Skelmersdale – The detail of the Skem’ rail link project

I don’t know about you but I get so frustrated when the press concentrate on the headline of a story and often fails to give much significant detail. This is a case in point as the latest stage of the proposed project to bring a railway back to Skelmersdale has not brought with it the required detail into the public domain.

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of progress!

So care of Bob a friend and informed railway watcher here is the detail that you are unlikely to find in the press but is important to assess whether the project will be a runner of not. I have added a few comments of my own along the way.

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The scheme studied is for two new stations at Kirkby Headbolt Lane and Skelmersdale with 3rd rail electrification extended to Skelmersdale. The basic scheme is 4 trains per hour (tph) to Headbolt Lane with 2tph continuing to Skelmersdale. 1tph would operate between Manchester and Skem but an enhanced option of 2tph to Manchester is also being considered.

Capital costs will not finalised before Grip 3 (A technical term which defines the progress of new railway projects) but the work done so far has produced Low/Medium/High estimates of £250m £320m £350m, in addition £10.2m will be required for Merseyrail to purchase 2 extra 3 car EMU’s (Electric Multiple Units or new trains to put it simply) to operate the service as part of their fleet renewal.The plan also requires leasing two additional DMU (Diesel Multiple Units or Trains) to operate from Skem’ to Manchester.

Kirkby-Skelmersdale would be 7.5 miles with a journey time of 13 minutes, Skelmersdale-Manchester would be 25 miles with a journey time of 60 minutes. 1tph would operate to Liverpool on Sundays and in the evenings while no trains would operate to Manchester in the evenings or on Sundays (seems daft to me not to run trains to Manchester in the evenings and on Sundays). Merseyrail says Headbolt Lane Station would be fully manned while the assumption is Skelmersdale would have a ticket office as it will also be a bus interchange.

Forecasting indicates that because of forced rail interchange at Skelmersdale demand from Kirkby to other stations on the line would see a small drop in existing passenger demand while other stations would all see increased demand arising from the change (the issue here is that through trains from Wigan to Kirkby would cease). Overall modelling forecasts a 10.5k reduction in Kirkby passengers and a 110k increase in passenger usage for the line (99k to stations between Wigan and Manchester) arising from the change to service pattern.

Kirkby Headbolt Lane would also split the catchment population of Kirkby almost exactly in half, the new station is predicted to have a usage of 700,351 passengers per year while Kirkby would fall from 944,801 to 472,049, after abstraction this is a net increase of 227,599 or 24%.

Skelmersdale in the base service option is forecast to have annual passenger usage of 932,319, 73% to Merseyside, 8% to Manchester, 3% to Wigan and 17% to wider network, if the enhanced 2tph is used there would be an additional 4,500 trips per year to Wigan and 3,000 to Manchester, meanwhile Kirkby would also generate an additional 2k trips per year to Wigan.

The base service is expected to produce 1,234k extra passengers on the line generating revenue of £2.75m, the enhanced service package would produce 1,375k passengers generating revenue of £3.069m. By 2023 the base package would have costs of £2.3m per year and revenues of £5m generating an operating surplus of £2.8m, it would be profitable from the first year of operation. The enhanced frequency option would have operating costs of £4.6m and revenues of £5.65m producing an operating surplus of £0.97m though it would require subsidy of £705k in its first year as passenger numbers are ramped up falling rapidly into an operating profit in its third year. Both options would produce a BCR range of 1.0-1.6 with an average of 1.3 purely on business grounds. Factoring in economic benefits such as time savings, regeneration, increase in jobs, etc… would produce a GVA of £137m – £184m for the base service and £227m – £279m for the enhanced service. Once these are added the BCR of the base scheme becomes 1.6/1.7 while the enhanced package becomes 1.8/1.9.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby. Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby.
Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Click on the photo to enlarge it

So far nothing has been said about redoubling the tracks from Fazakerley Junction to Rainford but it is suspected that the absence of this is the reason for only 2tph east of Kirkby Headbolt Lane. Not quite a Metro level timetable but it is a start.

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