The Halton Curve: Small piece of track, big rail ambitions

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Cllr Liam Robinson, chair of the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Transport Committee and of Merseytravel, explains the importance of bringing the Halton Curve back into full use.

The ‘Halton Curve’ may only be 1.5 miles long, but bringing this small section of line that links the Chester/Warrington Line and the Liverpool/Crewe Line at Frodsham Junction back into full use is crucial to the rail ambitions of the LCR, Cheshire and North Wales.

With currently only one scheduled service a week operating during the summer, upgrades to track and signalling on the curve by Network Rail will, from December 2018, enable a new hourly service in both directions between Liverpool and Chester, serving Liverpool Lime Street, Liverpool South Parkway (for Liverpool John Lennon Airport), Runcorn, Frodsham and Helsby. Cross-border links will remain the end goal, however, with services extended into North Wales to be considered as part of the forthcoming Wales and Borders franchise. 

It’s expected that the new services will take 170,000 car journeys off the road, will generate 250,000 new trips and boost the economy by £100m. It also supports Liverpool John Lennon Airport’s growth ambitions, opening up a much wider catchment for national and international leisure and business travel. Opportunities should not be limited by boundaries, especially as ‘travel to work’ areas don’t mirror local authorities or city regions. Transport and infrastructure should enhance opportunities, not be the reason they are curtailed. 

When I think of the benefits of the Curve, I’m thinking of the dad in Frodsham, a die-hard Everton fan who will be able to take his son or daughter, hassle-free, to watch a game; the teenager in South Liverpool who can now access a wealth of manufacturing job opportunities in Deeside; and the family from Wrexham, whose holidays can start on-board the train to Liverpool South Parkway for John Lennon Airport. 

Economic and cultural links between the LCR and North Wales are strong, but we know transport links are poor. Currently, one in five job interviews or offers in the North Wales or Mersey Dee area are turned down as a result of poor travel connections. There is also untapped potential when it comes to linking two expanding visitor economies – benefits worth £6bn. 

Halton Curve signal box front view and track July 2017 edit

Borderlands  Line 

The Halton Curve is key to unlocking these opportunities, but everything can’t rest on its shoulders – that’s why we’re also well on with exploring how we can make the most of existing assets. 

The Borderlands Line connects Wrexham to Bidston in Wirral, enabling connections onto the Merseyrail network as far as Southport and Ormskirk. But frequency is poor, with just one train an hour in each direction and journeys of almost an hour. Despite all this, passenger use has shot up 75% in the last decade, indicating that vast latent demand exists. Improved services could really benefit employers within the Deeside Enterprise Zone and the LCR through a more mobile potential workforce over a larger catchment area. 

We’ve been looking at options with the Welsh government and doubling the frequency of services stacks up in business case terms. The challenge now is to identify the funds and the trains to achieve this. It is also about identifying infrastructure improvements and prioritising them. Electrification of the line remains the ultimate goal, but that can’t happen overnight. 

The Wales and Borders franchise tender will be out in the autumn, and we wait to see what operators could bring to both services along the Curve and the Borderlands in the near future. But we’re already looking beyond the end of the franchise. 

The LCR’s Long-Term Rail Strategy is focused on what could be achieved within the next 30-40 years. A key element of this has been procuring new trains for the Merseyrail network – due to start operating in 2020 – that will have the capabilities to run beyond the current ‘third rail’ network to places such as Skelmersdale, Warrington and Wrexham along the Borderlands Line. This is a game changer. 

Improving cross-border rail has always been a priority for us, and this has been amplified and supported through our strong working relationships with the Welsh Assembly and the Mersey Dee Alliance. It’s clear to see that momentum is growing in pushing for connectivity that drives prosperity, not least through the North Wales & Mersey Dee Rail Taskforce and the Growth Track 360 prospectus. Our future prosperity depends on our ability to renew and modernise our connections.

Signalling & Telecoms




James Miller   07/09/2017 at 09:50

In the late 1960s, I used to live in Woolton in South Liverpool and worked at Runcorn Heath for ICI. Car was the only way to get to work.Many of my colleagues commuted the same way, just as I'm sure they do now. We could certainly have done with South Liverpool Parkway and a frequent service to Runcorn in those days. It was the transport to work, that was one of the reasons I changed jobs and left Liverpool for good.

P E Donnelly   08/09/2017 at 13:19

As a teenager forty years ago, I spent one Saturday taking a trip on the Bidston-Wrexham line, which was threatened with imminent closure as the Shotton Steelworks iron ore traffic came to an end. I can only applaud the Liverpool City Region's strategy for the developments outlined in this article.

Peter Jarvis   17/09/2017 at 23:17

When I was at school at Quarry Bank, we lived at Mossley Hill and went by train to Colwyn Bay via the Halton Curve. 4.15p.m. from Lime Street, through to Colwyn Bay 6.18p.m. When I was older, I rode my bike via the Mersey Tunnel. With a favourable wind, five hours without putting foot to ground. Possibly the loss of my custom caused them to pull up the Halton Curve....

Carl Spurling   19/09/2017 at 15:20

I live near Frodsham, and will certainly use the new service over the Halton Curve to reach Liverpool city centre and Liverpool Airport

Mark S   24/09/2017 at 14:13

It would be great if a station could be opened up at Beechwood once the curve is running especially now that bus services have been reduced, this would enable many more people to easily access the network and further reduce car journeys. I know this was mentioned in a strategy document but I haven't seen anything since?

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