RESIDENTS could be given a greater say in running their rail service.
The Mid Cheshire line from Chester to Manchester via Northwich is one of 60 earmarked by the Strategic Rail Authority as a possible candidate to be run by a specially-created local body.
The SRA believes rebranding little-used routes as 'community railways' will increase passenger numbers and cut running costs. Community groups could re-vamp abandoned station buildings as shops and improve the integration of trains and buses. They would work with tourist groups to market the railways and help make timetables more flexible.
But train operators would continue to be in charge and maintain safety standards.
Five pilot Community Rail Initiative schemes have been set up, on the Isle of Wight, Teesside, two in Cornwall and one in Hertfordshire. If they prove a success, the Mid Cheshire line could be handed over to local people.
Mid Cheshire Rail Users' Association chairman Andrew MacFarlane said: 'We are already getting more people to use the line thanks to the Community Rail Partnership which was set up to promote the line last year, but this would help enormously.
'There are various ways it would work, the SRA could develop a sub-franchise to First North Western with its own management which could then decide to run trains at certain times, for instance.
'It is also likely that a community-run line would be exempt from the performance regime. So if a connecting train was delayed, we would have the power to hold trains so passengers could make their connection. Currently, if a train to Chester is delayed, you will miss the train from Chester to North-wich as it has to leave when it is supposed to, or else FNW will be penalised.'
Some of the initiatives that would be supported, such as transforming stations into shops or tourist centres and setting up community bus services and car clubs to get more passengers to and from the trains, have already proved a big success - for instance, a line in Norfolk has seen passengers numbers grow by 140% in seven years after volunteers revamped stations.
Mr MacFarlane added: 'Where there have been Community Rail Initiatives established, it has led to more people using train services which, in turn, reduces the train companies' losses. Until May 21 May there are direct through trains between Winsford and Manchester Oxford Road.
The trains are part of the Cardiff-Manchester service operated by Arriva Trains Wales, which are being diverted via Winsford due to the closure of the Crewe-Cheadle Hulme line for engineering work
Trains leave Winsford for Manchester at 06.38 (arrive Manchester 07.26), 07.24 (arrive Manchester 08.10) and 07.53 (arrive Manchester 08.39). Return trains from Manchester Oxford Road are at 15.58 (arrive Winsford 16.50) and 16.49 (arrive Winsford 17.53). These trains run Monday to Friday only apart from the 07.24 from Winsford to Manchester, which also runs on Saturdays. For more information, ring National Rail Enquiries on 08457 494950.