Tuesday, 28 July 2015


60009 Union of South Africa at Sandbach, 24th July 2015  Photo: Nigel Allcock (used with permission)

There have been several meetings of the MRLC Group in recent months.
At the meeting of 28th April discussion largely centred on Cheshire East Leader Michael Jones' plans to develop, along with London & Continental Railways, 'the Middlewich Rail Corridor' as part of plans for an HS2 hub station at Crewe. MRLC Group members felt that the Middlewich scheme should be considered on its own merits, whether or not the proposed High Speed Link was built.
The meeting on the 28th May was concerned chiefly with the future role of MRLC
given that Cheshire East and L & C R plan to develop the 'Middlewich Rail Corridor' with or without HS2. It was suggested that MRLC's  role would be mainly as a pressure group aimed at ensuring that a passenger service on the Middlewich line and a new station were included in any plans. It was felt that, in the continuing absence of any real news on HS2 and Cheshire East's intentions towards the Middlewich line, we should intensify our campaign to make sure that the Middlewich line remained firmly on everyone's agendas. To this end we intend to forge alliances with as many organisations as possible, including the Mid Cheshire Development Board (formerly Weaver Valley Project) the Heritage Railways Association and Saltscape. 
MRLC will also ensure that plans for the line are included in the Neighbourhood Plan which is currently being put together by the Town Council and which would, in turn, feed into Cheshire East's Local Plan. The Middlewich line has great potential for connecting communities across Cheshire with a North-South connection and we intend to make sure that this fact is fully understood by all concerned. Our campaign has always created a lot of interest locally and to ensure that this continues MRLC has placed a full page advert in Go Local,  the  magazine which reaches every house in the town.
We're very grateful to our parent organisation, the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association, which has funded this advertisement and to Bernice Walmsley of Go Local for her help and support..
At a meeting on the 30th June the MRLC Group decided that MRLC, which is a sub-committee of MCRUA (the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association) would be re-structured in order to become the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign Group.
In future a Campaign Update will be produced after every meeting and published here on the Group's website.
We intend to forge links with local companies who support our campaign, and ask them to make their support public.
MRLC welcomes the fact that Cllr Simon McGrory recently put forward a motion to Middlewich Town Council asking that it affirm its support for the Campaign and ask Cheshire East to establish the re-opening of the station as an agenda item for the next meeting of the CWLTB (Cheshire & Warrington Local Transport Board). The motion was seconded by Cllr Mike Hunter and unanimously accepted by the council.
In future MRLC Meetings will be held every two months on the last Tuesday of the month.
Thus the next few meetings will be held on: September 29th, November 24th, January 26th 2016 and March 29th 2016.
On the 22nd July an informal meeting was held to discuss the steam tests which no 60009 Union of South Africa was running on the Crewe-Sandbach section of our route. It was originally planned that the loco would run up the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich line as part of these tests but news reached us during the meeting that the plans had been changed and, in the event, the loco only travelled as far as Sandbach, where it ran round and went back to Crewe. Then fact that 60009 didn't travel up our line proved irrelevant, as many of the 50-60 people at Sandbach on both days had picked up the information from Friends of Sandbach Station who had, in turn, got the information from our website. We were thus able to generate some useful publicity and create new links with various people from the Sandbach area, including FOSS.
Steam dreams....Union of South Africa  at Platform 3, Sandbach Station 23rd July 2015.  Photo: Alan Rivers (used with permission)

Several Virgin Euston-Holyhead services are being diverted over the Middlewich line this weekend (1st/2nd August) and MRLC Members are looking forward to seeing the line put to passenger carrying use once again.

'....not suitable for passenger trains....?' Two Virgin Voyagers pass in the Middlewich loop, May 2014.
Photo: Greg Mapes. From the North Wales Coast Railway Noticeboard website

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


'Union Of South Africa'     Photo: Peter Herring (from his book Classic British Steam Locomotives, Abbeydale Press 2004
by Dave Roberts

A distinguished visitor is due to call at Sandbach railway station  on July 23rd and 24th 2015 in the shape of Union Of South Africa, an A4 Pacific express passenger loco built by the LNER in 1937.
All the A4s, which hauled prestigious express trains on the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, were originally going to be named after birds - the most famous of them being the record breaking Mallard - but it was decided that five of them should instead be named after Dominions of the British Empire, so 60009 was given the name she still bears today instead of the intended Osprey.* Her original LNER number was 4488.

In 1963 'no 9' hauled the final scheduled steam-hauled service out of King's Cross and then became the last steam loco overhauled at Doncaster - Peter Herring

*Paul Hurley says that no. 60009 did carry the name Osprey when the South African regime was out of favour during the apartheid era. This would make her unique in being given her  original intended name without her having carried  it at the start of her life - if you see what I mean!

I have fond personal memories of Union Of South Africa and her class mates because in the late 1950s and early 1960s I would spend childhood holidays in Welwyn Garden City and enjoy many hours watching them haul fast trains from London to Edinburgh. As time wore on they were gradually replaced by the equally famous 'Deltic' diesels. I remember seeing the prototype Deltic looking magnificent in blue and white, on the West Coast Main Line when I was on my way to school at Wimboldsley in the early 1960s.

The Deltic prototype at York
Photo: David Heys collection
Number 60009 is making test runs from Crewe Heritage Sidings to Sandbach this Thursday and Friday under the auspices of Network Rail and the West Coast Rail Company.
In the nature of these things the planned itinerary has changed several times since the runs were first planned.
 Originally the engine was going to run up the WCML from Crewe to Winsford but the route was then altered to Crewe-Sandbach-Middlewich and Northwich.
Unfortunately, at the last minute, the branch line part of the itinerary was dropped and the loco will now run only to Sandbach station.
It will, however, be pulling into platform 3 at Sandbach which will, when our branch line re-opens to passengers, be the platform for trains to Manchester via Middlewich.
There is a remote possibility that things may change again, leading to the branch line trip being re-instated but this is considered 'very unlikely'.

Network Rail forbids the publication of its special notices giving timings for these special runs, but we can tell you that rough timings for both days are:


and return


and return

Full timings can also be found on the Realtime Trains site.
Train nos are 5Z60, 5Z69, 5Z80 and 5Z89

Many thanks to Marc Holmes for this information.

We hope railway lovers will be out in force at Sandbach to witness this rare steam working, and would welcome any photos and videos for possible publication on the Middlewich Station website and/or the Middlewich Diary. Full acknowledgments given.