An open letter to Michael Gove from Bob Robinson

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE MICHAEL GOVE, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, MP

Dear Mr Gove,

“TRUCK QUEUES COULD BE 7,000 VEHICLES LONG WHEN TRANSITION ENDS” – MICHAEL GOVE – THE GUARDIAN.

Thank you for responding so quickly to my earlier open letters,(posted on the Facebook Lib Dem Chat Group) albeit not in person. You are to be congratulated for your candour – albeit somewhat late in the day. You do, I take it, clearly understand the implications of what you have said. As a retired bean counter, I spent my career eliminating the need for holding inventory by promoting the use of “just in time” manufacturing techniques – stock although an asset on the balance sheet is not as liquid as cash. Liquidity is going to be critical to our recovery. Turning inventory into finished goods adds value and turning finished good into sold goods is what generates business liquidity. Please do not feel that you can duck behind coronavirus as an excuse – the seeds for this were laid long ago when some balding chap with glasses appeared talking about reshaping British Industry – He was looking for the next generation of disruptive innovation. Perhaps at some point, you might like to tell me how that’s going? No Pain No Gain only works if the same people asked to bear the pain can be given cast iron guarantees that they, not rentiers, will enjoy the gain.

In the meantime, might I suggest, until you have a spiffing response, you might need to avoid the honourable members for Southport and South Ribble – (they are/were on your side of the House). Both constituencies sustain a substantial part of the United Kingdom’s horticultural sector – in particular, fresh salad vegetables to Supermarkets. In addition to top quality tomatoes and salads grown locally in the area – the growers put the Wonder into Golden Wonder crisps. In addition to growing, they have built specialist packing and preparation plants that employ many workers. Britain, however, has long passed accepting seasonality in fruit and vegetables and in the off season, imported produce is shipped from Spain and other warmer climes, minimising handling damages. These are brought in by truck and packed for major supermarkets. This ensures door to door delivery but it does have to run to a tight, just in time, timetable. I am sure that whilst, in your Botany class at school, somebody explained to you that once a lettuce is cut – it starts to die. Two days extra in transit will increase the amount of not fit for purpose lettuce, sitting either on shop shelves or customers fridges – imposing knock on costs to supermarkets and consumers alike. The shipping time is therefore critical. I am sure you will also appreciate that queues of lorries outside European ports will represent a tempting target for desperate people.

Katherine Fletcher, the newly minted MP for South Ribble and Damien Moore will no doubt be catching it hot and strong soon. Indeed, the local Tory Parties are traditionally supported by major growers. If your party’s cash flow takes a hit following recent revelations – you may need to look to your home-grown supporters for help. Damien Moore, by the way, was, in his former, life a Manager at Asda – he will understand just what this kind of (expletive deleted) could turn out to be for Supermarkets. He will also know the best way the sweep up Maltesers. Just ask yourself – if this what you want to happen to you?

Best regards Bob

www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/sep/23/truck-queues-could-be-7000-long-when-brexit-transition-ends-ministers-warn

www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/sep/04/uk–businesses-demand-urgent-talks-over-fears-brexit-border-chaos

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54260470

P.S. Archie Norman, the Chief Executive of ASDA, used to begin his welcome to new staff, including myself, by recalling his early experiences on the shop’s shop floor. Sometimes Maltesers would escape and represent a “slip” risk. The easiest way to sweep them up was not to chase them with a broom and shovel – but to tread on them. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink stamp-stamp Mr Gove – Know what I mean.

And then before publication but after writing the above this happened – The lorry and logistics crisis just got worse. The Guardian has just published the latest round of revelations including a twitter copy of the letter by Michael Gove to the RHA.

You could not make it up

An end to rail franchising – but what next?

Rail franchising has been an expensive failure and I think most involved with the rail industry will acknowledge that due not least to the fragmentation it’s caused to what needs to be a national infrastructure.

Northern Rail Franchise Class 319 electric unit at Liverpool Lime Street Station

In effect rail has been re-nationalised as the 1980’s high profile privatisation project has hit the buffers, indeed it’s been bumping into those buffers for a long time now. Of course Railtrack was nationalised into Network Rail quite a while ago.

The Railway Gazette has an interesting article on its website – see link below:-

www.railwaygazette.com/uk/uk-government-announces-the-end-of-rail-franchising/57396.article

Being a railway enthusiast means that I’m probably not a reliable witness but I’ll have my say, biased though it may be, anyway. That British Railways was in many ways a bit of a mess is a given but the route the Conservatives took to address its shortcomings was to say the least drastic, although I also appreciate that they did it to big up their policy direction of the day and there will have been little thought for what they were setting in train (sorry) and how things would actually look further down the track (sorry again). Such is politics, short term voter approval is all that is required and beggar the consequences as the other lot will be in power when the train derails!

What we managed to lose during the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s was anything approaching an integrated transport system (remember that the infamous Bus Deregulation Act plays into this too) and now we are paying the price. Yes of course there have been some positives with rail travel increasing year on year until Covid 19 came along. However, we now need to reinvent the wheel and build an integrated transport system which rail (both train and tram) will need to be at the heart of.

That many European countries and beyond have successfully done this means it can be done and should be. We’ve ended up in a kind of halfway house between many counties who have progressed integrated transport very well and the likes of the US and Canada who have all but tried to kill off public transportation completely.

A Virgin Trains Frabchise Pendolino train at Liverpool Lime Street Station.

The big question now is where will our Conservative government drive transport policy now. Certainly they are big on roads and cars and are planning huge infrastructure investment in new highways despite roads being the very opposite of what is required to tackle climate change. The old ten bob note they recently held up to pay for the reversal of Beeching cuts in our railways was of course all political froth as that tiny budget will pay for nothing much at all.

Of course Conservative voters don’t use buses and trains much, if at all, although all those right wing former Labour voters who backed Johnson at the last GE do.

Can’t say I’m optimistic about the future of public transport under the present occupier of 10 Dither Street, London.

My thanks to Bob Robinson for the lead to this posting

‘Life on Board’ Exhibition at Mersey Maritime Museum

Yesterday we went to have a look at this new exhibition which has recently been put tpgether by curators at Merseyside Maritime Museum. I say recently but it should have opened back in March however a certain lockdown stopped that happening. But with the relaxation of Covid 19 rules the exhibition indeed the Museum itself is now open for public viewing again, although it’s wise to pre-book your visit. It’s all free I might add.

‘Life on Board’ is a look into the lives of both crew and passengers of merchant ships and passenger vessels and it tells a story, indeed many individual stories, via the people who experienced work and travel by ship over many decades.

Now having been shown around this new exhibition by our daughter (one of the team behind it) means that my view of it must be biased; that said both Sheila and I really did find it fascinating and well worth the visit. What’s more, clearly great thought has been given into trying to keep visitors and staff safe during this awful pandemic.

I’m no maritime historian so the best way I can illustrate the exhibition is via the photos I took while at it. So here goes:-

There’s quite a bit about the loss of this ship including video interviews. So sad but the families got to the truth in the end thankfully.

The medal above was interesting to see as I’d blogged about Samuel Plimsoll a while back – Here’s a link to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/06/21/plimsoll-the-man-the-mp-and-the-line/

I picked this shot of a Harrison Line poster due to it’s connection with my former home town of Maghull – Historic England says – Harrison Home [at the junction of Sefton Ln & L’pool Rd Sth] was named after Frederic Harrison, the President of the [Maghull] Homes in 1902 who operated a shipping line out of Liverpool. The home was constructed by Brown and Backhouse at a cost of £5421 and opened in June 1902.

To add to the photo above my Mum worked at the Harrison Home in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and I recall going into the building (which is Listed) at the time and thinking how beautiful it was and indeed still is. The Maghull Homes, as it was then known, was an epileptic colony and this was one of their buildings, it’s now known as the Parkhaven Trust.

I took a lot more photos as the exhibition covers many shipping issues and matters but the ones I’ve picked for this review are those which particularly interested me. Of course, other aspects will be of greater interest to others so if this review has piqued your interest it’s best to go see the the exstensive collection for yourself – I’m sure you’ll not be disappointed.

Please click on the photos above to enlarge them.

Remember the Skem ‘Jazzer’ train?

I recently came across a detailed recollection and very significant analysis of this fabled train by Mike Pealing, who has generously allowed me to publish his work on this blog site.

The Skem.Jazzer. A Personal Reflection

I was born in Ormskirk during 1947. My father and his father before him were both railwaymen and as a family we used the railways extensively, which in those days, was so easy to do. There was little need to own a motor car, something that would be considered unbelievable today.

It was as a small child, that I first became acquainted with the Jazzer. Sometimes while waiting for the local service for Town Green at Ormskirk station, I would run off, to the top end of the station. There the Jazzer could often be seen. Belching black smoke, it looked like and was something, from a bygone age even in those days. What I remember most vividly was the huge chimney’s those locomotives had.

My father use to chase after me and I could be found staring at the engine. Sometime later he took me for a ride on the Jazzer, which I can barely remember.

Many places in the country in those days, had access to a station, even isolated villages. You could quite literally, travel anywhere by train.

Ormskirk was a very busy mainline station, with frequent express services to many destinations further north. (Windermere, Blackpool, Glasgow to name a few). Freight and goods trains were also very common. In addition, there were the local services to Southport, Skelmersdale, Rainford and St. Helens. It was a hive of activity. The water cranes were particularly fascinating to us as children.

I will not dwell on the history of the Rainford Branch Line, as there are many books and sources of information available, should the reader wish to explore further.

My interest in the Skem. Jazzer was rekindled some years back, when there was much local speculation that the old branch line might be reopened to Skelmersdale. Articles were written and with the rise of social media many posts appeared, some of which were just not true. One even suggested that the Skem.Jazzer operated between Liverpool and Wigan.

I decided to explore this local legend in an attempt to find out how the Jazzer came by its name. Little did I know that it would be a journey full of red herrings and dead ends.

The Jazzer operated between Ormskirk and St. Helens with seven through services each weekday but only services as far as Rainford Junction on Sundays. In addition, on weekdays, a more local service operated between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction with an onward connection at Rainford Junction for St. Helens. There were intermediate stops at Westhead Halt and Skelmersdale.

Among the first trains to operate on the line were the “Hughes Rail Motors”

Below, rare colour photograph of a Hughes Rail-Motor.

Above, Hughes Rail-Motor at Ormskirk Station

As can be observed from the photographs, the locomotive and carriage were fixed together and quite rigid, which could make the ride a little “jerky”. These rail motors operated with what was known as a “push-pull” system, which meant the train could be operated from either the locomotive or from the last carriage. This eliminated the need for turning at the destinations. The photograph below shows how the system worked. The driver can be seen in the coach.

The rail motors operated on the Rainford Branch until c1933* by which time, they were all withdrawn.

Photo below…. merged picture of how the Jazzer would have looked passing over Sefton’s bridge, Plough Lane. Lathom.

It seems likely that the “Jazzer” name started to be used to describe the Hughes Rail Motors from the mid-nineteen twenties, probably due to the characteristic ride experienced on these trains. In some way, the name was “borrowed” from the Jazz dance craze of the era. There is evidence that the rail motors had the nickname “Iffit” in their early years on the line. Possibly meaning “if it comes” or “if it runs” or “if it gets there” or a similar connotation.

Wherever these old trains operated on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, they acquired nicknames, such as “The Horwich Jerk “and “The Altcar Bob”. These nicknames and there are others, may very well have referred to the ride experienced on the trains, for example… “Bobbed about,” “Jerked around”, or even “Jazzed”.

“The Altcar Bob” at Downholland Station.

A locally, well-known painting and prints of the same exist of a Hughes Rail Motor, by a railway artist, the late Jim Petrie. This excellent painting shows a train at Ormskirk Station in 1914. The painting is titled “The Skem Jazzer 1914” and depicts an incoming service from Rainford using the mainline platform and a WW1 scene at the station. The photograph below shows a copy of this painting. However, in my search to find the origins of the Jazzer name, we must analyse the evidence.

The word “Jazz” did not enter UK English until sometime in the early 1920s. It can therefore be ruled out, that the Hughes Rail Motors carried the Jazzer nickname before this time.

The Hughes Rail Motors were withdrawn from service c1933* and replaced by two types of locomotives on the branch line. They were the Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t and the Hughes 1P. 2 4 2t

Both continued to use the “push-pull” system, utilising extra coaches, known as trailing coaches, according to passenger demand.

*Ormskirk engine shed (photos above&below) closed in 1935. There is evidence that the shed allocation of 1934 included one rail-motor, although it was most likely out of service and awaiting disposal.

Skem. Jazzer. Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t at Ormskirk Station. c1949.

Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t at Rainford Junction station.

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t

(Below) Hughes 1P 2 4 2t approaching New Lane, Burscough. Heading towards Southport.

These locomotives operated on the line from c1932 until c1950. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were generally used on the passenger services between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction. Other loco types operated the goods and freight services. The Hughes type 1P locos seem to have been mainly used on the through passenger services between Ormskirk and St. Helens. Both types were fitted with the push-pull system. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were based and maintained at Aintree MPD. The Hughes type 1P locos were based and maintained at Sutton Oak (Peasley Cross). Both were also known as radial tanks.

They were used throughout the wartime years and my late father remembered them very well.

As a young man and before joining the R.A.F. in 1942 he served with the Local Defence Volunteers (the precursor to the Home Guard) guarding Ormskirk Station from the might of Hitler. He told me how quiet and scary it was wandering around during the night. The lads used to spend the nights when off duty in a camping type coach, which was situated in the sidings adjacent to the Jazzer bay.

It has proved difficult to obtain definitive information on how and when the Jazzer got its name. Most of my research is based on hearsay. Information from an elderly family member has clarified the mystery.

During the WW11 years and for some time after, dances where held in Skelmersdale. Local people, including many American soldiers who were billeted in Maghull, made the journey from Ormskirk using the train. Extra coaches were added to accommodate the increase in passengers on Friday and Saturday nights. The place where the dances were held was the old Cooperative Hall (pictured below). This venue (there may well have been others) along with the dances held there, adopted the combined name of “Skem. Jazzers”.

Today, if you were to ask young people what they were doing on a Saturday night, the answer would probably be “Clubbing”. In those days, a similar question would be answered with “Jazzing”.

In those wartime years dancing was extremely popular, with dances such as the Jitterbug being a favourite. During those difficult and austere times, railway maintenance was at a minimum, the rolling stock in use was also well passed its sell by date. The trains would have been crowded, with many passengers standing. Travelling on the line was known to “jolt” or “jazz” passengers around, particularly when passing over points, level crossings and on the long curve in the line approaching and leaving Ormskirk.

The Co-operative Hall. Skelmersdale. Home of the “Skem. Jazzers”

From c1950 the old radial tank engines were withdrawn and replaced by the more familiar Ivatt tank engines. (At this time, the line between Rainford Junction and St. Helens was closed). The Ivatt Tanks remained in service until the closure of the line to passengers in 1956. The locomotives used on the line were numbers 41283 and 41284, still utilising the push-pull system. Both were based and maintained at Aintree MPD.

My conclusion is that the name “Jazzer” came about in the mid to late 1920s based on the jolts and rickety journey experienced, particularly by those standing and the comparison with the Jazz dance styles and craze of the era.

The Jazzer name and local tales of the train journey would have been very well known in the area, as well as to those in later WW11 times travelling to the dances.

The dances and venues in Skelmersdale simply adopted and used the name “Jazzers” which was a part of everyday conversation in those days.

Photos above and below show Ivatt Tank Engines, the last locos to carry the Jazzer name (Ormskirk Station.

Early morning photo of The Jazzer. Travelling light engine from Aintree MPD to Ormskirk, passing through Town Green Station. (Photo below)

The Skem Jazzer in its final form. Ivatt Tank Engine at Ormskirk Station.

It does appear that the answer to this local legend has been clarified or solved, but as previously mentioned, there is no definitive evidence. The Skem.Jazzer remains an important part of our local history.

The chance of the old branch line between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale ever reopening is unlikely. Current railway plans for the area, suggest a new station for Skelmersdale, which will be connected to the present-day line at Upholland. Other options include electrification to Burscough.

Modern thinking for the railways, is what is known as “rail heading”. New stations are built or in some cases reopened, to where people can drive and park their cars. The journeys are then continued by rail into the cities.

The old train is still fondly remembered, and we can only imagine the difference it would now make to the area if you could still catch a train to Skelmersdale, Rainford or St. Helens with onward connections to Wigan, Manchester and other places. Not forgetting the much-missed service between Ormskirk and Southport.

Below, The Jazzer near Westhead, heading towards Ormskirk. The loco is a Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. c1949 Note, the large chimney.

Below, The Skem Jazzer at Westhead Halt. c1949. The loco is an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2 t.

Jazzer at Westhead Halt. (Hughes Rail motor) c1930. Note the steps to the top right of photograph. Used for getting on and off the train.

Below, Jazzer at Crank Halt, Rainford Junction to St. Helens line. Hughes Type 1P 2 4 2t.

Crank Halt, showing remains of the platform

Skelmersdale Station(below) showing a goods train operated by an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Skelmersdale station(below) after closure. Limited freight traffic along with some rolling stock movements continued to use the line until the tracks were finally lifted.

Skelmersdale Station. Now abandoned. One of the final goods services passing through.

The line in the past also served the many coal mines and pits that were in the area. In the Ormskirk direction a mineral railway branched off and served Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate pit, then Brookfield pit and finally Tawd Vale (later Glenburn) colliery.

The mineral railway at Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate Pit.

Photo below shows the Sandwash (top blue marker on the map above) and lines to the pits and collieries.

A mineral railway also ran from White Moss Crossing. This served White Moss and Mossfield collieries.

And another ran to Bickerstaffe Colliery, to the south of White Moss Crossing.

In WW1, a military railway ran from Skelmersdale Station into the Lathom Park Remount Depot. Its purpose was to transport warhorses. Standard gauge from Skelmersdale but became narrow gauge on entering the depot. (of the same type that was used in the trenches)

Below, horses at Ormskirk Station awaiting movement to the remount depot at Lathom Park.

Ormskirk Station showing the Rainford Branch, centre right. Lower right corner, tracks to Jazzer and Coal Sidings.

Photographs below shows the approaches to Ormskirk Station. The points and curves were the most likely source of the “jolts” experienced by passengers.

Aerial view of Ormskirk Station (below) showing the Rainford Branch top left.

Above, Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. For me, the iconic locomotive type that operated on the line and the engine I most remember from my childhood.

What remains today?…

Photos above and below courtesy of Orion Aerial Images. Track bed from Ormskirk and Westhead Village shown.

Some of the former track bed between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale is extant but generally inaccessible and mainly on private land. Between Skelmersdale and Rainford, the old route can be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

This section of the former line, however, has generally been obliterated by White Moss Landfill but some of the route remains as farm track. It is mainly on private land.

From the former Rainford Junction Station (now Rainford) towards St. Helens, a long section of the old track bed remains. This has become a cycle/walkway. Starting near The Junction Public House. It is known as Rainford Linear Park.

The final few miles from where the Linear Park ends at Mill Lane, near Crank and onwards into St. Helens is generally inaccessible and has all but disappeared under roads and development. This section of the old line can also be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

(More information can be found on the excellent “Disused Stations” webpage…http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/)

Photos of the Jazzer or in some example’s identical locos, included with very many thanks to the unknown original photographers of these and some other photographs contained in this article.…….

Footnote…. To some the trains were also known by the name “Skem. Joey”. But that’s another story!

My thanks to Mike for allowing me to blog about his excellent reasearch. My thanks also to Keith Page for this help with my befuddlement over technical aspects of sorting out computer stuff.

Click on the photos and graphics to enlarge them where that is possible

How will you help make our roads safer?

Government is working on changes to the Highway Code to make road use safer for cyclists and pedestrians so whether you’re a pedestrian, horse rider, cyclist or driver (I wonder how many of you are all 4?) have a go at this quiz on the proposed changes to the Highway Code which is on the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-54027461

Maghull & Lydiate’s ‘Berlin Wall’ & the ‘Bible’ of cycling infrastructure

In response to a previous posting about cycling infrastructure in Sefton Borough a Twitter responder (Clive Durdle) pointed me (and indeed Sefton Council) towards something called CROW. Yes, I wondered what it was too but after some Googling I realised it’s pretty much the ‘Bible’ for building cycle friendly/safe roads. And surprise, surprise (NOT) it’s a Dutch publication.

Here’s a blog posting about it:-

therantyhighwayman.blogspot.com/2019/07/crow-flow.html

And here’s a link to the publishers – by gum it’s not cheap!

crowplatform.com/product/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic/

The new Alt JUnction

Of course, the obvious question is what manual were Sefton Council using when they designed the new junction in Maghull – A59/Northway-Liverpool Road South-Dover Road (The Alt Junction) – as I struggle to see how cycling through this brand new junction was considered at all! Frankly, I’ve yet to hear a good word about it from the pedestrians, cyclists or drivers whom I’ve spoken to. Yes, I realise it’s new and we generally don’t like change so we’re often sceptical about many new things, but this junction could start to become almost as unpopular as its much bigger brother just a few hundred yards away from it – I refer of course to the now infamous Switch Island ‘Home of traffic Accidents’.

The reason this new junction is important is because there are few crossing places across Maghull & Lydiate’s ‘Berlin Wall’ otherwise known as the A59/Northway dual carriageway (and even fewer safe ones) for pedestrians and cyclists. These are they south to north:-

* South end of Maghull adjacent to River Alt – A good pedestrian/cyclist safe crossing with traffic lights.
* The Alt Junction – Brand new but in my view far from being cyclist friendly & it’s a long walk for pedestrians.
* Hall Ln Junction – Pedestrians have high-level bridge to cross but it’s disability/cyclist unfriendly(steps).
* Damfield Ln Junction – Another high-level safe walking bridge but it’s disability/cyclist unfriendly (steps again).
* Westway/Eastway Junction – A pedestrian subway which cyclists are discouraged/banned from using.**
* Dodds Ln Junc’ – A good pedestrian crossing with traffic lights separate to the non-traffic lighted junction.
* Kenyons Ln Junction – Traffic lighted but no pedestrian phase & lights often do not recognise waiting cyclists.
* Robins Island – Traffic island with no pedestrian crossing facilities or safe access onto cycle paths.

The distance between the most southerly A59 crossing and Robins Island is @2.25 miles the vast majority of which is through two highly populated suburban communities, except the Kenyons Ln – Robins Island section. What’s more a large proportion of community facilities – Town Hall, Leisure Centre, Library, Frank Hornby Museum, Police Station, Health Centre, Industrial Estate, Recycling Centre, Main Shopping Centre and Lydiate Village Centre – are all on the western side of it. Maghull’s 2 railway stations being on the east side together with 2 of the 3 local high schools*. My point being, there are many reasons why Maghull & Lydiate folk have to cross this busy major road each and every day and the crossing facilities for pedestrians and cyclists are far from adequate.

We all know we should be walking and cycling more to help us to be fitter/healthier and of course to save the planet but the way Maghull & Lydiate has been set up/planned in effect encourages vehicle use simply because of the lack of safe/accessible crossing facilities associated with it’s very own ‘Berlin Wall’.

On that basis why has the most recently rebuilt junction on ‘The Wall’ been built with cycling facilities all but excluded? Has Sefton Council got a copy of CROW and if so is it simply gaining dust on a shelf in some out of the way storeroom?

* The local primary schools are split 4 on the east side, 5 on the west

** The pedestrian only subway looks like this:-

It could be adapted for pedestrians and cyclists like this one in York:-

I would be interested to hear what others think about shared space subways in cycling unfriendly Maghull, Sefton Borough or elsewhere.