A Study of the Mid Cheshire line was commissioned by funding partners Cheshire East, Cheshire West & Chester and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and carried out by JMP Consultants, but is still awaiting publication. In the meantime, rather than waiting what seems an age for it to eventually come out, MCRUA have produced a draft proposal for a two trains an hour service throughout the day along the line. The proposal is that as well as the all stations stopping service, there is also a semi-fast service from Piccadilly to Chester and back, stopping only at the more heavily used stations of Stockport, Altrincham, Knutsford, Northwich, Greenbank and then Chester.
They have worked out this could be operated by the same number of units that were used along the line up to December 2013, and Network Rail have confirmed there are paths, though it would need more train crew.
In the TfGM Rail Strategy published in 2012 it states that for stations with a footfall of over 50,000 there should be at least 2 trains an hour. All the above stations fall into that category. Interestingly, it states that for stations with a footfall of over 500,000, this should be at least 4 trains an hour. The official figures show Knutsford at over 450,000 and MCRUA know from their passenger counts, that the figure is higher than this. Yet, Knutsford only has 1 train an hour. Quite an achievement to have over ½ million passengers with only one train an hour. MCRUA suggests people imagine how many more passengers would be generated and taken off the A556 with a more frequent “turn up and go” service. The draft proposal has been provided to all the Community Rail Partnership partners, including the Department for Transport.
This proposal was discussed by the Cheshire & Warrington Local Transport Board (LTB) in June with a number of the group present to answer questions. With Network Rail having confirmed that the paths were available, the LTB decided to fully support the proposal seeing the benefit for the local and the North West economies and they have written to Government and others stating this.
In early July, MCRUA persuaded Alex Hynes, Managing Director Northern to join them on one of the busiest services, the “Sardines Express” 0717 Piccadilly to Chester which loads to over 270 into Knutsford, and often leaves people behind when it’s a class 142 rather than the diagrammed 150. Although it was quieter than normal, Alex nevertheless saw how busy the train was and some regular passengers talked to him about trains needing to be longer. On seeing this, Alex has committed to Northern working up a business and resource case to see if two trains an hour service can be introduced before the end of the current franchise in February 2016 and the group are hoping that there will be some news in early 2015.