Guide to traffic in branch area
The Merseyside, Chester & North Wales branch covers a very extensive area which in railway terms extends to Holyhead, Aberystwyth, Shrewsbury, Crewe, Altrincham, Warrington and Southport with traffic varying between the West Coast Main Line and the Cambrian Coast. Electrification is present, both overhead and third rail, but with the majority of the services are still diesel units with only the odd loco hauled passenger service. Freight services are concentrated on the WCML and Liverpool, with little elsewhere.
Large Network Rail ROCs control the majority of the lines but semaphore signalling is still present on the western end of the North Wales coast line and at Shrewsbury, with the Cambrian Lines being controlled using the ERTMS system from Machynlleth.
Freight traffic in the area is concentrated in three main areas:-
West Coast Main Line
West Coast Main Line
The majority of freight traffic does not pass through Crewe Station but uses the Independent Lines under the station; the exception being wagon movements to and from Stoke Marcroft (for repair) in addition to the frequent light enginemovements between Warrington Arpley & Crewe IEMD. In addition to those light engine movements there are also workings which include wagons for repair.
Themajority of traffic between Crewe & Hartford Junction consists of liner trainsplus intermodal workings. Exceptions are the frequent departmental/ballasttrains to/from Basford Hall Yard many of which run at weekends, car trains to/from Halewood (loaded South & empties North), car trains between GarstonCar Terminal & Dagenham (Loaded North & empties South), nuclear flasks to/from Sellafield, cement trains between Avonmouth & Clitheroe and Cargowaggons (aluminium traffic) between Dollands Moor & DittonFoundry Lane. There are also regular workings between Tilbury & Ince & Elton, Middleton Towers & Arpley in connection with glass manufacture at Ince & Elton & St Helens respectively. There are workings between Arpley& Bescot Yards in addition to occasional workings between Arpley Yard &Donnington (wagon repair/storage). There is also an irregular train (WO) of china clay tanks between Wembley & Irvine. Containerised chemicals run between Basford Hall & Runcorn Folly Lane (MWO) & a containerised lime train runs between Hardendale & Margam (MWO)
The line from Northwich & beyond joins the WCML at Hartford Junction & between Hartford Junction and Walton Old Junction (South of Warrington) the line is very busy for freight.
Traffic to/from the CLC route to Northwich and Stockport consists of the biomass workings between Liverpool Biomass Terminal & Drax Power Station, binliner workings between Runcorn Folly Lane & refuse transit stations (RTS) at Brindle Heath & Northenden (loaded to Runcorn and empties from Runcorn), binliner workings between Knowsley & Wilton (loaded to Wilton & empties from Wilton). Many of the westbound biomass and Knowsley/Wilton binliner workings are routed via Chat Moss and Manchester Victoria. In addition there are workings between Peak Forest /Tunstead &Warrington Arpley/Dallam in addition to a daily working (60 hauled) with Brunner Mond Hoppers between Arpley Yard and Tunstead. There are occasional workings to/from Fiddlers Ferry Power Station although these are expected to cease shortly with the closure of the Power Station in March 2020 consequently there is little traffic on the Low Level line to Ditton Jn. Generally the only traffic are trip workings & light engine movements to Garston & Speke. Arpley Yard is a shadow of its former self, there a still a few weekly trip workings to St Helens (sand for glass manufacture) and Wigan (wagon repairs).
Basford Hall Jn
Basford Hall Jn
Wrexham and North Wales
Daily freight traffic occurs through Wrexham in the form of the 'coils' which take loaded steel coil from South Wales (Margam) to the coating works at Shotton, or in railway terms Dee Marsh Junction near Hawarden Bridge. There are two paths and generally the evening path is used except for a Saturday when the morning path is used. These services run with DB class 66s. The locomotive sets off on its return with the empties quite quickly after depositing the loaded train.
Hafod & Johnstown (former station site)
The other traffic thorugh Wrexham is timber ('logs') which originates in Carlisle New Yard or less frequently Baglan Bay near Port Talbot. These services are operated by Colas using Cl. 70s, though Cl. 56s have been seen. The Carlisle runs in the afternoon and so is photgraphable during the summer months, whereas the Baglan Bay runs at night. Their destination is the Kronospan chipboard factory at Chirk, where the arrangement requires incoming traffic to pass Wrexham with the services departing via Shrewsbury. These operate about 3-4 times per week but variable.
No regular freight traffic is scheduled on the North Wales Coast.
Passenger services within the area and the stock using the services are described in the various traffic groups listed below.
Liverpool Lime Street
Lines from Liverpool Lime Street
The largest station in the branch area is Liverpool Lime Street, a terminus serving the whole of the city. It is divided in to two halves and has recently been re-modelled to reduce conflicting movements. The northern trainshed, platforms 1-5, predominantly handles services east to Huyton, whilst the southern trainshed, platforms 6-10, normally serves services heading south via Liverpool South Parkway. All movements can be seen from the platform ends in either trainshed.
The station is used by six TOCs: East Midlands Trains, London Northwestern Railway, Trans-Pennine Express and Virgin Trains running long distance services and Northern Trains running the majority of the local services, with Transport for Wales running recently introduced services to Chester (see section – Lines East from Chester).
Trains Using the North Trainshed
Services from the northern trainshed normally run to Huyton where, at the recently re-modelled station, they diverge through St Helens Central en-route to Wigan or passing St Helens Junction towards Manchester.
Services via St. Helens Central
During the main part of the day two services are run by Northern Trains; a half-hourly service to Wigan North Western, which requires four diagrams and an hourly service to Blackpool North, stopping at Huyton and St. Helens Central requiring three units. During the ‘peaks’ there are a couple of services to Preston. All services are operated by Cl.319 EMUs which are maintained at Allerton. However, they can stable overnight at a number of other locations.
Services via St. Helens Junction
Northern trains’ services operating on this route serve Crewe (Wilmslow on Sundays) via Manchester Airport and to Warrington Bank Quay also.Some ‘peak’ trains go to/from Manchester Victoria and one late afternoon service terminates at Earlestown before returning ecs to Lime Street. Cl.319s and 323s are used on alternating services to Bank Quay and Crewe. However most diagrams incorporate other workings such as Manchester Piccadilly/Oxford Road to Crewe/Hazel Grove, so it can take a unit up to as long as seven hours before it returns to Lime St. All are operated by NT with the units being based at Allerton (Cl.319) or Longsight (Cl.323), although units of both classes can receive attention at either depot, with overnight stabling occurring at a number of other locations.
TPE run hourly trains to both Newcastle and Scarborough using Cl.185 DMUs with stops at Newton-le-Willows and Lea Green respectively. Whilst some units return to Lime St. (a six-hour round trip) others go elsewhere e.g. Middlesbrough or Manchester Victoria/Airport.
Trains Using the Southern Trainshed
Services from the southern trainshed normally run to South Parkway where, at Allerton Junction, they diverge through Hunts Cross and Warrington Central on the former CLC route or remain on the main line to Runcorn and Crewe.
Services via Warrington Central
There are two services which NT operate via this route, both of which are diagrammed for any combination of Cls.142, 150/1, 150/2 or 156 and from July 195/1s. All in theory based at Newton Heath, although it is possible to often see Heaton or Neville Hill allocated units appear. The units on both of these services can stable overnight at a number of locations in the Liverpool and Manchester areas, or even possibly further afield.
Manchester Oxford Road has a half-hourly service with alternate services not stopping at Edge Hill, Hunts Cross, Halewood and Sankey to allow for paths for semi-fast Manchester Airport or Nottingham/Norwich trains and alternate trains do likewise in the Manchester area. This service requires six diagrams, although because there is a mix of single and twin unit trains there can be in the region of nine or ten DMUs being used on them continually during the day.
An hourly service to Manchester Airport is also operated by NT requiring five diagrams and up to six units, four of which are 195/1s. Any of the DMU classes previously mentioned can operate these trains, which call at South Parkway, Warrington Central and Birchwood (see section – Manchester Airport).
East Midlands Trains
East Midlands Trains runs an hourly service to Nottingham/Norwich using almost exclusively pairs of Cl.158s, although Cl.156s can frequently be used with occasionally one or a pair of Cl.153s being seen. After calling at South Parkway, as with the NT services on this route, these trains diverge on to the old CLC route with stops at Widnes, Warrington Central, and Birchwood within the Branch area. The rear portion on departure from Lime St. is usually for Norwich with the front unit being detached at Nottingham which attaches to another unit from Norwich to return to Liverpool approximately an hour after its arrival in Nottingham. This results in only the first three units to Norwich returning, whilst almost all of those for Nottingham return just under seven hours after their first departure from Liverpool, so there is a requirement for 19 diagrams on this service.
The first two Lime St. departures run ecs as an eight-car set from Nottingham Eastgate Depot via Huyton in order to maintain route knowledge. However, one interesting situation arises every six weeks (Tu-F) to allow for additional time to be given for infrastructure maintenance, whereby the ecs workings run separately and later than normal with the one for the first departure to Norwich originating at Warrington Central. The penultimate and final departures back to Nottingham both terminate in the same platform at Lime St., so the penultimate arrival returns as ECS after the last arrival has returned as the final departure (SX), although on occasions both incoming units will return on the final departure. This can then be anything from a four to eight car train.
Services via Runcorn
LNwR operates generally a half-hourly service to London Euston via Birmingham New St., and Northampton with approximately 25 stops en route. However, a number of these only run from Birmingham International, especially northbound, with some others to/from New St., Rugeley Trent Valley, Northampton or Milton Keynes, again especially northbound. All the sub-classes of single Cl.350s can be seen on these trains and with a journey time of just over four hours in many cases it is 81/2 hours before a unit returns to Lime St. Many of the northbound units on the services from Birmingham International have arrived there from Rugeley Trent Valley. Southbound trains to Euston combine at New St. with either a service from Crewe via Stoke or one which has arrived in there from Euston.
On Saturdays, because of the availability of additional units from the London area, most alternate services are twin Cl.350s, although this does cause problems at certain stations with short platforms, particularly Winsford and South Parkway, but it has not reduced the overcrowding from South Parkway. Other stations served with a service of varying frequency are Acton Bridge and Hartford.Unfortunately, timekeeping can be rather erratic and it is not unusual for some trains from the south to return from South Parkway.
VT in general has an hourly service to London Euston, although there are two additional morning ‘peak’ trains southbound and ones in the evening ‘peak’ northbound. Apart from a small number of exceptions these services call at Runcorn and Crewe and all are worked by either nine or eleven coach Cl.390 ‘Pendolinos’, which are stabled overnight at the Alstom depot at Edge Hill (formerly Downhill Carriage Sidings). Only one or two units are likely to return to Liverpool later in the day, but this is not guaranteed (see West Coast Main Line).
Forthcoming changes to stock using Lime Street
NT are in the process of testing new Cl. 331/0, 331/1 throughout the north west and two bi-mode 769s (former Cl.319s) have been on static test at Allerton, until they went to Wabtec Doncaster because of some out of gauge issues. These which should enter service during the latter part of 2019 or early 2020, and are expected to find their way into Liverpool on some services. This will result in the start of the gradual withdrawal of Cl.142 Pacers
TPE are to introduce, hopefully by December 2019, three trains each day between here and Glasgow Central, using new Cl.397 EMUs; some of the class being on test now along the WCML and into Liverpool.
Two of the Scarborough diagrams are expected to be replaced in mid-July 2019 by Cl.68s plus new Mk.5 stock; the stock being serviced at Crewe CS overnight, whilst some of the Newcastle trains are to be extended to Edinburgh using new Cl.802/2s IEPs when there are sufficient available; test runs have been and still are being made along the route. The Cl.185s are, and the new units will be based at Ardwick TMD in Manchester, although a couple of Cl.185s currently stable overnight at the Alstom Edge Hill site.The new WCML franchise will not be run by Virgin and so VT has applied for ‘open access’ paths to then run an alternative service, which it is proposed would only stop at South Parkway within the branch area. Stock for these trains is unknown at present.
West Coast Main Line
South of Manchester
South of Manchester
Stockport to Stoke
The ‘North Staffs’ main line from Stockport to Stoke on Trent has a number of services comprising a twice hourly Euston – Manchester Piccadilly service (the third service being routed via Crewe), an hourly Cross-Country service to/from Manchester to Bournemouth together with an hourly service to/from the West Country. Local services are provided by Northern Trains with an hourly all-stations service from Stoke using Class 323s.
South of Macclesfield
Services to Manchester Airport station have increased remarkably in this century and the four platforms are needed to handle the traffic.
Trans-Pennine provide an hourly service to Cleethorpes, Glasgow/Edinburgh and Middlesbrough.
Northern run services to Blackpool North,Barrow-in-Furness, Liverpool (via Warrington Central) and Windermere; thelatter three utilising a mix of 195s from July this year and other previously mentioned units. Additionally it runs an hourly service from Crewe toLiverpool via Newton-le-Willows, which reverses at the station. One of the early morning services from/to Liverpool, using a 195, continues to Wilmslow because of there being insufficient capacity here. TfW also runs its Llandudno services.
East of Chester
Lines east of Chester
Chester – Crewe
Two trains an hour are provided, with Virgin’s Voyager hourly services to Chester/Holyhead running between the TfW’s shuttle service, generally comprising a two car 150/2 Sprinter, part of the main TfW fleet based at Cardiff Canton. This service is scheduled to use Class 230 units during 2019.
Hargrave - Between Chester and Beeston Castle
Chester – Liverpool
A recently introduced service has led to the reinstatement of direct services from Chester to Runcorn and so to Liverpool Lime Street for the first time since 1974 using the improved Halton Curve. These services are hourly with some peak extensions to Wrexham General and provide a service to Liverpool Airport via South Parkway station. GenerallyTfW 150/2 Sprinters (Canton based) are used but 158/175s have been observed.
Liverpool South Parkway
Chester (Ellesmere Port) – Leeds
This is a recently introduced hourly service by Northern running non-stop to Warrington Bank Quay, before going over Chat Moss to Bradford and Leeds. Observations have shown a variety of 150, 153, 156 & 158 units form these services.
A variation of these services to Ellesmere Port serves Ince & Elton and Stanlow & Thornton stations with two trains in the morning and one in the evening, all inconveniently timed.
Chester – Manchester (via Warrington)
Although in England the services are provided by TfW with hourly services between Llandudno and ManchesterPiccadilly/Airport formed by Class 175 units. To provide additional capacity at peak hours a locomotive (67) hauled set runs to Manchester in the morning and to Llandudno in the evening, making a midday trip to Holyhead. It stables at Crewe LNW.
Chester East Junction
Chester – Manchester (via Northwich)
Northern operate an hourly service along the old CLC line via Northwich, Altrincham and Stockport, using 156 and142s. There are as yet unfulfilled desires to increase the frequency over the eastern section of the line to hal fhourly to alleviate overcrowding.
East of Delamere
Merseyrail - Northern Lines
Merseyrail – Northern Line services.
These services utilise the oldest stock on the mainland, the 507/508 emus in three car formations. They are based at Kirkdale and are used for both these Northern Line services and those on the Wirral.Stock being transferred via the original section of the Mersey Railway between James Street and Liverpool Central.These units will be replaced by new Class 777 units in 2020.
Merseyrail have a good record on punctuality but utilise the practice of running late trains directly to their destination and so missing intermediate station stops – these can be as passenger or ecs workings.
Merseyrail/Merseyside Travel offer excellent value off-peak day tickets but purchase from a Merseyrail station requires the use of a Walrus ticket, purchased at the station.
Hunts Cross – Southport
The longest arm of the Merseyrail network runs for 26 miles along the sea/river from Southport in the north to Hunts Cross in the south, a station also served by Northern. These services run at 15 minute interval throughout. Units on this service remain on this service all day with 11 units required to cover the working.
Liverpool Central – Ormskirk
Branching off the Southport line at Sandhills is the remnant of the former line to Preston to Liverpool, where the hourly services from Preston arrive at the north end of the platform. Ormskirk services are 15 minutes in general, with three cars except for some 6 car peak hour services with ecs moves to/from Kirkdale to move the additional coaches.
These services terminate at Liverpool Central using the central reversing sidings to transfer from platforms 1 to 2. Eight diagrams are required for this service with units remaining on this service all day.
Liverpool Central – Kirkby
These services use the remnant of the former Lanky Manchester line as far as Kirby, where Northern’s hourly services from Wigan terminate at the north end of the platform. The services are every 15 minute and stay on the line all day. Reversal at Liverpool Central is by the northern crossover not the reversing siding. Three diagrams are required for this service.
All units working on these lines during the day can be seen at Sandhills in less than two hours.
All services start and finish in the same station throughout the day. These lines are generally served by stock based at Birkenhead North depot but there is some small interchange with the Northern line during the day.
All Wirral Line services do a tour of Liverpool using the loop line and its interchanges with the Northern Line at both Moorfields and Liverpool Central.
In the event of problems on the Liverpool loop line then services are terminated in platfrom 2 at James Street, leaving everyone to make their own way up the hill to Lime Street station and the city centre.
Merseyrail – Chester
These services are generally every 15 minutes and are of three cars. Some variations of these services occur at peak hours with some stabling at Rock Ferry and Birkenhead Central used. Seven diagrams are required, with a short layover at Chester.
Merseyrail – Ellesmere Port
A basic half hourly service is provided to Ellesmere Port leaving the Chester line at Hooton. Three diagrams are run for this service.
Merseyrail – New Brighton
A fifteen minute service operates to New Brighton with five diagrams used. Stock is stored during the day at New Brighton.
Merseyrail – West Kirby
A fifteen minute service operates to West Kirby with six diagrams used. Stock is stored during the day at West Kirby.
All of the units working these four services can be seen at Hamilton Square during a period of less than 90 minutes, but note that the services to West Kirby/New Brighton utilise a borrowing platform.
Hamilton Square - burrowing platform to the right
Bidston – Wrexham Central (TfW)
The other service on the Wirral is run by TfW and is an hourly service from Wrexham Central to Bidston to connect with the Merseyrail West Kirby services using two sets of TfW Canton based 150/2 units. Stock for these services arrives via Wrexham General; the first from Chester to form the first train to Bidston and the second from Shrewsbury to connect with the Virgin service. The first diagram ceases at 18.40 where the stock ends up in Shrewsbury via a service connecting with the Virgin arrival. The second diagram starts with the shortest service in the country, a service to Wrexham Central, before finishing late at night and returning ecs to Chester.
These services take the whole of the hour to complete their journey with the public departure time being before the public arrival time. Timekeeping of this service is poor but perhaps the introduction of the Class 230 units and a major timetable change later in the year will make for a reliable service. Presently late running services are terminated short at Shotton so leaving the Wirral stations without any service for two hour periods.
West of Chester
Lines west of Chester – North Wales Coast and branches
From Saltney Junction to the west of Chester the North Wales Coast Line to Holyhead is an 82 mile long branch line, where anything going down the coast has to return the same way. The only interchange along the line is at Llandudno Junction, where not only the line to Llandudno diverges but also the line running south along the Conwy valley to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
North Wales Coast
TfW services along the coast are generally an hourly service from Holyhead, reversing at Chester, alternating between Birmingham International or Cardiff (or elsewhere in South Wales) along with hourly services between Llandudno and Manchester Piccadilly / Airport in the eastern half. These services are generally Class 158s on the Birmingham services and Class 175/1s on the Cardiff services. Class 175/0 generally work the Llandudno services.
Penmaenbach Tunnel - West of Conwy
The exceptions to these units are the two locomotive hauled services: the midday service from Manchester Piccadilly and the ‘WAG Express’ to Cardiff. This latter train is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, has first class dining accommodation available and makes one morning trip to Cardiff and a late afternoon return.Class 67 locomotives are used for both these services.
Hawarden Airport - Between Chester and Fflint
Virgin run an hourly service toChester of which seven continue to Bangor or mostly to Holyhead. Onemorning Virgin service originates from Wrexham General with an evening returnworking.
Dwygyflchi - East of Penmaenmawr
Services to Llandudno are the hourly Manchester's (Airport), but they form an additional service to and from the Junction during their layover in Llandudno, so providing a half hourly service along the branch.
Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog Branches
Services to Llandudno would normally also be supplemented by the services from Blaenau Ffestiniog but due to significant storm damage in March 2019, services are currently suspended until July 2019. These services would normally use Canton based 150/2s but again Class 230s are scheduled to take over these services later on in the year.
North & West from Shrewsbury
Lines North and West from Shrewsbury
Chester – Shrewsbury
Services between Chester and Shrewsbury comprise a two-hourly Holyhead – Birmingham International and a two-hourly Holyhead – Cardiff service so giving a 'hourly' service. Interchange is scheduled at Shrewsbury to provide services to the other destination by changing services there and into Cambrian services.
Virgin run a daily service to Euston from Wrexham General which leads to a service between Shrewsbury and Wrexham with 150/2s which form part of the Wrexham Central – Bidston diagrams.
The WAG Express passes through Wrexham once each way a day.
The recent redoubling of the line from Saltney Jn at Chester has left only the section from Rossett Jn and Wrexham North Jn as single track.
Crewe – Shrewsbury
Services on this line comprise a TfW two-hourly stopping service using class 153s, supplemented by Central Wales services to Crewe.
Faster TfW services between Manchester Piccadilly and West Wales destinations run hourly, stopping at Whitchurch/Nantwich every two hours using 175s.
Steel Heath - North of Prees
These services are only run by ERTMS fitted class 158s based at Machynlleth.
Services are generally hourly on the section between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth with half of these being extended to Birmingham International. Services terminating at Birmingham from Holyhead/Aberystwyth form services to the alternate destination i.e. they return eslewhere.
Services on the Cambrian Coast section of the line i.e. north of Dovey Junction are two-hourly, with one set stabling at Pwllheli overnight. Some trains are formed by combining / dividing a Birmingham - Aberystwyth train at Machynlleth.
Friog - South of Fairbourne
Last updated: 13th January 2020