Wednesday 11 February 2015

Near the Knuckle [3]

Chase Line by Choice
The "Chase" line (derived from Cannock Chase) is a name given to he present route between Walsall and Rugeley. Back in the late 50s and early 60s the service was sporadic with most daytime trains running through from Birmingham New Street (note "R" as above) and some continuing to Stafford and Stoke. The line closed in 1965 leaving a local service from New Street to Walsall.

Some rail watchers were surprised when it was announced that the Walsall line was to be electrified as part of the West Midlands "loop", completed in 1966. Amidst the huge numbers of Beeching-inspired closures of the previous years this seemed brave and visionary.

Despite the installation of electric string, the station at Walsall remained in its historic but rather tatty glory.
Observant readers will spot an AM4 (class 304 for you up-to-date keenies) unit approaching/leaving the platforms upper right on the above snap. The station even had once-opulent wood panelling in the booking hall.
In the 1970s this was swept away to make room for a retail store.
The station is now much more "utilitarian" in style. Shame.
In April 1989 the "Chase" line was re-opened between Walsall and Hednesford; extended to Rugeley Town in June 1997 and just under a year later to Rugeley Trent Valley and along the West Coast Main Line to Stafford. Ten years later services were cut back to Rugeley Trent Valley. Below is a map of the complete line.
When the electrified service started in 1966 trains ran at a spectacular 30 minute frequency between New Street and Walsall, one all stops via Aston and the other direct via Soho to join the stopping service at Hamstead.

The current service runs every 15 minutes ...
... with one train an hour running on to Rugeley. Connections at Rugeley are bearable for travel on to Stafford but passengers looking to ride south to London might well be better off travelling via New Street.
A wait of 55 minutes at Rugeley followed by London Midand's one hour 45 minutes to Euston is not slick.

A number of new or relocated stations formed part of the new-look Chase line. Bloxwich, for example ...
... was moved further north to a location at Croxdene  Avenue.
There is, however, some local feeling that a move back to the original centre location would be better.
After a protracted delay, work is due to start on electrifying from Walsall to Rugeley which will allow an increase in line speed from a pedestrian (not the best word!) 45 mph to 70 mph. This will bring improved journey times and an increase of frequency. Oddly the local MP is not happy with all that nasty electricity and ludicrously fast trains.
Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, recently met with the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport to discuss limiting the speed at which trains will be able to travel through the villages of Great Wyrley and Cheslyn Hay. Gavin sought confirmation from Mr. Stephen Hammond MP that trains travelling through these built up areas would not exceed a speed of 45mph, following the electrification of the Chase Line later this year.

The Under Secretary of State for Transport, Mr, Stephen Hammond MP, told Gavin that Department officials would investigate the issue and look into what could be done to address these concerns. Gavin said: “While I believe the electrification of the Chase Line to be an extremely positive development for South Staffordshire, I feel that due care still needs to be taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of nearby residents.

It is hard to see how running trains at 45 mph will improve safety. Perhaps not running them at all is the best answer for Mr Williamson?

On his trip back home from the Stafford Model Railway Exhibition, Northampton correspondent Alan decided to make use of his cheapo Ranger ticket and go via Rugeley and Birmingham.
Alan's class 350/3 train from Stafford arrives in platform 3 and, after a quick sprint across the footbridge, the Chase line train is ready to depart from Platform 1.

And there are more adventures for Alan as he travels from Birmingham to Northampton.

350,000 tons of them!

 Next rail blog : Thursday 12th February 


  1. 'Chase Line by Choice' - is this a subconscious reference to two of the area's most significant post-deregulation bus operators? For several years Choice were prominent around Walsall and Chase around Cannock, but both have now vanished.

  2. Thanks anon. I had actually remembered Chase but not Choice. Orange and Brown for Chase, sold to Arriva. Likewise Choice sold to Arriva after becoming Midand and/or D & G.