Southport – Betting on a bright future for our local seaside town

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/seven-reasons-2019-could-southports-15593282

A really positive article here which can only help our local seaside town – well done Liverpool Echo

Sunset -As seen from the end of Southport Pier

But what else could help Southport develop its potential? Well, a bypass around Ormskirk would be a big boost as would regaining the once excellent rail link to Wigan and Manchester which has seen very poor services in recent times.

Remember Southport was built on the success of its railway connection to the east because Manchester business people came to live in the Town due to its once excellent and reliable trains to Manchester. Restoring reliable, comfortable, fast and regular trains on this line could work wonders for Southport. And reconnecting Southport to the north and Preston would be a welcome positive step as well and all it will take is the rebuilding of a short section of connecting track at Burscough.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The Liverpool City Region and indeed Sefton Council needs to stop looking at the Lancashire boundary, which surrounds most of Southport, as a no-go barrier and instead see it as an opportunity. For too long Southport has been held back by an invisible on the ground local government boundary. The transport solutions to help Southport develop are mostly in Lancashire and it’s not rocket science to see what they are!

The Burscough Curves – An historical talk by Roger Bell

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

My good friend Roger Bell, former Chairman of OPSTA and former Lab’ Leader on West Lancs Council, gave a talk last Wednesday at Hurlston hall Golf Club about the history of the Burscough Curves to members of the West Lancs Heritage Association.

As an OPSTA member I went along to both hear and support Roger. I had never been to Hurlston Hall Golf Club before.

Roger spoke for quite some time with photos and videos which were really interesting. I learned a lot that I did not know about before even though I have been a part of OPSTA for more years than I care to recall and in all that time pressing for these connecting rail curves to be brought back into use has been a big issue.

Looking towards Wigan from Burscough Bridge Station with the Ormskirk – Preston line crossing the Southport – Wigan line via the bridge in the background.

Here’s a link to West Lancs Heritage Association’s web site:-

www.westlancsheritage.org/

In straight forward terms the curves link the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan railway lines which cross each other at Burscough. If they were brought back into use travelling by train from say Maghull to Southport would be possible without having to go via Sandhills for example. A Southport – Preston train could be reintroduced too so the opportunities are obvious to anyone who looks at the situation. Sadly, the railway powers that be have certainly been dragging their heels over this for far too many years and even more sadly it looks like they remain determined to keep on dragging them!

Burscough Junction Station – July ’15 – on the Ormskirk – Preston line.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Southport – John Pugh MP standing down

My good friend John Pugh MP has decided after many years serving the good folk of Southport that the June General Election is the time for him to step down.

I know John has been an excellent MP not least because opposition party members have told me such. And I don’t mean in tribute after hearing he is standing down but before that whilst he has been Southport’s MP.

Dr. John Pugh Lib Dem MP for Southport

John is independently minded but then again that is the test of a good Liberal. Show me a politician who is prepared to be whipped time and time again to vote for things they really can’t abide and I will likely show you someone who is not a Liberal. Remember John stood out against Nick Clegg’s dropping the the Lib Dem pledge to oppose an increase in Tuition Fees, which were originally brought in by Labour when they were in Government. John was right.

On a subject close to my heart, John has been up front in his support for the revitalistion of rail services into and out of Southport to the east and north of the Town. That is an ongoing campaign that has a long way to run and his successor will have to show the same determination to support and promote that cause because the economic future of Southport is very much bound up in such campaigning.

I can’t say that I always agree with John but hey I’m a Liberal too and hope I have a reasonably independent mind too. What I do know is that John is a deep thinker who analyses every matter before him and you can bet that if you challenge him over an issue he can demonstrate a clear thought process that took him to the view that he holds.

I think Southport has had a really exceptional MP in John and they will be big boots indeed for his successor to fill.

Happy retirement from Westminster John but not from the local political scene.

Skelmersdale rail connection – the picture starts to develop

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

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

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/new-skelmersdale-rail-station-step-11572987

The Southport Visiter newspaper has the story – see link above

I have commented on this developing project many times before but it really does seem to have legs and probably stands a reasonable chance of getting off the ground despite the huge cost. I hope it does come off.

In many ways though whilst it illustrates how large railway projects can be taken forward it is sadly the case that smaller projects to improve the rail network are actually much harder to pursue. The Burscough Curves come to mind!

Preston by train from Ormskirk

We decided to go to Preston recently but to go by train from Ormskirk on that almost backwater line that has an irregular service.

My previous posting of not so long ago about Ormskirk, details the history of the bizarre splitting of the through Liverpool – Preston line at this market town. See link below to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/05/01/ormskirk-end-of-the-line-well-end-of-two-lines-actually/

Ormskirk Station at night.

Ormskirk Station at night.


We got the 1.24 from from Ormskirk, one of only 13 trains to Preston that day. On a similar weekday there are trains to and from Ormskirk to Liverpool every 15 minutes daytime and every half hour in the evenings!

Burscough Junction Station

Burscough Junction Station

First stop was Burscough Junction Station. Firstly, there is no junction and has not been for many, many years because some bright sparks in the 1960’s took away the connecting curves (The Burscough Curves) to the Southport – Wigan Line which our train crossed on a bridge soon after this station stop. The other noticeable thing is that Burscough is expanding fast with many new homes around Burscough (No) Junction Station and many more to come I hear. Shame they will get such an irregular railway service to Ormskirk and Preston.*

Rufford Station

Rufford Station

Next came Rufford, where there is a passing loop for the trains that don’t pass each other any more! The same diesel unit usually trundles between Ormskirk & Preston all day. Rufford is of course famous for its Old Hall, a very nice National Trust property that is well worth a visit.

Rufford Old Hall

Rufford Old Hall

Croston Station

Croston Station

The final stop before Preston was Croston a pleasant village that suffered terrible flooding only a few months ago.

Between Croston and Preston is a disused Station with the building, on the Preston bound side of the line, still standing although not in railway use any more. The Station was called Midge Hall and there have been calls for it to be reopened due to new housing going up on the former Leyland Test Track quite near to it.

The middle section of the line is not continuously welded rail so the familiar clickity-clack of the train going over the rail joints is quiet apparent. Indeed, we were riding on an infamous Class 142 Pacer or ‘Nodding Donkey’ or Pile of Crap depending on your view of them. They were built for lightly loaded railway lines based on a bus body and just 4 wheels on each of the two carriages. You soon get to realise why they became nick-named Nodding Donkeys on the jointed rails! They really do bounce up and down. Pacers are due to be phased out by around 2018/19 and that can’t come soon enough. They even have bus type seating from the 1970’s, well at least the one we were on did. Not uncomfortable but definitely from a long gone era.

Checking Tickets

Checking Tickets

The West Lancs countryside is lovely, with the Rufford Branch of the Leeds Liverpool canal following the line and a canal marina to see. The conductors were friendly and seemed to be very diligent in checking tickets both there and back. The rail franchise to run Northern trains changed on 1st April and Arriva now operate most trains in the north of England. I hear that the previous operator was not good at checking tickets but as I say the new one seems to be.

If you have need to travel to Preston why not go by train, its a nice trip it was only £5 return during the day and we really enjoyed it.

* One of the promises made my the new Arriva franchisee is that the Ormskirk – Preston Line will gain an hourly service equating to 17 trains per day (but oddly still no trains on a Sunday) from December 2017. Why on earth do railway planners think folks don’t move around on a Sunday and Ormskirk is a university town too!

Why not check out OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association) who campaign to have this line upgraded (and the Southport Wigan Line). Their web site is at:-

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

WP_20160430_15_56_43_Pro r

For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

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