Airport Expansion – Western Link still needed? ….

Posted on June 11th, 2015, by The Chairman

There’s a useful article this week in the Guardian Series about the plans to expand Manchester Airport, allowing it to cope well with more than its current record of over 22 million passengers. This includes ensuring the transport links are appropriate for passengers and those working there.

In part of the document there is the suggestion that the land protected for the Airport Western Link from near Mobberley on the Mid Cheshire Line to allow better access for those from/to Mid Cheshire, Chester and North Wales will no longer be needed due to the coming of HS2.

There’s a good letter in this week’s Knutsford Guardian about the plans.


MCRUA’s response to the consultation re the Airport’s future Sustainable Development Plan can be downloaded by clicking on MCRUA response to MIA Sustainable Devt Plan.

Please leave a comment

  1. Simon Barber Says:

    I’m pleased to see this letter which airs the airport western link with Knutsford residents. It’s been a while since this was last in the news so I think we can begrateful to Jen D’Angelo for writing and the Guardian for publishing it. In the ope of starting a discussion about the merits of the airport wester link here I’m re-posting my comments from the other recent thread where this topic appeared. I think it deserves its own thread, so apologies to anyine who reads this twice.

    I disagree completely with the paragraph in Manchester Airport’s consultation document that says HS2 has ‘overtaken’ the western rail link plan so the western link is no longer needed. Not only is the statement about HS2 factually untrue (it does not serve ANY of the places that the western rail link would), the argument for the link is now stronger than ever. The airport’s strategy is to get passengers to travel there using public transport instead of the roads; they admit that their rail network is skewed towards towns north of the airport; the Northern Powerhouse agenda means rail infrastructure across the north is receiving long overdue attention; and the recent electrification study has conveniently shown the high economic benefit of better rail services in Mid Cheshire. To add to all that, the MP for Knutsford has just been re-appointed to his quite influential job… so why would the airport even consider abandoning the safeguarding of the route of the link? Now is the time to start detailed planning work ready to build it!

    Here are a couple of related nuggets of information… did you know that the route between Chester and the Airport via the airport western link will be over 20 miles shorter than the route ATW recently proposed for through trains (via Warrington and Manchester Picc)? And that the route from Knutsford to Piccadilly via the airport western spur cuts more than 5 miles off the Stockport route and is the same distance as the old route to Piccadilly via Sale?

    We need to fight for this!

  2. Jen Says:

    The Transport Committee is undertaking an inquiry into surface transport at airports and is accepting written submissions until 12th October. It seems an ideal place to tell them about the potential benefits of a Western Link:

  3. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Jen,

    Thanks for your suggestion.

    I have responded to the Transport Committee’s inquiry as you suggested. We have provided them with our reponse to the Airport’s revision of its Sustainable Development Plan, together with the following words:

    ““I am pleased to attach MCRUA’s response to Manchester Airport’s Sustainable Development Plan consultation carried out over the summer months. The Airport is proposing to remove the protected line of rail route for access from the south/west, apparently on the basis that HS2 will render this unnecessary. We believe HS2 makes this more necessary.

    Of particular relevance to your inquiry are:

    – Range and Capacity. Rail connections to the South and West of the Airport are poor as acknowledged by the Airport. Details are provided in our submission.

    – DfT’s involvement. It is not clear to us whether DfT are involved in the development of the Airport’s revised plan.

    MCRUA hopes the Committee finds this submission helpful. If you would like further information, please feel free to be in touch.”

    I will incorporate MCRUA’s submission to the Airport at the bottom of the Blog post above.

  4. Chris Fox Says:

    I note recent comments in respect of rail access to the Airport from South/West. In practical terms the construction of HS2 will render connection of the Mid-Cheshire line to the existing Airport Station very difficult and expensive. However it opens another option – to connect the Mid Cheshire line to the HS2 track just South of the proposed new station. This would facilitate services to both the Airport and Piccadilly via the tunnel, not just for the local service from Chester but also for services from North Wales, Crewe via Middlewich and from Liverpool. The fact is that the HS2 route from the airport to Manchester including the Airport Station is a very significant cost and therefore its use should be maximised (there will be lots of spare capacity). Obviously there would be a need for electification of Mid Cheshire, but conventional modern electric units would be ok as maximum speed between Piccadilly and the Airport for HS2 stock will not exceed 200kph. HS2 tracks could include a cross-over to existing tracks at approch to Piccadilly to allow these non -HS2 services to use existing platforms at Piccadilly.
    I have already commented to the HS2 development team regarding the need to maximise use of HS2 tracks north of Birmingham (ie use by suitable non – HS2 stock) in order to get best value for money. I hope you will consider this proposal and if you agree pursue its adoption.
    Best regards,
    Chris Fox

  5. Simon Barber Says:

    Chris, please could you explain your comment “In practical terms the construction of HS2 will render the connection of the Mid Cheshire Line to the existing airport station very difficult and expensive”? At MCRUA we have studied the published HS2 maps and do not see any conflict between the proposed airport western link and HS2. The HS2 station is planned to be west of the M56, nowhere near the existing airport station where the western link would start, and HS2 does not obstruct or cross the western link route at all. If you know something different, please let us know as MCRUA is campaigning hard on this matter and we want to avoid any factual errors!

    At this stage MCRUA is campaigning for the principle that Mid Cheshire, Chester, Runcorn and North Wales deserve a rail link to the airport, and I think we would prefer not to argue for a design that is dependent on HS2 whilst HS2 remains politically controversial. We have members both strongly for and strongly against HS2 and so do not take a position on it as an association. Your idea for using HS2 tracks for non-HS2 traffic interests me personally as I think the HS2 tracks north of the airport station could be under-used, but the principle of local trains sharing HS2 tracks has not been adopted elsewhere that I know of so I would rather our proposals did not rely on that. In fact I could see the airport western link being built many years before HS2 so I would argue for keeping the campaign separate! Thanks for your interest and comments in any case, and if you can add more about why you think HS2 makes the western link more difficult, please do.

  6. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    HS2 will almost certainly not have fixed signals but will probably have a cab signalling system like TVM430 used on HS1. So any other train which was to use HS2 from Manchester Airport to Piccadilly would also need to be fitted with TVM430. The Javelin trains used on HS1 must be so fitted so it is feasible. But a junction south of Manchester Airport HS2 station would be expensive and planning for it would have to start more or less straight away so that it was built as part of HS2 phase 2.

  7. Chris Fox Says:

    Thank you for your comment on my suggested connection of the Mid Cheshire Line to HS2 just south of the proposed airport station.

    Given the major cost of the HS2 infrastructure for the airport station and the tunnelled route to Piccadilly, presently identified as approx. £1.8 Bn it is surely imperative that use of these facilities is maximised and hence not confined to HS2 trains. This is undoubtedly feasible as demonstrated by Javelin trains on HS1, though I fully acknowledge that additional works would be needed.

    1. At the airport station there would probably be a need for 2 additional platforms, but the footprint of the station would not need to grow significantly as at present it is projected that there would be 4 tracks through the station.
    2. In terms of connection to Mid Cheshire line, all that would be needed in the short term is to identify the connection location (probably to the South of Ashley station) and installing points for later connection) I honestly believe that the cost of this connection would be far less than trying to connect to the existing station at the airport. Indeed I am convinced that the difficulties of connection to the existing station (even without the construction of HS2) are so great that it would not be economically viable.
    3. On the approach to Piccadilly a cross -over to allow (non-HS2) trains accessing the HS2 tunnel to use existing platforms at Piccadilly. This cross-over should be relatively straightforward as the respective tracks will be alongside one another on the approach to Piccadilly. Indeed it is quite possible that such a cross over will be installed in any event to facilitate construction and later maintenance of HS2 infrastructure.
    4. In terms of signalling and train control, there are potentially two possibilities –
    a) As you suggest use of Javelin or similar trains which would be equipped compatible with the on-board control system per HS2 trains.
    b) Given that the maximum line speeds on the suggested shared use section will be relatively low (certainly not exceeding 200kph) then conventional signals could be installed and controlled by the main control system for HS2.
    5. The Mid-Cheshire line would of course need to be electrified and upgraded to allow better line speeds than at present. This must surely be an aspiration in any event, but one that is highly unlikely within the present status of the line as essentially a rural route.

  8. Chris Fox Says:

    Further to my earlier comments, I should explain why I consider that a Western Link to the existing airport station is no longer viable.

    I am not aware of the currently identified route for the proposed Western Link, but recognise that a connection from the Mid-Cheshire line to the existing station could be routed such that it would not need to cross the HS2 route. However in order to do so it would require a tunnel of more than 1km from the station crossing under the corner of the Radisson Hotel, the south-western end of Terminal 2, the hard standing and taxiway to the on the south side of T2, the freight centre and the A538 Wilmslow Road. Also any route to the station would require the conversion of the station from a terminal layout to a through route layout.

    Whilst the above is technically feasible it would be a complex, highly disruptive and very costly project. Accordingly I have to believe that the economics of such a project would render it not viable. By comparison a link from Mid-Cheshire line to HS2 to the South of the proposed HS2 station would be relatively straightforward.

    It is also worth noting that the existing route from the airport station to Piccadilly already operates at close to capacity during parts of the day.

    Best Regards,

    Chris Fox.

  9. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    Yes the Western Link would be expensive but it would make the existing Airport station into a through station and thereby greatly increase its capacity. Many of the trains which currently start from the Airport could come through from (for example) North Wales or Liverpool (via the Hartford curve) so existing paths would be used between the Airport and Piccadilly. The additional platforms have been provided at the Airport station in such a way as to allow the construction of the Western Link.

  10. Simon Barber Says:

    Thanks for explaining your point of view on this. I think we are confusing the discussion (as indeed the airport’s Sustainable Development Consultation did) by suggesting that HS2 can do the job of the western rail link. HS2 is about increased capacity and higher speeds for London-Birmingham-Manchester traffic and it is not projected to reach Manchester until some time in the 2030s. The airport western link proposal is about increasing the percentage of airport travellers who reach the airport by public transport (by connecting more towns to the airport – Knutsford, Northwich, Chester, Runcorn, North Wales, Shropshire, even Liverpool will get a faster route to Manchester airport via the western link) and in doing so, increasing the rate of economic growth of the area; it also provides a big economic boost in Mid-Cheshire by reinstating a direct route to Manchester. All this can be achieved by a three mile new railway of which about one mile is in tunnel. The route that’s been protected across the airport campus (so far) is viable, avoiding developments; it starts at the southernmost platform at the current airport station which is aligned ready for the extension. Converting it to a through station is desirable operationally because a through station can handle more trains per hour than a terminus. No extra paths will be needed between the airport and Piccadilly because existing airport trains would be extended into Cheshire (and beyond). All this could be done within the next 5-10 years (Cheshire and Warrington LEP are arguing that it should be in Network Rail’s plan for Control Period 6, which runs from 2019-24). The cost looks high in a Cheshire context, but this is not just about Cheshire; with all the places that will benefit, this is a key piece of regional infrastructure. Compare the airport western link to CrossRail (regional infrastructure for the south-east) and this is a much shorter, simpler link with a modest tunnel. Modern machines make tunnelling simpler than it was. HS2 is a different (and later) project with different benefits.

  11. Mwmbwls Says:

    Further to this November 2015 reply can you confirm that the Western Link is now again protected. If so what steps are being taken to ensure that it is included in the list of potential projects for CP6?

  12. Simon Barber Says:

    Hello Mwmbwls, thanks for your interest in this. Yes, Manchester Airports Group plc has publicly stated that they will continue to protect the route of the Western Link for a future rail connection to the Mid Cheshire Line. They re-issued their Sustainable Development Plan with changes following the consultation and this statement is included in the Surface Access document, replacing the previous (incorrect) comment that the Western Link was unnecessary because HS2 would replace it. MCRUA is as keen as you to get this into CP6 (for other readers: this is Network Rail’s plan for Control Period 6 covering 2019-24) and we have been talking to every influencer and decision maker that we can to build support for the Western Link; specifically, the senior transport officers and councillors at Cheshire East and Cheshire West councils, and via the councils to Cheshire & Warrington LEP, Rail North and Transport for the North (TfN). All these bodies are aware of the project and we believe they all support it. The final decision on what goes into CP6 for northern England is (we think) to be taken by TfN who will have to weigh competing priorities and our concern at this stage is whether we have built enough supporters at that level. My experience of discussing this project with influential people is that once they understand it and see the breadth of benefits it offers, they become very keen. (Summary: it’s not just for Mid Cheshire, which would gain a fast link to the airport and to Manchester city centre at last; it’s for every town and city west of the airport, which will get faster links to the airport; and it’s also for south Manchester generally, because the ability to run some trains between Manchester and Crewe or Chester via the airport instead of via Stockport will be attractive to train operators and thus will free up vital paths between Stockport and Piccadilly.) In contrast, people who haven’t heard about the project directly sometimes think it’s linked to HS2 or that it’s just for Mid Cheshire, which would make the business case hard to justify; fortunately that’s completely wrong! By the way, all I’ve said about talking the decision makers above also applies to the Mid Cheshire Rail Link (Northwich-Middlewich-Sandbach) which we are also doing our utmost to get into CP6, and there is a lot of synergy between the two projects. If anyone reading this has connections to the decision makers at TfN and can get us an entry or speak there on our behalf, please let us know.

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