Saturday 23 March 2019


By Dave Roberts

Photo: Robert  Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A Middlewich rail enthusiast's dream as the first steam train for forty years passes through the town on the 4th May 2008.
The Cheshire Gardens Express was run under the auspices of the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign's parent organisation, the Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association (MCRUA), and carried passengers, including many civic dignitaries such as the Mayors of the then Boroughs of Congleton* and Vale Royal, on a trip to Altrincham. From there it formed a  shuttle service, running backwards and forwards throughout the day between Altrincham and Chester.
The train started from Crewe and travelled down the Manchester line to its first stop at Sandbach, where it pulled into the refurbished Platform 3 (the platform that trains on the revived Crewe-Northwich service will use) to pick up more passengers.
The train then diverged from the Manchester line at Sandbach North Junction, just a few yards east of the station, onto the Middlewich branch line and made its way to Middlewich, where, as all Northwich-bound trains do, it entered the Middlewich Loop at the Holmes Chapel Road Bridge (aka Station Bridge) and regained the single line just beyond the King Street bridge.
At Northwich it took the eastern curve of the Northwich triangle and travelled along the Manchester line to Altrincham, where the engine was detached and ran to Manchester to take on water for the shuttle service between Altrincham and Chester. In the evening the train returned to Crewe, again via the Middlewich line.
The engine used was Ian Riley's Stanier 'Black Five' no 45407 Lancashire Fusilier. 
A fabulous day out for all concerned which not only celebrated the return of steam to Middlewich, but also the varied and beautiful gardens to be found all over this green and pleasant part of the country.
I was on the train for the first leg of the journey from Crewe to Altrincham and it was quite touching to see the amount of interest the sight of a steam train running through Middlewich after all those years created. Doting parents and grandparents stood at the trackside with little children, all waving and smiling as we passed.. At times it was just like a scene from The Titfield Thunderbolt.

* The Mayor of Congleton Borough at this time was Cllr Mike Parsons.
Photo: Robert Avery/Middlewich Rail Link Campaign

A trip through Middlewich by train is always a worthwhile and fascinating experience and much easier to arrange than might be thought. The line is becoming increasingly popular with railtour organisers, and there's also the possibility of getting aboard a diverted Virgin Holyhead service when engineering work on the Chester line is in progress at weekends.
It's a good chance to see a completely different view of the town. One which, we all hope, will become quite commonplace before too long.
The first picture  shows The Cheshire Gardens Express negotiating the Middlewich Loop and approaching the King Street bridge. The second photograph shows it on the Northwich side of the bridge and  about to exit the loop and take the single line to Northwich.

Mid-Cheshire Rail Users' Association
                   WHERE AND WHAT IS SNJ?

First published 17th September 2011
Amended and re-published 23rd March 2019

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