Tram-train on the Mid Cheshire line – a proposal

Posted on July 26th, 2012, by The Chairman

John Oates and Mike Ross have put together a proposal for tram-train on the Mid Cheshire line. We thought it would be good to publish this following our recent post about bi-mode tram-trains in Kassel.

Tram Train Proposal

Tram-Train in Karlsruhe - (c) John Oates

This is now being considered by members of the Community Rail Partnership as well as MCRUA.

Could this be a way of getting the service back to the levels of usage seen prior to 1990 and to the conversion of the route through Sale to Metrolink?

Please leave a comment

  1. Morris Minor Says:

    Dream on.

  2. Mike Battman Says:

    Well, I’m dreaming, it would make sense. Good report gents.

  3. Edd Says:

    Not sure on the idea of road running between Northwich and Hartford as the Castle area can be very congested at peak times. Although, a proper link between Greenbank and Hartford stations sounds like an excellent idea.

    I think the tram-train idea needs to be looked at in conjunction with other transport. For instance Dunham Massey and Tatton Park are both close to the Mid-Cheshire line but in the case of Tatton Park there is no bus connection and while Dunham Massey is close to the Altrincham-Warrington bus route it’s not well publicised.

    I think it’s also important that tram-trains are used appropriately and not just as a cheap replacement for Pacers and 153s on routes where there is no intention of using both train and tram lines.

  4. Northern driver Says:

    Overall an excellent idea. However, while it’s only given as a possibility I think a Northern Rail operated St Peter’s Square to Knutsford service has a few snags. Firstly, the tram-train won’t stop at a station where Northern crews are based i.e. Victoria or Piccadilly. Secondly, assuming the units are based at Newton Heath they will go through Victoria to get to St Peter’s Square so starting the service from Victoria seems more logical to me already. Noting that Victoria will see more fast trains to Liverpool and Leeds (via Huddersfield) over the next few years, a direct link between Victoria and the Mid-Cheshire line makes even more sense. There would also likely be two routes from St Peter’s Square to Victoria following the second city crossing meaning Altrincham could be served by stops on both routes by keeping existing Bury-Altrincham services via Shudehill and running tram-trains on the new route (likely via Exchange Square.)

    On the other hand the suggested turn back facility at Knutsford could have wider advantages in the event of disruption and could reduce the need for rail replacement buses.

  5. Conductor Says:

    Nice document but I have my doubts because of the Network Rail infrastructure, funding methods, benefit to cost ratios and the replacement Northern TOC.

    It’s no secret that Knutsford and Northwich has slightly longer journey times than other places with similar sized distances from Manchester such as Alderley Edge, New Mills, Glossop. Metrolink say it takes 29 minutes from Altrincham to Piccadilly with an additional 13 minutes to Knutsford, so 42 minutes in all to do the journey. You could say there are a few minutes shaved off the Knutsford leg for any improved tram acceleration. Northern timetable a train from Knutsford to Manchester at around 45/46 minutes (soon to be increased because Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme are been added in the Manchester direction) , so saving 4 minutes from a small town like Knutsford/Northwich to Manchester with unproven Tram Trains (in this country, as of yet) isn’t going to secure any kind of funding. I can’t see a semi-fast system been operated as when the Metrolink is at peak frequency a tram train is going to catching up with a all stop tram. The trains per hour from Mid Cheshire also seems slightly excessive at 3tph + 1 via Stockport. The current infrastructure would not be able to cope and would there be demand for that kind of frequency past Altrincham?

    The report mentions about the connection at Altrincham, I’m under impression that it’s shortly to be removed for cost reasons. No point in paying towards maintaining points there if it’s not used. All the new trams were delivered by road!

    If this Tram Train idea were to happen then I can honestly see a lot of the current infrastructure been requiring a massive upgrade. For starters, beyond Hale it’s Absolute Block Signalling that restricts the amount of trains that can be ran reliably up to Plumley and Northwich. It’s also operationally restricted as AB needs to have a Guard/Conductor on board the Tram. I can’t remember the year that the Mid Cheshire line is to have all it’s boxes removed and relocated to Manchester but it’s at least a decade away. 2022-2025 I think. There is no crossover at Knutsford as mentioned so it’s either Plumley, a pointless place to terminate a tram, Northwich or Greenbank. Preferably the latter but the further you go towards Chester, the more trams and staff is needed. This adds to costings.

    Would the trams be able to adapt to jointed rail and the less smooth Network Rail track? Those new trams on the Metrolink were reported to have problems with suspension on the Sale line.

    Who would work the Tram Trains? Northern TOC or Metrolink? Train Crew depots? Revenue collection? Would would maintain the Tram Trains.

    Well it’s a nice idea, realistically I can’t see it happening. What I would like to see though is funding in place for Altrincham – Crewe via Northwich/Sandbach services instead of this with extensions to Manchester if pathing can be taken via Stockport.

  6. Jen Says:

    Relating to linking Hartford and Greenbank, I think there was a mixed trick a few years ago, which I believe was suggested by some Northern crew members. Passenger numbers were increasing on Altrincham-Northwich but overall not enough to justify a second Chester-Manchester service every hour. On the other hand Warrington patronage on the Lime Street to Bank Quay stopper was poor. That service could have been extended to Altrincham which would have given an extra service on the busy part of the Mid-Cheshire line, a faster more direct link to West Coast services and created new journey opportunities to Warrington. Now the Lime Street to Bank Quay stopper is expected to be diverted/extended to Manchester, so the option doesn’t still exist unless it is a separate Altrincham – Warrington service which would make crew changes and unit switches more difficult.

    As it won’t be possible to run tram-trains on the street at every station, what about also looking at something like the Southport Pier tram? If Cheshire East council and the National Trust allow it a quiet battery powered tram could run from Knutsford station, along a car-free King Street and up to the Mansion at Tatton Park, with 2 or 3 intermediate calling points. Although, I’m not sure how many runs could be done before a recharge would be required.

  7. Jen Says:

    A few points in response to Conductor’s post:

    1. I’m presuming this would happen after the Rotherham-Sheffield tram-train trial.
    2. The tram-train trial in Rotherham will be operated by Supertram on behalf of Northern Rail. Originally it was proposed to be Northern but there were too many complications with driver only operation and interchangeable tickets, which were delaying progress on the planning. Germany has found solutions to these problems, why can’t we?
    3. I believe the interchangable ticketing issue is something that would affect additional trains terminating at Altrincham as Northern would likely lose revenue to Metrolink.
    4. Tram-trains cannot operate with a guard opening and closing the door on shared sections with trams. This delays moving off and would mean trams would catch up tram-trains.
    5. TfGM have informed me the poor ride on the M5000s is because the track has got used to T68s operating on it and causing a groove with the M5000s do not like and for that reason the South Manchester and Oldham lines are being kept free of T68s. Apparently, Network Rail have the same problem with Pacers and Sprinters operating on the same line.
    6. The tram-trains would have much lower seating capacity and be cheaper to run than ordinary trains. I imagine 3 tram-trains will not provide that many more extra seats than a class 156 train.

  8. Charles Frankland Says:

    As a user of Mouldsworth, I would be very disappointed if the tram-trains did not run through to Chester and allow a faster commute to Manchester. I see that times to Piccadilly this Autumn are getting worse, so any solution which takes takes trains off the Stockport Manchester bottleneck must be positive. A turnback at Knutsford or Greenbank would require extra track and if it did run to Crewe, the times from Middlewich to Manchester would not be competitive with those just down the road at Sandbach. The priority surely must be the improvement of the existing service which has diminished over the years over and above adding new services.

  9. Northern driver Says:

    Charles: In fairness an improvement for most passengers would be the introduction of semi-fast services alongside the stoppers to bring the main stations on the Mid-Cheshire line like Northwich, Knutsford and Hale in line with the service provided at stations like Stalybridge, Birchwood and Newton-le-Willows. Mouldsworth’s patronage is 6% of what Knutsford’s is, so it’s really unfair for the people of Knutsford for them to not have more trains than Mouldsworth. Why can’t Knutsford have a new bay platform when Stalybridge is currently having an extra one built?

    Considering the high demand for Crewe-London and Wilmslow-London tickets at Knutsford ticket office I think a faster way of getting to Crewe from Altrincham, Knutsford and Northwich would prove a better investment than an additional Northwich-Chester service. After all the existing off-peak services between Northwich and Chester in school term-time aren’t that busy. A through service doesn’t have to mean the intention is for people to use it end to end look at Wakefield to Leeds via Halifax services or the Chester to Southport via Altrincham services on Sundays.

  10. Freel07 Says:

    A number of points on a very interesting idea.
    Firstly as Conductor says I think the Metrolink to network Rail crossover at Altrincham is to be removed.
    More importantly Metrolink capacity between Altrincham and Manchester is constrained by the single line between Navigation Road and Deansgate Junction. The present 10 trams per hour per direction is all it can reliably handle so where would the capacity for the tram trains come from? Simply replacing an existing Altrincham to Manchester tram with a tram train is not viable as the existing trams are frequently at capacity leaving Sale. Sacrificing the space used by existing commuters for those coming in from Knutsford etc would be a hard pill to swallow for Trafford Council Tax payers. Additionally where would these journeys terminate as terminating trams in teh street absorbs precious capacity and under current proposals many of the existing Piccadilly journeys will carry on beyond into East Manchester.

  11. Edd Says:

    In response to Feel07’s comments.

    Can the infrastructure not be adjusted slightly to allow tram-trains to call at the current heavy rail platform at Navigation Road and then switch to the Metrolink only lines?

    And can’t the tram-trains be bigger than existing trams?

  12. freel07 Says:

    In answer to Edd,

    Yes in fact the report released into the study carried out some time ago does show a possible link just after Deansgate Lane level crossing which would go some way to helping the capacity issue. One of the issues though is that the conversion to Line of Sight results in the control of the Metrolink lines being handed over to Metrolink.

    The vehicle length is a bit more trick to deal with. Most tram trains are 3 section and around 38 metres long. This is longer than a Metrolink tram and could result in problems when inter running as most Metrolink platforms are 60 metres long to cope with coupled sets. Once the network is converted from block signalling to Line of Sight the combination of a single tram following a tram train into a platform would result in only part of the second vehicle being in the platform. In the street sections the platforms are extremely tight. I suppose this issue could be dealt with by simple rules with drivers stopping short of the platform when they can see it is occupied.

  13. Kate Harrison Says:

    What some people are forgetting is that currently many people drive to Frodsham and Helsby to join already overcrowded trains to commute to Manchester. As well as those of us who drive to Manchester for leisure or shopping and pick up the tram at some point eg Stretford or get the tram from Altrincham to access intermediate stops thus avoiding having to go all the way to Piccadilly (via Stockport) and then backtrack.
    I am sure that the current traffic from places like Mouldsworth would increase. The major thing that put me off looking for work in Manchester was the choice between hideous over crowding or a long dreary journey.

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