3rd Rail is off the rails

3rd Rail clearly visible at Maghull Station

I recall back in the day when I was a member of the Merseytravel Committee (must have been 2001/2003ish) that I came upon the Department of Transport edict that ‘there’ll be no more 3rd rail electrification in the UK except in exceptional circumstances’ or words to that effect. The significance of it, of course, is that 3rd rail is the bedrock of the Merseyrail system and I thought at the time it was seemingly an odd policy position to hold. I was assured it was all to do with safety due to people electrocuting themselves when trespassing on 3rd rail electrified lines. Well, here’s the actual policy position as stated by the Office of Rail & Road:-

www.orr.gov.uk/media/10702

So there is no ban as such but clearly additional 3rd rail electrification is at best frowned upon by the powers that be.

Anyway, what brought me back to this nerdy railway subject were two articles in MODERN Railways magazine – August 2022 edition. The first article is an in-depth look at the new Merseyrail Class 777 EMU’s, whilst the following one is about the extension of Merseyrail within the town of Kirkby to a new terminus station at Headbolt Lane. The new station is presently being built and it’ll be where passengers have to endure a change of train (and operator, to Northern) for their onward journey for all stations to Wigan Wallgate etc. Presently this bizarre change of train happens at Kirkby Station. I say bizarre as it’s hard to think why anyone ever thought that splitting a rail corridor in two was a good thing to do in the first place. However, it also happens on the Merseyrail/Northern corridor from Liverpool to Preston – Ormskirk being the change point on that line. In a world of joined-up thinking about public transport, the whole of these two lines would of course be serviced by the Merseyrail franchise but sadly we have yet to arrive at a station called ‘Joined-up Thinking’.

Now returning to the Headbolt Lane extension of the Merseyrail Northern Line to Kirkby – It won’t have the 3rd rail extended and the Class 777 units will travel over the extension on battery power. At face value, this seems perfectly reasonable until you look at the costs of enabling battery power in Class 777s. Frankly, the economics simply don’t stand up as Ian Walmsley suggests in his MODERN Railways article – battery power is far more expensive than extending the 3rd rail in the long term. The point here, as far as I can see, is that the ORR pressure not to extend 3rd rail is at best dubious and may well not be supported by safety data.

So my initial thinking back some 20 years ago seems to have been along the right line i.e. the ‘ban’ is not really credible and it costs the public purse more money. I’m also guessing that those wishing to extend 3rd rail-powered railway lines are fully aware that their extensions will be more expensive but upsetting/challenging the edicts of the ORR are politically too dangerous?

The two articles by Ian Walmsley in MODERN Railways are well worth reading, I might add.

Note – Click on the photo to enlarge it

Bad drivers make bad cyclists (2)

OR If you are a careful driver, you’ll probably be a considerate cyclist

As a pedestrian, cyclist and driver I found the link below from the BBC website interesting:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41346237

Cycling has really taken off in recent years due to the high cost of driving, a need for folk to be fitter and for environmental benefits too. Of course, this means that some who become cyclists have not ridden a bike since they were a child. In turn, this can make them think they can ride around like they did when they were a child i.e. at speed, on the pavement and that scattering old ladies is fun. NO, no, no……

Adults should be riding on the road, not the pavement

In my view, the police should tackle adults riding on pavements as they are a danger to pedestrians, except where a wide/widened pavement has been designated for shared use between cyclists and pedestrians. Such shared spaces/routes are normally marked out, although one council (Sefton on Merseyside) created a shared space/route alongside the A59 through part of Maghull some years ago but has still to mark it out, despite being reminded to do so by me!

But I digress. So having established that adult cyclists should be on our roads, excepting the above of course, then why aren’t they? Two reasons I guess:-

* they were told to ride on the pavement as a child so still do
* they are frightened/lack the confidence of riding in traffic with vehicles

Yet when I’m out and about I do see some parents teaching their youngsters to ride safely and on the road too. It’s all about building confidence and experience and learning the rules of the road as a cyclist. I took my Cycling Proficiency Test when I was 9 or 10 in 1968. I even have a photo of the event at Rochdale Town Hall – see below (I’m 3rd from the right):-

That old test is now called ‘Bikeability‘ but is still essentially a similar thing to what I took i.e. it prepares youngsters and indeed the not-so-young for our roads so they can ride safely and confidently.

There are so many bad drivers these days, there’s no surprise that when a bad driver gets on a cycle they’ll be a bad cyclist too!

If we are to meet environmental targets to combat global warming many more of us are going to need to walk and cycle short journeys in and around our communities. Yes, of course, the elderly and those with disabilities may well not be able to do this but you get my drift. This means that the number of cycles on our roads is only going to increase and that’s surely a good thing. However, I’m not convinced that compulsory cycling testing is the way forward as it will push against folks taking cycling up. Yes, I’d like to see all cyclists taking safety and confidence-building training but I’m not going to say you have to. Driving a vehicle is akin to being given your own private guided missile; vehicles are dangerous because of the speeds they can do. Cycles are hugely different and are positive because of their beneficial attributes – environmentally friendly, improve the fitness/health of riders and they are very cheap to run/maintain.

Yes, those who have spent many years driving everywhere all the time will be horrified by this blog posting as they probably see cyclists as being all but their enemy because they

* slow vehicles down
* get in the way
* their riders (some of them anyway) have poor road sense just like many drivers

The point here is that increased cycling and walking and less vehicle use is actually all about change and we don’t really like change, do we?

On yer bike

A winter of civil disobedience/unrest?

Without a significant change in government direction, my feeling is that civil disobedience/unrest is all but inevitable this autumn and winter over fuel prices, rampant inflation and the consequent poverty many are being forced into.

In an odd way, civil disobedience has already become a common thing on our roads since the first Covid lockdown. I refer of course to red light jumping and excessive speeding which has become all but the norm for too many drivers. So we’ve already got a section of our society who frankly have taken the view that the rules of the road are just not for them and that’s a simple choice they’ve made with no pressure upon them to do it.

The next stage in the breakdown of our social order will be by folk with nothing, who probably can’t even afford to run a car, who can’t pay their fuel bills and may not even be able to eat regularly due to the cost of living. Our governments have been growing this section of our society for quite a while now as the ever-expanding use of food banks attests to. Now, however, the numbers being pushed into poverty are growing hugely due to inflation and fuel costs. This winter could prove to be a breaking point and it may well start with large numbers of people simply refusing to pay their fuel bills, indeed campaigns to organise such civil resistance are building right now.

But will refuse to pay stop there? How about folks stopping paying their council tax bills, their water bills, TV License bills etc. etc. Surely, those will follow and pretty soon our whole civil society will be breaking up. The wealthy will, of course, weather the storm or will they? Depending on how things develop we could see the rebalancing of wealth within our society although our politicians will fight hard against such a move. What I’m saying is that this process could well put our unbalanced capital-based society/economy under threat and many would be happy for that to happen. You never know Universal Basic Income (UBI) may well be a positive outcome from the chaos.

Politicians in power can of course put in place mitigating measures to stop the worst from happening but can you see our weak government and ineffective opposition pulling significant levers and putting the interests of those with little or nothing first? That goes against pretty much everything our governments have stood for as long as we can remember. And the small levers they’ve pulled so far? They’ll hardly make a dent in the economic hardship many will face.

Just look at Sri Lanka to see how a reasonably well-ordered society can collapse due to shortages of pretty much everything and rampant inflation. We are nowhere near that sort of collapse but we are in the foothills of such an economic catastrophe.

If I had a God I’d probably now say, as Dave Allen always did, ‘may your God go with you’ because if you’ve got little of nothing the outlook looks bleak indeed. I hope I’m wrong and that we can find leaders who will make poverty and its causes a major priority, but I’ll not be holding my breath.

So what does OPSTA think should happen?

OPSTA Response to LCR Local Transport Plan Consultation

OPSTA logo

I’ve been a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn for more years than I care to mention because they consistently campaign for improved local rail services. Here’s their submission to the Liverpool City Region which has been running a consultation process about the future of local transport:-

‘This submission is on behalf of the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA) a non political group that uses an evidence-based approach to campaign for improved public transport in the north of the City Region and south-west Lancashire. We have a longstanding relationship with the CTA.

It outlines the case for extending Merseyrail services north of Ormskirk to Preston and through re-instatement of the south junction at Burscough to Southport and similarly extension of public transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan.

The planned implementation of an extended rail service to a new station at Headbolt Lane demonstrates what can be achieved in a short timescale and the potential of the new Class 777 trains when battery-equipped.

Extension of Ormskirk service to Burscough

OPSTA recommends this as a fast follower project to Headbolt lane as it could be delivered very simply and quickly at very low capital cost.

There is a strong and increasing passenger demand case with counts conducted by OPSTA showing continuous growth of journeys made between Burscough Junction and Ormskirk (present entry point to Merseyrail) despite the disruption of recent years. Moreover, it is known there is significant rail heading at Ormskirk, Maghull North and even Aintree by people travelling along the A59. The population of Burscough all within 15 minutes walking distance of the station will soon have increased by over 50% in the last few years.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston service

OPSTA passenger surveys conducted between 2013 and 2019 have shown consistently that around 25% of those using the Northern Trains’ service use a connecting Merseyrail service towards Liverpool.

Many from Preston and Lancashire will travel into the City Region for work, education and leisure. Similarly, residents in the City Region travel into Lancashire for work and leisure reasons and notably to Preston for education (UCLAN) and connections with northbound services.

A Merseyrail service between the two cities would complement and add capacity/services to the route between Lime Street and Preston; an easier and quicker route for residents north of Liverpool would encourage use of the train while reducing the numbers of passengers passing through very busy city centre stations to travel elsewhere. It would also alleviate congestion all along the A59 arterial road into the city centre thus helping to meet zero carbon and air quality targets.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Southport via Burscough South Curve

With a through line at Ormskirk, reinstatement of the south junction at Burscough would connect it to the Southport – Wigan line and enable a frequent and fast Merseyrail service between Southport and Ormskirk, Aughton, Maghull and Aintree and bringing Meols Cop into the Merseyrail network.

Previous journey requirement analysis and modelling conducted by the rail consultancy Steers incorporated in a formal proposition made in 2021 for the Burscough Curves demonstrated that there is a unique demand that is not met by the ‘fingers’ of the current Merseyrail Northern lines estimated to be 350-400k journeys annually. A rail options report by WSP Global consultancy in August 2020 also recommended reinstatement of the south curve.

Improved transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan

Now it is clear that the Department for Transport will not fund and progress the development of a new rail line the latent demand for fast and efficient public transport links remains.

A dedicated and fast rail bus service connecting the town to the Merseyrail network would be a very low-cost and quickly implemented option that appears to be a good fit with the City Region’s plans for bus services and multi-modal transport, with cognizance this would be within Lancashire and need a partnership approach with the County Council.

The Dft decision also creates an opportunity to extend the Merseyrail service from Headbolt lane to Wigan instead for which there are similar benefit case arguments for operating through services to Preston. Along this rail corridor demand for rail travel to Liverpool will be strengthened by the house building taking place close to stations and it will facilitate access to Manchester for those residing inside the City Region.’

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

Simple answers to complex matters

Politicians have always known how to play to our prejudices and to keep us thinking about supposedly simple answers to complex issues. Of course, little in our society and world can be solved by simple sound-bite political slogans but how many of us are sucked into simplistic/easy answers whilst we can’t really be bothered with all the complexities? I’d been thinking about this for a while and then an issue popped up again which could well be of great significance but which has mainly been brushed under the political carpet. See the link below:-

www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/16/carole-cadwalladr-boris-johnson-lebedevs-prime-ministers-defining-scandal?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Carole Cadwalladr is one of the foremost investigative journalists of our times or if you are into simplistic answers from the right of our politics, someone who should be silenced and ridiculed. Of course, the Government will dismiss her concerns as ‘nothing much at all, let’s move on’ but the murky world she’s been uncovering should really worry us all.

Leaving the EU was an example of a hugely complex matter, no matter what view you held, yet we had a simplistic debate and a ridiculous referendum that couldn’t possibly have delivered a considered result through which the electorate expressed a clear and most importantly an informed opinion. It was a ‘let’s play to the anti-EU prejudices of an ill-informed electorate’ built up over generations by our right-wing press. That vote also played into racism and Little Englanderism yet it was a massively complex matter where the implications of Leave were not understood by the majority of us. Even the lead Brexiteers seemed to have their own individual versions of what Leave meant. But all this is now very much apparent with recent opinion polls telling us that we know we made a pigs ear of a hugely important matter because many of us were voting for things which had little if anything to do with the EU.

But what else is being fed to us by our populist political classes and/or what do they sweep under their carpet which they very much don’t want us to know about? Presently, we are being promised tax cuts by the Tory Leadership candidates and cutting of EU red tape, despite the fact that leaving the EU has created huge amounts of er red tape! Obviously, simplistic answers to the complex mess the UK presently finds itself in just won’t cut it but, of course, those candidates are actually only speaking to the 100,000 to 200,000 Conservative Party members as no one else will get a vote. Just think, those members will predominately be of a mature age, mainly anti-EU, anti-foreigners, wealthy and consumers of the Daily Mail. On that basis, you can dismiss the candidate’s rhetoric as pretty much irrelevant to good governance as they’ll all mostly say anything to win a majority of this small electorate. Yet with all of us, except the Conservative voting well off, feeling the pinch at present someone offering you a tax cut and the cutting of red tape too may well get a hearing with the wider electorate.

Our public services are in a terrible mess across the board because of austerity, poor governance, Covid, Brexit and global economic conditions. More tax cuts will inevitably mean more cuts to public services no matter how you look at it. Yes, you’ll be told that ‘we’ll make the NHS, Councils, our railways etc.’ more efficient to counter the reduced money being given to them but shouldn’t the government be doing that all the time? In reality, the efficiencies will be negligible but the cuts will be deep. However, the very same politicians have also promised us ‘Levelling Up’, 40 new NHS hospitals (a medium-sized one costs in excess £500m*), many more GPs, nurses and dentists than you can shake a stick at (and all desperately required) so where will the money come from if another era of austerity/small state is the real agenda? None of this makes any sense. What we really need is a debate about how we can get the UK back on the rails not simplistic politician’s pledges which effectively tell us we can have everything for nothing yet again.

And back to Cadwalladr’s investigations, as without the likes of her, we’d know nothing of what our leaders get up to. The trouble is much of our press sees its job as backing a political party rather than holding all our leaders, no matter what their political colour, to account. My view of politics is never to trust anyone with power no matter who they are, just look what has become of us all because the electorate thought Johnson would be a bit of a laugh!

* Government has committed £3.7bn to the New Hospital Building Programme – £16.3bn short of what would be required to build 40 new hospitals – Source Dr Phil Hammond in Private Eye No.1577

Skem’s reconnection to national rail network hits buffers

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I guess quite a bit of cash must have been spent (in person-hours particularly) in the planning but Government has probably unsurprisingly run for the hills over the cost of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the national rail network. The BBC has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-62087680

I say unsurprisingly as folk I know who are knowledgeable of Lancashire’s politics and indeed its railways have been indicating such an outcome pretty much ever since this major project, with its eye-watering costs, was first proposed. Here’s a link back to an earlier posting of mine (from 2015) on the matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

Of course, the new and 2nd Merseyrail station for Kirkby at Headbolt Lane did get the go-ahead (plus funding) and it is actually being built right now.

When you consider that this latest knock-back for the North West comes on top of the HS2 Goulbourne link being axed and the reconnection of Burscough Curves being blocked yet again it makes the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda look as worthless as was the Northern Powerhouse, or Poorhouse as my old chum, Jim Ford, accurately once labelled it.