WORK is underway to boost Liverpool City Region, Cheshire and North Wales rail links and is expected to remove the need for 170,000 road journeys on key routes such as the M56 and A55.

On Friday work started on the 1.5 miles of rail track, known as the Halton Curve, which aims to unlock leisure and business opportunities between the Liverpool city region, its airport, Cheshire and North Wales.

The Halton Curve scheme, delivered by Network Rail, is bringing back into full use the section of the line linking the Chester/Warrington line with the Liverpool/Crewe line at Frodsham Junction.

Vital upgrades to track and signalling on the curve will enable a new hourly service in both directions between Liverpool and Chester, serving Liverpool Lime Street, Liverpool South Parkway (for Liverpool John Lennon Airport) Runcorn, Frodsham and Helsby.

The services, proposed to start running from December 2018, are expected to generate 250,000 new trips, boosting the economy by £100m.

While the service will be initially one train per hour, it is anticipated that demand will strengthen the case for increased frequency, especially with plans for services to be extended into North Wales – something currently being considered as part of the forthcoming Wales and Borders franchise.

As journeys between the Liverpool city region, West Cheshire and North Wales are currently largely car dependent, it is expected that the new service would remove the need for 170,000 road journeys with the knock on effect of helping reduce traffic on key routes such as the M56 and A55.

Ced Green, from the North Cheshire Rail Users’ Group, said: “We have been campaigning for the Halton Curve to be re-instated since way before the Strategic Rail Authority proposed full closure in 2004.

“We, and others, stopped that happening but it was another 10 years before any real progress was made. So we are delighted that work has now started in bringing this short, but vitally important section of the network, back into full operation.

“It is a massive first step in changing the dynamics of the public transport offer in the sub-region and beyond.

“It will assist in harnessing the economic synergy which exists between North and North East Wales and Merseyside and will also assist the development of the tourist market by providing easy access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport via Liverpool South Parkway.”

The upgrade forms part of Network Rail’s Great North Rail Project which will see more than £1bn invested in the railway across the north, as part of the national Railway Upgrade Plan.

This project, due to cost a maximum £18.75m, is being funded through the Government’s Growth Deal and the Liverpool City Region. It is being developed by the Liverpool City Region (including Halton Council), Cheshire West and Cheshire Council, the Welsh Government and a consortium of the six county authorities in North Wales.

 Welsh Government Economy and Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates said: “This is a huge development for public transport and much welcomed. Improving rail connectivity between North Wales and Liverpool offers huge economic and social opportunities for both regions.

“There has always been a strong cultural link between the regions and the investment in Halton Curve will only serve to strengthen this. I look forward to delivering further joint transport initiatives with the Liverpool city region, particularly as we develop our North East Wales Metro vision for a truly integrated transport system for the area.”

Councillor Samantha Dixon, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and chair of the cross-border Growth Track 360 rail taskforce, said: “The Halton Curve is a central proposition in the Growth Track 360 rail investment prospectus. This is one of the critical investments which will have a transformational effect on rail services, not only in our borough but across North Wales and the Mersey-Dee region. It will improve links to Liverpool for our residents and businesses.”

Work on the Halton Curve is due to be completed by May 2018, with services due to operate between Liverpool and Chester from December 2018.