Middlewich railway station served the Cheshire, England, salt-producing town of Middlewich between 1868 and 1960. It lay on a branch line from Sandbach to Northwich. The Mid Cheshire Rail Users' Association is campaigning for the reopening of the line to passenger traffic, and the construction of a new station at Middlewich.
Construction and opening
The branch line and Middlewich station were built by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) during 1867-1868. The railway line was completed in November 1867 and was initially used by goods trains. The station was completed later and was opened for passenger use on 1 July 1868.
The basic train service for passengers was from Crewe via Sandbach to Middlewich and Northwich. Some trains reversed at Northwich and then continued to Hartford and Greenbank and then along a short stretch of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to Acton Bridge.
The July 1922 LNWR branch line service comprised nine Crewe to Northwich trains, of which five continued to Acton Bridge. There was an additional morning train from and to Crewe that reversed at Middlewich.
In 1885, the LNWR initiated a through carriage on weekdays from Manchester Oxford Road via Northwich to Middlewich and on to London Euston. The July 1922 railway timetable shows this departing Manchester at 1030am and picking passengers up at major stations to Northwich, calling at Middlewich at 1130am. The carriage reached Crewe at 1150am, where the steam loco detached and the carriage was attached to a Liverpool to Euston express, reaching the capital at 3.10pm. The northbound service left Euston at 2.30pm, reaching Middlewich at 6.10pm. The service to Euston had ceased by World War Two.
The branch line was operated by the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR) after the railway grouping of 1 January 1923. By August 1946, the local passenger service had been reduced to six trains each way between Crewe, Middlewich and Northwich, each offering only third class accommodation. The LMSR was nationalised by British Railways on 1 January 1948 and the branch was thereafter operated by the London Midland Region
Nearby railway halts
As the branch was 9 miles (14.5 km) in length, with just one main station at Middlewich, the LNWR decided to construct two railway halts to improve facilities for passengers in the locality. Cledford Bridge Halt was located between Sandbach and Middlewich and opened in January 1911. Billinge Green Halt was located between Middlewich and Northwich and opened during 1915. Both halts were closed by the LMSR on 2 March 1942.
The branch line from Sandbach through Middlewich to Northwich was primarily built to serve the industries lying near the railway. The most important in tonnage terms were the Cheshire salt mines which provided the line with much revenue up to recent times, when the traffic switched to road haulage. The related chemical factories also raised revenue for the railway companies. Short railway sidings were laid from the branch line to serve the bigger salt and chemical establishments. A goods depot was provided at Middlewich for the receipt and despatch of freight wagons and there was a parcels office for public use. The Middlewich branch continues to be used by freight trains and for occasional train diversions.
Middlewich station shared in the common experience of a drastic reduction of services during the war and for years after. By January 1956, the passenger service offered just four third-class only trains each way on weekdays, and none on Sundays. Unlike many other lines services were not increased after 1956. The station became victim of the pre-Beeching British Railways closure programme, with regular passenger trains ceasing to use the branch on 4 January 1960. The station buildings were subsequently demolished. The nearest railway station is now Winsford 2.3 miles (3.7 km) away on the WCML.
The Line Today
Freight services regularly use the line through Middlewich to get from the West Coast Main Line at Sandbach (and nearby Crewe) to the Mid-Cheshire line at Northwich. The Crewe and Chester Line is known to flood during severe weather. When this happens, or during engineering work, the line is closed and someVirgin Trains services from London to Chester and North Wales are diverted through Middlewich instead (Arriva Trains Wales services are replaced by buses and do not use the line). As the section where Middlewich railway station used to be remains dual-track on the otherwise single-track line, diverted Virgin Trains services are timed for one service to wait at the station's location while another passes or may instead run via Warrington. Due to the line's low speed, travelling from Crewe to Chester via Middlewich takes approximately 1 hour compared to 20 minutes using the Crewe and Chester Line.
As the Crewe and Chester Line is currently Tier 2 priority for being electrified in the CP6 period (2019-2024), it would be likely that Virgin Trains would introduce electric trains to Chester or further to North Wales if the North Wales Coast Line was also electrified. As part of this, electrifying the Northwich to Sandbach line has been mentioned to allow for the aforementioned diversions to take place without needing diesel locomotives to drag the electric units.
The Mid Cheshire Rail Users' Association is presently campaigning for the reintroduction of passenger services on the Sandbach - Northwich line and the construction of a new station at Middlewich, though not necessarily in the same location as the original.