WORK has started on the Halton Curve rail track to restore the line through Runcorn that will link North Wales and Liverpool.

The £18.75 million project, delivered by Network Rail, is being funded through the Government’s Growth Deal and the Liverpool City Region.

Halton Council has welcomed the development which is set to unlock leisure and business opportunities.

Council leader Cllr Rob Polhill said: “This has been a long standing aspiration of ours for more than a decade.

“It opens up job opportunities and means people can travel more easily.”

Upgrades to track and signalling 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, set to start in December 2018, will generate 250,000 new trips, boosting the economy by £100m.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region said:“I welcome the spade being put in the ground on a project that has long been an ambition for many.

“People shouldn’t be constrained in their work or leisure opportunities, as there are so many to be had across our City Region, Cheshire and North Wales. These can start to be fully realised through this much needed link.”

Liam Robinson, chairman of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “The Halton Curve may only be one and a half miles long but it is the key to unlocking so many more opportunities for people in our City Region, Cheshire and North Wales.

“This is part of a £340m investment in the City Region’s rail network by the end of 2019 that will improve connections and the capacity – investment that only marks the start of our ambitions.”

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s route managing director for London North Western: “The Halton Curve scheme is the perfect example of the rail industry and Liverpool City Region working together to deliver real benefits to the people of Liverpool and beyond.

“As with the many projects we are delivering across the north, as part of our Great North Rail Project, this is about providing passengers with more options and boosting the economy in key towns and cities through improved rail links.

“Upgrading track and signalling will breathe new life into this 1.5 mile stretch of track, ready for new services from December 2018.”

Robin Tudor, head of PR and communications for Liverpool John Lennon Airport said: “This is a project that the airport has supported and been pursuing for many years and it is great to see work finally get underway.

“This scheme will soon mean that airport users in North West Cheshire along with future passengers from right across North Wales, will have the opportunity to access the Airport with its growing range of services by rail via Liverpool South Parkway rail station.

“The Halton Curve is just as important for the increasing numbers of inbound visitors using Liverpool John Lennon Airport as a gateway to the region too, providing far easier onward access to tourist destinations including Chester and areas across North Wales.”

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.”