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
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
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 miles45 kms), or 90
minutes via Chester, (25 miles40 kms), whereas before the
Halton Curve was taken out of service the much shorter (16 mile25.75
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
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
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. PROJECTS WHICH
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
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
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