Work has started on the 1.5 miles of rail track, known as the ‘Halton Curve’, that will unlock leisure and business opportunities between the Liverpool City Region, its airport, Cheshire and North Wales.
Leaders and key officials will today be marking the occasion by going track-side onto the ‘Curve’.
The Halton Curve scheme, delivered by Network Rail, is bringing back into full use the section of the line that links the Chester/Warrington line and the Liverpool/Crewe line at Frodsham Junction.
Vital upgrades to track and signalling on the curve will 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.
The services, proposed to start running from December 2018, will generate 250,000 new trips, boosting the economy by £100m.
While the service will be initially one train per hour, it’s expected that demand would strengthen the case for increased frequency, especially with plans for services to be extended into North Wales – something currently being considered as part of the forthcoming Wales and Borders franchise.
As journeys between the Liverpool City Region, West Cheshire and North Wales are currently largely car dependent, it’s expected that the new service would remove the need for 170,000 road journeys helping reduce demand on key routes such as the M56 and A55.
The upgrade forms part of Network Rail’s Great North Rail Project which will see over £1bn invested in the railway across the north, as part of the national Railway Upgrade Plan.
This project, due to cost a maximum £18.75m, is being funded through the government’s growth deal and the Liverpool City Region. It is being developed by the Liverpool City Region (including Halton Council), Cheshire West and Cheshire council, the Welsh government and a consortium of the six county authorities in North Wales.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region, said:
“I welcome the spade being put in the ground on a project that has long been an ambition for many. People shouldn’t be constrained in their work or leisure opportunities, as there are so many to be had across our City Region, Cheshire and North Wales. These can start to be fully realised through this much needed link.
“This isn’t a project in isolation but part of the overarching vision for connectivity within the Liverpool City Region and the wider North to join up north-south HS2 rail infrastructure with west-east Northern Powerhouse Rail to Liverpool.”
Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, said:
“Liverpool was home to the world’s first passenger railway, and now the city region is reclaiming its status at the forefront of rail connectivity with the Halton Curve.
“The government has invested more than £16m in the Halton Curve, as part of our plans to improve transport across the Northern Powerhouse.
“Just as the Northern Powerhouse is a long term government priority, this investment will provide lasting benefits with a predicted £100 million boost to the local economy.”
Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, added:
“This is a significant milestone on the way to making travel between north-west England and north Wales much easier and I am delighted that the UK Government has been able to help make it happen. When completed, the line will improve links between Liverpool and north Wales, providing benefits for businesses, commuters and tourists, and unlocking the potential for economic growth in North Wales.”
Liam Robinson, Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee which oversees the work of Merseytravel, said:
“The Halton Curve may only be one and a half miles long but it is the key to unlocking so many more opportunities for people in our City Region, Cheshire and North Wales.
“This is part of a £340m investment in the City Region’s rail network by the end of 2019 that will improve connections and the capacity – investment that only marks the start of our ambitions.”
Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s Route Managing Director for London North Western, said:
“The Halton Curve scheme is the perfect example of the rail industry and Liverpool City Region working together to deliver real benefits to the people of Liverpool and beyond.
“As with the many projects we are delivering across the north, as part of our Great North Rail Project, this is about providing passengers with more options and boosting the economy in key towns and cities through improved rail links.
“Upgrading track and signalling will breathe new life into this 1.5 mile stretch of track, ready for new services from December 2018.”
Samantha Dixon, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chair of the cross-border Growth Track 360 rail taskforce, said:
“The Halton Curve is a central proposition in the Growth Track 360 rail investment prospectus. This is one of the critical investments which will have a transformational effect on rail services, not only in our borough but across North Wales and the Mersey-Dee region. It will improve links to Liverpool for our residents and businesses.”
Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in the Welsh Assembly, added:
“This is a huge development for public transport and much welcomed. Improving rail connectivity between North Wales and Liverpool offers huge economic and social opportunities for both regions.
“There has always been a strong cultural link between the regions and the Investment in Halton Curve will only serve to strengthen this. I look forward to delivering further joint transport initiatives with the Liverpool City Region, particularly as we develop our North East Wales Metro vision for a truly integrated transport system for the area.”
Robin Tudor, Head of PR and Communications for Liverpool John Lennon Airport, commented:
“This is a project that the Airport has supported and been pursuing for many years and it is great to see work finally get underway. This scheme will soon mean that airport users in North West Cheshire along with future passengers from right across North Wales,will have the opportunity to access the Airport with its growing range of services by rail via Liverpool South Parkway rail station.
“The Halton Curve is just as important for the increasing numbers of inbound visitors using Liverpool John Lennon Airport as a gateway to the region too, providing far easier onward access to tourist destinations including Chester and areas across North Wales.”
Ced Green from the North Cheshire Rail Users’ Group, added:
“We have been campaigning for the Halton Curve to be re-instated since way before the Strategic Rail Authority proposed full closure in 2004. We, and others, stopped that happening but it was another 10 years before any real progress was made. So we are delighted that work has now started in bringing this short, but vitally important section of the network, back into full operation.
“It is a massive first step in changing the dynamics of the public transport offer in the sub-region and beyond. It will assist in harnessing the economic synergy which exists between North and North East Wales and Merseyside and will also assist the development of the tourist market by providing easy access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport via Liverpool South Parkway.”