The ill-fated Mersytram project, which the last Labour Government was having none of, was finally killed off in 2013 and we are told that investigations into it are ongoing as part of the wide ranging probes into Merseytravel generally. But the death of this project and the time and money wasted upon it leaves Liverpool and its commuter belt with unresolved public transport problems which will do harm to the local economy by holding it back.
In my view the big transport issues in the Liverpool City Region are resolvable via investment in the already established and highly successful heavy rail system that serves the City and some of its commuter belt.
Two of the heavy rail electrified lines need to be extended to their logical ends as opposed to the present artificial ones:-
* The Northern Line which presently terminates at Ormskirk needs to extended first to Burscough and then ultimately to Preston.
* The Northern Line route to Kirkby needs to extended through to Wigan, with a potential spur into Skelmersedale.
A new heavy rail/tram line is required as follows:-
* Liverpool Airport needs to be rail connected to Liverpool South Parkway Station or a connecting tram from that railway station needs to be built to the airport.
The following lines should be electrified and see enhanced services:-
* The Bidston to Wrexham line.
* The Southport to Wigan line.
The Burscough Curves need to be reconnected so that Southport to Preston and Southport to Ormskirk rail journeys are again possible.
To me these objectives are straight forward but on Merseyside the obvious got muddled into what may have been seen as a competition with other major cities to get a tram system established. Yes, trams were then the new fashion and Liverpool’s great rival Manchester along with cities like Nottingham and Sheffield have had great success in establishing and then extending new tram lines. But, was it right to propose trams for Liverpool when it already had a highly successful heavy rail electrified system in place? I think the planning in the 1990’s and early 2000’s was wrong and Liverpool ended up following the fashionable route towards trams instead of doing the obvious and developing what it had already started in the 1970’s when the heavy rail systems were brought together via the underground tunnels.
In some ways the tram plan was also too insular as it did not address the need to easily get people people into the City from a commuter belt that stretches well beyond the rather odd Merseyside boundaries. It was a plan to better move around the present population of a small city rather than a plan to spread Liverpool’s wings into its wast commuter belt in Lancashire and Cheshire.
And the lessons for this are all to clear from Greater Manchester where public transport developments have been logical and well supported by Governments of all colours. It may be hard to learn from an arch rival city but the fact is that Manchester has played its transportation cards well and Liverpool needs to learn from that.
Merseyside’s big advantage is its network of heavy rail electrified lines. They simply need to be developed so please lets get on with it.