Sardines on the 0717 ….

Posted on November 27th, 2013, by The Chairman

Success can be a problem ….

Regular readers will remember that the free faith school transport funded by Cheshire East Council was discontinued from September 2012. This led to even more scholars using the Mid Cheshire line to get to the 4 schools and The Mid Cheshire College sites adjacent to Greenbank station, the main train being the 0717 from Piccadilly arriving at Knutsford at 0800 and Greenbank at 0818. The following train, an hour later is too late for most of these.

Meanwhile, Barclays at Radbroke Hall has increased the number of training courses run there for their employees, not just those from the UK, but also many from Bangalore who come to train here before returning to staff the helplines run from Bangalore.

Also, the number of scholars from South Trafford using the line to attend Knutsford Academy continues at well over 100 a day.

Our passenger counts have shown patronage continuing to grow fast.

During school term time, the 0717 from Piccadilly loads to around 270 into Knutsford. Around 30 join it at Stockport, another 30 at Navigation Road, over 100 at Altrincham, more than 30 at Hale, some at Ashley and 5-10 at Mobberley. At Knutsford around 200 leave the train, whilst a further 60 join it, most of these going to Greenbank, some to Northwich. A further 5-10 join at Plumley, 30-40 at Lostock Gralam and 40-50 at Northwich, with around 150 leaving at Greenbank.

The 1602 and 1702 from Chester also suffer from very heavy loadings with the return flows. The 1502 copes well, being a 4-car train. The afternoon trains benefit from the scholar flows in the main being earlier than the flows of those returning from work.

Many of you will be aware that the station dwell times were increased by 3 minutes last May to cope with our larger passenger loads. However, the extra dwell time added to most trains is not proving to give enough time to get everybody on and off our (mainly) 2-car trains.

The 0717 is diagrammed for a 2-car class 150 unit this having 20 metre long coaches. These mainly have between 130 and 140 seats, depending upon where they were inherited from, but cope with over 300 including standees before people are left behind at stations; next train 1 hour. Some days, a class 156 unit is provided; these have 23 metre coaches. These have around 150 seats and can cope with around 300 including standees and although having 4 doors, these being single-leaf doors means that it takes much longer to get passengers on and off trains than with the 4 double leaf doors on the class 150s.

25 November - 150145 before arrival at Knutsford

25 November – 150145 before arrival at Knutsford

You’ve guessed what comes next ….

It’s not unusual for the service to be formed of a 2-car class 142 unit. These have 16 metre long coaches, three double leaf doors a side and between 108 and around 130 seats, again depending upon their heritage. We used to think from experience of Chester Race Days that the most number of passengers it was possible to get on a class 142 was around 230 people. Now we know that around 270 can be accomodated, though it does take a long time to get everyone on and off and does rely upon passengers getting on top of the luggage racks by the doors and also sitting under those luggage racks. This is where many of the smaller children end up sitting on other children’s laps.

142036 disgorges its passengers at Knutsford, whilst others wait to join

8 November – 142036 disgorges its passengers at Knutsford, whilst others wait to join

Some days when formed of a class 142 everyone can’t get on. We know that on 9 October the service was operated by 142060. 11 passengers were left behind at Hale, 2 at Ashley and 7 at Mobberley. With the next train being an hour later, this means scholars are arriving late for lessons and Barclays Bank workers and others late for work.

A year ago around 60 were using our services to get to Radbroke Hall, now it’s over 100.

Barclays have recently upgraded the transport used to transfer staff to Radbroke Hall from Knutsford from smaller coaches to 53-seaters or bigger, though even these are not proving to have enough capacity some days.

Barclays timetable

All this “crowding” (as DfT tweely puts it) also means that the trains run late. Last week the 0717 arrived in Chester 5 or more minutes late on 4 occasions (offically “late”) and this is after the extra 3 minutes added to the timetable last May. The previous week it was late on all 5 days – 6, 7, 13, 15 and 10 minutes late respectively.

In early November, there was a spate of class 142 operation on 7, 8, 13 and 14. We complained. As far as we know, no-one was left behind on 7, 8 and 13 November, but on 14 November the service was operated by 142087, one of the low capacity 142s with 2+2 seating inherited from Arriva Trains Northern. Passengers were left behind including all 7 at Mobberley.

Northern are aware of these problems from remonstrations made by MCRUA, the passengers and others.

None of this is good for any of us, Northern, the passengers, those left behind or for the economy of Knutsford. We’ve even suggested that as a short-term fix since Northern and/or DfT seem unable to find more trains, that they hire buses and run these between Altrincham, Hale and direct to Knutsford Academy and/or Radbroke Hall to create space for others on the trains.

In our view this train should be 4 carriages or else a further 2 carriage train should be run half an hour later. Northern are aware of this view, as are TfGM, Cheshire East, CWaC and others. Meanwhile, this “crowding” is inhibiting further growth and increasing the already bad road congestion in Knutsford in the mornings, as people who have the option of being able to drive find they have to, as they don’t want to risk being unable to board the train.

Please leave a comment

  1. Tatton Estate Says:

    Excellent coverage, thank you. Completely flawed analysis by TFGM to say there is no demand. What were passenger numbers like before they cut the frequency?

    We were completely unaware of the bus service to/from Radbroke. Are they available to the public too? Crazy if not.

  2. Tatton Estate Says:

    Would be great to have a twitter / Facebook link on the pages

  3. Jen Says:

    Tatton Estate – I’ve shared this story on a Twitter feed so you’re welcome to re-tweet my tweet:

  4. Music Fan Says:

    Aren’t we lucky that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the local MP!

  5. Peter Says:

    I’m curious as to what will happen when Northern get their electric trains for the newly electrified Liverpool-Manchester route (apologies if this has already been announced). Will they keep their current service frequencies, or use the EMUs as additional capacity I wonder? I’m hopeful that, when they’re up and running, there will be a cascade of rolling stock to get rid of some of the 142s. However, an alternative would be to keep the 142s while they’re still legal and run longer trains on routes that could do with it, though whether Northern would want to pay to extend the lease on the 142s I don’t know. Would be interesting to see what they do with them regardless.

    Again, if Northern have already announced this and I can’t find it, then apologies for rambling.

  6. Edd Says:

    Re: Music Fan. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would care more if there were problems with services to London from Wilmslow and Macclesfield or the local taxi providers.

    Arriva Trains Wales have a spare 175 at Manchester Piccadilly at the end of the morning peak, which is used to allow the 08:50 departure to run doubled up. With some joined up thinking the 07:12 Chester to Manchester Arriva service could extend to Chester via Altrincham, using the path of the 08:17 Manchester-Chester, then a unit would be freed up to operate an additional service on the Mid-Cheshire line between the 07:17 and 08:17 services.

  7. Simon Barber Says:

    Hi TattonEstate, I have the summary data from the passenger counts that MCRUA undertook in 2007, which shows that the morning peak hour train (0739 from Piccadilly in 2007) loaded to an average of 178 on the busiest stretch, between Altrincham and Knutsford. This is an average which will include school term dates and holidays. In fact the frequency has not been cut in this direction – there have never been any peak hour ‘extras’ away from Manchester in the morning, or back in the evening. Today’s passenger figures, which are much larger, make it clear that we have a two-way traffic peak in the morning rush. I feel a second train 30 minutes after the 0717 would make a more attractive service, but any way of increasing capacity will be welcome in today’s circumstances.

  8. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Tatton Estate. My understanding is the Barclays coaches are a free service for their staff. As such, I’m imagining they don’t have to go through the rigmarole of registering the service and all the related complications. No doubt this could be checked with “Barclays Corporate Real Estate Services” at Radbroke Hall if needs be.

  9. Mike Battman Says:

    “Arriva Trains Wales have a spare 175 at Manchester Piccadilly at the end of the morning peak, which is used to allow the 08:50 departure to run doubled up. With some joined up thinking the 07:12 Chester to Manchester Arriva service could extend to Chester via Altrincham, using the path of the 08:17 Manchester-Chester, then a unit would be freed up to operate an additional service on the Mid-Cheshire line between the 07:17 and 08:17 services.”

    Joined up thinking in these days of privatised railways…how dare you suggest such a thing!

  10. Jen Says:

    Simon Barber: While the number of services towards Chester hasn’t actually been cut pre-December 2008 the standard pattern didn’t start until the 09:24 departure from Piccadilly. The earlier departures were 06:35, 07:39 and 08:20, with the last one being to Greenbank only. So we’ve gained in two respects with having an earlier first train and a train no longer terminating at Greenbank but lost out in the timings being less suitable for the schools and colleges in the Knutsford and Northwich areas and also commuters going to Knutsford from the Altrincham direction.

    Likewise in the afternoon we’ve gained by getting extra capacity on the 15:0x Chester to Manchester service, which was previously overcrowded. However, that extra capacity came from withdrawing an additional 15:4x Chester to Manchester semi-fast service.

  11. Simon Barber Says:

    Jen – thanks, of course you are correct. In 2007-8 there was not a standard pattern in the morning, westbound, until 09.24, but the number of trains was the same as today (east of Greenbank), i.e. only one train per hour. The extent to which the times are more or less suitable is affected by schools changing their start times so direct comparison is not easy. I had overlooked the afternoon eastbound semi-fast train. However I have seen some loading figures for it, and it and the all-stations train which ran soon after it did not add up to a full train between the two of them. (In timings, they fell between the student peak and the adult commuter peak). What is clear is that passenger loadings have increased significantly since 2007-8, and also that the pattern of loadings has changed. There are some new large traffic flows. All times of the day are busier, and this means that the busiest times are now overcrowded.

  12. Jen Says:

    I seem to remember a Knutsford Guardian article in 2008 saying the High School (now Academy) introduced a Breakfast club due to the high volume of pupils arriving early for school with getting a train scheduled to arrive in Knutsford at 08:20 not being an option any more.

    I seem to remember the 15:4x semi-fast service being well utilised in school holidays by people who had been to Chester for the day.

    I’ve been on the 16:0x Chester to Manchester service when there’s been more passengers than seats and it’s not just on the usual busy section between Knutsford and Altrincham but between Northwich and Stockport. Although, I think if it was a 156 instead of a 142 that problem would be solved.

    What doesn’t help with the Pacers which still have the original bus seats is some of them have seats which are broken and others have a gap where a seat should be (presumably because Northern have removed a broken seat and don’t have a replacement for it.)

  13. Lee Wasnidge, Area Director West, Northern Rail Says:

    Thanks for letting me know about these web items.

    Whilst I agree it is good to see patronage growth on the mid Cheshire line, I share your concerns regarding the high loadings on the 0717 Man Picc to Chester service and the associated impact on performance.

    We know that there have recently been too many cases of a Class 142 unit being used on this service owing to unit type imbalances across the fleet in the North West. This is being addressed by our Engineering and Control teams to keep this to the absolute minimum – if not totally avoided. I know you are only too aware of the fleet constraints that currently prevents us from strengthening this service or running additional trains.

    In terms of the growth in business from the Barclays training college, I have asked Don (Jary – Stakeholder Liaison Manager – ed.) to contact them to understand more fully the potential future numbers they will be sending by train and see what can be done to mitigate the overcrowding on this service.

  14. Jen Says:

    I think the best short term solution would be for Northern and Arriva Trains Wales to work together to provide services between Manchester and Chester, as used to happen with First North Western and Arriva Trains Wales, which should reduce the number of empty movements and consequently allow both Manchester to Chester lines to get more capacity. Northern Rail do work with TransPennine Express east of the Pennines but west of the Pennines seem to avoid any co-operation with other operators.

  15. The Chairman Says:

    This morning the 0717 was formed of 142090, one of the 2+2 seating low capacity 142s.

    All 6 passengers at Mobberley were unable to board despite the conductor’s best efforts.

    They’ve all gone to one of the passenger’s houses for tea & biscuits and to stay warm – next train 1 hour.

    Come on Northern / DfT – you must be able to do better than this!

  16. The Chairman Says:

    Yesterday (150113) and today (150273) eveyone was able to board.

    Yesterday, I had the following email from Don Jary ….


    Hello John,

    Thanks for the e-mail you sent to Lee and for your help and assistance at Mobberley yesterday. It really is appreciated.

    Frankly, we know the service requires at least a Class 150, but have recently just not been able to get the unit balances and availability right in south Manchester to deliver this.

    As we discussed last week, I can only re-assure you and customers using the 0717 service that it is high on our agenda to get right.



    Don Jary
    Client & Stakeholder Manager West
    Northern Rail Ltd
    4 Travis Street, Ground Floor
    M1 2NF


  17. Conductor Says:

    To be fair we get emails from control warning about the 142 instead of 150 which I’ve never seen for any other service unless it’s short formed (i.e 2 carriages instead of 4). So it must be high on the agenda in unit control if they are sending out these sort of emails.

  18. Jen Says:

    Today the 16:58 Stockport-Chester was cancelled due to crew shortages and the 17:09 Manchester-Chester is going to additionally call at Levenshulme and Heaton Chapel due to the 17:03 Manchester-Crewe being cancelled. I hope the 17:09 is getting extra capacity!

  19. The Chairman Says:

    This morning the 0717 was formed of 142047. Everyone got on, though it did take some time. It left Knutsford 9 minutes late, later arriving in Chester 9 minutes late. Given all yesterday’s disruption through the high winds, at least we had a train and everyone got on! It seems there’s less people on the Barclays training courses on Fridays, so this helped.

    The Barclays people tell me the 0805 bus is now permanently upgraded from a 53 seater to a 69 seater double rear axle coach. Very impressive it looks, too! They also tell me the coach company has been instructed to tell the driver of the 0805 coach to wait for the arrival of the 0717 (at 0800, but rarely before 0804) and not to go until the passengers off the 0800 have loaded onto the coach. Transport integration at work!

  20. Peter Says:

    That’s not how it works. Please read this

  21. Peter Says:

    Sorry, that was in reference to Jen’s comment about magicing up capacity.

  22. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    I’d query the following statement on that page from the Northern Rail website:

    We always run to full capacity, using every available train on our network.

    Whilst that is no doubt true of Monday to Friday, it doesn’t explain why large numbers of trains stand idle in sidings and at depots when trains are seriously overcrowded at weekends (like at the moment).

  23. Jen Says:

    Peter – I was meaning as a one off for Thursday in the disruption. Northern had put the cancellation of the 16:58 Stockport-Chester on their Journey Check page and their Twitter feed over an hour in advance of the scheduled service, so anyone who checked train running probably wouldn’t have bothered catching a connecting service to Stockport and waited for the 17:09 direct train.

    Northern also added in Levenshulme and Heaton Chapel calls to the 17:09 direct train due to the cancellation of the 17;03 Crewe train. This resulted in the 17:09 train leaving Stockport 21 minutes late (it was 6 late leaving Piccadilly), which suggests there were issues everyone on and off, not just the additional couple of minutes needed to make those calls. In my opinion Northern shouldn’t have added the extra calls in if they hadn’t strengthened the service.

    Going back to the morning trains. I’ve noticed the 08:17 Manchester to Chester has got a 150 on a number of occasions recently instead of a 156, including this morning. Could it be the refresh of the 156s which is causing 150s to be put on to 156s diagrams and not leaving enough 150s for the 150 diagrams?

  24. Northern Rail user Says:

    I’ve heard the 06:35 Chester to Stockport and 08:32 Hazel Grove to Preston services are to be de-strengthened from next month to allow the 08:21 Preston to Hazel Grove to be strengthened as the highest loading on the 08:32 Hazel Grove to Preston is 196. I think it was probably a political reason why that wasn’t done a couple of years back to allow the 07:17 Manchester to Chester to run as 4 carriages instead.

  25. The Chairman Says:

    Northern User – the 0717 doesn’t run as 4 carriages, though should. Thus, I don’t understand the meaning of your last sentence.

  26. Jen Says:

    The Chairman – it looks like ‘Northern Rail user’ is trying to say the 4 car working that does the 06:35 Chester to Stockport and then the 08:32 Hazel Grove to Preston should have been already been de-strengthened for the purpose of allowing the 07:17 Manchester to Chester service to run as 4 carriages instead but didn’t happen.

  27. The Chairman Says:

    Thanks, Jen. Now I understand. I’ll do an update report on this week’s 0717s once tomorrow’s has run.

  28. The Chairman Says:

    The 0717 “Sardines Express” left no-one behind this week, though its PPM was only 20%, i.e. on 1 day it made Chester within 5 minutes of its GBTT arrival time.

    Only 1 day, Tuesday, saw a class 142 – 142053 – this leading to a 12 minute late arrival into Chester.

  29. The Chairman Says:

    This week, the 0717 “Sardines Express” didn’t “leave” anyone behind, though on Tuesday when it was formed of 142041 (all other days it was a class 150) one person declined to join a Hale, saying it was too full. Arrival in Chester was 8 minutes late.

    “Sardines” restart on 6 January with Barclays Radbroke Hall training courses and the schools and colleges back in, by when hopefully Northern will have systems in place to ensure the rostered class 150 is provided every day.

  30. The Chairman Says:

    For the first time this school term, the “Sardines Express” was formed of a class 142 last Monday, 142046, one of the ones with the old Merseytravel seating.

    We hear that 4 passengers were left behind at Hale, smaller children too scared to board in the crush conditions, there were no passengers on or off at Ashley, and at Mobberley 3 passengers left the train and the 5 that were waiting managed to board.

    For those left behind at Hale, the following train an hour later ran on time.

    We hope that this will be the first and only time this year that a class 142 is provided in this diagram during school terms.

  31. Jen Says:

    Although Northern were able to have a couple of 4 car workings on the Mid-Cheshire line on the Saturday of the RHS Show, it seems they were unable to do that yesterday for the international cricket at Old Trafford. Do they not realise a lot of people travel to and from Altrincham using their services for both cricket and football at Old Trafford? They had around 6 Pacers parked at Stockport sidings doing nothing.

  32. The Chairman Says:

    Problems with the 0717 are back with the autumn term.

    Last week, Wednesday’s was formed of class 142 142055, apparently after 4 separate unit failures led to shortage at Piccadilly. I was told by passengers that just over 10 were unable to board at Hale, having to wait an hour for the following train. At Mobberley all 7 managed to get on, no doubt helped by 4 people getting off.

    This week, also on Wednesday 142060 did the honours, apparently again after 4 separate unit failures. I understand everyone managed to get on at Hale and Mobberley, but hear there were difficulties further along at Northwich. Arrival into Chester was 11 minutes late.

    Let’s hope this is a temporary blip.

    Northern management are well aware of our thoughts on this, even more so as there was a Stakeholder Meeting last Monday, and Sally (our CRO) and I were able to discuss this with Alex Hynes.

    We understand that if all goes according to the Department for Transport’s current plan (!), that Northern have 8 more 2-car trains available to them from December. We are lobbying hard to have this train, as well as the 0658 Chester-Piccadilly strengthened.

  33. Roger Says:

    Apparently the 07:17 Manchester to Chester is now booked as a doubled up Pacer instead of a single Sprinter, which is good news. However, a work colleague, who’s a regular user of the 16:59 Chester to Manchester service, has told me so far this week it’s been operated by a smaller train than usual which has been very overcrowded, presumably that means it’s been downgraded from a Sprinter to a Pacer?

  34. Jen Says:

    16:59 Chester to Manchester got delayed by 10 minutes last Friday. The delay was mainly due to the number of passengers being far too high for the train being used.

  35. Edd Says:

    The 17:43 departure from Knutsford for Manchester must be the new ‘sardines express’ especially on a Friday afternoon. I counted around 80 people standing in one of the two carriages a few weeks ago.

  36. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Edd,

    I think you may be right. Both that train, the one preceding it (1559 from Chester) and the one following it (1804 from Chester) all of which are diagrammed for a single class 142, suffer from late running between Knutsford and Stockport. This is due to exceeding “dwell times” at Knutsford, Altrincham and Stockport, i.e. not enough train for the passengers to be able to get on and off within the timings.

    We used to get performance figures and an analysis of late running / cancelled trains under Northern Rail. Apparently, this is now Rail North’s responsibility and they’re not yet geared up to do it.

    From information I have, in Period 3 (29 May – 25 June) the worst performer on the line was the 1559 from Chester with a PPM of 35% (target 92.2%), i.e. 13 out of the 20 trains in the period over 5 minutes late or cancelled.

    The next worst performer was the 1804 from Chester on 70%.

    The 1659 from Chester (1743 from Knutsford) seems to get lucky between Stockport and Piccadilly arriving within the 5 minutes despite leaving Stockport late.

    Once the scholars are back, things will change!


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