Wrexham to Bidston Railway Line – Plans to upgrade it?

The following press release from Merseytravel is interesting although for how many years has Merseytravel been talking about improving this particular line? I would guess at at least 25 years.

Enhancing the Borderlands line

Proposals to develop improvements to cross border travel between the [Liverpool] City Region and North Wales went before the Merseytravel Committee on Thursday 28th July.

Members considered a report proposing the creation of a working group of key partners, together with the Welsh Government to investigate further a number of options geared towards enhancing the Borderlands line between Bidston and Wrexham.

Improving the quality and service levels on this line is a long standing aspiration for the City Region, set out in its Long Term Rail Strategy, and a recent study commissioned by Merseytravel into the potential development of the line provides an opportunity to move forward with a more detailed analysis of options.

Current services are provided by Arriva Trains Wales and during the daytime, services are at hourly frequencies calling at all stations and the journey takes just under one hour. Frequencies are lower during the evening.

If approved, the working group would be tasked with further examining options which include doubling service frequencies during the day time to two services per hour, developing infrastructure improvements, notably line speed improvements, and considering new and or improvements to stations.

It should also be noted that the Borderlands Line has been identified within the ‘Growth Track 360’ prospectus. The prospectus calls for substantial investment in rail to enable growth in the cross-border economy of the North Wales and Mersey Dee Region. The prospectus identifies line speed improvements and increased service frequency on the line between Wrexham and Bidston as critical investments.

Said Frank Rogers interim chief executive for Merseytravel: “Improving the rail offer on this line is a long standing priority for the Liverpool City Region and its partners and we continue to work with the Welsh Assembly, with whom we have a long standing working relationship, to shape new and improved services.

“It is recognised that the City Region, North Wales, West Cheshire the Mersey Dee Alliance area form part of a common, recognisable economic travel to work area.

“The results of our recent study into the benefits and costs of improving the service provide us with the rationale to move forward with this and see what is possible.

“Cross border success through partnership working is important to us as the existing line has the potential to perform better in order to attract growth and boost employment, retail and leisure opportunities.”

As per the Long-Term Rail Strategy, the ambition remains for the line to be electrified providing a positive business case is ultimately proven. However, as electrification requires major investment the business case for such can be strengthened by increasing the number of people using the services such as through offering more frequent services. Therefore, the report outlines that until then, the focus should be on developing benefits which may be gained in the shorter term by focusing on the improvement of existing diesel services under the Wales and Borders franchise.

Ends

My thanks to Merseytravel Committee member Cllr. John Dodd for spotting this posting for me.

Merseyrail – More on the promised new trains

I have been seeking reliable information about the process for obtaining the new trains and from what I can see at present the situation looks like this:-

* Merseyrail/Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region – have not selected the next generation rolling stock.

IMG_4864

* It will only become known what new rolling stock has been selected once they (Merseytravel on behalf of Liverpool City Region?) have completed the procurement process that is about to commence assuming there is political approval for the procurement.

Could the new guardless Merseyrail trains look like this?

Could the new guardless Merseyrail trains look like this?

* The new fleet of trains will be a little smaller in quantity than the existing one, but will be able to cater for the anticipated growth in passenger numbers.

A current Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

A current Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

* There will be flexibility within contracts to allow additional rolling stock to be purchased, should the Merseyrail network expand.

Whilst at face value procuring fewer trains than presently run on the Merseyrail network seems wrong headed I think this will at least partly be explained by the new electrical multiple units being available a greater % of the time i.e. they will need less maintenance and will break down less than the units they are replacing.

Personally, I would rather see more units being purchased via the main initial tender so that they are procured at a better price than add-ons to the contract which are usually more expensive. Such a signal would also make the obviously required extensions to the Merseyrail system

Ormskirk to Preston
Kirkby to Skelmersdale/Wigan
Bidston to Wrexham

something that will happen rather than something that might happen. In other words make the extensions happen rather than just talk about them as has been the case for far too many years.

If the Liverpool City Region is to be a success it has to be well connected to the wider north west of England and indeed North Wales. Presently, by rail it is certainly not well connected so wider horizons have to be aimed for if a big opportunity is not to be missed.

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! Posting 3

This is the 3rd and, for now, final of my reviews of Merseytravel and its rail achievements and failures. The first two reviews can be found by following the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/01/29/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-1/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/19/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-2/

The starting point for this final review is an article in Today’s Railways Magazine of June 2009.

The first and highly significant point made in this article is that the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Merseyside, which had been published a few months before the article by Network Rail, looked at the ‘journey to work area’ for Liverpool and it had concluded that it went well beyond the present Merseyrail boundaries. Shades here of my previously stated concerns about the Liverpool City Region area being far too small to be effective. Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Chester, Wrexham and Flint are mentioned as the real boundaries of travel into Liverpool for work and this demonstrates all too well why insular inward looking politicians have got Merseyside’s transport planning wrong.

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

But lets look at the detail of this 2009 examination of Merseytravel/Merseyrail:-

* A 1km extension of the Kirkby Line (Northern line) to Headbolt Lane was being evaluated. I think we have heard of that before and it has still gone nowhere at all.

* A new railway into Skelmersdale (from the Kirkby – Wigan line) was to be investigated. This has popped up again quite recently with Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council seemingly very keen to get this project moving, but it will cost an arm and leg!

* An extension of the Ormskirk line electrification to Burscough and even Southport was suggested as a possibility for 2014 onwards. The article writer notes that electrification reached Ormskirk in 1913 so there would seem to be little urgency! What could be a small piece of good news is that extending the Northern Line beyond Ormskirk to Burscough is very much on the cards in 2014 probably on the back of major house building in Burscough. Watch this space.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

* Bidston – Wrexham and Kirkby – Wigan electrifications. Well, where do we start! The first one has been doing the rounds for a very long time and both of them fit with the real travel to work area of Liverpool. Don’t hold your breath on either of them though.

* The Halton Curve – Yes, you have heard of that before and it got a mention in this July 2009 article. And, not so long ago, Merseytravel announced another feasibility study into reconnecting it to provide a Liverpool Lime Street Chester service.

* The need to run more 6 car trains was looked at. This problem, certainly on the Ormskirk Line, has led to folks abandoning rail travel because of some peak time trains being only 3 cars.

* There was talk of Liverpool Central being too small to cope with the number of passengers that flow through it and indeed the number of trains. Since then the Station has received a cosmetic refurbishment which also cleared as much clutter from the platforms of the Northern Line as possible to improve the passenger environment.

* Construction of a new Station at Maghull North! – Well I have been campaigning for that for a long time and it has still to appear. The article says it was planned for 2010 but sadly that was far too too optimistic and may well have been ‘Merseytravel speak’ i.e. talking things up beyond what was likely to happen.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Maghull Station

A Merseyrail electric unit at the present Maghull Station

* Replacement of the rolling stock in 2014 – Well that did not happen although another upgrade is presently being rolled out of the Class 507/508 EMU’s and they are getting a new ‘graffiti’ livery – well that’s what residents call it!

* And what about dual voltage, yes that gets another mention so that Merseyrail trains can take power from overhead lines as well as the 3rd rail. And no, it has not happened.

This article was very significantly based on the Merseyside RUS document but readers of my earlier posts will note that Network Rail in effect referred to projects that Merseytravel have been on about for 20 odd years or longer.

And to be fair 2007 saw the biggest financial crash in living memory so looking back it is blindingly obvious that many of the area’s transport schemes that relied on Government money to make them happen were going to be shunted into the sidings until things picked up. But, having said that, I can’t but look at places like Greater Manchester where the transport investment has continued apace despite hard times because Governments of all colours have confidence in the leadership of Greater Manchester and by implication they don’t in you know where!

My conclusion having read the commentary on the railways of the Merseyside area of the past 20 years is that Merseytravel always took a far too optimistic view of what was achievable and thought that if they talked long and hard enough Government money would flow into Merseyside transport. Sadly Merseytram proved the opposite to be the case. In my view poor governance of Merseyside has over the years ensured that investment by Governments in transport could only be limited, but have those in power learned from this? Will they take a trip down the East Lancs Road to see how successful transport planning, governance and investment is achieved?

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

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

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

Merseytram – Finally killed off in 2013 – But the City Region’s public transport problems remain

images

Merseytram-map

index

The ill-fated Mersytram project, which the last Labour Government was having none of, was finally killed off in 2013 and we are told that investigations into it are ongoing as part of the wide ranging probes into Merseytravel generally. But the death of this project and the time and money wasted upon it leaves Liverpool and its commuter belt with unresolved public transport problems which will do harm to the local economy by holding it back.

In my view the big transport issues in the Liverpool City Region are resolvable via investment in the already established and highly successful heavy rail system that serves the City and some of its commuter belt.

Two of the heavy rail electrified lines need to be extended to their logical ends as opposed to the present artificial ones:-

* The Northern Line which presently terminates at Ormskirk needs to extended first to Burscough and then ultimately to Preston.

* The Northern Line route to Kirkby needs to extended through to Wigan, with a potential spur into Skelmersedale.

A new heavy rail/tram line is required as follows:-

* Liverpool Airport needs to be rail connected to Liverpool South Parkway Station or a connecting tram from that railway station needs to be built to the airport.

The following lines should be electrified and see enhanced services:-

* The Bidston to Wrexham line.

* The Southport to Wigan line.

The Burscough Curves need to be reconnected so that Southport to Preston and Southport to Ormskirk rail journeys are again possible.

To me these objectives are straight forward but on Merseyside the obvious got muddled into what may have been seen as a competition with other major cities to get a tram system established. Yes, trams were then the new fashion and Liverpool’s great rival Manchester along with cities like Nottingham and Sheffield have had great success in establishing and then extending new tram lines. But, was it right to propose trams for Liverpool when it already had a highly successful heavy rail electrified system in place? I think the planning in the 1990’s and early 2000’s was wrong and Liverpool ended up following the fashionable route towards trams instead of doing the obvious and developing what it had already started in the 1970’s when the heavy rail systems were brought together via the underground tunnels.

In some ways the tram plan was also too insular as it did not address the need to easily get people people into the City from a commuter belt that stretches well beyond the rather odd Merseyside boundaries. It was a plan to better move around the present population of a small city rather than a plan to spread Liverpool’s wings into its wast commuter belt in Lancashire and Cheshire.

And the lessons for this are all to clear from Greater Manchester where public transport developments have been logical and well supported by Governments of all colours. It may be hard to learn from an arch rival city but the fact is that Manchester has played its transportation cards well and Liverpool needs to learn from that.

Merseyside’s big advantage is its network of heavy rail electrified lines. They simply need to be developed so please lets get on with it.