The Anonymous Widower

Tram-Trains To Hale Station

In Manchester Metrolink Extensions In A Sentence, I quoted this sentence from the Manchester Evening News.

It includes tram extensions to Port Salford, Middleton and Stalybridge, plus ‘tram trains’ to Hale, Warrington, Gorton and Glossop.

How would tram-trains from Hale join the current Metrolink network?

Hale Station

Hale station, is located in a busy and important village, in the middle of Cheshire’s footballer suburb, if you believe the tabloids.

The station has some problems.

  • The station needs a refurbishment.
  • The station needs step-free access.
  • The level crossing needs removing.

But the biggest problem is that there is only an hourly service serving the station, that runs between Manchester Piccadilly and Chester stations. To make matters worse the train is only two cars. My train was a Pacer, as the pictures show.

Onward To Knutsford, Northwich, Middlewich and Sandbach

In Business Case Requested For Middlewich Reopening, I looked at the opening of Middlewich station on the Northwich to Sandbach Line, which is just a dozen miles to the West of Hale station.

I’m certain in other parts of the UK, like East London, Nottingham and East Lancashire, that the provision of a train service between Middlewich and Manchester would be heavily patronised.

Or is it that the people in Cheshire too posh to use trains?

The Wikipedia entry for Middlewich station, says this about the initial service, when the station opened. in 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.

If the Northwich and Sandbach Line is ever reopened, surely one possibility for a train service is between Crewe and Manchester via Sandbach, Middlewich, Northwich, Hale and Altrincham.

  • Such a service would allow passengers between Althincham and Sandbach to have a handy connection to Crewe with its famed connectivity.
  • It would be a very useful commuter service to and from Manchester.
  • If it had a frequency of two trains per hour (tph) it would give a substantial increase to train services between Northwich and Altrincham.
  • It could possibly ease the overcrowding on the Styal Line.

By 2030, it would even provide a link to High Speed Two at Crewe, in addition to the connection in Manchester.

The Class 399 Train-Train

The Class 399 tram-train is a cross between a tram and a train.

  • They are members of the Stadler Citylink family of tram-trains.
  • In the UK, they are already running successfully between the centre of Sheffield and Rotherham Parkgate Shopping Centre.
  • In Sheffield, they work as trams and drivers have told me, they are powerful trams, that cope with Sheffield’s hills extremely well.
  • The tram-trains have step-free access between tram-train and platform.
  • On the National Rail lines to Rotherham, they cruise happily at 100 kph, which is almost as fast as a Class 156 train.
  • They can run on both 25 KVAC and 750 VDC overhead electrification.
  • Trains for Wales have ordered thirty six similar Class 398 tram-trains, that can run on battery power, where electrification has not been erected.

This is one of Sheffield’s Class 399 tram-trains at Rotherham Parkgate.

Note the step-free access.

They are a very versatile tram or train, depending on where they are running.

I would suspect the following will happen in the next few years.

  • Sheffield are planning to replace their ageing tram fleet and they will look seriously at more Class 399 tram-trains, as they perform well as trams and the region needs more tram-trains.
  • Manchester have stated that they are looking seriously at tram-trains and Class 399 tram-trains will surely be considered.
  • Other tram networks are looking at tram-trains and they won’t ignore the Class 399 tram-train.

I feel we can expect to see more of these tram-trains in the UK.

Manchester Metrolink Needs More Trams

Manchester Metrolink will need more trams in the next few years and I wouldn’t be surprised that the new ones have a tram-train capability.

Testing Tram-Trains On The Manchester Metrolink

On the Sheffield Supertram, the new tram-trains were first tested as trams on the existing network.

This approach could be taken on the Manchester Metrolink, to both full test the tram-trains and train the staff.

Improving Navigation Road

Navigation Road station has two platforms, one of which is used for the Metrolink and the other for National Rail.

The station could be configured, so that the Western platform would be for Northbound services and the Eastern platform would be for all Southbound services.

There would be two pairs of tracks leading away from the Northern end of the station; one pair for Metrolink services and the other for National Rail services.

The current two pairs of tracks South of Navigation Road station would be used as follows.

  • The Western pair would be for any Metrolink tram services terminating in Altrincham station.
  • The Eastern pair would be for National Rail services and Metrolink tram-train services going beyond Altrincham station.

Tram-trains running past Altrincham station, would either need the tracks to be electrified or the tram-trains to be fitted with batteries.

Possible Tram-Train Routes To Hale

These are possible routes.

A Metrolink Extension From Altrincham

This is the simplest option, where tram-trains would replace some or all of the service on the Atrincham and Bury and Altrincham and Piccadilly Metrolink services.

The tram-trains would use new electrification or onboard batteries South of Navigation Road.

A Northward Extension From Manchester Victoria Station

In Could A Class 399 Tram-Train With Batteries Go Between Manchester Victoria And Rochdale/Bury Bolton Street/Rawtenstall Stations?, I looked at the possibilities of a Northward extension of the Metrolink,  using tram-trains, that had been suggested by an article in the February 2019 Edition of Modern Railways.

I have included it here, as it would be a good destination for a cross-city tram-train service, that started at Hale.

A Southward Extension From Altrincham To Middlewich

If the Sandbach and Northwich Line were to be reopened to traffic with a station at Middlewich, this would be a possible Southern terminus for the route.

The distance would probably be too far for battery operation, so there would be a need to electrify the extension using either 25 KVAC main line or 750 VDC tramway electrification.

As the route has been used by Virgin’s Euston and Chester services as a diversion route, and the Crewe and Chester Line has a high priority for electrification, there is a chance that lines in the area will be electrified.

This could mean the tram-trains could easily run from Altrincham as far as Crewe, as the route could be fully electrified.

Tram-Train Between Manchester Piccadilly and Hale Via Stockport

On the route between Manchester Piccadilly and Hale station via Stockport, there are only two stations between Stockport and Hale station; Navigation Road and Altrincham.

Would it be feasible or worthwhile to convert this route into tram-train operation by perhaps adding 750 VDC overhead electrification?

  • There is typically one or two freight trains and one Chester and Manchester Piccadilly service in each direction in every hour, so two tram-trains per hour in each direction should be possible.
  • Stops could be added at convenient places.
  • Between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly stations, the existing 25 KVAC electrification would be used.

It would not be the largest project.

The Refurbishment Of Hale Station

Hale station needs a refurbishment and a step-free bridge.

In Winner Announced In The Network Rail Footbridge Design Ideas Competition, I wrote how the competition was won by this bridge.

So could a factory-built bridge like this be installed at Hale station?

This Google Map shows Hale station.

I think a new bridge could be installed at the Northern end of the station, if it were to be decided that the current one couldn’t be fitted with lifts.

The Electrification And Bi-Mode Alternative

As I said earlier the Crewe and Chester Line could be electrified, which would enable electric trains to run between London and Chester.

However, since the award of the West Coast Partnership to First Trenitalia, I now think it is unlikely the Crewe and Chester Line will be electrified in the near future, as new bi-mode trains will be ordered for North Wales services.

But I don’t reject the notion, that Northern will run bi-mode Class 769 trains between Manchester Piccadilly and Chester.

These trains could use the electrification between Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly stations.


These are my conclusions.

  • Tram-trains can deliver a capacity improvement through Navigation Road station.
  • Tram-trains could be extensively tested on the existing Manchester Metrolink network.
  • Tram-trains could be used to build a simple extension to Hale station from Altrincham.
  • The Manchester and Chester service via Stockport, Navigation Road and Altrincham stations could be run by tram-trains.

A comprehensive network of tram-trains could be developed between, through and beyond Altrincham, Crewe and Chester.




August 15, 2019 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , , , , ,


  1. I live in Stockport – which doesn’t have trams, despite being promised on several occasions. I regularly visit Hale Barns and Altrincham. I never go anywhere near Navigation Road unless I go to the big Aldi in that part of Altrincham, when I pass it. Hale Barns is not as close to Hale as you might think. When I use the trams I have to go to the big Park and Ride stop at East Didsbury; this means the journey to Altrincham or Hale would be quite a lot longer than just jumping on the M56 for a couple of junctions and down Hale Road into Atrincham. Stockport needs a decent tram service, at present it doesn’t have one at all.

    Footballers and other celebrities tend to live in Hale Barns, Bowdon and Alderley Edge, some live in Hale though. But would they choose to use the trams if they risk being mobbed by people? Certainly the most famous of them often drive into Manchester, park illegally outside the shop they are going into, and pay the fine because they can afford it. Some shop at Trafford Centre, in the first hour of business in the morning, when it is quiet, or the end of business for the day, around 9.00 pm. Although I have also seen them when the place is very full and heaving with people, because no-one is looking at anyone else.

    Comment by nosnikrapzil | August 15, 2019 | Reply

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to see tram stops appear on the rail line between Stockport and Navigation Road. As I went through there on Monday, there appeared to be several brownfield sites that could support a lot of housing. It has about four trains per hour. The only passenger service is an hourly one between Piccadilly and Chester via Stockport. Adding passenger services might take pressure of the Styal Line and allow opening up of services to Middlewich.

      Comment by AnonW | August 15, 2019 | Reply

  2. How to electrify to Hale.

    There are gantries across all four tracks from where the lines widen from two to four tracks at Navigation Road until just north of Altrincham Station. There is a cross over from Metrolink to Network Rail 200m north of Altrincham Station.

    The Network Rail is not electrified, but extending the 750 DC OLE to Hale and Hale Barns would be relatively cheap and simple (no bridge clearance issues like at 25kV AC).

    Hale and Hale Barns are both in Greater Manchester and integral in its conurbation. IMO there is probably enough custom and political clout (people there vote for GM Mayor) to justify extending the trams a couple of stops. The existing ten trams per hour service is well travelled and has exceeded projected passenger numbers pretty much from day one (back in 1992).

    Sadly beyond that is Cheshire. Settlements are smaller and sparse, the existing service is one small train per hour and the Unitary councils are generally against expenditure on public transport.

    One small caveat is that these light rail vehicles would be sharing the line with heavy freight, currently they are segregated.

    Comment by R. Mark Clayton | August 15, 2019 | Reply

    • They could wire it at 750 VDC, but at Rotherham, I think they put up heavy gantries and are running 750 VDC wires. It will be easier to update to 25 KVAC.
      Cheshire’s councils are driving the reopening of Middlewich station and the Government gave them money to do a full study.
      There also seems to be opposition to HS2 in Cheshire, so why not give the county good connectivity to Crewe to pick it up? It’s a classic political tactic. Or a bribe!
      Don’t worry about the crashwothiness of the tram-trains! They have been designed for Karlsruhe in Germany, which is one of Europe’s big freight crossroads.

      Comment by AnonW | August 15, 2019 | Reply

  3. […] extensions to the Manchester Metrolink will be fairly easy and not very costly to build. In Tram-Trains To Hale Station, I talked about a simple extension to Hale station, that could go a lot further to perhaps […]

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  4. […] Tram-Trains To Hale Station, I talked about the possibilities of using a variant of Class 399 tram-trains, similar to those […]

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