Looking south-west, an Arriva Trains Wales class 175 on route to Chester passing the Frodsham signal box located at the junction for Halton Curve.
In 1994 the double track branch was reduced to a single track, at the same time diamond crossings were removed from both Frodsham and Halton junctions, this has meant that ever since only northbound trains have been able to operate over the line.
All this will change in 2018 however when regular passenger trains will once again begin to operate over the line, thanks to £18m worth of investment from the Government Growth Deal and the Liverpool City Region.
Looking north towards Halton Junction signal box and the junction with the WCML
The project will involve installing a new crossover and 60km/h turnout on WCML and new crossover on the Chester - Manchester line. Signalling will also be upgraded to allow bi-directional operation on Halton curve which will remain single track.
Details of the signal upgrades are as follows. (source NCRUG)
- New relay based interlocking and re-signalling of existing Frodsham control area with LED colour light signals and train detection provided by track circuits;
- Revised signalling arrangements at Frodsham/Halton/MROC to accommodate the bidirectional signalling using TCB
- Retain the existing method of Absolute Block Working from Frodsham to Helsby Junction and Norton Signal Boxes
- Replace the existing mechanical lever frame at Frodsham and replace with an Independent Function Switch (IFS) panel; and • Install OLE overrun protection from Halton Junction.
There has been some criticism from the public regarding the cost for a project, that ostensibly seems relatively straight forward. However the list above demonstrates the the complex improvements that will have to be carried out in order to bring the line back into regular use. replacing again semaphore signalling with new modern signalling brings with it its own set of challenges.
Despite concerns about cost I think the project to re-open the line has been unquestionably welcomed by most. Halton Curve will allow passengers from Chester, Cheshire and North Wales to more easily access Liverpool and Liverpool Airport via Liverpool South Parkway and could help to reduce traffic levels the often congested section of the M56 between Chester and Runcorn
London Midland Class 350 bound for Liverpool just before passing Halton Junction
Barring any problems the first service will begin operating between Chester and Liverpool at the start of the new December 2018 timetable. The hourly service will call at Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn, Liverpool South Parkway and Liverpool Lime St. It is hoped that if the hourly service proves to be a success then services from the North Wales and or Wrexham will begin to operate over the line.