Reader's Letter: Potential loss of express train service to London


I have been following the Government's proposals for the high speed rail link, HS2, from London to Manchester and can appreciate the benefits that HS2 will bring to Crewe or any other location, such as Manchester Airport, that will have an HS2 station on the line.

Unfortunately neither Macclesfield nor Wilmslow are shown to be connected to the HS2 network and it is my understanding that all express services between London and Manchester with be transferred on to the HS2 line when completed to free up capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line for extra slow moving freight and additional commuter services.

I have raised my concerns at every available opportunity and have discussed them with David Rutley my Member of Parliament, who arranged for me to discuss my concerns direct with the Minister at the Department of Transport. I have also raised my concerns within Cheshire East and with the Inspector dealing with the Cheshire East Local Plan.

Nearly everyone I speak to seems to believe that Macclesfield and Wilmslow will have an improved service to London post HS2, something that I find hard to accept based on my experience and knowledge gained over 50 years of developing, designing and implementing a wide variety of railway projects primarily within the United Kingdom.

The documents produced by the HS2 group state that all express services will transfer onto HS2 as it is incompatible to operate a reliable high speed service within a mixed traffic railway such as the existing West Coast Main Line, with which I concur.

Therefore in future, when HS2 is operational, my view is that Macclesfield and Wilmslow will lose their excellent hourly service to London that currently takes less than two hours as it will not be possible to operate a reliable express service over the West Coast Main Line due to the extra freight and commuter traffic.

In my opinion anyone wanting to use an express service to London will have to travel by road to either the new Manchester Airport station, proposed location adjacent to junction 6 on the M56, or the new station in Crewe, which will be to the south of the existing station.

This may not be too bad for those living to the West of Wilmslow but anyone living in the Macclesfield area or on the East side of Wilmslow will either have to travel through Wilmslow, adding to the traffic congestion in Wilmslow, or travel to Crewe, which can take one hour on a good day and result in no saving in overall journey time, in fact it might take longer!

Increasing the number of people having to drive on our overcrowded roads is undesirable and is against Cheshire East Local Plan's aspiration to reduce the number of car journeys.

If we lose our excellent hourly train services to London from Macclesfield and Wilmslow then I believe that this will have a detrimental effect on the economy of the area.

There is a way to guarantee an express service from both stations, as I have suggested to the Department of Transport and Cheshire East. This can be achieved by operating an HS2 compatible train service from both locations, with a service from Wilmslow connecting into the HS2 route at Crewe and a service from Macclesfield connecting into the HS2 route at Handsacre Junction just to the North of Lichfield. If acceptance can be achieved for this then it will also benefit the residents of Stockport and Stoke.



Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Manuel Golding
Saturday 2nd April 2016 at 2:49 pm
I recall a conversation I had with Tatton's M.P., no other than George Osborne. Residents of Wilmslow had an arranged meeting with our M.P. on Friday evening of 28th March 2014. He & I were talking over various areas of concern when I asked him about the future of the existing Manchester, via Wilmslow, service to London Euston. I suggested it would be forced to cease due to a number of commercial strategies, the "old" line would be in competition with HS2 & thus would be forced to close.
He said this would not be the case, "the service will continue" he insisted.
Believe this or not but I believe Bill Pilkington's professional expertise offers the correct answer.
Train journey times, including getting to an HS2 station, are set to be considerably longer, all to offer a politician his "legacy".
Bill states that Cheshire East's Local Plan aspirations is to reduce car journeys but with an extra 4,700 + homes to be built in the Wilmslow and nearby areas (Wilmslow, Handforth, Poynton & Woodford, albeit that is in SMBC area,and before we know what housing plans are afoot for the villages around) this will be just yet another so much politicians delusion of the public.
Vince Chadwick
Saturday 2nd April 2016 at 10:05 pm
I think Bill Pilkington is correct in that the existing sub-2 hour service via the West Coast Main Line from Wilmslow and Macclesfield will not be possible post HS2 as more freight and 'stopping' trains will use that classic infrastructure. HS2 is primarily about capacity and one of the main drivers for building it is to allow precisely that use of the classic railway to happen, while high speed passenger traffic moves onto the new railway.

However, I think he answers his own question in his final paragraph:

"There is a way to guarantee an express service from both stations, as I have suggested to the Department of Transport and Cheshire East. This can be achieved by operating an HS2 compatible train service from both locations, with a service from Wilmslow connecting into the HS2 route at Crewe and a service from Macclesfield connecting into the HS2 route at Handsacre Junction just to the North of Lichfield. If acceptance can be achieved for this then it will also benefit the residents of Stockport and Stoke."
Jon Armstrong
Monday 4th April 2016 at 8:54 am
I'm unclear why you think people would drive for an hour to join HS2 at Crewe rather than getting the train at Wilmslow and connecting at Crewe, which would be far quicker, and would follow the hub and spoke idea they intend.
John Harries
Monday 4th April 2016 at 11:12 am
I'm not a regular choo choo user, let alone a potential HS2 rider.
What I do know is:
- the present Intercity service via Wilmslow (or Macclesfield) is pretty good, reliable, frequent and at 2hrs (+/- a few minutes) to/from Euston, quick enough for most users
- it's affordable…less than £20 single Second Class if you shop around is damn good value
- it's convenient
- Crewe is a nightmare place to get to by road, the add-on travel time/necessary parking and fuel cost kills off the advantages HS2 apparently offers
- historically the majority of rail customers are 'already on the doorstep' - conurbations matured around the railway for obvious reason
- IMHO any freight (and lets face it, rail freight is only a minor player these days) could easily be scheduled to run in the slack hours overnight if only someone thought about it!!!! i.e. currently does not really contribute to present line congestion.
I've always supported the idea of getting HGV's off the congested motorways and making rail freight into an efficient 'heavy lifter' with efficient road based distribution hubs - it really does make sense - but it just isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future.

Bill Pilkington knows what he is talking about but I for one would support HS2 if with the right publicity NOW, it shifts the emphasis of home building away from our local under pressure greenbelt and moves it further to the south of the county where high speed rail will refocus convenient common sense connections for London-centric commuters (which is what HS2 will develop/encourage to an even further extent)
Monday 4th April 2016 at 11:34 am
Some years ago the idea of Wilmslow losing its direct train to London was mooted by Virgin rail, and was met with opposition. I have no doubts that HS2 will mean that it actually happens and that HS2 will have to be accessed via the airport or Crewe.

If it is accessed at Manchester airport in the current rail station there, then there is actually a train which takes you to the airport from Wilmslow. It is the Manchester loop.

As to Crewe, they have already made clear that HS2 will not be going into the existing Crewe station, so presumably there would have to be a link from mainline Crewe to the HS2 hub and whether train changes are required we have yet to see.

The big drawback to me is that HS2 will run through Birmingham. The beauty of the current Wilmslow - to London Euston is that it only stops at Crewe and is infinitely preferable to Macclesfield to London which stops at every main station and is always overcrowded from Birmingham onwards.

Train routes to the south all need opening up in my view so that passengers from the North are not automatically funnelled through London.
Vince Chadwick
Monday 4th April 2016 at 12:27 pm
Couple of points for clarification:

Rail freight is a growing sector, currently limited by capacity of the existing railway which HS2 will, of course, address. Two container trains an hour (one in each direction) run through Wilmslow, each taking about 100 HGVs off the road system, and several per hour along the Mid Cheshire line (through Mobberley). A great deal of rail freight does indeed run at night as anyone living near Wilmslow station will attest.

HS2 Airport station will not be where the present one is. It will be on the M56 side of the airport.

HS2 will serve Birmingham but the line from Manchester will not go via Birmingham. The line to Birmingham will become a branch off the main north-south HS2 line, as will the line to Manchester. Both will join the main HS2 north - south 'spine'. There is no reason why HS2-compatible trains could not run via Wilmslow and via Macclesfield along the present tracks, seamlessly joining HS2 (at Crewe HS2 station in the case of trains via Wilmslow) continuing to London along HS2. This is what Bill Pilkington alludes to in his final paragraph.
Peter Davidson
Wednesday 6th April 2016 at 1:53 pm
Many thanks to @Vince Chadwick below the line for his clarifying remarks

The readers letter comment above the illustrates yet again the chasm of public ignorance surrounding transport infrastructure issues in general and HS2 in particular. How someone who claims "experience and knowledge gained over 50 years of developing, designing and implementing a wide variety of railway projects primarily within the United Kingdom" can imply that the Hybrid "classic compatible" based services referred to in the final paragraph are not already planned, from day one of HS2 opening, beggars belief!

Hidden self interest agenda campaigns, such as STOPHS2 and HS2 Action Alliance, have been spectacularly successful in their orchestrated efforts to weave selectively edited horror stories about the nature of long overdue construction of this new rail line.

This established void of public knowledge is gleefully exploited by the above campaigns and subsequently regurgitated, unchallenged and unverified by a variety of media outlets - and a prime culprit in this respect is our own local champion of fact-free, rhetoric laden misinformation, none other than Vic Barlow, whose less than erudite contributions about the vexed topic of HS2 have assumed legendary status!

Bill Pilkington really should know better - HS2 is NOT a stand alone project - from day one of its operation, trains will transit seamlessly between the new rail line (constructed to higher standards than the existing UK gauge constrained classic network) and the existing network. In fact the majority of services, servicing a number of provincial UK locations (including Wilmslow and Stoke on Trent) operating on phase 1, London to Birmingham and including a spur up to Handsacre, linking back to the WCML, will utilise classic compatible rolling stock. Captive GC gauge compliant rolling stock will only operate between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street (a brand new HS2 city centre terminus)
John Harries
Wednesday 6th April 2016 at 5:34 pm
Clearly there are contributors on here who have crossed swords/know a heap more about this project (and probably have vested interests one way or another).
So perhaps we can make it really simple for fair comparison - compared with what we already have (and for the time being ignoring projected passenger growth - whatever the spin on that is!) as I understand it HS2 will not deliver a step-on/step-off service from here (Wilmslow/Macclesfield area) or even Manchester/Stockport regardless of whatever 'feeder service stock' is available to get users to from either any new MIA or Crewe terminals; even the best routes may involve up to two changes.
So, platform to platform, will that really deliver a better service i.e. quicker and more convenient? My quess is NO - and that is before you take into account the cost of investment.
Peter Davidson
Wednesday 6th April 2016 at 6:56 pm
@John Harries
Fristly, I can't comment for others here but I have ZERO vested interest in anything Rail Industry related - HS2 or otherwise - I'm simply an ordinary citizen who has taken the time and trouble to inform myself about this topic (I was interested) and absolutely detests the role of public ignorance (about matters of public interest) and the manner in which such ignorance is routinely exploited to distort and shape public opinion, thereby attempting to (either directly or indirectly) influence decision makers

Your statement is completely wrong

For the purpose of demonstration lets us assume that the opening date of HS2 is 1st June 2026.

On 1st June 2026 there will a range of services operating, making use of the new HS2 line. Some of those services will operate between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street - these services will utilise "Captive" Rolling Stock, which will be GC gauge compliant. However, many other services will also operate, utilising "Classic Compatible" rolling stock - this rolling stock can operate seamlessly on both HS2 and the existing classic rail network.

These "Classic Compatible" based services will run on HS2, transfering on to the existing WCML at the Hansacre Junction close to Lichfield - running on to Manchester (and many other major UK provincial cities besides). The Manchester bound service will call at several other station stops along its route - Stafford, Stoke on Trent, Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Stockport will all feature as regular stops for these services.

So the reality is that from 1st June 2026 (of whatever date day one of HS2 operation turns out to be) there will be a direct platform to platform service (step on - step off), utilising HS2 in part, operating - no ifs, buts or maybes

If you really want me to, I can post a myriad of URLs linking you or any other reader to information confirming the above plans - they aren't that hard to find?

Here's one for starters?
Thursday 7th April 2016 at 10:13 am
Thanks for the clarification Peter. So from 2026 there will be a seamless service. Just one more question. When will they tell us that it is no longer economically viable to operate different systems, albeit ones which are compatible?
Vince Chadwick
Thursday 7th April 2016 at 11:57 am
Just to confirm that I, too, have absolutely no vested interest here. I'm in the same position as Peter, an interested 3rd party who detests the public ignorance surrounding HS2, and the way certain media platforms are exploiting it (Sunday Telegraph for one).
Peter Davidson
Thursday 7th April 2016 at 2:02 pm
@Jackie Pass
Some additional info, for clarification;
HS2 Phase 1 (London to Birmingham, plus spur back to WCML at Hansacre) of HS2 is currently planned to start operating in 2026. This target date may change of course - no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy. HS1, once the construction contracts were fully agreed, opened six weeks early and more or less on budget (£6.2bn out-turn cost against £5.8bn contract price)
HS2 Phase 2a (new track between the termination of phase 1 and Crewe Junction) is currently planned to open as soon thereafter as is practically possible - 2027 has been mentioned
HS2 Phase 2b includes a Western arm from Crewe Junction up to Manchester, stations at Manchester International Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, plus a spur linking back to the WCML close to Golborne, and an Eastern arm from south of Birmingham, via East Midlands, up to Sheffield and Leeds (parkway station as Toton, station at Sheffield [currently planned for Meadowhall but is being argued about] and city centre Leeds, plus spur linking back to ECML just south of York, is currently planned for 2033 opening date

Post phase 1 & 2a, the London Euston service to/from Wilmslow and Macclesfield WILL OPERATE IN VIRTUALLY THE SAME WAY AS IT DOES NOW, ie. a seamless platform to platform train. The most noticeable differences will be the brand new rolling stock and the train transferring from/to the new HS2 line at the points described above, post phase 1 at Handsacre, post phase 2a at Crewe. In the period between phase 1 and phase 2a, services could still call at Crewe and Stafford, post phase 2a only Crewe (at the new hub station) will be possible.

Post phase 2b, there may be a review of services operating with "Compatible" rolling stock, depending upon future potential patronage. Post phase 2b, London to Manchester services will utilise "Captive" rolling stock, so entirely on the new track, which by-passes both Wilmslow and Macclesfield. It may be that at this point the frequency of direct services to/from London comes under pressure. By that point development at the Manchester Airport site will be vastly greater than it is now - it may be that the focus of growing population is in that area, rather than Wilmslow?

Remember that a primary goal of HS2 is to free up train paths on the WCML and ECML. This will enable new additional services on both of these main rail arteries, which are not possible now because the lines (particularly the WCML) are effectively full. Demand for those new train paths on the WCML comes mostly for slower, stopping services, in other words, commuter trains and freight traffic.

No one can be absolutely certain about the full picture of rail demand, post 2033 - except to say that there will be more people than ever, travelling by rail at the point and demand will be increasing year on year, just as it has for the last 15 - 20 year period

Trust this background info helps to inform?
Stephen Dykes
Thursday 7th April 2016 at 9:44 pm
I'm a little lost at the conclusion. I regularly travel to London and whilst I enjoy the convenience getting the train from Wilmslow it sometimes makes sense for me to travel from Manchester (ironically it's sometimes cheaper) in which case I just get a commuter train to Manchester. Unless HS2 would mean these trains are also cancelled I see no reason to jump in my car for that leg of the journey.
Peter Davidson
Friday 8th April 2016 at 1:22 pm
@Stephen Dykes
In plain language, HS2 can have no negative impact whatsoever on commuter services between Wilmslow and Manchester

Based on forecast schedules for completion of construction, installation and commissioning of new HS2 infrastructure up to 2027, ie. phases 1 & 2b, HS2 activities have no relevance for local services between Wilmslow and Manchester

Post phase 2b, 2033 assuming current forecasts, there will be some kind of review of long distance express services (currently operating under the Virgin franchise but this may be different by 2033) operating on the existing WCML

This potential review is because, post phase 2b, London to Manchester long distance express services will be able to operate exclusively on the new lines, using "Captive" (ie. GC gauge compliant) rolling stock. If the "Compatible" rolling stock based service (therefore capable of calling at Wilmslow), which will have been in operation from 2026 onwards, is reduced in frequency, this will have the effect of freeing up some train paths (on the Crew to Manchester section of the WCML) for more commuter and freight services to use those additional train paths - so the commuter service can only improve, not deteriorate, as a result of HS2, even in the very long term.
Oliver Romain
Sunday 10th April 2016 at 9:21 am
The cheap tickets from Wilmslow to London are often via Crewe anyway. It doesn't take long to catch a train to Crewe. The worry would be the price of HS2 tickets especially if the Crewe express trains end up reduced too.