadilly as there was an axle counter failure at Marple West Junction. This caused much disruption to Northern’s services to Rose Hill, Marple, New Mills and the Sheffield stopping service (the “Eastern” services). This was the second time there was an axle counter failure at Marple West Junction in three days, as there had been a similar failure the previous Thursday. As you know, Network Rail, not Northern maintain the axle counters, which are part of the signalling system. Such failures can cause a lot of delays, as used to happen quite often on the West Coast Main Line.

    Although only a few of our trains inter-work with the Eastern services, units were borrowed from other services to try to keep some semblance of a service going for those passengers. Some of the services coming in from Sheffield were over an hour late and some diverted via Stockport.

    Best wishes,


  2. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    I think you mean Marple Wharf Junction.

  3. Peter Black Says:

    Why did the last comment feel it necessary to blame another company for an axle counter failure? Presumably to direct attention from the fact that Northern had extra carriages available, but chose not to use them. The rail industry needs to grow up and present a common face.

  4. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Peter.

    Good point. Train running performance (Moving Annual Average) is currently the worst it’s been since 2002 on the Mid Cheshire Line, and most of the fault (80-85% we estimate) is with Network Rail. The continuing apparent lack of action by Network Rail to sort this out is proving rather trying for Mid Cheshire Line users. There will be more about this in the coming Rail Report.

  5. Jon Says:

    When is the new hourly train from Greenbank to Piccadilly that only stops at the main stations coming in? I thought it was meant to be from this month, along with the new upgraded trains?

  6. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Jon,

    You’re right, the new timetable was planned to start last Sunday but had to be postponed due to the expected cascaded trains from Great Western Railway being delayed due to the overruns to the electrification programme on Great Western. The new timetable is now expected for May 2018.

    We’re not seeing new trains on the Mid Cheshire Line, rather trains that passengers will think are “like new”. The refurbishment programme is in three phases. We’re starting to see trains with the 1st stage of refurbishment (retention tank / disabled toilets and passenger information displays). This programme is planned to see the 3rd phase complete before the end of 2019.


  7. Jen Says:

    I heard Network Rail were supposed to undertake some improvements in the Greenbank area regarding renewing the signalling and moving the turnback so that trains terminating at Greenbank don’t have to reverse twice to move between platforms. Is that correct?

    On a different topic – according to Northern’s Twitter feed the waiting room on the Chester bound platform at Knutsford can only be opened during daylight hours, due to no longer having working lighting inside. Are there any plans to modernise stations on the Mid-Cheshire line? The facilities at Knutsford don’t really resemble what you’d expect for a station getting annual usage of over 500,000 journeys.

  8. Jen Says:

    Does anyone know why after cancelling both the 15:17 and 16:17 Manchester to Chester services yesterday (14th December) that Northern decided to run the 16:58 Stockport-Chester non-stop from Altrincham to Chester? It wasn’t even as though they did it to reduce disruption in the other direction, as the 16:59 and 18:04 Chester-Manchester trains were both cancelled, while the delayed 19:04 appeared to be the return working of the delayed 17:09 Manchester-Chester. It also seems new Northern don’t organise replacement buses when two consecutive services are cancelled on a line with an hourly service, like old Northern used to.

  9. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Jen,

    Re: Greenbank, Network Rail have been cutting the foliage back on the line from Greenbank to the ICI Works, this I expect for the use as a turnback. I don’t know about the signalling requirements.

    I hadn’t realised the Knutsford waiting room was closed when dark. Have you reported this to the Northern faults system using their website or the email address of “faults(at)northernrailway.co.uk”? You should receive a fault log number, then be able to track progress through ringing them (Carillion) in Sheffield. As regards upgrades to stations, it’s coming, though we don’t yet have the detail.

    Turning to 14 December, there was a significant problem at Heaton Norris Junction in the afternoon. This caused a lot of difficulties such that we and others had a pretty patchy service for the rest of the day, but at least something. Far better than last Sunday, when the last 2 trains to Chester were cancelled (they’re 2 hours apart as you know) and the last one back from Chester was cancelled, with buses only provided for the last two services.

    We’ll be discussing this in our next meeting with Northern’s Central Region Managing Director, Liam Sumpter in mid-January.

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