Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association

Your voice for the Manchester to Chester, Crewe to Liverpool and potentially Northwich to Crewe via Middlewich railway lines

Latest News & Events

  • NEW TIMETABLE ANNOUNCED

    16th May 2021 - 11th December 2021

    Northern have published their new timetable for the Mid Cheshire Line ....

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  • METROLINK UPDATE

    15th May 2021 - 16th May 2021

    The Altrincham Metrolink line will only operate between Altrincham and Old Trafford ....

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  • JUNE 2021 BUS REPLACEMENTS

    There is engineering work on the Mid Cheshire Line during June 2021 ....

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  • CRP ACHIEVES GOVERNMENT ACCREDITATION

    9th April 2021

    The Mid Cheshire Community Rail Partnership has achieved government accreditation ....

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  • TEMPORARY COVID TIMETABLE

    18th January 2021

    Northern have introduced a Temporary Covid Timetable from Monday 18th January 2021 ....

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  • EDUCATIONAL SEASON TICKETS

    1st December 2020

    Educational Season Tickets are now available for participating schools on the Mid Cheshire Line ....

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MCRUA's Long Running Campaigns

At MCRUA, we believe our principal role is to campaign for better train services, better trains and better stations for the travellers of Mid Cheshire and indeed for all areas served by our two railway lines - the Mid Cheshire Line and the Crewe-Winsford-Hartford-Liverpool line.

We have had some success over the years, with the re-instatement of twice-hourly train services at Hartford (until curtailed by the Covid-19 crisis), the elimination of most four-hour timetable gaps and the start of new Sunday services at Acton Bridge, and of course the replacement of the Pacers.

We also have three long-running campaigns, which are still active though they may not always be visible to our members. 

Two Trains an Hour and Hourly Sunday Services on the Mid Cheshire Line

This is a campaign that we all thought we had won in 2015, when this level of service was specified as part of the Minimum Train Service Requirement for the Northern franchise which includes the Mid Cheshire Line. Northern was required to - and by contracting, agreed to - operate hourly trains on Sundays and two trains an hour on weekdays starting in December 2017.

The Sunday service has not started because, unlikely as it may sound, Sunday working was not part of the drivers’ working week. Northern was relying on volunteers to operate the service, and there were not enough. Amazing as it seems to those of us outside the railway industry, the train operator had contracted to deliver a service despite knowing that they had not got the resource to do it. Northern has negotiated new contracts with train crew since then but these are not yet fully in force. We expect the hourly Sunday trains to start when these contracts are in force from the December 2021 timetable change.

The second hourly train on weekdays was required to run limited stop between Manchester and Northwich. Northern committed in their contract to extend it to Greenbank, and we were pushing them to extend it to Chester. It would not be fair to say that Northern didn't try. The service start was delayed by Network Rail's late completion of the Bolton line electrification, which tied up diesel trains and prevented improvements to diesel lines like ours. But Northern did eventually plan a two trains per hour service between Manchester and Greenbank. For MCRUA, John Oates and Simon Barber met Northern's senior timetable planner to review their proposed timetable. We saw it and offered comments on the calling pattern, the times of the first and last trains, and peak hour departure times. All seemed set fair for service start in 2018, but then Network Rail refused permission saying that the rail network was too congested and they could not offer Northern the train paths for the service. It was odd that Network Rail had not said so previously and instead had led Northern to plan the service in detail. Northern could do nothing about this but suggested instead a limited stop service between Altrincham and Chester which would provide two trains an hour at the principal Mid Cheshire stations, with faster journeys to Altrincham and Chester. Although very disappointing that these trains would not provide a faster service to Manchester, this would still be a worthwhile improvement. However, Network Rail intervened again and refused Northern permission to operate this service, saying that there were farm occupation crossings on the line that due to recently introduced revised safety standards needed upgrades before more passenger trains could run. Again, Network Rail had not mentioned this before and nor had they taken steps pro-actively to upgrade the crossings, despite knowing since 2015 that the extra trains were a franchise commitment. Network Rail now has a plan to upgrade the crossings but say it has been delayed by Covid. We continue to press Network Rail via the CRP about this and are hopeful that the Altrincham-Chester extra service will be able to start. However, if the changes suggested under Option C of the Manchester Rail Recovery Task Force are chosen, these extra services would instead be provided by Transport for Wales through their North Wales to Manchester service running via the Mid Cheshire Line calling at Northwich, Knutsford, Altrincham and Stockport rather than travelling via Warrington. If Option C is chosen, these services are anticipated to start from the May 2022 timetable change.

We should add that since the 2015 franchise contract was placed, the Department for Transport (DfT) has taken back control of Northern and the franchise contract is therefore no longer in force. The train service that operates in future may not be the same as expected. MCRUA continues to watch this very closely and to maintain contact with all those who may influence the future service pattern - including MPs, borough councils and transport authorities.


The Mid Cheshire Rail Link Campaign, also known as The Middlewich Line

The Mid Cheshire Rail Link campaign (a sub-committee of MCRUA) is campaigning for the re-opening to passengers of the freight railway line between Northwich and Sandbach stations, with new stations at Middlewich and Gadbrook Park (at Rudheath, near Northwich) and through trains from Mid Cheshire to Crewe. This is making progress, slowly. The idea caught the attention of previous Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, who spoke in its favour and asked Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership ("the LEP") to commission feasibility study.

There is a defined process for rail re-openings, which has multiple stages and is inevitably lengthy. The LEP commissioned WSP consultants to do a feasibility study, which was completed two years ago and recommended progress to the next stage... which the DfT accepted, and so the LEP commissioned a Strategic Outline Business Case, which was completed in March 2020 and sent to the DfT for the next decision. After many months the DfT decided to ask the LEP to update the SOBC and re-submit it. In parallel with this the DfT had announced a fund, 'Restoring Your Railway', which exists to fund studies into re-opening closed railways. This is often misunderstood as a 'reversing the Beeching cuts' fund, but it isn't; it's only to part-fund studies and as mentioned this is a multi-stage process. The LEP did not apply for money from the first two tranches of 'Restoring Your Railway' because the Middlewich re-opening was already more advanced than the studies that the fund was meant to support. However, a third tranche of funds has been announced and DfT suggested that the LEP apply for funds from it to cover the re-work of the Strategic Outline Business Case. This has been done... but the DfT has delayed announcing any decisions on spending this tranche of funds! A decision on funding is not now expected until July, by which time it will be 16 months since the last report was submitted to them. Truly, you need epic persistence and the patience of a saint to win campaigns such as this; our friends at North Cheshire Rail Users Group campaigned for 40 years to secure the re-opening of the Halton Curve to passenger trains!


Manchester Airport Western Link

Background

The Manchester Airport Western Link is the name for the 3.5 mile connection between Manchester Airport rail station and Mobberley on the Mid Cheshire Line, which was proposed by British Rail in the early 1990s before privatisation. This was part of the original Manchester Airport rail link project. Only the eastern part (Heald Green to Manchester Airport) was built owing to economies in the run-up to privatisation, but provision was made at Manchester Airport station for future completion of the Western Link, and Manchester Airport agreed to protect the necessary route across their land - which they still do.

Maps
Our maps explains the Western Link.

Cheshire County Council Map 2007

Click here to view the map in detail

This is the last Cheshire County Council rail map from 2007 - still an accurate map of Network Rail routes - on which we have shown the proposed route of the Western Link (dashed). This highlights the number of lines that the Western Link could connect to, via the Mid Cheshire Line.

Benefits

The link provides a shorter and more direct route between Mid Cheshire and Manchester Piccadilly, via the airport, 6 miles shorter than the present route via Stockport. Because the Mid Cheshire Line is well connected to other lines, many places could benefit from this. In particular, it would provide a far shorter route from Chester and North Wales to the airport. It would be a remarkable 21 miles shorter than the present route from Chester which is via Warrington Bank Quay and the Castlefield corridor. Today's journey time of 84 minutes from Chester to the airport on the TfW through service could be cut to about 40 minutes via the Mid Cheshire Line and the Western Link.

The link has benefits for Greater Manchester too. By transferring Mid Cheshire trains to a new route, capacity would be freed up at Stockport. Manchester Airport station would become a through station with some existing services extending westward to Cheshire and into Wales, which would increase its operational capacity. Diverting some or all Mid Cheshire trains away from the existing Altrincham-Stockport railway would free up capacity there, allowing TfGM to realise its ambitions for trams or tram-trains on that line.

Current Status
Rail planners and consultants are well aware of the proposed link but it lacks a major sponsor. We believe this is because the proposed route crosses the boundary between two transport authorities - Greater Manchester and Cheshire East - meaning that the benefits are split between two boroughs (and beyond), and neither has taken the lead. The Western Link is included in Transport for the North's (TfN's) 'long list' of potential rail interventions.

Some proposed train services on the Western Link were analysed in 2020 as part of the 'Middlewich and Mid Cheshire Rail Re-opening Study', commissioned by Cheshire & Warrington LEP at the request of former Secretary of State Chris Grayling. This Strategic Outline Case for the Middlewich line re-opening is now with the DfT for consideration. The Western Link is addressed there because it is complementary to the Middlewich re-opening proposal. Taken together with the Middlewich line, it provides an alternative route from Crewe to Manchester, via the Airport, that helps relieve capacity constraints between Sandbach and Wilmslow and at Stockport. The authors of the report recommended that a feasibility study be commissioned into the Western Link by the LEP, and the DfT has been asked to contribute to funding it.

No duplication with HS2
There has been confusion between HS2 and the Western Link with some commentators saying that the HS2 station at Manchester Airport will make the Western Link unnecessary. This is a misunderstanding. HS2 is a north-south railway whereas the Western Link is an east-west one. The places that would benefit from the Western Link are not served by HS2 - they serve different markets. Fortunately, the HS2 proposals do not impede or obstruct the route of the Western Link in any way.

No duplication with Northern Powerhouse Rail
In contrast to HS2, NPR is an east-west railway. However, like HS2, it does not serve any of the towns that would benefit from the Western Link. The route of NPR is far from settled and there have been no proposals as far as we know to run any NPR services to Chester or Wales. The Western Link, being only 3.5 miles long, could be built in a fraction of the time that it will take to plan and build NPR and could quickly bring benefits to Wales, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

Welsh interest in the Western Link
In 2008, the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons questioned Manchester Airport representatives about access to the airport from North Wales (report here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmwelaf/memo/ucprovision/m12702.htm  ). In response, Manchester Airport's representative acknowledged the Western Link and said that the Airport was committed to protect its route. They re-committed to this in 2015. Transport for Wales has recently expressed continuing interest in the Western Link idea.

Peter Hendy's Union Connectivity Study
The recent report by Peter Hendy (at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/union-connectivity-review-interim-report  ) acknowledges the Western Link idea and its potential benefit in providing economic links between the towns of north-east Wales and north-west England as well as Manchester Airport. There are many cross-border economic links with many people crossing the England-Wales border for work. The report argues that these links should be improved and running train services to Manchester Airport and Manchester via the Western Link is one of the ideas proposed. At the time of writing the report is with the government for consideration.

At MCRUA, we are grateful for all support for the Western Link. We campaign to keep it in the public eye and get it built.