Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by North Cheshire Rail Users' Group (NCRUG) (RR 07)



  1.1  NCRUG are a voluntary group affiliated to Rail Future, formerly the Railway Development Society, (RDS). It is dedicated to monitoring and improving rail services on the North Cheshire Line between Chester/Ellesmere Port and Liverpool/Manchester. Chester/Manchester services are operated by Arriva Trains Wales as part of the Wales and Borders franchise and Ellesmere Port/Helsby and Frodsham/Runcorn Main Line by First North Western as part of the Northern franchise.

  1.2  NCRUG are proud to be one of the few Rail User Groups to be members of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP), resulting from their work at Helsby and Frodsham stations and, latterly, Runcorn East station. As a result of NCRUG's efforts Helsby has won the Best Kept Station award for 2003, and helped Frodsham to receive the "Cheshire in Bloom" award in 2002.

  1.3  NCRUG is dedicated to improving station gardens and buildings on the North Cheshire Railway line.

  1.4  NCRUG is lobbying rigorously for the re-introduction of full services on the Ellesmere Port to Helsby line and to Liverpool via the Halton Curve which currently has a Parliamentary train operating one way services 18 times per year.


2.1  Increased passenger volume and income

  2.1.1  Current activities. NCRUG have worked with local authorities, the "Frodsham Forward Partnership" and the Train Operating Companies, (TOCs), to improve the station environments at Helsby, Frodsham and Runcorn East. This has been achieved by regular working parties planting bulbs and bedding plants, removing undergrowth and creating ownership of Frodsham station by means of an "Art Plaque" project working in conjunction with a local school. We have obtained funding from various sources both inside and outside the rail industry. Our activities have received local publicity which, we believe, has helped to promote passenger growth. This, in turn, generates more income. NCRUG has detected, through footfall figures, areas where revenue protection needs to be stepped up and has worked with the TOC to remedy this situation. NCRUG predicts that adoption of the community railways strategy proposed by the SRA in its consultation paper will improve, significantly, involvement of the local community in its railway thus leading to increased volume and income.

  2.1.2  Halton Curve. The local community is aware that journeys by rail to its nearest major city, Liverpool, takes 75 minutes via Warrington (28 miles—45 kms), or 90 minutes via Chester, (25 miles—40 kms), whereas before the Halton Curve was taken out of service the much shorter (16 mile—25.75 kms) journey took only 29 minutes, stopping at all six stations en route. For this reason passengers tend not to travel to Liverpool by train preferring to use their cars and risk lengthy and uncertain journey times over the Runcorn bridge. This adds to the already serious congestion and pollution in the area. The reinstatement of the Halton Curve will, in our view, contribute massively to passenger and income growth because a large new market will be opened up. Later in this report we explain this new market in more detail.

  2.1.3  Ellesmere Port/Helsby Line. Presently only four trains per day run in each direction. Furthermore departures from Ellesmere Port are at 06.32, 07.02, 16.04 and 16.34 and from Helsby at 06.16, 06.46, 15.48 and 16.21. Nobody can be expected to use such a "service" as it does not fit any work or leisure patterns. This line has been designated as part of the new Northern franchise even though it is not conjoined to the rest of this franchise. At the Ellesmere Port end is the Merseyrail franchise and at the Helsby end the Wales and Borders franchise. This does not auger well for the line's future. On the other hand considerable new residential housing has been built in Elton, (one of the stations on the line). A possible park and ride site, at the RoadChef Motorway Service Area (MSA), on the M56/A5117 junction, with full retail facilities, has been built since the line lost its regular service. This MSA is just 1.2 miles (1.9 kms) from Ince and Elton station and has the added advantage of allowing entry from both the Motorway and the local road network. With good marketing and some funding these two developments would persuade many local people to use the train instead of their cars and motorists to avoid major areas of congestion by changing to the train for part of their journey. RoadChef have expressed interest. We understand Merseytravel/PTE are examining the advantages of a Community Rail Partnership on this line. However, these possibilities all require a much improved service over that currently in place, to allow any of these proposals to be taken forward.

2.2  Manage down the unit costs of running the lines

  2.2.1  We concur with the comments made by the SRA in it's consultation paper on a strategy for Community Railways, (February 2004) under Section five. We have no doubt the committee is already fully aware of the detail in the SRA paper and do not, therefore, intend to take up the committee's time by repetition here.

  2.2.2  The only further comment we wish to make is to refer to ACoRP's response to the Railway Industry Review where, under item 11 (Rolling stock issues), they suggest a not-for-profit rolling stock company sponsored by the SRA, ROSCOs and local authorities/PTEs, making best use of rolling stock which comes off lease. Extremely high leasing costs of rolling stock seriously inhibit the introduction of new services, (Ellesmere Port/Helsby), and the strengthening of those already in existence. Notwithstanding this we understand there is a temporary shortage of rolling stock but that this will ease as new stock is commissioned.

2.3  Involving the local community in the development of its railway

  2.3.1  The North Cheshire line is in close proximity to many tourist and recreational attractions which a Community Railway seen to be "owned" by local people could exploit. The Sandstone Trail, Delamere Forest, Anderton Boat Lift, Marbury Country Park, The Boat Museum, to name but a few, would all benefit from a Community Railway fully integrated with buses timed to meet trains and vice versa. Walking and cycling should also be encouraged. This is possible with local involvement and the will to "make it work" which a Community Railway would engender and which is not always present when services are fragmented and not managed at local level. NCRUG are in contact with Vale Royal Tourist Association and one of our members sits on the County Council Rural Recovery Board. Such organisations are better motivated if they believe their aspirations have a chance of implementation; they perceive their strengths are greater at local level than at national level.

  2.3.2  Being members of ACoRP we are aware of the advantages of Community Rail Partnerships even though we are not directly involved with one on our line. Sharing best practice and moving away from the policy that "one size fits all", allows innovation and cost savings to be made.

  2.3.3  In a sense we feel we have already adopted Frodsham and Helsby stations and, by so doing, have added substantially to their attractiveness and appeal to the travelling public. It is important that people feel comfortable when waiting for their train and an attractive, cared for, station helps considerably. NCRUG have endeavoured to create this feeling at these stations.

  2.3.4  Frodsham and Helsby stations have attractive, but unused, station buildings. NCRUG have been frustrated in their efforts to firstly determine ownership and secondly obtain permission to seek alternative uses for the buildings. We understand one of the buildings on Helsby station is now under negotiation which we welcome. Occupied buildings overcome the impression of neglect and also assist security and the prevention of vandalism and loutish behaviour. Local management would speed up this process. We are working with Frodsham Forward in this regard.

  2.3.5  Few of the improvements we are striving for can take place without funding and it is in this area that NCRUG feels a "local rural" railway can tap into resources not always open to the main network. By bringing together local stakeholders, who have a vested interest in a good railway, funding streams can be found to effect the improvements needed.

  2.3.6  Local management is likely to be more flexible and have a quicker response time when dealing with day to day issues. Communication and management decisions are speeded up and people tend to be better motivated. Local control of the punctuality regime would enable on the spot decisions to be made to improve connections without incurring a penalty; passengers' interests, therefore, become paramount thus increasing their confidence in using the service.


  3.1  Liverpool South Parkway at Allerton is in the early stages of construction and is expected to be operational in 2006. This is an Interchange for Merseyrail, Transpennine, East Midlands and East Anglia rail services. It will provide a dedicated bus link to Liverpool John Lennon Airport as part of the airport's Surface Access Strategy for reducing car parking. It will also be an interchange for buses and, in due course, Line three of Merseytram. This £16 million investment would be maximised if it is accessible to people in north Cheshire and North Wales which can only be achieved by reinstatement of the Halton Curve.

  3.2  The Silver Jubilee Road Bridge between Runcorn and Widnes is seriously congested carrying 80,000 vehicles per day over two substandard carriageways. Cars account for 68,000 of this total of which 13,600 start and finish their journeys within the boundaries of Halton Borough Council. The comments made in 2.1.2 above are relevant to this issue.

  3.3  The rapid expansion of Liverpool John Lennon Airport through the huge growth in budget travel would benefit from the improvements in rail services from south of the Mersey (refer 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 above).

  3.4  LJL Airport is a major departure point for tourists visiting Europe but it is also an arrival point for tourists wishing to visit our area. Currently inward tourists have little choice but to hire a car if they wish to visit the attractions in north Cheshire, Chester and the North Wales resorts. Reinstatement of the Halton Curve rail link would provide this choice.

  3.5  Liverpool City of Culture in 2008 will require significant improvements in public transport from south of the Mersey. Direct rail services from the area, with the exception of Runcorn, are non-existent at present. A reinstated Halton Curve would remedy this deficiency.


  4.1  We consider good quality local/rural railways, managed at a local level, and allowing fully integrated multi-modal travel is sustainable and essential if people are to be persuaded to reduce car use, for the betterment of the environment.

  4.2  We believe the prospects for innovative funding and management of local/rural railways are good.

  4.3  We believe involving the local community in the development of local/rural railways will increase prospects for traffic and income growth.

  4.4  Experience has demonstrated that bus substitution for rail services does not work. However, buses and trains working together to provide an integrated service are essential if people are to be persuaded to reduce their dependence on cars. Local control would enable this to happen. Differing local transport modes should co-operate with each other in providing seamless journeys to the travelling public. Bus and train operators should regard the car as their sole competitor.

  4.5  Conclusions 4.1 to 4.4 will all have a beneficial effect on the area served by the North Cheshire Line. However, a full service on the Ellesmere Port/Helsby Line together with reinstatement of the Halton Curve are essential if the substantial long term benefits, referred to in 3.1 to 3.4 above, are to be realised. We submit that the short term costs of the improvements which we advocate should be viewed in relation to their long term benefits to the travelling public and the environment in which they live and work.

6 April 2004

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