South of Manchester Rail Study Stakeholder Meeting ….

Posted on February 4th, 2018, by The Chairman

TfGM are in the process of carrying out a number of rail studies, the one for South of Manchester also being supported by Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester Council. The well known rail consultants, Steer Davies & Gleeve are working with them on the projext.

Stakeholders were invited to a meeting in Stockport to discuss the optimal use of current capacity as well as capacity limitations. Inevitably discussions overlapped onto the reopening of the Mid Cheshire Rail Link through Middlewich to passenger services, as well as the Airport Western Link originally proposed in the 1990s.

One of the stakeholders attending was Northwich Town Councillor, Andrew Cooper. Andrew later produced a summary of the situation for Mid Cheshire for SDG and TfGM, which he has given us permission to publish.

Thanks, Andrew.


Thank you for your time last Thursday at the TfGM stakeholder event regarding the South of Manchester Rail Study.

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to summarise some of the points we discussed, invite you to follow up on anything where you would like further input, and to urge you to stay in touch as the study progresses.

Our key concerns in Northwich (and in Mid Cheshire more widely are):
– How we can attract new businesses and help existing ones to grow;
– How we can attract people to live, work and shop in Mid Cheshire;
– How we can reduce pressure on the local road infrastructure;
– How we can improve access to our neighbouring towns and cities;
– How we can address challenges presented by the HS2 route.

The key issues on the Mid Cheshire Line are:
(a) the unattractive journey time to and from Manchester, currently about an hour;
(b) the frequency of services;
(c) the poor quality rolling stock.
Passenger numbers on the Mid Cheshire line have been growing at 5-7% per annum compound, faster than the average for north west England. This suggests there is considerable demand for travel on the route despite the present poor service.

Points (b) and (c) are being positively addressed through the new Northern franchise, but point (a), the unattractive journey time, will continue to be an issue with only minor improvements anticipated.

Last Thursday we set out two infrastructure projects that, taken together, would deliver huge benefits for both Mid Cheshire and Greater Manchester, and would go a long way towards addressing the key concerns set out above.

Re-opening of the Northwich to Crewe line for passengers

This first project is a relatively cheap project that would involve re-opening an existing railway line for passengers that is currently only used for freight and diversionary purposes.

It would involve construction of two new stations, the first at Gadbrook Park (a major employment centre in Mid Cheshire) and the second in Middlewich.

The benefits for Greater Manchester are twofold:
1. Access to and from these locations would be opened up for passengers, reducing the number of vehicles using the M6 and M56.
2. Opening up more work opportunities for Greater Manchester residents.

Manchester Airport Western Link

This project involves completing the existing railway line from Manchester Airport station westwards to meet the Mid Cheshire Line north of Mobberley.

Although the more expensive of the two, this project would have even greater benefits for Greater Manchester.
1. Journey times from North Wales, Chester and Mid Cheshire to Manchester Airport would be greatly reduced, making this a much more attractive option than currently. It would also provide an alternative route from Liverpool, avoiding going via Piccadilly.
2. Journey times between Mid Cheshire and Manchester Piccadilly would be greatly reduced.
3. Rail access to Manchester Airport City from Mid Cheshire via public transport would be possible. Given the scale of development in this area, this will be essential.
4. Capacity of Manchester Airport Station would be increased by this being a “through” station, rather than a terminus.
5. Capacity between Piccadilly and Crewe would be increased by providing a further alternative route to Crewe. Some Mid Cheshire trains and others will divert to the new through route via the Airport, creating spare paths on the key Piccadilly-Stockport corridor.

Effect of HS2 on Mid Cheshire

We discussed briefly the possible approaches to increasing or maintain current intercity service levels once HS2 reaches Crewe, and the effect these decisions would have on local services in the Northwich area in particular whilst this section of the HS2 route is under construction.

If both of the above projects are delivered in advance of HS2 reaching Crewe, it is possible that the capacity that would be released between Piccadilly and Crewe would be sufficient to allow for additional HS2 trains to run (as opposed to replacements for the existing 11-car Pendolinos) without a detrimental effect on local services.

I hope you will come to the same logical conclusions that I and my colleagues have come to on the benefits of these projects and look forward to hearing more from you as the study progresses.

Best wishes,


Cllr Andrew Cooper
Bridge Ward, Northwich Town Council

Letter to Esther McVey, MP of 26 February (my MP) following a number of us meeting with her and her writing to Chris Grayling, this being his response. Scan1553269652367 It appears to have been written for him by someone at the DfT who has no real grasp on the situation. We’re in the process of providing comments on this to Esther.

Please leave a comment

  1. Watcherzero Says:

    The thing I don’t get about the reopening proposal is yes it would be cheap to do and increase the rail coverage, but how could you operate it service wise? If you wanted to add a service between there and Manchester you would have to reduce the existing services frequency? Add a short working between the Airport and Crewe?

  2. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Watcherzero,

    The thinking at the moment goes something like this.

    If work were to start soon, the line would be open by 2021/22 making Mid Cheshire ready for the arrival of HS2 at Crewe. By then, given the number of new trains currently being built, and given the amount of electrification happening, albeit much less than originally planned, even after the withdrawal of the Pacers there will be a surfeit of diesel rolling stock. Even now, we note diesel traction is being found to operate the Halton Curve services.

    As regards the service, statements have been made by some stating that as there will be no extra paths into Piccadilly, that this can’t happen. What these people have missed is that two options have been proposed (there could be more), neither of which needs further paths into Piccadilly:

    1. Divert the semi-fast service from Piccadilly-Greenbank at Northwich, to call at Gadbrook Park, Middlewich, Sandbach and Crewe, and

    2. Run either the semi-fast or stopper as two sets as far as Northwich. Here the train would split with one section continuing towards Greenbank and Chester, and the other continuing to Crewe.

    As you will see, the above doesn’t affect the service frequency, and provides the great benefit of connecting Mid Cheshire to Crewe and HS2 without having to drive there or make a very slow connection via rail.

  3. Tim Wood Says:

    Easier access to Manchester Airport is essential but bear in mind that not everyone uses this station to fly. Direct services can be more cost and time effective that changing in Manchester and waiting for a train on the Chester line. There is however one new downside – You now have to pay to both pick up and drop off at this station using ANPR and a barrier. I would lay a bet that this will increase congestion not reduce it.

  4. Gemma Says:

    There have been reports Network Rail are having second thoughts over Northern running more local services between Stockport and Manchester. If that’s the case would it make any difference if Northern used units which can travel at over 75mph on services which run non-stop between Stockport and Manchester and only fast accelerating electric units on services which make Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme calls?

  5. Peter Says:

    I’ve been reliability informed that after Northern cancelled all the late services on Fri 9th November that passengers who phoned Northern were told they had to make their own way home, breaching EU directive 1371/2007 which requires Northern to organise replacement transport or put passengers in overnight accommodation if the last service is cancelled. It seems they eventually found a minibus to move the passengers who persisted in complaining.

  6. Peter Says:

    From 10th December Northern have found a path to run an additional Hazel Grove to Piccadilly service in the morning peak, as well as a path for an additional Piccadilly to Hazel Grove empty stock movement (pathed as a 75mph DMU), which will give Hazel Grove 9 services to Manchester between 06:45 and 08:45. Why couldn’t the paths they found have been used to extend one of the Chester to Stockport services to Piccadilly and to start the Stockport to Chester back from Piccadilly?

  7. Charles Frankland Says:

    Are there any more details on the revised train workings? I understand that the additional hourly train will now run between Altrincham and Chester. Does this mean that the peak train to Stockport will be stopped? Will it call at all stations or just the major stations? When is it planned to be introduced? It does feel that the mid-Cheshire is the line which is the lowest priority on the new introductions.

  8. Peter Says:

    There’s a track access application on the Network Rail website for Arriva Rail North’s May 2019 timetable but it’s as clear as mud. It still refers to running 8 x Greenbank to Manchester Piccadilly services Mon-Sat and the peak time extras to Stockport being extended to Manchester. However, in another section it says

    “There are a small number of services which ARN are committed to run as per the TSR from May ’19
    which Network Rail have expressed concerns with as follows:
    – A proposed uplift in service between Chester and Altrincham on Mondays to Saturdays, and
    between Chester and Manchester Piccadilly on Sundays – This is due to Level Crossing concerns”

    The proposed Blackpool to Macclesfield services have been changed to Blackpool to Hazel Grove, without a replacement service to provide the intended 2tph on the Macclesfield line. Hazel Grove is still set to get a standard pattern of 4tph to Manchester.

    The link to the track access application: It’s under Current Track Access Consultations and the one called ARN.

  9. Peter Says:

    It seems Northern aren’t going to confirm their May timetable changes until April again this year. Is it going to be good news or more bad news for Mid-Cheshire?

    Also does anyone know when Northern are going to sort out their staffing issues at Knutsford station? There’s been numerous times since December the ticket office has been closed at times when it should have been open, such as yesterday evening (7th March.) Northern were advertising for a new ‘Customer Service Assistant’ to be based at Knutsford a few weeks ago but the advert has now been removed (hopefully because someone’s accepted the job.)

  10. mike james Says:

    I thought that timetables needed to be available 3 months early so people could book tickets etc.
    I know it was a mess last time but ……………….

  11. Edd Says:

    If journey planners are to believed they’ll be no improvements for Mid Cheshire services again, not even an improved Sunday service or additional services only going to Altrincham, as previously mooted. How can Northern get away with still not introducing improvements which were required in 2017?

  12. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Edd,

    From what we understand that’s correct.

    We understand Network Rail have “new” safety requirements with “occupation” crossings (farmer-operated crossings) of which there are quite a few on the Mid Cheshire Line and consequently will not approve an increase to services along the line.

    We asked for details over a month ago. We have discussed this with my MP, Esther McVey, who has now met David Brown of Northern. We understand she should receive the detals from him this week, together with a comment on what added protective measures can be applied and when.

    At this stage we know no more.

    I’ve written about this in the forthcoming “extra” Rail Report which should be out within a week or two.


  13. Edd Says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your response.

    What I find particularly disappointing is Northern have just published the same timetable again with no explanation, either in their timetable booklets or on their website about why the promised improvements have not been delivered.

    I think in the circumstances, the least they could do is ensure the busiest Mid-Cheshire services are booked to be operated by 4 carriage sets and that any services which aren’t strengthened are operated by trains with longer carriage lengths, like the class 156s.

  14. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Edd,

    In early February a number of us met with Esther McVey, MP (my MP) to discuss the lack of progress on the promised December 2017 timetable improvements.

    She then wrote to Chris Grayling. His response came through in March and appears to have been written for him by someone who has no real grasp of the situation.

    I’ve added the letter with a comment at the bottom of the original post.

    We’re in the process of putting a response together for Esther.


  15. Peter Says:

    Does anyone know why Northern run an empty coaching stock movement from Chester to Newton Heath via Altrincham at 09:40 opposed to running it in service as a semi-fast? They can’t argue there isn’t a path for a service at that time!

  16. Dan Hughes Says:

    Anything happening with the improvements, feels like this is getting nowhere fast! A train service as slow as this wouldn’t be allowed down South, consistent failure to deliver promised improvements wouldn’t happen if this were London. They’ve got some nerve – now they’re celebrating the ‘bleeding wolf’ improvements! A minor one compared to what was promised!

  17. Peter Says:

    Aren’t the ‘Bleeding wolf’ works just fixing a worn out section of track, which resulted in a ‘temporary’ 20mph speed restriction?

    Network Rail are also supposed to have lengthened all platforms on the Mid-Cheshire line to be able to take 4 x 23m trains by November 2019 and Northern are supposed to actually operate some services with formations that long by December 2019, alongside the 2tph requirement that was supposed to be implemented almost 2 years ago.

  18. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Peter,

    My understanding is the “Bleeding Wolf” work arose after Railtrack in around 1999 lowered the track under Bridge 8 to allow higher containers to run on the line and in the process caused the drainage towards the Bollin not to operate effectively, thereby undermining the trackbed.

    I’m less sure about the platform lengthening timing, though as I remember it this was for 4x24m trains.

  19. Peter Says:

    Ah OK. I just remembered the trains used to run quite fast between Ashley and Hale in the Manchester direction and recently they’ve been running at a snail’s pace.

    I had a flick through the public version of the franchise agreement recently and all platform lengthening in the former RRNW area is supposed to be done by 30 November 2019. However, Network Rail have already admitted they won’t be able to do Leeds to Skipton lengthening on time, which was due to have been done by this month and is apparently why the 4 car 331s are being introduced in Yorkshire, not in the North West as originally planned.

  20. Edd Says:

    Given what’s happened recently with planned engineering works between Ashley and Hale, a fallen tree blocking the line in Mobberley and a broken down freight train at Ashley it’s highlighted that the line really needs turnback facilities at Knutsford.

  21. Edd Says:

    Provisional times for after the December timetable change are now appearing in online journey planners. There’s a noticeable lack of any improvements again.

    The only change I’ve spotted for the times at Knutsford is the 07:41 Piccadilly to Chester has 5 minutes additional padding added in to the timetable between Altrincham and Greenbank on weekdays. As I regularly catch that train I find that surprising as that service is usually on time arriving at Knutsford and while it can leave Knutsford a couple of minutes late due to the high number of people alighting, it still usually departs Northwich on time and has on occasions departed Northwich early (even in school term time) when the guard has failed to spot it hasn’t yet got to the scheduled departure time!

  22. Paul Wilkinson Says:

    New timetables for December are up:
    Route 17 – Manchester to Chester via Altrincham
    Route 17 – Manchester to Chester via Altrincham (Mid Cheshire Line): Timetable for 19 May 2019 – 14 December 2019 (315kb, pdf).
    Upcoming Timetable
     Route 17 – Manchester to Chester via Altrincham (Mid Cheshire Line): Timetable for 15 December 2019 – 16 May 2020. (384.27 kB, pdf)

  23. Edd Says:

    This morning the 07:41 Piccadilly to Chester was worked by a guard who forgot about the extra padding being added in to the timetable and the train departed both Knutsford and Northwich around 3-4 minutes before the new timetabled departure time.

    I also observed during the first week of the timetable change that service was actually less puctual at Knutsford than it was before the extra padding got added in. Previously it often arrived at Knutsford at 08:22 or 08:23 which allowed for an on-time departure even with the high number of school pupils and Barclays workers alighting at Knutsford. Now it seems to arrive at 08:28 (if the guard remembers to check it doesn’t depart Mobberley early), which meant during the first week of the new timetable it was 08:29 or 08:30 before the train left Knutsford.

Leave a Comment