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:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0yekbZWMWw&t=482s

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.

When Ormskirk bound trains ran via North Mersey Branch

Back on 19th November 2020, via a Facebook posting, I asked this:-

I came across the black and white photo recently and it made me think because the destination board would have involved the train using the long closed North Mersey Branch from Bootle to Aintree via Linacre Road and Ford Stations. Those stations and that line ceased to be used for passenger trains in April 1951 except of course for Grand National trains. I’ve also attached a view of the start of the line [as it is today] just south of the present Aintree Station. Does anyone recall using it on a passenger train?

I also included a shot of the local British Rail network as it was back in the day when the North Mersey Branch was electrified:-

My good friend Jonathan Cadwallader responded to my FB posting by saying this – I have travelled on that line. Sometime in, I think, the late 1970s there was engineering work in the Kirkdale/Orrell Park area. In those days replacing a train service with buses was only done as a last resort. To maintain trains to Ormskirk, diesel multiple units ran from the reversing siding south of Sandhills, connecting with electric trains bound for Southport. They ran non-stop through Bootle and took the Aintree route from Marsh Lane Junction, re-joining the Ormskirk line immediately south of Aintree Station, as shown in your photo and then continuing to Ormskirk. I can’t recall whether this was just for one or two weekends or if these trains ran Monday to Friday as well.

And then a couple of days ago Jonathan came across a photo he’d taken when one of the dmu workings had taken place. His recollection is that the photo would probably date from the winter of 1983 or 1984. Here’s the shot he took as the dmu was leaving the usual route of Ormskirk – Liverpool trains at Aintree junction:-

My thanks to Jonathan for digging this photo out and allowing me to share it. Comparing it with the present scene in my own photo (above) of the junction as it is today shows very considerable change indeed.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Aintree – Is the mothballed Nth Mersey Branch a Port of Liverpool access opportunity going begging?

Just south of Aintree Station there’s still a rail connection to the overgrown and mothballed North Mersey Branch, which heads off in the direction of the Port of Liverpool and Bootle. Here and above are a couple of shots of the rail connection as it is now:-

Both shots were taken from the end of the Liverpool bound platform of Aintree Station.

Surely it (the Nth Mersey Branch) could be, at least in part, a sensible contribution to the accessing the expanding Port of Liverpool. I might add that Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson wants a railway in a tunnel but Labour-run Sefton Council wants a road tunnel. Friends of the Earth are calling on Labour Mersey Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham to come out against the surface road solutions – I’m not aware that he has. Presently, Highways England are pressing ahead with their plans for a new road down and through Rimrose Valley Country Park.

The North Mersey Branch once went all the way to the docks (Gladstone Dock) but the the dock connection was removed many years ago, it connects the Southport – Liverpool and Ormskirk – Liverpool Merseyrail lines these days but it’s not been used (mothballed) for many a year. Merseytravel, the public transport arm of the Liverpool City Region, say they have long-term plans to reopen the branch for passenger traffic which was withdrawn from it and the former Ford and Linacre Road Stations in April 1951.

I recall going to the first public consultation event (a few years back) about how the expanding Port of Liverpool could be accessed by freight. On seeing only Highways England there I asked where Network Rail were so that the rail options could be talked through too. The answer was along the lines of they weren’t there and were not in reality a part of the process! I despaired then and I still do now…….

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Aintree to Bootle – The former North Mersey Branch

Looking east along the North Mersey Branch in the direction of the former Ford Station from Hawthorne Road, Bootle in 2014.

Here’s a fascinating collection of old photos on You Tube showing the now long-mothballed North Mersey Branch railway from Aintree to Bootle in its latter working days.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8OdzAuIJxc

About once every 5 years or so there’s talk about the branch being opened up again for Merseyrail passenger services but nothing seems to happen.

Aintree – Now here’s a unique piece of it’s railway history that had passed me by until now

I’m always interested to learn more about our local history (and in particular our railway history) in and around Sefton Borough and recently I’ve come across a unique aspect of Aintree’s railway history that until now had completely passed me by.

I refer to this Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Electric Locomotive At Aintree, Merseyside, 25th September 1912

Phil Hughes on the Mersey Railways Facebook Group, where the photos were recently displayed, says – From what I believe it was a test track possibly between Sefton junction and the bridge crossing the Ormskirk line hence the overhead wires.

Ryan Lloyd then contributed this – It ran from Aintree Sorting Sidings East box (about where the North Mersey branch crossed the Ormskirk line) past Aintree No1, which you can see in the distance, and around the back of the grid, to Netherton Way and Aintree Sorting Sidings West box. This section of the grid was on a slight embankment as the photo shows. You can also see the shed behind the loco.’

I hope you find this as fascinating as I do (ok I’m a railway enthusiast) and if anyone knows more to fill in any gaps in this posting I would be pleased to hear from you.

This posting and the photos are reproduced here with the kind permission of Phil Hughes who started the thread on the Mersey Railways Facebook Group.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Aintree – The furthest north Liverpool’s trams reached

Liverpool’s once extensive tramway network got as far north as Aintree Sefton Arms/Queens Arms pubs and Aintree Sefton Arms Station/Aintree Central Station on Warbreck Moor road.

Whilst at a recent open day of the Wirral Transport Museum & Heritage Tramway, at their Taylor Street Birkenhead Tram Shed HQ, my eyes lighted upon Liverpool Tram No.762 sat in Taylor Street Tram Shed. It took my attention as the destination board was set for Route 22 – Aintree via Scotland Road.

In fact Route Number 22 and the Destination Board of Aintree seen in this photo seem to be slightly at odds as I understand that Route 22 actually went to Fazakerley whereas Routes 20 and 21 went to Aintree Sefton Arms/Queens Arms pubs.

The Wirral Transport Museum & Heritage Tramway, with its mile or so of track leading to Woodside Ferry Terminal from Taylor Street Tram Shed, will be celebrating the running of Liverpool’s last Tram on Saturday 16th September 2017. A link to their facebook Page is available below:-

www.facebook.com/events/746829122135116/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22[%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22page_upcoming_events_card%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A[]%7D]%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D

That last tram ran on Saturday 14th September 1957 although the Aintree route was converted to buses commencing Sunday 5th August 1951.

The 2nd photo is amongst my flickr photos at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/