THE 5.5-MILE second track between Saltney Junction, Chester, and Rossett, north of Wrexham, came into use on 1 April 2017. The line is used by hourly long-distance workings, mainly from Holyhead to Cardiff Central or Birmingham International. The double track improves flexibility to cope with delays.

It was funded by the Welsh Government, despite rail infrastructure not being a devolved subject and despite most of the new track being laid in England. The Government’s intention when authorising the work in 2013 was to double the frequency of Holyhead to Cardiff services to hourly, without affecting the two-hourly Birmingham workings.

The second track was originally expected to open in early 2015, as part of the Government’s £49 million scheme to improve North to South Wales journey times and capacity. The Government has said the delay and cost increase on this scheme are one of the reasons it intends to remove the core Valley Lines in South Wales from Network Rail, which is seen as unlikely to deliver the desired modernisation within the fixed budget available.

Passing trains: the new stretch of double-track near Rossett.

Single track remains between Wrexham General and Rossett, where redoubling would involve significant embankment works and replacement of a bridge over a main road. Network Rail programme director Alexia Course told a Welsh Assembly inquiry in early April that the Government and Network Rail were developing a Wrexham Area Improvement Scheme ‘to look at alternative places to drive increased capacity’. She added: ‘That scheme is at its early stages at the moment, to understand where and what scope, but that’s a scheme we’re keen to develop with Welsh Government for CP6.’

The only alternative route north of Wrexham is the double track Borderlands line to Bidston. New chords at Shotton have previously been mooted, to connect this line to the North Wales coast main line. A disused trackbed exists for a west-south curve that would enable workings from the coast to Wrexham, including the proposed additional Holyhead to Cardiff services, to avoid the single-track section. A Network Rail spokeswoman said it was too early to confirm whether chords at Shotton would be considered.