Another take on why Merseytram didn’t make the grade

I’ve commented on this very significant urban transport debacle many times before but the other day I came across an article published in June 2008 in an international magazine called Tramways & Urban Transit. Yes I know, railway/tramway enthusiast niche issue……..

The article covered the ever more desperate attempts to breath new life into a project which had been all but killed off by the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling back in 2005 when he withheld £170m of government funding. Quoted in the article was former Labour MP (for Liverpool Riverside) Louise Ellman who said the project had failed because there was a ‘lack of clarity’ from the bidding partners.*

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

Louise was of course right. If memory serves the big issue for the Labour government of the day was concern over the funding package and rising costs. The article points towards Knowsley (Lab Council) & Liverpool (Lib Dem Council) being unwilling to cover further cost over-runs.

I was leader of Sefton Council at that time and can recall the tortuous process of trying to get Merseytram going through 2004 to 2009, but where the article is silent is with regard to another big issue which led directly to what Louise Ellman called the ‘lack of clarity’. I refer to the destination of the first line – Kirkby. I took the view, as did many others on Sefton Council and indeed politicians across the wider Mersey Region at the time, that the first line should go to the airport. Liverpool John Lennon Airport was in our view the obvious destination to start a tramway system on Merseyside but our voices were lost as Merseytravel was determined the first destination should be Kirkby. We had nothing against Kirkby but it already had a 15 minute Merseyrail service which simply needed extending to a 2nd station in that Town, whereas the airport had no rail/tramway connection and indeed it still doesn’t.

One of the ‘pulls’ towards Kirkby for the 1st Merseytram line was a proposed and huge TESCO/Everton FC redevelopment in that Town but that plan fell over it’s own hurdles with Everton now likely to he headed to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock at some point yet to be determined.

The other thing not mentioned in the article is the position of Wirral Council. They were hardly big supporters of Merseytram because being on the other side of the River Mersey they would be highly unlikely to see any benefit from the project at all. Maybe they and their residents still harked back to the first Mersey Tunnel which was supposed to have trams running through it to Birkenhead as well as road vehicles. Of course that never happened so once bitten (even though back in the 1930’s) twice shy?

Anyway, on with the thrust of the article, having given a bit of the local political background, as it was written on the basis that then (in 2008) Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly** had offered to revisit the stalled/virtually failed Merseytram project. In effect she was asking Merseytravel to come up with a new more viable scheme. At this point Merseytravel still had another 2 years to enact the powers given to it by Parliament to build the first phase of the tram system.

Sadly, of course, Merseysiders will know that no such viable plan was put forward and in 2010 the powers lapsed.

To me the project was a lesson in how not to plan major public infrastructure. It seems obvious now, as it should have been then, that the partners in the project needed to have a common view as to how it would be taken forward and as I think I’ve shown above there was no such common view. My feeling is that Merseytravel launched into the Merseytram project with far too many loose ends trailing behind it, hoping that all would be ‘alright on the night’ so to speak – It never was and probably was never going to be.

The irony is that within the same magazine there’s a celebration of NET (Nottingham Express Transit) which had won ‘Light Rail Operator of the year – 2007’ as it had been able to gain government support for it’s system (first opened March 2004) on the basis of it being clearly robust and well supported. I’ve travelled on NET; it is indeed a good system and I hope that I’m not just saying that as a Notts born lad.

A Nottingham NET Tram at the Phoenix Park terminus.

* The bidding partners were Merseytravel (the passenger transport body for Merseyside), Liverpool City Council, St. Helens Borough Council, Knowsley Borough Council, Sefton Borough Council & Wirral Borough Council.

** Ruth Maria Kelly is a former British Labour Party politician, serving as Member of Parliament for Bolton West from 1997 until she stood down in 2010 – Wikipedia

Merseyrail – First 508’s Going for Scrap

Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

Well it had to happen as more new Class 777 EMU’s arrive on the Merseyrail system but it’s always sad when long-serving trains go to the scrap yard. The link below (to You Tube) shows the first 2 Class 508’s on their last journey:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K3h_fE1SwE

I then realised I’d photoed one of the 508’s that went for scrap on 16th August at Maghull Station back in June 2015 – it’s the photo at the head of this posting.

If you check out the detail of the You Tube posting there’s a link to an interesting blog site called Engineering FOCUS – engineeringfocusblog.blogspot.com/2020/08/end-of-line-nearing-for-merseyrails.html

Just one thought, which I know is on other minds too, will early scrapping of the 508’s and 507’s leave Merseyrail short of rolling stock if a problem pops up with the new Class 777’s akin to the situation Northern found themselves in not so long ago?

If you’d like to see a Class 777 on a test run there’s one below in a You Tube video taken at Birkdale station:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_SPoSC9OSY

And finally, for those of you with longer memories here’s yet another You Tube link about the former Merseyrail Class 502 EMU’s which were replaced by the Class 507/508’s between 1978 and 1980

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbN-Yixo2N0

Lancashire – Still squabbling over local government changes

I’ve said before that the piecemeal reorganisation of what was once the huge county council (with numerous small district councils such as West Lancs Borough) area of Lancashire has ended up leaving a mess of everything that has not already become a unitary authority.

Former BBC and Liverpool Post reporter Political commentator and writer Nick Hancock debating with Sefton’s Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne.

Below, via the link, respected north west journalist Jim Hancock updates us on the tortuous ‘progress’ towards a resolution (scroll down to ‘Driver’s Umbrella’):-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Lancashire should have been sorted out as one whole package

The process of doing bits here and there over numerous years via different governments has led directly to this mess and muddle. I support the move to unitary authorities as in my view having a County, a District and often a Parish/Town Council too has not worked.

Power to the Parishes!

Getting rid of the muddle in the middle i.e. the District Councils is the right thing to do. However, it should be being done whilst devolving more powers and responsibilities to the network of Parish and Town Councils across the County (and set up new ones where they don’t presently exist) – of course that’s not being done!

Maghull (NORTH) – What do you know about Maghull?

Branch Line Society charter train at the new Maghull North Station 08 12 19

www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiedVGK9H_8&t=331s

Because I’m a railway enthusiast I came across the video (linked above) on You Tube. In brief, the folk on the video pride themselves on having visited every railway station in the country and with Maghull North being a new station they had to tick it off their list by going to it. The Maghull part of the video starts at around 4 minutes into it and it lasts for about 4.5 minutes. But who is the Maghull ‘special guest’?

Well it’s a bit humour, local history and railways so go on have a look at it………

This was the first every train to stop at Merseyrail’s new Maghull North Station – 5.58am on 18th June 2018.

Rainford – More on that rail line east of Kirkby

A ‘Bin Liner’ freight train is headed towards Wigan whilst a Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby near Rainford Station

No sooner had I blogged about proposals to extend the present Liverpool – Kirkby Merseyrail line a short distance to create a 2nd station within the town of Kirkby than my old friend Bob Robinson sent me details of works being carried out further up the line at Rainford. My posting about the Merseyrail extension is available via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2020/07/16/merseyrail-kirkby-line-extension-to-headbolt-lane-takes-shape/

And this is what’s happening further east in terms of bridge renewal works by Network Rail (18th July – 26th October) where the line crosses the Rainford Bypass:-

www.networkrail.co.uk/news/major-railway-bridge-renewal-starts-in-st-helens-this-weekend/

‘Bin Liner’ train from Knowsley at Rainford Junction Signal Box

Northern Class 150 heads for Kirkby along the single track section east of Rainford Junction Signal Box

Merseyrail – Kirkby Line extension to Headbolt Lane takes shape

The Merseyrail half of Kirkby Station looking towards Liverpool.

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/major-step-forward-merseyrails-brand-18605983

Whilst long term plans to extend the Kirkby Line of Merseyrail through to Skelmersdale are still in the melting pot a short extension of the line within Kirkby to a 2nd station in that community at Headbolt Lane is very much on the cards as the Liverpool Echo article explains.

Maghull residents will immediately spot a likeness in the design of the proposed new Headbolt Lane Station to that of the newish Maghull North Station building – see photo below:-

Maghull North’s Station Building during construction in May 2018.

The extension to Headbolt Lane, which has been discussed for more years than I can recall, will leave just the Merseyside community of Rainford (the next station along the line) outside of the Merseyrail network. This is what the end of the Northern Line looks like at Kirkby:-

The present end of the line for trains from Wigan, the Merseyrail service to Liverpool is accessed under the bridge.

Presently, the line from Kirkby to Wigan is in the hands of Northern Rail due to the railway being split at Kirkby for many years now – in a similar way to the split at Ormskirk of the Liverpool – Preston rail corridor.

Let’s hope that the Headbolt Lane Station project now moves forward without delay.