North Cheshire Rail Users Group

© Chris Ellams & NCRUG 2010

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   * 1 The principal reason that NCRUG came into existence was to campaign for the re-instatement of a proper through service over the Halton Curve. Back in the 1950's the principal services from Helsby and Frodsham were over this curve, with only a few trains each day to Manchester. The daily services were withdrawn in the 1970's, many of which had only gone as far as Helsby, not Chester. This left the summer Saturday service from North Wales to Liverpool, and then this was cut back to what we have now, a service going only in one direction as far as Runcorn (BR/Network Rail having taken the diamonds out at the junctions to save money,  leaving single lead junctions without crossovers).

 

    * 2 A few years ago NCRUG drew a proposal regarding the reinstatement of the service over the "Halton Curve". This saw the advantage of a through service between Liverpool and North Wales, obviating the need to change at Chester, and giving a reduction in journey time of just over half an hour on a journey from Llandudno to Liverpool - as well as the benefits to residents in Frodsham and Helsby in once again having a through service to Liverpool.  This proposal was included both in Cheshire's Local Transport Plan. Halton Borough also had it in their Local Transport Plan. Halton BC is actively pursuing a new station at Beechwood on the Halton Curve. This would be close to the bus garage facilitating interchange with Runcorn's well-known busways and would allow a significant modal switch of traffic crossing the River Mersey.

 

    * 3 We continue to press for proposed services over the Halton Curve, e.g. Bangor or Llandudno to Liverpool, and Cardiff to Liverpool via Shrewsbury, Wrexham, Chester and Runcorn.  

 

    * 4 However the main difficulties with these ideas were: (a) a shortage of rolling stock: already many trains are only 2/3-car units and are overcrowded; (b) making the Halton Curve bi-directional, if not double line.

 

    * 5 Then in the summer of 2004, the SRA let it be known that it proposed to close the line. The justification being given as the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line Liverpool branch, as part of the West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) project, having insufficient funding. This project includes re-signaling of the line, with the closure of Halton Junction signalbox. The SRA stated that it would cost £5.0 million to replace the junctions and upgrade the signaling, as against £0.5 million to remove the junctions, and that it didn't have sufficient money in the WCRM budget to cover this work. The track bed would be maintained. After considerable lobbying by Merseytravel (Merseyside PTE) and other local authorities concerned, the proposal has been withdrawn, and we await the outcome. In the midst of all this a letter from NCRUG's Chairman, John Hobbs, was published in RAIL Magazine ridiculing the SRA's decision, which prompted a response from Jim Steer of the SRA, with then a further response from John. To NCRUG it seems irrational to close this line when Liverpool John Lennon Airport is expanding, the Liverpool South Parkway station has been built, and millions are being spent on a feasibility study of how to build a new Runcorn-Widnes road bridge (the so-called "Mersey Second Crossing").

 

    * 6 None of the above takes into account freight and other workings over the line. There has been regular ballast train workings, and the royal train continues to work regularly over the Halton Curve.

 

    * 7 The last service in 2004, on 25 September - the 08.25 Chester - Runcorn had 102 passengers! Many of these then traveled back on a special vintage bus chartered by NCRUG. We await to a positive result by 2010.

Halton Curve Campaign