South of Manchester Rail Study Stakeholder Meeting ….

Posted on February 4th, 2018, by The Chairman

TfGM are in the process of carrying out a number of rail studies, the one for South of Manchester also being supported by Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester Council. The well known rail consultants, Steer Davies & Gleeve are working with them on the projext.

Stakeholders were invited to a meeting in Stockport to discuss the optimal use of current capacity as well as capacity limitations. Inevitably discussions overlapped onto the reopening of the Mid Cheshire Rail Link through Middlewich to passenger services, as well as the Airport Western Link originally proposed in the 1990s.

One of the stakeholders attending was Northwich Town Councillor, Andrew Cooper. Andrew later produced a summary of the situation for Mid Cheshire for SDG and TfGM, which he has given us permission to publish.

Thanks, Andrew.


Thank you for your time last Thursday at the TfGM stakeholder event regarding the South of Manchester Rail Study.

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to summarise some of the points we discussed, invite you to follow up on anything where you would like further input, and to urge you to stay in touch as the study progresses.

Our key concerns in Northwich (and in Mid Cheshire more widely are):
– How we can attract new businesses and help existing ones to grow;
– How we can attract people to live, work and shop in Mid Cheshire;
– How we can reduce pressure on the local road infrastructure;
– How we can improve access to our neighbouring towns and cities;
– How we can address challenges presented by the HS2 route.

The key issues on the Mid Cheshire Line are:
(a) the unattractive journey time to and from Manchester, currently about an hour;
(b) the frequency of services;
(c) the poor quality rolling stock.
Passenger numbers on the Mid Cheshire line have been growing at 5-7% per annum compound, faster than the average for north west England. This suggests there is considerable demand for travel on the route despite the present poor service.

Points (b) and (c) are being positively addressed through the new Northern franchise, but point (a), the unattractive journey time, will continue to be an issue with only minor improvements anticipated.

Last Thursday we set out two infrastructure projects that, taken together, would deliver huge benefits for both Mid Cheshire and Greater Manchester, and would go a long way towards addressing the key concerns set out above.

Re-opening of the Northwich to Crewe line for passengers

This first project is a relatively cheap project that would involve re-opening an existing railway line for passengers that is currently only used for freight and diversionary purposes.

It would involve construction of two new stations, the first at Gadbrook Park (a major employment centre in Mid Cheshire) and the second in Middlewich.

The benefits for Greater Manchester are twofold:
1. Access to and from these locations would be opened up for passengers, reducing the number of vehicles using the M6 and M56.
2. Opening up more work opportunities for Greater Manchester residents.

Manchester Airport Western Link

This project involves completing the existing railway line from Manchester Airport station westwards to meet the Mid Cheshire Line north of Mobberley.

Although the more expensive of the two, this project would have even greater benefits for Greater Manchester.
1. Journey times from North Wales, Chester and Mid Cheshire to Manchester Airport would be greatly reduced, making this a much more attractive option than currently. It would also provide an alternative route from Liverpool, avoiding going via Piccadilly.
2. Journey times between Mid Cheshire and Manchester Piccadilly would be greatly reduced.
3. Rail access to Manchester Airport City from Mid Cheshire via public transport would be possible. Given the scale of development in this area, this will be essential.
4. Capacity of Manchester Airport Station would be increased by this being a “through” station, rather than a terminus.
5. Capacity between Piccadilly and Crewe would be increased by providing a further alternative route to Crewe. Some Mid Cheshire trains and others will divert to the new through route via the Airport, creating spare paths on the key Piccadilly-Stockport corridor.

Effect of HS2 on Mid Cheshire

We discussed briefly the possible approaches to increasing or maintain current intercity service levels once HS2 reaches Crewe, and the effect these decisions would have on local services in the Northwich area in particular whilst this section of the HS2 route is under construction.

If both of the above projects are delivered in advance of HS2 reaching Crewe, it is possible that the capacity that would be released between Piccadilly and Crewe would be sufficient to allow for additional HS2 trains to run (as opposed to replacements for the existing 11-car Pendolinos) without a detrimental effect on local services.

I hope you will come to the same logical conclusions that I and my colleagues have come to on the benefits of these projects and look forward to hearing more from you as the study progresses.

Best wishes,


Cllr Andrew Cooper
Bridge Ward, Northwich Town Council

Please leave a comment

  1. Watcherzero Says:

    The thing I don’t get about the reopening proposal is yes it would be cheap to do and increase the rail coverage, but how could you operate it service wise? If you wanted to add a service between there and Manchester you would have to reduce the existing services frequency? Add a short working between the Airport and Crewe?

  2. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Watcherzero,

    The thinking at the moment goes something like this.

    If work were to start soon, the line would be open by 2021/22 making Mid Cheshire ready for the arrival of HS2 at Crewe. By then, given the number of new trains currently being built, and given the amount of electrification happening, albeit much less than originally planned, even after the withdrawal of the Pacers there will be a surfeit of diesel rolling stock. Even now, we note diesel traction is being found to operate the Halton Curve services.

    As regards the service, statements have been made by some stating that as there will be no extra paths into Piccadilly, that this can’t happen. What these people have missed is that two options have been proposed (there could be more), neither of which needs further paths into Piccadilly:

    1. Divert the semi-fast service from Piccadilly-Greenbank at Northwich, to call at Gadbrook Park, Middlewich, Sandbach and Crewe, and

    2. Run either the semi-fast or stopper as two sets as far as Northwich. Here the train would split with one section continuing towards Greenbank and Chester, and the other continuing to Crewe.

    As you will see, the above doesn’t affect the service frequency, and provides the great benefit of connecting Mid Cheshire to Crewe and HS2 without having to drive there or make a very slow connection via rail.

  3. Tim Wood Says:

    Easier access to Manchester Airport is essential but bear in mind that not everyone uses this station to fly. Direct services can be more cost and time effective that changing in Manchester and waiting for a train on the Chester line. There is however one new downside – You now have to pay to both pick up and drop off at this station using ANPR and a barrier. I would lay a bet that this will increase congestion not reduce it.

  4. Gemma Says:

    There have been reports Network Rail are having second thoughts over Northern running more local services between Stockport and Manchester. If that’s the case would it make any difference if Northern used units which can travel at over 75mph on services which run non-stop between Stockport and Manchester and only fast accelerating electric units on services which make Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme calls?

  5. Peter Says:

    I’ve been reliability informed that after Northern cancelled all the late services on Fri 9th November that passengers who phoned Northern were told they had to make their own way home, breaching EU directive 1371/2007 which requires Northern to organise replacement transport or put passengers in overnight accommodation if the last service is cancelled. It seems they eventually found a minibus to move the passengers who persisted in complaining.

  6. Peter Says:

    From 10th December Northern have found a path to run an additional Hazel Grove to Piccadilly service in the morning peak, as well as a path for an additional Piccadilly to Hazel Grove empty stock movement (pathed as a 75mph DMU), which will give Hazel Grove 9 services to Manchester between 06:45 and 08:45. Why couldn’t the paths they found have been used to extend one of the Chester to Stockport services to Piccadilly and to start the Stockport to Chester back from Piccadilly?

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