Rolling back Beeching half a mile at a time

The Burscough Curves are in West Lancashire. This historic shot of them is from when they were in place, in 1960’s.

Some time ago government made a high profile bid for the railway enthusiast/environmental vote by saying they were putting up money to reinstate the railway cut-backs of the 1960’s Beeching era. It was all good stuff but when you have an idea how much a railway costs to reinstate then the amount of money on offer was to say the least rather insignificant whereas the expectations raised have been very significant. The amount on offer was (and I think still is) £500m and some experts think that’s only enough to reinstate around 25 miles of track in total!

Here’s a link to the original press coverage via the Independent’s website:-

www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/fleetwood-rail-cuts-beeching-grant-shapps-borders-railway-west-coast-a9304686.html

And here’s the list of projects bidding for the money!:-

assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/969125/restoring-your-railway-all-bids.csv/preview

Clearly Pandora’s Box has been opened and unless vastly more money is put into this pot there’s going to be some angry and potentially feeling misled people about. Even if you say two thirds of the projects won’t make the cut the rest will cost many billions of £’s.

Locally, there are two projects on the long list of bidders – reconnecting the Burscough Curves (which used to connect the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk Preston lines at Burscough) and the reopening of Midge Hall Station on the Ormskirk – Preston line. As a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Assn) I’m reasonably informed about both bids as they’ve been campaigned for over many, many years. The Burscough Curves project did not make the 1st round approval process to be progressed via this particular funding route. In effect a revised bid is required. The Midge Hall Station project may see the light of day via planning gain money associated with a large housing development close to it, although that’s been talked about for ages too.

So with expectations being so high and very significant efforts being made with regard to each bid how will the potentially many let-downs be handled?

My thanks to Jonathan Cadwallader for the lead to this posting

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

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/

Altcar and Hillhouse Station

Altcar and Hillhouse Station

This follows up a number of previous postings about the long-gone railway from Aintree Central to Southport Lord Street which closed well before Mr Beeching had a hack at Britain’s railways.

This station, on the old Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway, was between Lydiate and Mossbridge Stations. It opened in 1894, closed for a couple of years during the First World War (along with a number of other stations along this line) and survived until the line was closed in 1952. Rail access was still retained until 1960 to serve private sidings on the Station site.

The photo above was taken in June 1959 when a railway enthusiasts special was run.

I look upon Thatcher as I do Beeching

Not being a Conservative I have never been able to get my head around why they so idolised her. It’s like me being a railway enthusiast trying to understand why some folks thought Beeching was doing us a favour by closing many of our railways.

Frankly, I saw Margaret Thatcher as being a negative influence on our society. Yes, OK I am from Nottinghamshire mining stock so you could say I have an axe to grind but even putting that prejudice to one side I just saw her as a divisive figure who seemed to be promoting a view of the world which on one level you could say was playing to our most self-interested instincts.

It also has to be said that her government started what I see as the start of the decline in our financial institutions via the demutualisation of our building societies. This move, which seemed to symbolise greed over sensible management of savings, played very much to our more selfish instincts as we gained and then sold shares in mutual institutions that subsequently were either taken over by big banks or went bust because they were no longer managed well.

Sadly, instead of being able to celebrate our first female Prime Minister I really do wonder whether she helped to lay the foundations for our seemingly more selfish society.