PASSENGERS on five little-used Merseyside and Cheshire rail routes were told yesterday to come up with ideas to increase income and cut costs to save them from the axe.
The four are among 56 loss-making lines across the country where the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is demanding a doubling of income and a halving of subsidy per passenger.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling immediately said it was up to passengers, community groups and local authorities to prove the routes were still viable.
He announced plans to set up "community rail partnerships" to improve marketing and allow operators to save money by opting out of industry-wide maintenance standards.
But Mr Darling made clear the threat of closure was real, saying: "We can't be in the business of carting fresh air around the country."
The five local lines named among the loss-making 56 are:
Chester to Manchester Piccadilly (Mickle Trafford Junction to Edgeley Junction)
Chester to Manchester via Warrington (Chester to Acton Grange Junction section)
Helsby to Ellesmere Port
Manchester Airport to Southport (Wigan Wallgate to Southport section)
Wrexham Central to Bidston, used by Merseyside commuters.
A cap on fares will be lifted, to allow operators to offer special deals, perhaps linked to bus services. However, the SRA says fares are "too low" on rural lines.