Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus – Posting 3 – Rails and Road conundrum

This is my 3rd and last posting about this recently published Lancashire Transport Prospectus. My previous 2 postings are available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/02/22/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-the-lancashire-strategic-transport-prospectus-posting-2-we-are-not-connected-to-southport/

Well this prospectus is a real curates egg of muddle to me and shows how both good and bad transport planning have come together in one document. The issue/problem seems to be associated with naturally adjoining communities that need connectivity with each other being in differing local authority areas.

An example of some good joined up planning is the proposal to bring rails and a station back into Skelmersdale. Sadly necessary because in the 1960’s town planners built a New Town whilst tearing up the original railway tracks. Page 36 of the report addresses this:-

Skelmersdale rail link – The Partnership want it completed by 2024

Whilst Skelmersdale enjoys excellent strategic connectivity to the Strategic Road Network via the M58, access to both Liverpool and Manchester is limited; it is one of the largest towns in the country without a town centre railway station. The nearest railway station, Upholland, is not easily accessible without a car and only served by an hourly train service to Kirkby and Wigan, and bus services are slow and journeys indirect.

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

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

The West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan, adopted by Lancashire County Council in October 2014, is proposing the wholesale reconfiguration of Skelmersdale’s transport networks to meet both current and future needs, not just for local residents and businesses but for West Lancashire as a whole. At its heart is a new rail link and town centre railway station, fully integrated with the bus network and easily accessible on foot or by cycle, and with sufficient car parking provision to function as a ‘Parkway’ station.

So good planning here to reconnect Skem in West Lancs to Kirkby/Knowsley and Liverpool. And there’s yet more good transport planning – to continue the electrified Liverpool – Ormskirk line on to Preston. Can’t come too soon in my view after another ridiculous severing of the original Liverpool – Preston link in the 1960’s. Here’s what the report says:-

Ormskirk-burscough-Preston rail link (the Partnership wants it in place by 2029) and the prospectus says:-

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport - Wigan and Ormskirk - Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

Merseyrail currently operates a fast and frequent service between Liverpool and Ormskirk using electric trains. However, onward travel to Preston requires a change of train to a diesel-operated service that is infrequent and run to an irregular timetable. Rolling stock quality is also poor. Electrification of the Ormskirk to Preston route with appropriate infrastructure enhancements would resolve the majority of issues, significantly improving connectivity between Preston, West Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region. In addition, there is the potential to provide better interchange between Liverpool-Ormskirk-Preston and
Manchester-Wigan-Southport services at Burscough. Both are aspirations in the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy published in August 2014.

So ticking all the right boxes again here. BUT, BUT, BUT…..

Firstly an aside not directly connected with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. Merseytravel (the public transport body for Merseyside) commissioned a study not so long ago called the Burscough Demand Study regarding the first stage of moving the electrified train service further north from Ormskirk to Burscough. Merseytravel Committee member Cllr. John Dodd has been trying to get hold of a copy of the study report for months now but so far with no response. Cllr. Dodd requested that it be copied to him on the following dates 21st October, 2nd November, 16th November, 30th November, 14th December, 4th January, 18th January, 1st February but he has not even had a reply from the Transport Authority he is a member of! Just keep that thought in mind.

Returning to the LEP Prospectus – Sadly, however, this LEP report follows on from the 2014 West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan in not addressing two huge transport issues in West Lancashire i.e. not proposing an east/west Ormskirk road by-pass and not proposing serious development of Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line.

Both these issues could if they were properly pursued have really positive benefits for West Lancashire and Southport/North Sefton residents but with Southport being in Merseyside the joined up thinking that seems to be there with the Skem/Kirkby/Liverpool rail link is missing in spades here.

I don’t know about you but surely Ormskirk should have had an east/west road bypass years ago in my book. It should have been built for the sake of the folks who live in an almost permanent Ginger Bread Town* traffic jam (together with the associated air and noise pollution) and for the economic development and much needed better access to Southport. Why keep ducking this issue when what it needs is the determination akin to that which recently delivered the new Switch Island – Thornton Link Road (Broomscross Road) in Sefton?

Then there is the very small mention in the prospectus of the Manchester – Wigan – Southport railway line (in the quote from the document above) and even that is only about connectivity between the two rail lines which cross each other at Burscough. Yes, such better interchange facilities are obviously required but far more than that the line from Southport through Wigan to Manchester needs serious investment. Such investment would benefit Southport and West Lancashire but where is the ambition in Lancashire and within the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership? And don’t forget that the Burscough Curves need to be reinstated (you can see them still in place on the 1958 map above) so that rail travel is again possible between Southport and Preston and Ormskirk and Southport.

Readers of this blog site will recall that when a Sefton Borough Councillor I had to fight tooth and nail to get Merseytravel to include the development of the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line in their City Region Long Term Rail Strategy. That battle was finally won with the help of John Pugh MP, OPSTA and the Southport Rail Transport Forum but now we have both Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership seemingly heel dragging on the very same issue!

So at the conclusion of my 3 part commentary on the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Strategic Transport Prospectus I am both delighted at the progress in some transportation areas but utterly deflated about the lack of it in others.

Come on Lancashire, start talking seriously to Sefton and do some joint transport planning which the residents of both areas could benefit from immensely.

* Ormskirk is famous for its Gingerbread

John Pugh MP & Southport Manchester Trains

mail.google.com

Click on the Champion newspaper article to enlarge it

John Pugh MP for Southport

Well said John, this is of course a vital part of giving Southport a healthy economic future. Without a quality rail connection to the east (to Wigan & Manchester) and indeed the north of the Town (to Preston) to match the one to the south Southport can’t develop to its true potential.

www.johnpughmp.com/mp_determined_to_keep_southport_rail_upgrades_on_track

Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line to be electrified!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-31753447

Tier One priority lines for electrification – The top five in the north of England

1 Calder Valley
2 Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington Central
3 Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent
4 Chester to Stockport
5 Northallerton to Middlesbrough

Southport Station - Unpopular 'Pacer' trains heading for Wigan & Manchester could well be replaced by more environmentally friendly electric units if these proposals are accepted.

Southport Station – Unpopular ‘Pacer’ trains heading for Wigan & Manchester could well be replaced by more environmentally friendly electric units if these proposals are accepted.

There may well be a long way to go yet but all the campaigning of organisations such as OPSTA, Southport Business Improvement District, John Pugh the MP for Southport and the Lib Dem Sefton Council Group seems to have hit home with the powers that be in the rail industry.

The extension of the electrification which presently stops at Kirkby (out of Liverpool) is also an obvious and welcome move forward and one on which this web site has commented previously.

Let’s hope these projects move forward without delay.

Transport investments in Liverpool City Region but Southport still not shining on Merseytravel radar

From Southport – Online NewsContact us with your news. Mob/Txt 07530 315 478 southport@qnews.co.uk

Merseytravel welcomes funding for schemes to improve rail and road links

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt. Hon George Osborne MP, has been in Liverpool to announce a package of measures to support the city’s science and transport infrastructure.

He has announced:

A £10.4 million upgrade to the Halton Curve rail line to improve connectivity between Liverpool, Cheshire, Warrington and North Wales.

£5.6 million to improve access and road safety around Knowsley Industrial Park.

£4m of improvements to A5300 Knowsley Expressway to maximise the benefits of the New Mersey crossing and access to Liverpool Airport.

A £14.4m upgrade of the car parking and public transport connections on the Newton-le-Willows rail interchange link to Parkside.

Said Cllr Liam Robinson, Chair of Merseytravel:

“We warmly welcome the announcement. The funding for four of the City Region’s top priority infrastructure schemes supports our Growth Deal and the push to get the Liverpool City Region properly plugged into the northern powerhouse.

“Better connectivity across the city region and beyond not only boosts our economic potential, but pulls northern cities and towns closer together, helping rebalance the whole UK economy.

“As a City Region we’re focusing on those projects that will bring real economic and social benefit. The Halton Curve will improve rail links between the Liverpool City Region, Cheshire and North Wales unlocking job and leisure opportunities. Improvements to Newton le Willows station will boost the benefits of electrification that will see journeys from Liverpool to Manchester in as little as 30 minutes. It will also support the development of Parkside.

“Both of these schemes are firmly within our long term rail strategy which is focused on developing the network to support and grow the Liverpool City Region economy over the next 30 years. They and the two other schemes announced – Access Improvements to Knowsley Industrial Park and the A5300 Knowsley Expressway, also support the City Region’s objective of creating a freight and logistics hub.

“We look forward to hearing that the City Region has been successful in securing funding for more of its Growth Deal bids in the formal announcement next week.”

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

Interesting indeed and the Coalition Government’s investment in Merseyside is not to be sniffed at but the obvious missing project here is the long-desired improvement in the rail link from Southport to Wigan and Manchester. Southport is within the Liverpool City Region and its economy depends on good transport links, which it has to the south of seaside Town. However, the transport links to the east and north of Southport are poor as I have posted about on this site before. The rail link to Preston was lost in the Beeching era and the present railway line to the east offers a poor quality of service. I will return to this issue soon but the big issue here is that we need the City Region and Merseytravel to join the battle to upgrade the line and for them to put a compelling case to Government for the funding.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots (you will need to scroll down quite a way) at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Southport and its railways – a victim of the 1960’s Beeching era and Local Government reorganisation of the 1970’s.

The 1960’s loss of the Southport – Preston Line, should it still be there, would be laughed at these days but gone it has even though it was electrified to Crossens. It must rank as one of the most bizarre Beeching era losses.

Then in the 1970’s Southport suffered again, this time at the hands of local government reorganisation. Many hold the view that Southport was added into Merseyside as a party political fix and this is probably the case because the Borough of Sefton, which I led for 7 years, is geographically most odd. It is that odd geography that has caused a continuing and ongoing transport problem for Southport.

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

This photo is amongst my Flickr photo’s at
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Having lost its rail connection to the north the Town has been left with one high quality line to Liverpool and one poor quality one to Wigan and on to Manchester. The problem being that virtually all of the line east of Southport is in West Lancashire where Lancashire County Council is the transport authority. So to get the Southport – Wigan line upgraded it clearly needs West Lancs Borough and Lancashire County Councils to make it a priority – they have failed to do that ever since 1974 when the Merseyside – Lancashire boundary was erected. I say failed but, from their perspective, why should they look upon the Southport tourist economy as being a priority as Southport is not in Lancashire’s area of responsibility.

Then there’s the Burscough Curves; two very short sections of curved track that if reconnected could bring back a Southport – Preston railway service and a Southport – Ormskirk service to boot. Again, this is not a priority for Lancashire’s politicians and seemingly may never be such, but it is a huge priority for Southport.

So Southport at least from a rail perspective as lost out all ways round and finding a solution when that solution is in Lancashire has proved to be all but an insurmountable barrier for 40 years, despite the campaigning of Southport’s MP’s and its councillors.

When the railways first reached Southport Manchester businessman came to live in the Town because of its excellent rail links to Manchester – excellent is not what you would call the service these days!

My contention is that until the West Lancashire area becomes a unitary authority and joins the other Merseyside Authorities as an equal partner Southport’s rail challenges may not be given much more than tea and sympathy. And sadly this seems to have been the stance of Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority, then Integrated Transport Authority and now little more than a Committee of the Merseyside Joint Authorities) since 1974.

Southport has been served up a raw deal in the modern day rail era but, we must not let the challenges daunt us, tough though they may be. The Southport economy will continue to be held back if the battle is not eventually won.

The original article was written for OPSTA’s magazine ‘Connexion’ of April 2014.

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! – Posting 2

My first blog on this subject, posted on 29th January, was based on RAIL Magazine’s Merseyside feature in edition No.208 of September 1993.

We now move on to an edition of modern railways from August 2003 and their feature article headed ‘Bright future on Merseyside: 25 year franchise, new tram network’

rsz_photo0567

* June 2003 saw a £3.6b 25year contract awarded to Serco/Nedrail to run Merseyside’s 3rd rail electrified lines which serve 66 stations.

* Interestingly, cost cutting by a previous operator (MTL), who had run the electrified trains from rail privatisation until Arriva gained a short contract to run them, came in for some criticism in the article. Fines for poor services had hit £6m, we were told!

The fleet of class 507/508’s trains were then breaking down every 4,000 to 5,000 miles they travelled; well below the expected average of 15,000 miles per break down. They are clearly performing far better these days.

The article states that 25 overground and 5 underground stations were to be refurbished by 2006 – 5 per year. I have not checked this in detail so any comments would be welcome.

Another pledge was that all stations would be fully accessible by the end of the next Local Transport Plan in 2010. My reasonably informed guess is that this did not happen but I could be wrong.

rsz_photo0568

In the 10 years from 1993 (when the first magazine article that I reviewed was published) to 2003 it was claimed that £72m had been spent on the network with 5 new stations and 7 refurbishments. Old Roan, Kirkdale and Conway Park Stations were highlighted.

We then move on to planned expansion of the network and that old chestnut opening up the ‘Bootle Mineral Branch’ which runs from Bootle to Aintree was noted [it has not happened]. ‘The Bootle – Aintree link will only need about two miles of track to be upgraded and electrified and is covered in the LTP’ (Local Transport Plan). Sounds grand and as though it was a certainty but……………

Another plan in 2003 was to open up the Bootle to Edge Hill line to meet the demands of the proposed new football stadium [neither has happened].

And hey look more talk of an extension of the line beyond Kirkby. [still not happened]

And another one that did the rounds back in 1993 – ‘the possibility of electrifying the Bidston to Wrexham line (back then operated by First North Western) and adding it to the Merseyrail Electrics system is also being considered.’ Well another 11 years on there is no sign of this getting off the ground.

The ‘£16m’ Liverpool South Parkway got a mention – trouble is it actually cost £32m!

Separately in this edition of modern railways the infamous merseytram project is covered and back in 2003 it was still a live project. The article tells us that the then Secretary of State for Transport had approved £170m towards the £225m cost of Line 1 to Kirkby and the Liverpool City Centre lines. Of course Merseytram came to a rather sticky end when the then Labour Government gave up on the project (probably because of Merseyside’s dysfunctional local governance) and pulled its contribution.

So we have moved forward 10 years to 2003, some things have happened but many have not and pipe dreaming is still a significant factor it would seem. But what about Southport AGAIN? Still no mention of upgrading its eastern and northern rail access or reinstating the Burscough Curves. My recollection is that such matters got a great deal of tea and sympathy, when raised by Sefton Councillors, but in reality Merseytravel seemed hardly aware that it was the Transport Authority for this important seaside town at the north of its empire.