Trains swamped, passengers unable to board ….

Posted on December 2nd, 2012, by The Chairman

Saturdays are often very busy on the trains on the Mid Cheshire line. In the run up to Christmas, just starting this year, they’re even busier with the Christmas Shoppers and those going to sports and leisure events all flocking to the trains.

Yesterday, Saturday 1 December 2012 was no different in this respect. Lots of Christmas shoppers, those for the Man City v Everton football match, as well as all the normal travellers.

The Mid Cheshire line was swamped and “sank”.

Here’s a brief summary of events. If you can add to this, please let us know and we’ll update this post.

The 1103 Chester-Piccadilly left 25 behind at Knutsford unable to board, as well as 5 at Mobberley and 17 at Hale. Here’s a picture taken inside it at after Navigation Road. The unit, class 142040 with around 130 seats and around 250 on the train.

The 1203 Chester-Piccadilly left over 30 behind at Knutsford leaving there around 20 minutes late after all the efforts made to get passengers on the train given many had already been there over an hour after being unable to get on the previous one. The train then ran without picking up at Mobberley, Ashley or Hale, meaning those unable to board the previous train coming back an hour later for the following one couldn’t get on that either. It arrived into Piccadilly 21 minutes late.

The 2133 Chester-Piccadilly, 142054 failed at Mobberley with all lights out in the rear vehicle. The 44 passengers were moved to the front coach and the driver put his “Bardic” lamp on the back showing a red light, then obtaining permission from Control to proceed. Arrival into Piccadilly was 13 minutes late.

The 2245 Chester-Piccadilly left Chester 13 minutes late.

In the “Down” direction ….

The 0617 Piccadilly-Chester arrived in Chester 7 minutes late.

The 1017 left Piccadilly 7 minutes late arriving into Chester 8 minutes late.

The 1717 was 15 late out of Piccadilly awaiting a driver, a class 150 with 155 on board. More joined the train at Stockport and Altrincham making it very full indeed. 12 late into Chester
The 1817 was 5 late out of Piccadilly, 9 late out of Altrincham and 19 late into Chester
The 1917 was 8 late from Piccadilly, 7 late into Chester
(I’ve heard that these 3 were all swamped with passengers. None were left unable to board on the 1717 or 1917, though I haven’t heard about the 1817).

The 2017 was cancelled due to a traincrew shortage.

After all the efforts many of us put into persuading people to use the Mid Cheshire line, this is depressing.

Come on Northern. You must be able to do better than this!

I’ve asked Northern for a statement about the above. I’ll add whatever is received.

Please leave a comment

  1. Morris Minor Says:

    Nothing short of a disgrace

  2. Nodding Donkey Says:

    It doesn’t get much better on Sunday. A 2 hour service running currently running 40 minutes late from Chester due to a late running incoming service. Passengers stood on stations in the cold without CIS or station announcements.

  3. The Chairman Says:

    I’ve just received information about the 1717 (late awaiting driver, a class 150 loaded to 155 out of Piccadilly and none unable to board at stations later on) and amended the post to reflect this.

  4. Morris Minor Says:

    Now the saga of the 142 highlighted on BBC North West.
    Why not show this programme nationally, so the people in the South can see just what they are missing.

  5. Mike Battman Says:

    The programme should be available here soon…

  6. Nodding Donkey Says:

    Yet another cancelled train today. The 1017 off Piccadilly due to shortage of a crew member.
    No doubt this will have a knock on effect with the 1203 off Chester being cancelled.
    Again passengers stood at unmanned country stations for an extra hour in the rain without CIS or station announcements.

  7. Vince C Says:

    Just for comparison, I travelled into Manchester from Wilmslow on Saturday on a class 323 electric unit, leaving just before mid day via the Airport. The train was sparsely occupied to the Airport, but at each station after that on the Styal line quite a number of people boarded. Nevertheless, the train arrived on time at Piccadilly fairly full but few standing.

    By coincidence, my return train at about 15:40 was also via the Airport. It was perhaps less that half full on leaving Piccadilly, down to about 25% full by the Airport and onwards to Wilmslow.

    I could have caught a slightly earlier train home from Piccadilly that routed direct, rather than via the Airport, but it was a Pacer! No match for the comfort, quiet, and airyness of a 323, and how daft is it to run a Manchester – Alderley Edge return service using a diesel running all the way out and back under the wires?

  8. Jen Says:

    I think one possible solution to Saturday Mid-Cheshire line overcrowding would be a new cheap ticket type – called something like an Early Bird Return which would be the same price as an Evening Return but mean you have to make start the outward journey before 09:30 and start the return journey before 15:30, then more people would be attracted to use the train on Saturday but they would want to use the quieter services. Alternatively, simply a standard Advance ticket for local journeys on the less busy trains.

  9. Freel07 Says:

    I have to say that the 142 in the photo doesn’t look particularly full to me. It would help obviously if the standing passengers moved along to occupy the entire length of the car.
    The same trains on the Huddersfield Line are more crowded and passengers are left quite often. I totally agree though that the programme should be shown in London and the South East. I did make a comment regarding commuters on the Portsmouth Line complaining about their 10 or 12 car EMUs not having comfortable enough seats for a long journey and suggesting that they should come along and try the 2 car trains we ‘Provincials’, in a rail magazine but was laughed out of the discussion.

  10. Jen Says:

    The 323s have more than double the number of seats a Pacer has. They always seem very quiet on off-peak Manchester-Alderley Edge services. I’m not actually sure how that service can be justified in the off-peak period ahead of a half-hourly service on the Mid-Cheshire or Buxton lines.

    Freel07 – The post doesn’t say how far in to the journey the picture was taken. It does, however, mention 120 standing which is way more than a Pacer is supposed to carry and will affect the unit moving off and stopping which is made worst in leaf-fall season.

    The guard gets the final say in when the unit is too full for anyone else to board and it may vary between guards. I’ve been refused entry to a class 158 train at Leeds which had less than 180 standing, which would be similar to 120 standing on a Pacer with the Pacer having much shorter carriages.

  11. Conductor Says:

    TfGM have a requirement for 4 trains an hour that stop at Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme stations to keep it an attractive service. Sometimes you will only pick 2 or 3 people up at each of these stations despite the frequent trains. I think there is a similar requirement for 3 trains per hour from Cheadle Hulme and 2 trains per hour from Handforth, hence the Alderley Edge service to fill the gap in between Crewe and Stoke trains. If there isn’t a 323 available then a 142 normally covers it with minimum loss of time because of slack in the timetable. 323s are always a priority for the intensive Hadfield and Stoke services.

    Jen’s right about the discretion between Guards though. My usual policy is that people come first and bikes come last. As long as it’s safe for myself to operate doors and go to and from the cab and that my driver can leave the cab freely as 142 doors open outwards, then I allow as many as possible on. Capacity limits would be unenforceable. “Sorry ladies and gents, this train is designed and certified to carry only 145 seated and 40 standing. I’ve counted 200 people so far so the train can’t move until people get off”.

  12. The Chairman Says:

    Saturday 8 December.

    Things were a bit (not a lot) better than on Saturday 1 December. Fortunately there were no large sporting events on.

    In the Manchester direction:
    – 0903 was a 142 with around 200 from KNF
    – 1003 was a 150 with around 220 on from KNF
    – 1103 another 150 with around 220 on from KNF
    – 1203 was a 142 with around 250 on from KNF. There were 14 waiting for it at MOB. It took a couple of minutes, but they all got on. I’d be surprised if anyone managed to get on at ASY and HAL. 5 late into Piccadilly (rescued by the leaf-fall timings!)
    – 1703 – on time from CTR, heavily loaded, 15 late into ALT, 7 late into MAN. Not known if anyone left behind
    – 1903 – much as the 1703, 14 late into ALT, 6 late into MAN.

    In the Chester direction:
    – 0617 5 late from MAN and 5 late into CTR
    – 1017 4 late from MAN, 7 late into CTR
    – 1717 9 late from MAN, 14 late into CTR – not known if anyone unable to board
    – 1817 2 late from MAN, 7 late into CTR
    – 1917 9 late from MAN, 7 late into CTR
    – 2117 9 late from MAN, 8 late into CTR
    – 2217 cancelled, traincrew shortage.

    If you’re aware of any more detail on the above trains, particularly if passengers were unable to board, please let us know.

  13. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    I caught the 09.03 from Chester at Navigation Road. The main problem was that standing passengers were concentrated around the door lobby areas and would not move down the train (the aisles were empty). I asked a passenger to move down and he said that he would rather I pushed past him (which I did). I then found a three-seat occupied by only two people, asked them to move up and hey presto I had a seat.

  14. David Miller Says:

    Jen is right about an “early bird” ticket. I was on the 0659 on 8 December, due Piccadilly 0832, and the most it carried was 34 into Stockport.
    Luckily for us, Andrew and I were on the 2017 back which was more or less on time. It was a class 150 with 100 passengers (109 from Altrincham).

  15. The Chairman Says:

    Sunday 9 December.

    All trains on time until ….

    – penultimate train to Chester cancelled from Oxford Road
    – last train from Chester cancelled.

    “Traincrew shortage”

    No replacement buses shown, though no doubt they ran but to timings very different from the timetable.

  16. Jen Says:

    Rail operators have a responsibility to get passengers home or to offer overnight accommodation if the last train is cancelled or if a connection is missed due to a late running service, so I would be surprised if they didn’t organise replacement bus(es) which would be cheaper than numerous taxis or overnight hotel stays.

    I understand due to the enhanced Sunday service being above the minimum franchise commitment that rail tickets for Manchester and beyond from stations between Mouldworth and Hale (and reverse) are still accepted on Metrolink services on Sundays.

    Anyone who has been affected by a delay over 1 hour entitles them to rail travel vouchers from Northern Rail in accordance with their passengers’ charter. The address to write to is:
    Customer Relations, FREEPOST RLSL-ABEC-BGUU, Northern Rail Limited, Leeds, LS1 4DY.

  17. Nodding Donkey Says:

    Please can we have confirmation as to whether rail replacement buses ran? If they didn’t then a full explanation is required of what arrangements if any were made by Northern to meet customer requirements.

  18. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    A slight correction. Rail tickets from and to stations between Mouldsworth and Navigation Road can be used on the Metrolink Altrincham line between Altrincham and Piccadilly/Victoria on Sundays.


  19. Mark Barker, Northern Rail Says:

    It may not be of any great comfort to know that the same situation applied on almost all routes into Manchester on that and the following weekend. On some routes there was overcrowding coming into Manchester at times that one would expect the problems to be leaving Manchester.

    To put this all into context, on Saturday 1st, the German Markets had 85,000 visitors, 10,000 more than their previous one-day record and the City Centre had 5% more visitors than same day last year. For Sunday 2nd, this increased to 14% and for 7th and 8th the increases were 12.7% and 11.1%. All this in what is supposed to be a recession!

    We have a strengthening programme in place, mostly benefitting the north side which was devised after last Christmas, but even this struggled – on some routes a four carriage train was leaving passengers behind. We put additional capacity in place in the short run the following weekend, particularly on the 9th, but it seems like we are going to be stretched right through to Christmas.

    Also, Manchester City Centre had 22.6% more visitors on Saturday 15th and 26.8% more on Sunday 16th. (These figure are provided by CityCo and are total visitors – not rail passengers).

  20. The Chairman Says:

    Nodding Donkey, I’ve had a response from Northern about whether replacement buses ran to replace the two trains cancelled on Sunday 9 December.

    Apparently they did and apparently they were shown on the National Rail and Northern websites and in the real time train running times.

    I explained to the person who spoke to me that on the 3 occasions I looked, this information was not shown. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep copies of the screenshots. The buses were also not on the departure boards when I looked, and again I kept no copies of the screenshots.

    Next time there’s a cancellation where Northern would be expected to provide alternative transport (next train over one hour later), if those “watching” online could keep screenshots and email them to me where the buses appeared not to be shown, or were they are shown but running to the wrong timings (the train times, rather than the bus timings), we’d appreciate this.

  21. Charles Frankland Says:

    Just to note that on Friday 14th, the last train to Chester drew into Altrincham at the same time as the tram. On previous occasions, the train has waited half a minute to allow people to cross over. On this occasion, the train driver decided not to wait and left 6 people behind. I understand that there are timetables to adhere to, however this appears to be extremely mean spirited.

  22. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    You could choose to catch the previous tram 12 minutes earlier to make sure of your connection. Tram times are shown on the Journey Planner on the TfGM website The tram timetable is “MET1” if you select “Timetables” and enter “MET1” when it asks for “bus number”.


  23. Mike Battman Says:

    Andrew, the problem with the tram timetable is that apart from the first tram of the day they are virtually meaningless. Even the ‘last tram’ can be late.
    The trams bunch-up, gaps develop and basically they just run as best as they can. The logic being that they are frequent enough (like the tube in London) that if you miss one, there’ll be another along shortly.

  24. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    That’s not my experience. I go for a particular tram from Navigation Road towards Manchester (as I did this morning) and usually it turns up on time (it did this morning). Also when I go for a drink in Sale in the evening I go for a particular tram from Sale back to Navigation Road and usually it arrives on time. Charles implies that the last train to Chester normally waits at Altrincham for passengers off the the tram arrival at around the same time. The tram is due to arrive at Altrincham at 23.42 and the train departs at 23.43 so it suggests that the tram normally arrives into Altrincham at that time. I think it is a big mistake that Metrolink does not advertise its timetable (unlike Midland Metro).


  25. Mike Battman Says:

    Maybe I’ve been unlucky; I usually aim for the last tram back to Altrincham from town, which is about 10 to midnight Monday to Thursday and about an hour later Friday and Saturday. I have been on Mosley Street station from about a quarter to the hour and at five to I am thinking I’ve missed it, only for it to turn up at 5 past.
    I’m quite surprised that you say that they seem to run to some sort of timetable; I’ve not noticed that.

  26. Morris Minor Says:

    This blog was about overcrowding. Can we not forget that.
    Not for comments about the timetables.
    My advice, never go for the last tram/train, always go for the one before that.

  27. The Chairman Says:

    The discussion about Metrolink tram running performance has transferred to a new post –

  28. The Chairman Says:

    It looks like the Saturday “trains swamped passengers unable to board” season has started early this year.

    We hear many people were unable to board Mid Cheshire line trains this morning and this evening, having to wait an hour or more, or in many cases they just gave up and went by car. One morning train even saw 25 unable to board at Northwich and some at Delamere.

    As well as the usual Saturday seasonal street markets, the Australia v New Zealand Rugby at Old Trafford was a large attraction.

    We hope many of those affected make a point of complaining to Northern, so DfT might just notice all the complaints and try much harder to get more rolling stock onto our local railways more quickly.

  29. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    There were three class 142s stabled at Stockport carriage sidings yesterday morning.

  30. Jen Says:

    A Twitter user has posted a photo of platforms 10 and 11 at Manchester Piccadilly last night:

  31. Mike Battman Says:

    When I first looked at that photo I assumed it was crowds waiting for trains, but looking at the angle and direction of the information boards it is passengers leaving the train(s)?

    Was it something to do with the Rugby League Final at Old Trafford yesterday?? Crowds arriving from across the Pennines perhaps.

  32. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Mike!

    It looks to me like they’re waiting for the 2017 from platform 11. Yes, it was the Rugby at Old Trafford plus Christmas shopping.

    According to “realtimetrains” this was on time leaving Picc, Stockport and Alty (easy if you’re swamped and just tell the punters they can’t get on), 1 late at Mobberley, 4 late by the next timing point of Plumley West Signalbox after the Knutsford stop and 7 late into Mouldsworth where it had to wait for the on time 2133 coming the other way over the single line leading to a 13 minute late arrival into Chester.

    If anyone reading this was on the 2017, a witness account would be appreciated,

  33. Mike Battman Says:

    My contact at Piccadilly says…

    Don’t know about Saturday specifically, but we have done that type of thing before. The ‘Disaster Waiting to Happen’ is what would happen if we did nothing; I suppose that Twitter is too short to provide answers to complex issues!

    Fundamentally, the Station is too small to accommodate the volumes of people wanting to catch trains off it at times like that (key/popular destinations being Liverpool, Warrington, Bolton, Preston, North Wales, Wigan one way and Leeds, Sheffield and stops on the airport line the other). If we let everyone on, then staff could not despatch trains safely, people would end up on the track or worse.

    Therefore, we try a queuing system to filter appropriate amounts of people down there. Platform 10 is the single largest place we have to hold large numbers of people so we put the barriers out there and hold people there until we can let them go up to the Overbridge and then down to 13 or 14, hopefully sending manageable numbers each time.

    It’s not great, it’s not pleasant and it’s not a nice way to spend your evening, being harangued by angry strangers who see you as the reason they are not getting home after a stressful day at the Christmas markets. But it should keep the job going.

    TfGM are aware that there are major transport issues at this time of year with the popularity of Manchester and its commercial festivities and were meant to be looking at everything as a whole. The rugby and the football were massive complicating factors though.

    If I find out any more, I’ll let you know.

  34. Jen Says:

    A Tweet from Northern Rail to Councillor Andrew Malloy says there is no compensation offered for travelling on busy trains, or for not gaining entry to a train.

  35. Simon Barber Says:

    Mike, the comment from ‘contact at Piccadilly’ is interesting in as much as those destinations he named are almost all served by platform 14, and the two that aren’t are predominantly served by platform 13. I can see why Piccadilly will have crowding problems if the two most distant, isolated platforms carry the bulk of the traffic. The Northern Hub may do something to help by adding two more platforms… and sharing some of the load with Victoria (which is a mixed blessing). Concerning the MCL, if those passengers are for other lines then we don’t now know how busy our 2017 was, unless someone who travelled on it comments.

  36. Mike Battman Says:

    Simon, Yes that is the implication of what he was saying; the bulk of those passengers were heading to Platforms 13 and 14. The logic of the Piccadilly management is that it is safer to hold the passengers on the relatively wide Platform 10 than allow 13/14 to become overcrowded. I don’t think I’d argue with that.
    I agree that the Northern Hub should help with extra platforms; it’ll also divert some of the Yorkshire and Liverpool trains to Victoria.

  37. The Chairman Says:

    Re last Saturday morning, figures I’ve received from a number of sources tell us:

    – 1002 from Chester. Left 33 behind at Knutsford, 7 at Mobberley.

    – 1102 from Chester. Left 25 behind at Northwich, 35 at Knutsford and 5 at Mobberley, some who had been there waiting to board the 1002.

    – 1202 from Chester. Left 18 behind at Knutsford, including 2 mothers with babies in prams who had been there for the 1002 and then the 1102 and had been unable to board both. One of the babies was getting very upset needing a feed. Northern kindly provided them with a taxi to Hale to get them home. After the 1102, the Mobberley people gave up and drove.

    We know others were left elsewhere, as well as on the return in the evening, but we don’t have those figures. If these are supplied (you can email me on, I’ll update this comment.

    I hear that last Saturday was pretty bad all over in the Manchester area. I’m told the roads were terribly clogged up, the class 323s on the hourly service in from Stoke were leaving lots of people behind despite the huge numbers they can carry compared to our 2-car trains, and generally it was very congested all over the Manchester area. I do wonder about the wisdom of holding a major sporting event in Manchester, in this case the Australia v. New Zealand Rugby at Old Trafford, when the city is already very busy with other events. The current transport arrangements simply can’t cope.

  38. Jen Says:

    On Saturday the 06:37 Bournemouth to Manchester service terminated at Macclesfield, meaning the Northern 323 running the 10:58 Stoke to Manchester service not only had it’s usual passengers to pick up but the ones Cross Country dumped at Macclesfield.

    Then on top of that the 07:45 Bournemouth to Manchester was 33 minutes late leaving Wolverhampton meaning Northern’s stopper ran ahead of the Cross Country service instead of behind it, so again Northern picked passengers who should have travelled with Cross Country.

    Imagine what our line would have been like on Saturday if Arriva had cancelled Chester-Warrington-Manchester services or if Metrolink had suspended Altrincham services.

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