Halton Curve

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Liverpool to North Wales via Chester using the Halton Curve
Halton Curve 1.JPG
Halton Curve in 2012 prior to commencement of upgrade work
Type Regional rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational in one direction only
Locale Cheshire, Halton, (North West England)
Termini Chester
Stations 4, (Chester, Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn)
Closed 5 May 1975 (local traffic)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Northern Rail
Rolling stock
Class 150 Sprinter
Class 156 Super Sprinter
Line length 1.7 mi (2.7 km)
Number of tracks Single (1)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Loading gauge W8[1]
Electrification Not electrified
Operating speed 40 mph (64 km/h) maximum
Route map
Halton Curve
to Manchester
Runcorn East
to Crewe
Sutton Tunnel
Halton Jct
Halton Curve
Frodsham Jct
to Ellesmere Port
Chester with
connections to
Wirral Line and
North Wales

Halton Curve is a short railway line that links the North Wales Coast Line to the Liverpool section of the West Coast Main Line within the borough of Halton, Cheshire. The route, which is from Frodsham Junction (north of Frodsham) to Halton Junction (south of Runcorn), is 1 mile 54 chains (2.7 km). It is formally known as the "Frodsham Branch" and coded NW 3021 by Network Rail.

The line, which was constructed for commercial reasons, created a direct link between North Wales industries and the factories of south Lancashire and wharves on the River Mersey. Passengers services also used the route. However, the Great Depression in the 1930s began the steady decline in heavy industry and manufacturing in this part of Lancashire. Although the line escaped the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, all passengers services were withdrawn in the mid 1970s. The curve, which had been a double-tracked, was reduced to a single line in the early 1990s. After it was nearly closed by Network Rail in the early 2000s, a concerted campaign was launched to improve services on the line.

In 2015 upgrade work began to reinstate the line for passenger services as part of a transport plan to provide rail links between south Liverpool and Liverpool John Lennon Airport with Vale Royal, Chester and North Wales. In October 2016, the government announced that services would run from Liverpool to Chester via the Halton Curve from December 2018, following completion of work in the curve in May 2018 as part of the 2017 upgrade to Liverpool Lime Street.[2][3]


A 1914 Railway Clearing House Junction Diagram showing (left) the Halton curve between Frodsham and Runcorn

The Halton Curve was built by the London and North Western Railway.[4][5] It created a connection with the line from Chester to Frodsham that was built by the Birkenhead Joint Railway partnership. The double-tracked branch was built to link the mineral industries of North East Wales with the commercial and industrial areas of south Lancashire. Passengers services would also run between Chester, Runcorn and Liverpool Lime Street. By the 1960s services using the line had greatly diminished. In the early 1970s, the track was nearly abandoned when the M56 motorway was built because the route cut through the line. However, a concrete and steel Bowstring arch truss bridge was built to keep the curve open.[a]

On 5 May 1975 the local passenger service was withdrawn from the line. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the line was used by a scheduled summer Saturdays-only return service between Liverpool Lime Street and Llandudno.[6] But this ended when the double track was reduced to a single line in 1994 following the privatisation of British Rail. At the same time, the associated double points and diamond crossings for southbound trains were removed from both junctions. Only northbound trains (Frodsham → Runcorn) were left able to use the line; it was re-classed as a single-line working.[7] Railtrack's decision was based on reducing maintenance costs and, by removing the crossings and points on the West Coast Mainline, increase through-train speeds between Liverpool Lime Street and Crewe.

To avoid the expense and inconvenience of a statutory closure process of the Halton Curve, an early morning Parliamentary train was run in the summer months every Saturday. Other services would include occasional freight, engineers trains and charter specials (that did not require going via Crewe). Occasionally traffic between Liverpool & Crewe would also be diverted via the Halton Curve when the main line via Winsford was closed for engineering work.[8] The Royal Train has used the branch line when the Queen has visited Liverpool.[9]

Network Rail took over the ownership and management of the curve in 2002. The maximum speed on the line was 40 mph (64 km/h). Traffic using the Frodsham Junction was limited to 20 mph (32 km/h). This same speed limit applied to trains rejoining the 90 mph (140 km/h) West Coast Mainline near Runcorn. Signalboxes at Frodsham and Runcorn continue to control the junctions at their respective ends of the curve.

Parliamentary train[edit]

The only timetabled service on the line was a summer-only parliamentary train: 07:53 Chester to Runcorn (2F80) operated by Northern Rail.[10] The service, which was non-stop between Chester and Runcorn, was only on certain Saturdays during the summer until September. It used a Class 150 or Class 156 two-carriage diesel multiple unit.

Location Time Remarks
Chester 07:53 Departed
Helsby 08:01 Did not call
Frodsham 08:05 Did not call
Frodsham Junction 08:06 Left Chester to Manchester Line
Halton Curve - Entered single-line working
Halton Junction 08:11 Joined the West Coast Mainline
Runcorn 08:14 Arrived

Due to the rarity of rail traffic using the Halton Curve, the parliamentary train became a popular service among local people and railway enthusiasts.[11][12][13][14]



In 2004, the Strategic Rail Authority announced that it intended to close the line because of proposals to upgrade signalling on the West Coast Main Line in the Runcorn area. The SRA thought that incorporating the curve into the scheme added a significant extra cost that was not justified given the line's scant service. Closure of the line was then proposed but these plans were later withdrawn. In response local authorities and other organisations began campaigning to upgrade the line. This resulted in a concerted effort by the North Cheshire Rail Users Group for the reintroduction of regular services.[15]

Merseytravel proposed upgrading the Halton Curve so it can be worked bidirectionally (which would need a new crossover at Halton Junction), providing a second rail route between Liverpool and Chester. Other new services could include direct trains from Liverpool Lime Street to Wrexham or Llandudno via Liverpool South Parkway and Runcorn, which would provide improved access to Liverpool Airport for passengers from Chester, Wrexham and the various towns along the North Wales coast.

In conjunction with the above proposal, Halton Borough Council began investigating the possibility of opening a station at Beechwood to provide a convenient interchange with Runcorn busway.


On 8 March 2005, the then Transport Minister Tony McNulty announced in Parliament that resignalling work that was currently scheduled for 2010 would resolve the Halton Curve issue.[16]

But in July 2012, the Conservative-Liberal coalition-led government said it was not including the Halton Curve in a £9.4 billion rail improvement scheme despite the scheme having "recognisable benefits".[17] Chemical manufacture Ineos ChlorVinyls said it was evaluating the possibility of using the Halton Curve for delivery of refuse-derived fuel to its Runcorn site; the proposal was part of a wider assessment being undertaken in support of a its plan to redevelop the site.[18]

Network Rail's draft Route Utilisation Strategy for Wales discussed the future of the line. It proposed an hourly service between Liverpool and Chester via Runcorn and Helsby calling at all stations except Edge Hill. However, the scheme was would only be feasible if the curve was restored to bidirectional operation.[19] The RUS document recommends that further development work take place.


In January 2014, MerseyTravel announced that it would fund research into the re-development of the Halton Curve, stating that there were benefits for Liverpool commuters and those using Liverpool John Lennon airport. The research project was to be done in conjunction with MerseyTravel, Halton Borough Council, the Welsh Government and six county authorities in North Wales.[20] Merseytravel recommends that the line should be referred to as the Mersey Dee Link to counter the perception that "the project benefits fall to Halton and Halton alone".[21]

In July 2014, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced £10.4m of funding to redevelop the line had been secured. The reopened route should improve connectivity between the Weaver Vale area and Liverpool John Lennon Airport as well as permitting through services between Liverpool and North Wales via Liverpool South Parkway.[22][23] In August 2014 Merseytravel presented the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy to regional city leaders. The 30-year plan for the network included possible uses for the curve such as connections to South Wales.[24][25]

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority approved the work in April 2016, utilising Government’s Local Growth Fund (LGF) funding £10.4 million, adding an additional £5.67 million from the city's LGF. Work is hoped to start in June 2017 and to be completed in May 2018. This should lead to an hourly service between Liverpool and Chester from December 2018 along the curve with some services extending into North Wales.[26][3]


  1. ^ In July 1970, fire crews from Runcorn and Frodsham cooled down the bridge with their hoses because summer heat had caused its superstructure to expand, preventing it from being lowered into place.
  1. ^ Merseyside Route Utilisation Strategy - March 2009
  2. ^ Hodgson, Neil (21 March 2016). "Merseyside train passengers will take the strain during £340m railway improvement work". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 27 March 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Maynard confirms Halton Curve will reopen at end of 2018". 
  4. ^ Yonge, Padgett & Szwenk 2013, map 26B
  5. ^ Engineers' Line Reference FJH via railwaycodes
  6. ^ GB National Rail Timetable 1988, 1992 & 1993 Editions, Table 81
  7. ^ Aerial view of line Wikimapia.org; Accessed 2008-12-18
  8. ^ Frodsham Jct via Wigan World
  9. ^ "Queen boosts rail bid". Crewe Chronicle. 16 April 2004. 
  10. ^ Timetable - Chester - Runcorn
  11. ^ "Frodsham & Helsby residents flock to see 'ghost train'". Chester Chronicle. 26 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Parliamentary Train". North Cheshire Rail Users Group. Retrieved 4 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "Halton Curve - Parliamentary Train". Frodsham Conservatives - Andrew Dawson's blog. 4 July 2015. 
  14. ^ "Ride the Halton Curve on 4 June! ….". Mid Cheshire Railway Lines. 22 May 2011. 
  15. ^ Halton Curve Campaign
  16. ^ I met my hon. Friend and my hon : 8 Mar 2005: House of Commons debates (TheyWorkForYou.com)
  17. ^ Clay, Oliver (19 July 2012). "Halton Curve Misses out on £9.4 billion Rail Splurge". Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News. Archived from the original on 17 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Clay, Oliver (26 July 2012). "Strange Bedfellows In Halton Curve Rail Line Push". Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News. Archived from the original on 12 December 2013. 
  19. ^ Wales Route Utilisation Strategy - Draft for Consultation Archived June 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "Plans for rail link to open up the region move a step closer" (Press release). Liverpool: Merseytravel. 17 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "Halton Curve Outline Design" (PDF). Merseytravel. Retrieved 31 March 2016. 
  22. ^ Clay, Oliver (3 July 2014). "Chancellor announces £10.4m to redevelop Halton Curve rail line". Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  23. ^ Barrett, Frances (3 July 2014). "Halton Curve to be reinstated with £10.4m upgrade". Chester Chronicle. 
  24. ^ Shennan, Paddy (28 August 2014). "Merseytravel plan to open or reopen host of new stations". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Cheshire Halton Curve rail could fully re-open in 2018". Rail Technology Magazine. 14 July 2015. 
  26. ^ "Halton curve gets the green light"RAIL Magazine article 27 April 2016
  • Yonge, John; Padgett, David; Szwenk, John (August 2013) [1990]. Bridge, Mike, ed. Railway Track Diagrams 4: Midlands & North West (3rd ed.). Bradford on Avon: Trackmaps. ISBN 978-0-9549866-7-4. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°19′N 2°42′W / 53.31°N 2.70°W / 53.31; -2.70