Sunday, 13 April 2014


Selected photographs of the Virgin Trains Euston-Holyhead services diverted along the Middlewich Branch on Sunday 16th March 2014 because of engineering work on the Crewe-Chester line.
The first shot is by Glen Leigh, who always tries to incorporate a typically Middlewich feature into his photos of trains running through the town (see our current masthead).
What could be more appropriate than this one showing a Virgin service passing close to the British Salt works?
To the right of the picture is Middlewich's celebrated 'salt mountain' which came to the rescue of many a short-sighted local authority a few years ago when freezing conditions brought about a severe shortage of the salt used to keep roads free from ice, and lorries were queuing all through the town to pick up supplies of the precious material from British Salt.
Such was the demand that the 'salt mountain' shrank quite a lot. Now it is growing again, ready for the next unforeseen crisis. 
On a single track it is always difficult to tell, in a photograph, which direction a train is heading in. In this case there do not appear to be any red tail lights in view on the train so we tentatively suggest that it is heading north towards Northwich.

A little further north, on the other side of Cledford Lane, Glen has captured another Virgin service passing near to the former ERF 'factory' in ERF Way, off Pochin Way, Middlewich's half-completed bypass road.
To get this shot Glen must have been either on the access path which runs from Cledford Lane to Brooks Lane, or on  the lime-beds which run parallel to it.
The new ERF 'works', which was supposed to replace the Sun Works in Sandbach, could reasonably be described as 'the factory that never was'. 
It didn't look like a factory and never properly worked as one. It was clearly designed as the warehouse which it has since become. The office building has served, since the abrupt departure of ERF, as an administrative centre for the NHS. Does anyone know who occupies it now? How long, we wonder, before 'ERF Way' is given a more appropriate name?

Meanwhile, long-time MRLC member and supporter David Hawkes opted to photograph the diversions from the 'classic' location on Holmes Chapel Road Bridge (or, more appropriately, 'Station Bridge'). This shot shows one of the trains coming from the Sandbach direction and entering the Middlewich passing loop, which runs from Holmes Chapel Road, through the site of the old station, and up to the King Street Bridge. It is a sign of the importance that Network Rail places on the Middlewich line as a diversionary route that this loop is still in existence and signalled to passenger standards. It enables two trains pass one another in Middlewich, thus saving  time.
More time could be saved if some of the speed restrictions on the line could be lifted - something which will have to be done once regular passenger services start to run.
This train is passing the proposed site for the new Middlewich Station. In the background the huge equipment cabinets behind the green railings are part of the  signalling equipment installed here a few years ago to enable trains on the branch to be controlled from the Manchester South signalling centre. A little further up the line is the radio mast installed even more recently to enable in-cab communication between drivers and signallers.

And here's the same train passing the site of the old Middlewich station. The red lights at this end of the train show us that it is moving away from us in the direction of Northwich. 
Just to the left of the train you can just make out a black and white sign, one of several placed on the old up platform by a former member of the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign. It reads:
and gives contact details for the  re-opening campaign for the information of any diverted passenger who might be interested.
The remains of the old platforms can still be clearly seen, although the platform edges were removed some years ago to give clearance to certain types of modern motive power.
Just opposite the front of the train, to the right, you can see the rear of one of the colour light signals which now control the line (a grey rectangle).
This signal stands on the site of the old Middlewich Signal Box (seen here) which did the job until 1980.
And in the distance that green dot is another colour light, giving the train permission to leave the loop, rejoin the single line and head for Northwich, Chester and, ultimately, Holyhead.

NOTE: There were more diversions of Virgin trains, along with freight and empty coaching stock movements from other companies via Middlewich from the 12th - 16th May 2014. Follow this link to learn more. Many thanks to MRLC member Peter Shillito for this information - Ed.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic photos as always. I managed to be on the morning service from Crewe through Middlewich and onto Holyhead that day and it's worth mentioning that the Virgin Trains train manager for that service mentioned Middlewich several times in the announcements, letting passengers know that there is indeed a railway line going through Middlewich and it's capable of having passenger trains running through it, let alone Virgin Trains, so I really appreciate that.

    As mentioned at the end of the article, there are further diversions coming up next month, only this time they're mid-week across five days, so there should be many more opportunities to travel down the line. Any tickets that would involve travelling from Crewe to Chester are valid on these trains, and according to National Rail, it takes approximately the same time as the replacement bus service only probably a lot more comfortable.