RAIL bosses are ‘keen to get cracking’ with the return of passenger trains to Middlewich.

That was the message from David Golding, business development director for London and the north west at Network Rail, at a meeting of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Transport Body (LTB) on Friday.

The board is supporting a Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) study to assess the potential for bringing passenger trains back to the Middlewich branch line, between Northwich and Sandbach.

“We are being encouraged to look at it and it’s time that we do,” said Mr Golding.

“We now have a process to go through, so we are very keen to engage with it and get cracking on it.”

The LEP’s study will consider the demand for passenger services and identify any constraints to running them – such as capacity, operating costs and the potential demand from Gadbrook Park and future developments.

Working in partnership with Network Rail, the LEP would then provide high level cost estimates and assess the scheme’s value for money.

“The secretary of state has asked the LEP to look at the possibility of reopening the Middlewich line to passenger services,” said Roy Newton, transport coordinator at the LEP.

“We need to look at what are the opportunities, who are the service partners, what are the constraints, and what are the value for money solutions both in terms of capital infrastructure and potential revenue support.”

Pete Waterman, chairman of the LTB, reminded the committee that Network Rail had looked at reopening the line in the past and had been unable to find a sponsor to run the service.

But Cllr Brian Clarke, LTB vice-chairman and cabinet member for economic development and infrastructure at Cheshire West and Chester Council, insisted that now is the right time to consider reopening the passenger line.

"Things have changed, especially with the Crewe hub,” he said.

“That’s a game-changer to all of us in the area. We need this.”

The reopening of the passenger line has also been written into the West and Wales Strategic Rail Prospectus unveiled in February, along with the opening of new stations in Middlewich and Gadbrook Park.

Cheshire East Council is set to identify a site for Middlewich’s railway station in its forthcoming Brooks Lane masterplan, which is due to be unveiled in mid-2018.