Is Skelmersdale really going to get a railway station?

As a railway enthusiast, a member of OPSTA and someone who can’t get his head around why when planning this New Town the railway was torn up, the plans of Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council to correct the errors to the past are fascinating.

Firstly a photo of the old Skelmersdale Station which I purchased recently:-

rsz_skelmersdale_station_-_undated

And Wikipedia says:-
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skelmersdale_railway_station

So what’s the plan? To put it simply to take a spur off the Kirkby – Wigan line right into the heart of Skem’.

Is it a runner? Well money and a lot of it is the big issue, probably a £100m plus or minus project. It costs a lot for what can only been seen as a monumental mistake of the 1960’s.

Whether it will be a value for money project when stacked up against other railway investment projects is hard to say but I rank it as being in a similar category to the Robin Hood Line in Nottinghamshire which brought what was then one of the largest Towns in England without a railway station (Mansfield) back onto the railway map in the 1990’s.

Lancashire County and West Lancs Borough can’t be said to be leaders of innovative railway developments. Their lack of campaigning over the years for the Burscough Curves (which could reconnect the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines) and the County Council seemingly being lukewarm over the much needed investment in the Southport – Wigan line do make you wonder if they have determination to see this challenging project through.

There is a long way to go with this project and I really do hope it is a runner as opposed to a project with a lot of political froth around it but one heading for the sidings.

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

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!

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – time to redress 50 years of neglect!

The article below, about the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) is from the May edition of Rail User Express the newsletter of Railfuture

*****

Much of the committee’s time in the early part of 2014 was taken up with formulating a response to the draft West Lancashire Transport Masterplan. Useful meetings were held with both council officers and local MP’s, and the group is hopeful that many of its suggestions will be incorporated in the final Masterplan. The lack of any statement about the Southport-Wigan line was an omission; also the group wanted to see a firm commitment to carry out further studies into the merits of a south-west curve at Burscough.

OPSTA has been involved in meetings about the role of Rail North, and the development of the railway in their area – especially prospects for electrification. The group notes that Northern has been tasked to refocus on revenue collection during their franchise extension period, and OPSTA members are asked to report incidents where ticket checks are not conducted on trains. The group will be monitoring patronage of the additional service on the Ormskirk-Preston route from the May timetable change, and they’ve persuaded Northern to at least produce a cost estimate for a Sunday service on the line.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the direct Southport-Preston line, and an event in September to mark the occasion is being planned. Correspondents to OPSTAs newsletter make the point that routes to Southport have been neglected in the intervening period, not the least because the town was perversely placed in Merseyside, while the railways to the east run primarily through West Lancashire. Reinstatement of the Burscough curves would once again facilitate easier journeys between Southport and Preston.

The OPSTA stand at Preston Model Rail Club show generated a good level of interest – and 4 new members! The stand will be out again at events in June. The Friends of Meols Cop Station have started work on a new wild flower garden, despite suffering the attention of vandals earlier in the year. At Croston Station, the Friends group has been working tirelessly for three years to turn the overgrown wilderness on the disused platform into a neat and colourful garden; “before” and “after” photos on the back cover of OPSTA’s magazine amply illustrate the fantastic transformation.

*****

I will write about Southport’s Meols Cop Station in a future posting.

Burscough Station, Nodding Donkey’s & The Burscough Curves

Burscough Station is an odd affair in my book as on the Wigan/Manchester bound platform there is a hansom stone station building and on the Southport bound platform a modern station building. The trouble is the original building is all but out of use for railway purposes, looking down at heal and is desperately in need of being maintained. These two photo’s show what I mean:-

The Manchester bound platform building

The Manchester bound platform building

The Southport platform building

The Southport platform building

To me it seems odd to have built a new station building just to leave the old one on the opposite platform, seemingly serving as a residential property. Yes, the new one is not bad for a modern building but sadly its cafe is shut down. I notice that the former North West Development Agency (NWDA) handed over some money to build the new building but was this a wise use of public money? You see both platforms both have steps leading down to them from the road bridge and maybe the money would have been better spent bringing the old building back into railway use and putting in a couple of lifts to assist the elderly and disabled?

This shot shows the road bridge from which pedestrian steps come down to each platform. Having bought a ticket on the Southport bound platform you have to go and down the steps to reach the Manchester bound platform.

This shot shows the road bridge from which pedestrian steps come down to each platform. Having bought a ticket on the Southport bound platform you have to go up and down the steps to reach the Manchester bound platform.

I am sure the upgrade project was very well intended but from an outsider’s point of view the end result seems unfortunate.

The train above is known in the railway fraternity as a ‘Nodding Donkey’. It is a Class 142 Pacer and the very type of train that John Pugh, the MP for Southport, has been campaigning to have phased out sooner rather than later because of safety and capacity concerns.

My final photo is interesting as it shows how the Southport – Wigan/Manchester line dips down to go under the Ormskirk – Preston line where they cross each other just to the east of Burscough Station. The camera makes the dip look more significant than it actually is.

Burscough, despite being a small community, actually has two stations as Burscough Junction Station is on the Ormskirk – Preston line.

rsz_burscough_007

In the section of line between the Signal Box and the Ormskirk – Preston line is where the former Burscough Curves would have curved away in each direction to join the two lines. OPSTA and others locally want the two lines reconnected so that Southport – Preston and Southport – Ormskirk trains would once again be possible. Sadly, I think it will be a long wait for those trains!

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

These photos are also amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Extending Merseyrail’s Northern Line from Ormskirk to Burscough

To me this is one of life’s ‘no brainers’ as it would bring Burscough into the Merseyside commuter belt as far as practical and accessible public transport into Liverpool is concerned.

Money needs to be found though but with house building on a large scale in Burscough being on the cards due to the West Lancashire Local Plan being approved then it would seem that there could well be money on the table.

I think there is reason to be optimistic here and I hope that Lancashire’s politicians can be united in making it happen. Certainly, a recent discussion between Merseytravel officers and myself gives me grounds for guarded optimism.

I was at Ormskirk Station a couple of days ago awaiting Jen who was due into Ormskirk on one of the hardly regular trains from Preston. It can’t but strike you when stood on Ormskirk Station that the Northern Line ending there is just daft. My view is that it should end at a logical place i.e. Preston but that may be dreaming a little too much at present. However, Burscough is a step in the right direction so let’s get on with it and soon.

Here is a photo I took whilst waiting for Jen:-

rsz_ormskirk_station_at_night

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

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! – Posting 2

My first blog on this subject, posted on 29th January, was based on RAIL Magazine’s Merseyside feature in edition No.208 of September 1993.

We now move on to an edition of modern railways from August 2003 and their feature article headed ‘Bright future on Merseyside: 25 year franchise, new tram network’

rsz_photo0567

* June 2003 saw a £3.6b 25year contract awarded to Serco/Nedrail to run Merseyside’s 3rd rail electrified lines which serve 66 stations.

* Interestingly, cost cutting by a previous operator (MTL), who had run the electrified trains from rail privatisation until Arriva gained a short contract to run them, came in for some criticism in the article. Fines for poor services had hit £6m, we were told!

The fleet of class 507/508’s trains were then breaking down every 4,000 to 5,000 miles they travelled; well below the expected average of 15,000 miles per break down. They are clearly performing far better these days.

The article states that 25 overground and 5 underground stations were to be refurbished by 2006 – 5 per year. I have not checked this in detail so any comments would be welcome.

Another pledge was that all stations would be fully accessible by the end of the next Local Transport Plan in 2010. My reasonably informed guess is that this did not happen but I could be wrong.

rsz_photo0568

In the 10 years from 1993 (when the first magazine article that I reviewed was published) to 2003 it was claimed that £72m had been spent on the network with 5 new stations and 7 refurbishments. Old Roan, Kirkdale and Conway Park Stations were highlighted.

We then move on to planned expansion of the network and that old chestnut opening up the ‘Bootle Mineral Branch’ which runs from Bootle to Aintree was noted [it has not happened]. ‘The Bootle – Aintree link will only need about two miles of track to be upgraded and electrified and is covered in the LTP’ (Local Transport Plan). Sounds grand and as though it was a certainty but……………

Another plan in 2003 was to open up the Bootle to Edge Hill line to meet the demands of the proposed new football stadium [neither has happened].

And hey look more talk of an extension of the line beyond Kirkby. [still not happened]

And another one that did the rounds back in 1993 – ‘the possibility of electrifying the Bidston to Wrexham line (back then operated by First North Western) and adding it to the Merseyrail Electrics system is also being considered.’ Well another 11 years on there is no sign of this getting off the ground.

The ‘£16m’ Liverpool South Parkway got a mention – trouble is it actually cost £32m!

Separately in this edition of modern railways the infamous merseytram project is covered and back in 2003 it was still a live project. The article tells us that the then Secretary of State for Transport had approved £170m towards the £225m cost of Line 1 to Kirkby and the Liverpool City Centre lines. Of course Merseytram came to a rather sticky end when the then Labour Government gave up on the project (probably because of Merseyside’s dysfunctional local governance) and pulled its contribution.

So we have moved forward 10 years to 2003, some things have happened but many have not and pipe dreaming is still a significant factor it would seem. But what about Southport AGAIN? Still no mention of upgrading its eastern and northern rail access or reinstating the Burscough Curves. My recollection is that such matters got a great deal of tea and sympathy, when raised by Sefton Councillors, but in reality Merseytravel seemed hardly aware that it was the Transport Authority for this important seaside town at the north of its empire.