It started with a campaign to persuade Virgin Trains (VT) to reinstate the London services from Hartford, but ended with an increasingly grim battle to keep that station, and the neighbouring ones of Winsford and Acton Bridge, open. The railway, this time in the form of Network Rail (NR) predecessor Railtrack, was again less than open about its intentions.
VT had removed the London services from Hartford as an apparently temporary measure after the upheaval caused by the Hatfield derailment in late 2000. They then pulled the services completely the following year. The Mid-Cheshire Rail Users’ Association (MCRUA) took up the case, giving invaluable support through its organisation and connections, but VT were not persuaded and later removed the Hartford stops made by its cross country services as well.
Soon after that, news came that Railtrack had decided that stopping trains at Winsford, Hartford and Acton Bridge was “limiting capacity” on the route. When the stops by trains on the Liverpool to Birmingham service were removed, and a Liverpool to Crewe shuttle running only every two hours was substituted, it was clear that the stations were being softened up for closure.
MCRUA worked to raise awareness of the issues, and met with Mike Hall, the MP whose Weaver Vale constituency includes Hartford. At first, seeing Hall was one of the 1997 intake, the thought that he might be an on-message New Labour man who would not rock the boat entered, but he pitched in, questioning ministers and getting an adjournment debate in the Commons. Also, he would turn up when MCRUA organised litter picks at Hartford station, thus ensuring the attendance of a press photographer.
Unfortunately, the specialist press, typified by magazines like Modern Railways, did nothing. My email to James Abbott, then as now the editor, did not even merit a reply. This was a sign of things to come: the magazine merely printed the NR line when the move of Crewe station was proposed.
Ultimately, the efforts of MCRUA and others paid off: the Liverpool – Birmingham service now once again makes stops at Winsford, Hartford and Acton Bridge, new trains have been put into service, and the high occupation of station car parks shows that more people are using that service. But it was a damn close run thing. And it showed campaigners who their friends were.
Also, the railway has previous on proposing station moves, as well as closures. I’ll look at that next.