Rail passengers in Cheshire East can expect better quality trains and more regular services after some successful lobbying by residents and the Council as part of the Northern re-franchising process.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail North, a body representing all northern local authorities, has announced a range of improvements for rail services across the north of England with big benefits to Cheshire East.
Local community rail partnerships and Cheshire East Council had lobbied hard for improvements.
On the mid Cheshire line, Knutsford is to get a new half-hourly off-peak service to Manchester, which is a big improvement on the existing hourly service. There is also good news for the Sunday timetable with an hourly service at all stations on the line (currently the service is two-hourly).
On the Stoke-Macclesfield-Manchester line, a new half-hourly all-day service will be introduced at Macclesfield and Poynton. There is also a much-improved Sunday service which will increase to hourly at all stations, including Congleton (currently there are just five trains in each direction).
There is also an improved Sunday service on the Crewe to Manchester line – hourly trains from all stations with an earlier arrival time in Manchester and double the number of services between Wilmslow and the airport.
It all comes as part of an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for the renewal of the Northern rail franchise issued by the DfT at the end of February (see notes to editors).
Councillor Michael Jones, Leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “I am delighted that many of the changes we have been lobbying for have been agreed. The local community rail partnerships have really played their part too so I’m delighted for everybody.
“In Knutsford, there are more than 450,000 passengers each year but the town currently only has an hourly service in the off-peak period. However, through continued lobbying there is now a half-hourly service throughout the day into Manchester, which is great news for local residents.
“The work doesn’t stop here – we will continue to lobby the three shortlisted bidders for the Northern franchise to get even greater benefits than what is listed in the ‘minimum service specification’ outlined in the ITT, particularly at Disley and Middlewood.”
He added: “I am a strong advocate of devolving more responsibility for specifying and managing passenger rail services in the north of England. We have worked hard to lobby on behalf of Cheshire East residents to improve rail connectivity as a driver of economic growth across the Borough.”
The Government has also committed to improving the quality of trains with the Pacer units currently in use on the Northern network being completely phased out by 2020. There will also be free Wi-Fi on all trains by 2020 at the latest.
All of these changes will begin in April 2016.
The news comes as a task force set up by the Secretary of State has recommended the mid-Cheshire line, through Knutsford, for ‘electrification’ due to its ability to deliver greater economic growth in the north of England.
Thirty-two routes were examined, and grouped into three distinct prioritisation tiers based on their ability to contribute to local economic plans, how they fit with other schemes, and the number of diesel kilometres of running they would replace. The mid-Cheshire line came out in the top tier.