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Friday 29 May 2009

Station Sellout – Take 7

Moving Crewe station out into the countryside looked daft. But Network Rail (NR) were putting out enough disinformation to suggest an announcement was imminent. Also, the letter writing to local papers had started: this is a tactic much loved by political parties, particularly New Labour. The recurring theme this time was the idea that Nantwich Road’s traffic problems were down to the station (they weren’t) and that moving it would therefore be a good thing. Another one was the support for a new “super terminal”. NR may not have been behind this, but someone was.

Then I looked over the numbers, and it didn’t look so daft after all. Crewe has a footfall of around 6,000 passengers daily: a third of these are “interchanging”, so NR reasoned that, for them, station location was less relevant. Most of the others would arrive by car, but the present long stay only has 550 spaces: the Crewe Gateway proposal doubled this to 1,100. Where does everyone else park? Simple. There are other – cheaper - pay car parks operated by the local council and the Royal and Crewe Arms Hotels, and then there are enough side streets (the industrial estate behind B&Q is a favourite) to accommodate the rest. But if NR had a captive audience?

At the time, it was six quid a day to park in the station long stay. Most of its business is done on weekdays. So, assuming 500 cars park there for five days of the week, over 50 weeks each year, that’s 750k in income. For the Gateway scheme, that would double to 1.5 million. But if the station were out in the sticks, without a walking route other than to the car park, that 500 or 1000 could be transformed into three or four thousand. The latter figure turns the end number into a whopping six million quid. And, with no alternative available, the price could be jacked up that bit more – say to ten quid a day. End number now ten million. Think this is far-fetched? Well, the price of using the long stay during the week has just gone up from six to eight pounds a day. Go figure, as they say.

For those kinds of numbers, NR would have prospective car park builders falling over themselves to not only build the park, but stump up a lot of money every year to run it. More, the captive audience concept would extend to retail outlets, as there would be no chance of nipping out onto Nantwich Road to get a take out. So the rents for these could also be priced to go: it would effectively be the same rates as groundside at a typical airport.

Now the NR idea didn’t seem daft, but coldly calculating. The new station would be paid for quite easily through all the retail opportunities that being out in the sticks could provide. Anyone walking to the station would be left behind – unless, of course, they got a car. There was only one hurdle to overcome: NR needed the money to remodel the track layout. They didn’t get it.

The hurdle came crashing down.

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