The counts will continue between now and December (and maybe longer if that's deemed necessary). I started at Altrincham station (the 88 bus sped me there) and when the 10:46 train rolled to a stop I approached the guard, introduced myself showing him my Northern Rail pass to travel on the line, explained what I was proposing to do, and asked if he was happy for me to do the survey on his train. He was, so having counted the number of passengers joining the train at Altrincham and alighting from it, I boarded and carried out a passenger count.
Doing the same all down the line to Chester was not as easy as it might sound. The on-train totals are easy enough, but at busy stations such as Knutsford and Northwich counting passengers leaving from all four doors on a 2-coach train, while others are entering and also have to be counted, can be impossible.
Shortly before the train set of from Chester on its return run along the line, three chaps with musical instruments and one without boarded. The one without was Michael Ross, who, as I was sitting where the musicians needed to play, introduced himself as from MCRUA and explained that this train was a 'Music Train' as far as Ashley, whereupon the musicians would play in the Greyhound pub at Ashley for a while before returning by train to Chester.
I knew of these MCRUA Music Trains but didn't realise they ran during the day; I thought they were an evening-only happening.
Michael chats to a passenger as the band gets ready to play
Michael Blu-Tacked some notices to glass partitions and some windows announcing that our band on this MCRUA music train was the Goat Roper Rodeo Band, and they opened their set with the Everly Brothers' classic 'Wake Up Little Susie'. This was followed by Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues', and Dylan's 'Mr Tangerine Man'. They were quite excellent!
The Goat Roper Rodeo Band making this Mid Cheshire Line train rock!
I was reluctant to leave the train at Northwich especially as by now it was raining quite hard, but Lunch called in form of a rather good bacon and egg barm cake and a cup of tea in 'The Bean' cafe on the station platform.
After lunch the mission continued on the next Manchester-bound train, to Piccadilly. The rain in Manchester seemed quite appropriate, and as I returned from a short walk down to the Ian Allen bookshop to catch the next Chester bound train, I noted that the smart new roof at Piccadilly leaks!
I travelled as far as Knutsford from where I got the 88 bus home, and so many school kids got at Altricham and Hale, and off at Knutsford, it was impossible to count them! But I'd got an accurate on-train count after Hale which showed the two-coach train was carrying well over one hundred passengers! Quite a contrast to the twenty or so of mid morning.
The Mid Cheshire is a line where some people travel the full length, but most use it between major towns so the loadings vary a lot on any Manchester - Chester -Manchester run, so it's important to collect all the intra-station passenger number data to get a real idea of train usage on the line.
So what did I learn? That it's often impossible to be accurate with passenger numbers boarding and alighting other than when such numbers are low, and that next time I think I'll miss out the Stockport - Piccadilly section as many other trains cover that service, and riding the train all the way into Manchester entails a lengthy wait for the return service. Also, even covering the four trains I did today (Altrincham - Chester, Chester - Northwich, Northwich - Manchester, Manchester - Knutsford) takes most of the day with a break for lunch and connecting journeys at each end.
I just hope that next time I do it I meet the Goat Roper Rodeo band again; they really are a bit good!