Shrewsbury–Chester line

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Shrewsbury–Chester line
Type Heavy Rail
System National Rail
Locale Shropshire
West Midlands
Wrexham county borough
Shrewsbury and Atcham
North West England
Termini Shrewsbury
Stations Gobowen, Chirk, Ruabon and Wrexham General
Opened 1846
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Arriva Trains Wales, Virgin Trains
Character Main line, Commuter Rail, Freight
Rolling stock Class 150 Sprinter, Class 153 Super Sprinter, Class 158 Express Sprinter, Class 175 Coradia, Class 221 Super Voyager
Line length 84.38 miles (135.80 km)
Number of tracks Double track between Shrewsbury and Wrexham, Single track between Wrexham and Chester (currently being upgraded to double track).
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Operating speed 50 mph (80 km/h),
70 mph (110 km/h),
(Formerly 90 mph or 140 km/h).
Chester line
Mid-Cheshire line
to Northwich
North Wales Coast Line
to Crewe
Chester–Manchester line
to Warrington Bank Quay
Chester Merseyrail
Wirral line
to Liverpool Central
Roodee Viaduct
over River Dee
Saltney Junction
North Wales Coast Line
to Holyhead
to Brymbo Steelworks
Wheatsheaf Junction
Rhosrobin Halt
Borderlands line
to Bidston
Wrexham General
Borderlands line
to Wrexham Central
to Croes Newydd Yard
Rhos Junction
Rhos Branch
closed 1855
Johnstown and Hafod
Wynnville Halt
Ponciau Branch
Garden Lodge Junction
Llangollen Junction
Ruabon–Barmouth line
to Barmouth
Rhosymedre Halt
Whitehurst Halt
Kronospan Chirk
Trehowell Halt
Weston Rhyn
future link to Cambrian Heritage Railways
former Cambrian Rlys to Oswestry
Whittington Low Level
Rednal and West Felton
Haughton Halt
Stanwardine Halt
Oldwoods Halt
Welsh Marches line
to Crewe
River Severn
Shrewsbury line
Cambrian Line
to Aberystwyth & Pwllheli
Welsh Marches line
to Hereford

The Shrewsbury–Chester line, also known as the Severn–Dee Mainline (after the rivers on which Shrewsbury and Chester stand), was built in 1846 as the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway. The engineer for the line was Henry Robertson, a partner in locomotive builders Beyer Peacock,[1] while the contractor was Thomas Brassey in partnership with William Mackenzie and Robert Stephenson.[2]

The line runs from Shrewsbury in England to Chester, also in England. Of the remaining intermediate stations, Gobowen is in England but the rest are in Wales. Campaigns for both the re-opening of Baschurch Station and Lache Station (near the site of the old Saltney Station) are now under way.[3]

The line has recently been upgraded by reinstating a double track between Wrexham and Chester[4] and improving certain sections of line to allow trains to run at 90 mph.[5][6]



The North Wales Mineral Railway, connecting Chester via Wrexham to Ruabon, had been constructed from 1844 to take advantage of mineral rights. However, realising that it offered connection opportunities between the Port of Liverpool and the industrialised Midlands, the railway applied to extend to Shrewsbury. This was refused by Parliament.

Forming an independent group of similar investors, a Private Act of Parliament authorising the construction of the Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Chester Junction Railway passed in 1845. Initially the proposal was to build a completely new line from a junction south east of Chester, it would cross the River Dee near Farndon completely by-passing the North Wales Mineral Railway between Wrexham and Chester. The route would then go through Overton-on-Dee across the Dee again near Chirk before reaching Oswestry and then heading to Shrewsbury. However, in July 1846, the North Wales Mineral Railway merged with the Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Chester Junction Railway to form the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway.[7]

The formation of the new company immediately led to a revision of the plans. Construction of a new line and junction south east from Chester was abandoned. The new company would only need to build a 30 mi (48 km) line between Shrewsbury and the North Wales Mineral line at Wrexham. Likewise when construction was completed by 1848, the final route also bypassed Oswestry (one of the scheme's original destinations). Instead the town would be served by a branch line between a halt in the town and Gobowen.

On 24 May 1847, five passengers were killed and many were injured in the Dee Bridge disaster. A Chester to Ruabon train fell 11 m (36 ft) into the River Dee, following the collapse of the Dee Railway bridge on the outskirts of Chester. A girder, which had cracked in the middle, gave way as the train crossed. The engine and tender managed to reach the other side of the bridge but the carriages crashed into the river.[8][page needed] The bridge was engineered by Robert Stephenson despite warnings from civil engineer, William Fairbairn. He had warned Stephenson about the problems using cast iron girders only a few months before construction of the bridge at a meeting at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, but his advice was ignored. A Royal Commission following this accident led to a re-evaluation of the use of cast-iron in railway bridges. Many new bridges had to be reinforced or rebuilt.

Mergers and rationalisation[edit]

In 1849 the larger London and North Western Railway began aggressively trying to take business from the line in order to put it into bankruptcy. By 1854, the pressure forced the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway to agree to becoming part of the Great Western Railway. The route would become part of the GWR's main line from London Paddington to Birkenhead Woodside.[9]

In 1948, following nationalisation of UK's rail system, the former GWR Shrewsbury–Chester line became part of the Western Region of British Rail. It was later transferred to BR's London Midland Region in 1963.

In the 1960s many of the passenger stations serving smaller communities along the line were closed. The track between Wrexham and Saltney Junction was also reduced from a double to a single line in 1983. There was a large reduction in freight traffic on the route as a result of the mineral industries around Wrexham closing in stages beginning with the Wrexham and Minera Railway in 1952 and then the Wrexham, Mold and Connah's Quay Railway in 1954 and the last section through Croes Newydd closed in 1982.

Current operations[edit]


In December 2005, Arriva Trains Wales introduced a new timetable to the line, providing an hourly service between Shrewsbury and Chester, Monday to Saturday, from early morning until around midnight (involving eight additional trains serving Gobowen). This improved service includes a through train every two hours between Holyhead and Cardiff throughout most of the day. The line has seen passenger numbers double during 2003–2004 and increase by 30% since 1999.[citation needed]

On 28 April 2008, Wrexham & Shropshire began providing services along the section of line between Wrexham General and Shrewsbury, continuing via Wolverhampton to London Marylebone. The service ceased on 28 January 2011, due in part to restrictions imposed on W&S to protect the commercial interests of Virgin Trains' operations on the West Coast Main Line.[10]

Passenger services[edit]

Passenger trains along the line are operated by Arriva Trains Wales and Virgin Trains, who operate one train per day on weekdays each way between Wrexham General and London Euston, via Chester.

At Chester, there are connections towards Crewe and Holyhead (on the North Wales Coast Line), towards Manchester Piccadilly via Warrington Bank Quay (on the Chester to Manchester Line), towards Manchester Piccadilly via Northwich (on the Mid-Cheshire Line) and towards Liverpool Lime Street (on Merseyrail's Wirral line).

At Wrexham, there are connections towards Liverpool Lime Street (change at Bidston) via The Borderlands line and London via the West Coast Main Line. Wrexham General also acts as a terminus for many services travelling part of the line.

At Shrewsbury, connections are provided towards Carmarthen via Hereford and Cardiff Central and Manchester via Crewe (via the Welsh Marches line), towards Aberystwyth and Pwllheli (on the Cambrian line), towards Swansea (via the Heart of Wales line) and towards Birmingham New Street.

Freight services[edit]

Freight along the line is half transitory and half generated on the line. Padeswood Hall Cement works at Penyfford does not send any of its finished product out by rail, but it does source its coal via Railfreight, mostly just once a week. Most often these trains are from Scotland and they run-round in Croes Newydd Loop south of Wrexham General station.[citation needed]

DB Schenker haul two trainloads of Steel Coil per day from either Llanwern or Port Talbot Steelworks to Shotton steelworks on Deeside. The return empties are twice daily too.[citation needed]

Kronospan's board factory at Chirk has inward flows of timber from Carlisle, Baglan Bay, Teignbridge and Ribblehead. Some of the traffic, especially from Ribblehead is seasonal and sporadic. All inbound flows must enter the works heading south and those leaving must head south too. This is because there is no cross over or run-round facility in the works sidings.[11][12]

Community rail[edit]

The line is designated as a community rail partnership.[13]

Wrexham to Chester service improvements[edit]

In March 2012 the Welsh Assembly announced that sections of the line would be part of a £46-million improvement scheme. This included redoubling the track between Wrexham and Chester[14] and upgrading certain sections of line to allow trains to run at 90 mph. Work started on this project in June 2014 and was scheduled for completion in Spring 2015,[15] but it was delayed until April 2017 by Network Rail due to the need for signalling cables to be replaced in addition to the track, signal and level crossing upgrades already installed.[16][17]

It is hoped this will create increased traffic between Wrexham and Chester and encourage new regular services to London and other new destinations. For example, the line could carry an extended hourly Hull to Manchester Piccadilly TransPennine Express service because it could reach Wrexham via Chester. This would provide a direct passenger service to Manchester, Leeds and Hull. Other suggestions include extending the current hourly Chester – Crewe shuttle service south to Wrexham and north to Manchester (via Manchester Airport).[18]

Future developments[edit]

The Chester to Shrewsbury Rail Partnership aims to promote travel along the line and to seek improvements to services and facilities. It is a member of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP).[19] In 2006, the Chester to Shrewsbury Rail Partnership commissioned the Scott Wilson Report to assess the feasibility of certain enhancements to the service.[20] These include the re-opening of stations at Rossett and Johnstown & Hafod and the opening of a new station at Lache.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hills, R. L.; Patrick, D. (1982). Beyer, Peacock, locomotive builders to the world. Glossop: Transport Publishing Co. ISBN 0-903839-41-5.
  2. ^ Helps, Arthur The Life and Works of Mr Brassey, 1872 republished Nonsuch, 2006. p. 107 ISBN 1-84588-011-0
  3. ^ "Baschurch Station". Baschurch Station Group. Retrieved 24 December 2009. 
  4. ^ Network Rail Wrexham-Chester Redoubling 
  5. ^ "Work on delayed rail upgrade between Wrexham and Chester to resume in March 2017" The Leader; Retrieved 13 January 2017
  6. ^ "Wrexham to Chester railway line upgrade finally complete after major delays". North Wales Daily Post. 5 April 2017. Retrieved 14 April 2017. 
  7. ^ Hendry, R. Preston; Hendry, R. Powell (1992). Paddington to the Mersey. Oxford Publishing Company. p. 8. ISBN 9780860934424. OCLC 877729237. 
  8. ^ Baughan, Peter E. (1980). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. 11: North and Mid Wales. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-7850-3. OCLC 906364902. 
  9. ^ "Time-line of the Early Railways in and around Shropshire". Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  10. ^ "You can get off at Wolverhampton but you can't get on: How crazy rules killed Britain's last great railway". Daily Mail. 29 January 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Bridge, Mike (2013). Railway Track Diagrams. Bradford On Avon: Trackmaps. pp. 22C. ISBN 978-0-9549866-7-4. 
  12. ^ Rawlinson, Mark (2015). Freightmaster 79. Swindon: Freightmaster Publishing. pp. 75, 80. 
  13. ^ "ACORP Summary map" (PDF). Association of Community Rail Partnerships. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Network Rail Wrexham-Chester Redoubling 
  15. ^ "Work begins on £44m Wrexham to Chester railway upgrade". 
  16. ^ "Work on delayed rail upgrade between Wrexham and Chester to resume in March 2017" The Leader; Retrieved 13 January 2017
  17. ^ "Wrexham to Chester railway line upgrade finally complete after major delays". North Wales Daily Post. 5 April 2017. Retrieved 14 April 2017. 
  18. ^ "£46 million worth of improvements for Wrexham railway". North Wales Daily Post. 20 March 2012. 
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links[edit]