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Sunday 3 May 2009

Station Sellout – Take 1

The campaign was brief, and victory was decisive, but this was not the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. It was, arguably, far more important than that. Because what I’ll be considering in a series of posts over the coming weeks is Network Rail’s frankly potty idea of moving Crewe station out of town, the efforts put into opposing the idea, and the lessons for the community in the aftermath of the campaign.

The title of these posts has been given for one straightforward reason: that many people that might have been expected to stand up for Crewe and its transport links totally failed so to do. Politicians, business leaders, and the media either sat on the fence or merely ignored the issue. As the only ones to address this problem, a convocation of councillors, trades unionists and like minded individuals were the ones who showed leadership. They alone emerged from the fog of battle with credit.

So why is the station so important in an age dominated by road travel? A look at the way in which Crewe has developed over the years may prove instructive.

Crewe is a town built either by the railway, or on the back of its presence. When the burgeoning network came to this part of the world, the local landowners didn’t want to know. The railway was kept out of the largest town in the area – Nantwich – and had to make do with a junction station near the settlement of Monks Coppenhall. That name may have been too much of a mouthful, but nearby was Crewe Hall, and so Crewe was born.

The town grew into what is, effectively, a bi-polar one: the town centre in a position near to the railway works, and Nantwich Road’s strip near to the station, both close to major centres of employment. Over the years, the importance of the station has changed as the demand for mobility has risen: the long distance trains that once stopped there to change engines, or add through carriages, now call to service passenger demand. Also, the station serves a growing commuter base, as people move out of nearby cities to the area’s more affordable housing. Those commuters then shop in the town centre, reinforcing its importance.

Moreover, the station and town centre are within walking distance for many thousands of residents, a benefit that might be thought worth retaining. But the interdependence of station and town centre made little impression on the ideas men at Network Rail (NR), who decided that moving the station out of town, south to Basford, was not only a good idea, but one that could be stood up in the heat of debate, or at least for long enough to get the plan approved.

Am I suggesting that NR may not have been totally open about the exercise? Ah well. The predecessors to this organisation have previous. A lot of previous. I’ll consider the prosecution case later.

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