What if Central Station had never closed?
What would Manchester be like if things had been different, and the railways hadn't been cut back so severely in the 50s and 60s. For the past 40 years we would have been enjoying a system like they have in Japan, modern, efficient and dense. Manchester Central would still be a station, there would be many more railway lines around Manchester, and, mostly likely, a lot less traffic congestion.
In this article I imagine what it would be like to take the train from Central Station, a stone's throw from Albert Square, Manchester, via Cheadle Heath, my childhood home, and on to Hazel Grove and a mysterious station I never knew existed. Put on your 'imagining' cap and read on!
Departure from Manchester Central Station
Standing in front of the renovated Central Station, we enter by the main entrance to see the huge, arched roof of the station, constructed in 1880. We buy our tickets from the machine on the right before walking over to Platform 3 for our train. In my fantasy alternative world, all lines around Manchester are electrified, so this is an electric commuter train similar to those that operate from Piccadilly and Oxford Rd.
Soon our train pulls out of the station. On our right is the Hilton Tower, and now we are moving along the railway viaducts over Castlefield and heading out towards Old Trafford, where we branch off to the left and head along a gently curving line through Old Trafford, Firswood and through south Manchester towards Chorlton.
Onwards through south Manchester
We hear the sounds of the train and the station announcements: "The next station stop is Chorlton, Chorlton your next station stop".
From Chorlton we continue south west, past the Loop Line junction near St Werburgh's Rd, and on to the next station: West Didsbury and Albert Park. In real life of course, this station closed nearly two generations ago, but in my 'Manchester that might have been', it would still be used by commuter trains today.
And so on to Didsbury, where the original station building would have been retained and not demolished to make way for fashionable bars. The journey from Manchester city centre has taken only 15 minutes or so, a lot quicker than the half an hour it often takes on the crowded bus.
The train continues under Parrs Wood Rd, under the railway line to Styal and the Airport, under Kingsway and on to Heaton Mersey, a station that disappeared without trace in the 1980s and 90s, and is remembered only in the name 'Station Rd'. But in this 'make-believe' recreation, this station with its beautiful buildings still exists and is in use, serving the residential communities that have sprung up around here since the 70s.
Across the Mersey and M60 motorway into Cheadle Heath
Next the train crosses the Mersey using the original late 19th century metal bridge, which in my version of events was never taken down. The Mersey, by the way, is the historic boundary between Lancashire and Cheshire. We then cross a less attractive newer style concrete bridge over the M60 motorway, and we stop at Cheadle Heath station, around two miles west of Stockport town centre.
The real Cheadle Heath Station was closed in 1969 and most traces of it are gone. But in my 'What if' reconstruction, the station is now conviently situated next to the Morrisons supermarket. Commuters often stop at the supermarket to buy groceries before completing their journey home.
My imaginary Cheadle Heath station is a modern facility, integrated with the supermarket, and offering a park and ride scheme. From here, local residents can get to Manchester in less than 15 minutes, Warrington in 30 minutes, Liverpool and Sheffield in an less than an hour. Cheadle Heath, where I grew up, would be one of the best connected suburbs and much sought after by home buyers.
From Cheadle Heath and on through south Stockport
Our fictitious commuter train continues through Adswood, under the Piccadilly to Euston line and into Bramhall. Here I have created a new station which I have named Bramhall North, sited on Bramhall Lane between the residential districts of Bramhall and Davenport.
The train heads south east through the southern suburbs of Stockport Metropolitan Borough towards Hazel Grove south, a station I had created for this reconstruction. It stands on the railway embankment just along the A6 from the Rising Sun pub.
I was later told by Eddie Johnson, railway author, that there actually was once a station here. It closed in 1917, an early victim of railway closure, a trend which 50 years later would gather pace and obliterate much of Britain's once proud railway network.
Hazel Grove South station your final station stop
And so it's at the imaginary Hazel Grove South station, with its wooden platform and commanding views over the local area, that we alight from our imaginary station, and perhaps walk to the Rising Sun for an imaginary pint.
Idle daydreams? Actually no, because part of the disused line we have just travelled along is in 2010 being reinstated for use by Metrolink trams. Personally I would prefer if it had been entirely restored for use by trains, but the powers that be, well, they never seem to take any notice of me!
To find out more about the fascinating story of Britain's disused railway stations, visit the Disused Stations website, part of Subterrania Britannica.
In particular look at the page for Cheadle Heath Station with photos of how it looked after closure.
I am thinking of developing this into a web video with audio and still photos, which I hope will appear some time in the not too distant future.
Originally published 25 July 2007, this page received 8240 views by 11 April 2010, when I rewrote the article, reset the date, and zeroed the counter.