Urban transit systems feed the beast at the centre

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s true, they all tend to serve the city at the centre of things and rarely offer connectivity between the satellite towns/districts. I’ve often thought about this because of my experience with Merseyrail but the same will be true of virtually all metro/transit systems. The link below addresses Greater Manchester’s very similar problem:-


But like Greater Manchester, there are potential solutions available subject to the money to do them and the political will. Readers of this blog site will probably recall that I’ve always been sceptical of the Liverpool City Region as a concept because it potentially sets up power and resources being pulled into Liverpool at the expense of towns such as Bootle, Southport, St. Helens, Ormskirk, Kirkby and Birkenhead. To my mind, Liverpool City benefiting from losses in the districts is simply bad politics, bad for the wider than Liverpool local economy and bad social policy. Yet the Liverpool City region is set up with a public transit system which is in effect designed to deliver such outcomes!

I don’t want there to be excellent transit to Liverpool but crap irregular and unreliable buses joining up important district centres. So what are the possible solutions? I’ll look at just two for the Liverpool City Region but from it, you’ll get my drift, I hope.

Expanding Merseyrail

If you take the Liverpool – Southport and Liverpool – Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Lines they effectively head north from Liverpool in a ‘V’ shape with Southport and Ormskirk at the top of the ‘V’. What’s needed is for the Ormskirk Line to head further north to Burscough (a fast-growing town in itself these days) and then for it to finish at two destinations – Preston and Southport. The track/trackbed’s already there to enable this, indeed the only bits without track and regular train services are the two ‘Burscough Curves’. It really is a ‘no brainer’ because at a stroke you’ve ended up connecting Ormskirk with Southport and Southport with Preston. What’s more, you’ve converted the present hourly service between Ormskirk and Preston to a far more regular Merseyrail service.

One end of the mothballed North Mersey Branch seen here from the platform of Aintree Station.

Coming down the present ‘V’ towards Liverpool you have a second very clear opportunity to connect up Bootle and Aintree using the currently mothballed North Mersey branch. Or look at it a different way. Presently, if you live say in Maghull and want to get a Merseyrail train to Southport you have to travel south all the way to Sandhills Station in Liverpool to change trains to then go back northwards towards Southport. Under what I’m outlining here you could go via Ormskirk without needing to change trains.

None of this needs land to be acquired, buildings to be demolished or major engineering works but it would significantly help to connect up north Merseyside and Lancashire communities assisting their economies.

Of course, there will be other similar solutions in other parts of Merseyside/Liverpool City Region such as reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway network. That project, which does require heavy engineering, land to be purchased etc. is being seriously looked at despite it having an eye-watering price tag.

One thought on “Urban transit systems feed the beast at the centre

  1. CJ says:

    Agree with all of that, Tony.
    £750m for the Skem line vs how much for Burscough Curves + North Mersey Branch?
    Assuming the line(s) would need power upgrades (which are super expensive), surely the cost will be no more than £100m? And that’s being very pessimistic?
    The connectivity point is important, and goes right back to my dissertation on this very subject. The current lines *dictate* where we can go. Going from Maghull to Southport is a ball-ache. What incentive is there to go by train for those who have a car? The bus service is rubbish too.
    I’ve long been banging the drum for this policy, in line with providing Skem with first-class express buses into Liverpool (probably via Kirkby) and even Manchester – even utilising the motorway network if needs be (clue’s in the name: Express).
    The current service from Skem to Liverpool is appalling, at more than 1h30 via Ormskirk and Aintree etc.
    So if the answer to Skem’s economic/social woes is to provide better connectivity to Liverpool, than why aren’t the powers that be looking at new and improved bus services into Liverpool, using a new fleet of electric vehicles, complete with on-board wi-fi, leather seats, and so on?
    One could even argue: Why not just provide express services to Kirkby, where passengers are just 20 mins away from Liverpool? A combined bus-train ticket could be used, providing Arriva and Merseyrail were able to agree on the ‘technicalities’ (which I’m sure would prove complex in our privatised, fragmented mess of a public transport system).
    Indeed, a quick search on Google shows how it would take no more than 20 mins from Skem to Kirkby via the A506 (avoiding the motorway), so if timed correctly, Skem to Liverpool would take 40 mins, using bus and train. Which is roughly the same time it takes to drive in a car.
    So what’s all the fuss for? Is it because a town of Skem’s size ought to be included on the rail network? Well considering we have such under-used stations such as Bescar, New Lane and Hoscar, you arguably say yes, it bloody well ought to be! And if money was no object (i.e. as it is for our many billionaires), then it shouldn’t be an issue.
    But if the issue is ensuring Skem is connected to the rail network, then perhaps another more practical solution would be to simply extend the 3rd rail line from Kirkby to Wigan, and modernise all the stations along it (Up Holland is inaccessible to disabled, cyclists, etc). Express buses could then be used to ferry passengers to Up Holland (for Wigan services) and Rainford (for Liverpool services, with bus journey times of no more than 10 mins to each station.
    Again, bus-ticket combinations could be used if we had a logical, integrated ticketing system. All of this would cost a lot less than £750m, and would provide a much more direct from Liverpool to Wigan in the process, without the ridiculous buffers at Kirkby.
    Simple, circular bus services that timed with each train. What would be the problem with that? Why would that be such a downgrade on a town centre station?
    It might be easy for me to say that as someone who doesn’t live in Skem, but it’d be a damn sight better solution to what there currently is now, and it would also help revitalise what it is a very tired, stale, forlorn railway line (Kirkby-Wigan).
    I can’t believe this kind of option hasn’t been thought about within the various Options Appraisals that have taken place, but with all MPs “committing” to providing a new station, they wouldn’t want to be seen to “back down” in fear of being voted out. Which is ridiculous, of course. The options I present above are perfectly sound, PLUS one has to remember just how sprawled out Skem is. Even if they had a central station, vast majority of people would require a bus/taxi back to where they actually live, as there aren’t many areas of Skem within a 15 min walk of the town centre!
    So these shuttle buses could actually serve the estates on their way in and out of the town centre, instead of going directly to and fro the Concourse, so in the end, journey times wouldn’t be that much quicker if a central station were to be built vs the shuttle bus option from Rainford / Up Holland, in terms of door-to-door journey time.
    Perhaps this will end up the default option if/when the time comes when the Skem Station idea is pulled due to lack of funding, and then they’ll start looking at these other options again.
    Or they could just save everyone a lot of time, money and heartache by cancelling the project now and following my plan above! Much quicker and much cheaper! More smiles all round!

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