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.

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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/

OPSTA – Another report from the pages of Rail User Express

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – two cars better than one!

It’s ironic that OPSTA should be celebrating the allocation of much-criticised 2-car Pacer units to the Ormskirk-Preston Line, but they say this does restore much-needed seating capacity – the group has long argued that the single-car Class 153 units are inadequate and effectively suppress demand.

With new housing nearby, the numbers using Burscough Junction are growing and OPSTA is continuing to carry out passenger counts. Results from the Burscough Demand Study, commissioned by Merseytravel, are eagerly awaited, but in the meantime OPSTA has been invited to a meeting to go through the findings.

The group is confident that the campaign to retain booking office facilities at Burscough Bridge will prove to have been a success.

OPSTA is working with the Southport Rail Transport Forum to secure the best possible deal for the Southport-Manchester rail service in the new Northern franchise. The two groups are planning another platform survey at selected stations along the route in the autumn – an impressive 75% sample rate was achieved in last year’s survey.

Campaigners are pleased that new customer-information screens have been fitted at various stations on the route.

OPSTA’s committee has been invited to participate in a service-development exercise to be hosted by Transport for Greater Manchester.

Northern Rail is taking the issue of fare collection very seriously and has recruited additional revenue-protection staff. However, the company’s claim that ticketless travel is at 6% and falling is disputed by OPSTA and other groups who fear this is a gross under-estimation. The group has set up a dedicated email address for members to report instances of poor revenue protection.

Another issue for concern has been lineside litter, scrap metal and rampant vegetation – the group acknowledges that Network Rail has made some effort this year to tackle the situation.

Four OPSTA members attended Vivarail’s presentation of their refurbished “D” train at Long Marston and found the experience thought-provoking: “nothing indicates this cannot work and a solid engineering approach means Vivarail deserves to succeed, but a lot of work is still required to prove it can.” The question as to whether the units will be suited to rail services for Ormskirk, Preston and Southport remains to be answered.

Some provocative articles in the previous issue of OPSTA’s magazine “Connections” have stirred up correspondence from members – the Editor is very pleased to have received a number of “impassioned responses”!

Burscough – At the centre of rail improvements?

Cllr. John Dodd

Cllr. John Dodd

Cllr. John Dodd the Lib Dem member of the Merseytravel Committee (appointed by Sefton Council) which oversees our local rail network has been asking questions about how our local rail network in north Merseyside and West Lancashire can be improved and it seems that if there are are to be any significant improvements Burscough will be at the heart of things, at least as far as Merseytravel is concerned.

This is what John was told:-

The enhancement of the Ormskirk-Preston Line is identified as one of the packages of improvement contained within the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy.

This package identifies a number of possible improvements which could be undertaken on the line. These include for instance the full electrification to Preston, re-introduction of the Curves (both north and south) and possible improvements on the Southport-Manchester Line. The potential to deliver a new interchange station which would link both the Ormskirk-Preston line and the Southport-Manchester line is also included.

The Strategy, in some cases, includes a number of possible options to deliver a solution to a particular problem. In this case the Interchange* could be a possible alternative to the re-introduction of the Curves as both would provide links between the lines.

* In this case ‘Interchange’ could mean building a new station just to the east of the present Burscough Bridge Station (on the Southport – Manchester line) and to the north of Burscough Junction Station (on the Ormskirk – Preston line. Trouble is that the new station would be, in effect in the middle of nowhere as the site where the two lines cross each other is literally in the middle of fields with no present road access. Now this idea is not new and has been floated before, but how realistic it is, is a different matter.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk - Preston line crossing the Southport - Wigan line via the bridge.  It's where this bridge is that an Interchange Station could be built. The Burscough Curves would reconnect these two lines.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk – Preston line crossing the Southport – Wigan line via the bridge. It’s where this bridge is that an Interchange Station could be built although the camera makes the signal box and bridge look much loser than they are in reality. The Burscough Curves could reconnect these two railway lines of course.

I also hear that another option is to potentially take the Merseyrail electric trains into Burscough Bridge Station by reinstating the southern of the Burscough Curves.

Of course any of this depends on the Merseyrail network being extended north of Ormskirk and a study recently undertaken by a firm of consultants, employed by Merseytravel, may well tell us whether this is actually likely to happen or not. The study called, I think, the ‘Burscough Demand Study’ is yet to see the light of day in the public domain. When it will be released I do not know but we can only hope that it is not as deeply flawed as as previous studies into the reinstatement of Burscough Curves were.

Burscough the centre of the north Merseyside/West Lancashire rail network, now there’s a thought back to what it once was.

An historic shot of the curves when they were in place, probably from around 1960.

An historic shot of the curves when they were in place, probably from around 1960. This shot gives a better idea of the distance out into the fields that any interchange station would be.

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The railways of Merseyside and beyond – @1900

Photo1315

Click on the map to enlarge it

The North Eastern Railway had a number of these tiled maps produced for display at major railway stations. Each one was made up of 64 ceramic tiles with a ceramic decorative border. The photo above shows Greater Merseyside and was taken at the National Railway Museum in York where a restored original map is displayed.

Although it does not show all railways the routes north of Liverpool are well displayed.

The sadly missing lines, in the present day, are the Southport Preston line (known locally as the Lettuce Line) and the Ormskirk – St Helens line via Rainford which was obliterated when Skelmersdale New Town was built in the 1960’s leaving the Town without a railway station! Now there are campaigns to take a railway back into Skem at huge cost and one to reinstate the Burscough curves as the northern one of which would again allow trains to run between Southport and Preston all be it via a different route.

Merseyrail as it used to be

Harking back to that recent trip of mine to see the Class 502 EMU being restored in Burscough I also saw some interesting artifacts.

Firstly, there is the destination blind roll from an old 502 unit which reminds us of the former parts of this electrified network which are no longer even railways.

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And then what about this old illustrative map of the extent of what we now call the Northern Line to Southport and Ormskirk.

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Of course Southport lost its suburban electrified service to Crossens a long time ago (1964) and indeed the whole of its railway line to Preston. The loss of this line (known as the Lettuce Line locally) has been a huge economic disadvantage to Southport particularly as the alternative rail route to Preston, via the Burscough Curves, has also been lost (the connecting curves that is) and the powers that be seem far from willing to reinstate them. OPSTA, our local railway campaign group, John Pugh MP and others try to keep this option on the agenda though despite Lancashire County Council showing little interest and Merseytravel not driving the project forward despite its often warm words.

IMG_5150r

The other interesting loss is the electrified line from Bootle to Aintree (see map above) and you can see from the destination blind roll (also above) how it was possible to reach Maghull via Marsh Lane (now Bootle New Strand) Station. This line ceased to be used for passenger trains in April 1951 although it was used for freight for many years after. It is now overgrown but protected from development in Sefton Council’s present Unitary Development Plan and will seemingly continue to be so protected in the draft succeeding Local Plan. Talk of it being reopened to provide another rail link to the expanding docks at Seaforth often pops up but despite years of such speculation by Merseytravel nothing actually happens.

The Merseyrail Northern Line may well have gained the Kirkby line but sadly it has lost two other electrified lines over the years. Feels like 2 steps back and 1 forward to me.

Click on the 3 photos to enlarge them

The second photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

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

Rail Curves – Vital rail connections – 3 projects come to mind

Curves on railways – in reality pieces of hardly or never used track/trackbed that folks are campaigning to have reinstated so that better services can be delivered.

I can think of 3 of them in the north west of England:-

The Burscough Curves – They should connect the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines but were taken out of use in the 1960’s. OPSTA, John Pugh (MP for Southport) and others across the political spectrum have be fighting for years to get the curves brought back because Southport – Preston trains would be a possibility and indeed Ormskirk – Southport trains as well. Sadly, the powers that be continue to drag their heels whilst giving tea and sympathy.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk - Preston line crossing the Southport - Wigan line via the bridge. The Burscough Curves would reconnect these two lines.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk – Preston line crossing the Southport – Wigan line via the bridge. The Burscough Curves would reconnect these two lines.

The Todmorden Curve – It has recently been reinstated and trains from Burnley will be able to reach Manchester far more quickly. Burnley’s last MP Gordon Birtwistle was a big driver for this work to be done.

The Halton Curve – down near Runcorn/Widnes and it looks like it is on the verge of being slated for reinstatement. When it is it will improve rail services for Merseysider’s and folks in North Wales.

So two out of 3 north west rail curves (2 out of 4 in reality as the Burscough Curves is plural of course) is not bad but rail travelers in West Lancashire and Sefton should not rest from their campaigning until all 4 are slated for being brought back into use.