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.

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

Maghull/Lydiate/Melling – Simple cycling fixes for Sefton Council to undertake

It’s a given that the UK’s cycling network is well behind many European countries and that we seem to struggle to catch up. Major investment is required and whilst some progress is being made the pace is painfully slow.

But sometimes you know there are fixes that are easily done but which get overlooked. Here’s the obvious ones for me around Maghull, Lydiate & Melling:-

* Junction of Moorhey Road & Northway, Maghull – a dropped kerb for access to the cycle path along Northway towards Switch Island.

Just a dropped kerb and a bit of tarmac required at junction of Moorhey Rd and the Northway Service Road.

* Robins Island, Lydiate – add a small length of cycle path from Liverpool Road around the corner to the long established cycle path northwards along the A59.

Around the corner just out of shot is the present start of the cycle track. Start it in Liverpool Road where there’s presently just a narrow pavement.

* School Lane, Maghull – a dropped kerb is needed to access the new cycle path to Park Lane along side the new Maghull North Station.

A simple dropped kerb is all that is needed here on School Lane.

* Park Lane, Maghull – exiting the new cycle path from the station direction and turning right into Park Lane can be dangerous as cyclists vision is obscured by the railway over-bridge and the curvature of Park Lane. Whilst the speed limit is only 20mph on Park Lane in reality speeds can be well over 40mph. Sleeping policemen required on the approach to the bridge me thinks.

View at Park Ln end of cycle track. Cyclists can’t see speeding vehicles & they can’t see cyclists.

* Junction of Prescot Road and School Lane Melling – the new cycle path/track down to this junction from the Ashworth M58 Motorway junction finishes abruptly just before the junction as the new and still being constructed cycle path to Kirkby switches to the other side of Prescot Road. But what about the cyclists turning the corner into Prescot Road to head north? The present layout actually means that cyclists should join the road just before the junction! All that’s required is a few yards of cycle track around the junction corner.

Cycle path ends and the implication is to go on the road. A few yards of additional cycle track around in to Prescot Road would solve the problem.

What’s more I’m sure that there are many more simple cycling fixes across Sefton Borough, Merseyside and indeed the whole UK that would help tip the balance of cycling safely in favour of those of us on 2 wheels. It’s not always that grand schemes need to be the goal. And that reminds me that a similar problem applies to our railway infrastructure – simple fixes like reconnecting the Burscough Curves have been overlooked for 40 years or more.

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

Click on the photos to enlarge them

Class 769 driver training on Southport – Wigan line

A Southport bound Class 156 DMU at Burscough Bridge Station on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line – in 2014.

I’m indebted to Flickr user British Rail 1980s and1990’s for permission to use the photo contained in the link below to this blog posting:-

www.flickr.com/photos/britishrail1980sand1990s/49529872211

As this blog site and many, many other sources have commented on for far too long now the standard of service, the short forming of trains, cancellations etc. etc. on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line has sadly become a part of every passengers life. But there has to be hope and the testing of bi-mode Class 769’s on the line may well be a part of that hope.

I know that OPSTA will be interested in this development as they have been championing this long neglected line, together with the Ormskirk – Preston line of course, for many years indeed.

And a nostalgic reminder of the line in happier times when the Burscough Curves were still in use – photo credit Phil Hughes:-

OPSTA keeps on pressing for the curves to be reopened and is it just possible that the powers that be could be starting to take notice? I hope so but sadly there’s been far too many false dawns over the past 30 years or more to get too optimistic. However, one day Southport and Preston will again be connected by rail I sure, I just hope I see it happen.

My thanks to Kevin Duggan for the lead to this posting

HS2 – It was always going to get the green light

Class 66 Diesel Locos at Seaforth Container Terminal

I’ve been amused by all the chatter about the potential for government to stop HS2 in its tracks when the reality was they were never going to do that.

Yes I know, they held a review of it and made a lot of noise about cost but that was to keep the issue off the political agenda surrounding the General Election. The Tories wanted to be seen to have a foot in the camp of those who oppose HS2. You could say it was cynical political manipulation as that’s what I call it.

HS2 and the associated new line from Liverpool across the north are vital if we want decent passenger and freight carrying railways with capacity because there’s precious little capacity left in the present rail network.

Take Liverpool and it’s expanding port. One of the big issues is that there’s no capacity to get freight to and from that port and it’s because of pretty much the same reason that passenger services east of Liverpool are in a mess. There’s no capacity for the number of trains needed to be run, simple as that.

So do I celebrate High Speed Rail and the associated east west line across the north? Yes I do because it’s a common sense decision that had to be made. My only reservation in this daft process was that government may still be in Brexit mode i.e. doing things without taking account of facts, but maybe they’ve got enough of promoting fantasy land on their plate for now so they gave in to the experts who they studiously ignored over Brexit.

Now we need investment in other lines in the north such as:-

* Ormskirk – Preston:- just hand it over to Merseyrail so they can run trains right through to Preston
* Southport – Wigan- Manchester:- Get it back to being a decent reliable service as it was until the 1960’s
* Burscough Curves:- Reinstate them so there can be trains between Southport and Preston and Ormskirk and Southport

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

How Preston’s transport plan could benefit Southport & the Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Line

The graphic above*, which you will need to click on to enlarge for reading, is an extract from the recently published Preston City Transport Plan. It’s an important document because it discusses much needed transport, in this case rail, improvements to the south and west of Preston.

If you look closely the document is promoting the re-connection of the Burscough North Curve so that trains can once again travel between Preston and Southport. This is what the curves looked like when they were in place in the 1960’s:-

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

OPSTA, the Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travelers Association has been promoting the re-connection of the Burscough Curves since the 1980’s and they have been the driving force behind improving the Ormskirk – Preston Line and the reopening of Midge Hall Station. But it’s been an uphill struggle with Lancashire County Council (the Transport Authority) seeming being at best lukewarm about the line the present train operator (Northern) struggling to deliver the present basic service reliably.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Another way forward is for Merseyrail to run trains all the way from Liverpool Central to Preston via the removal of the buffer stops at Ormskirk and other signaling/track improvements. To me this has always been the most sensible solution to bring the Ormskirk – Preston Line up to its true potential, together of course with the introduction of Southport – Preston trains. The fact that some of Merseyrail’s soon to arrive Class 777 Stadler rolling stock will now have battery operation facility (this had been in doubt previously) then them operating on the line without the need for expensive electrification equipment opens up real opportunities.

A mock-up of a Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

Graphic Notes:-
* ‘P’ is Preston – Numbers 2, 3 & 6 are points along the Ormskirk – Preston Railway Line – 2 is the proposed new Coote Lane Station – 3 being the proposed reopening of Midge Hall Station and 6 is where the connecting Burscough Curves are situated i.e. where the Ormsirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other.