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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Merseyside Transport Trust’s Burscough Open Day

Jen and I went along to this open day mainly to have a look at the restoration work being done on the former Merseyrail Class 502 EMU. More on that in a future posting but here is a lovely photo of a Leyland Tiger PS2/5 built in 1950 and displaying Southport Corporation colours.

Southport Open Top Bus r

I must admit to being a train man personally but this bus and its restoration caught my eye. It is one of a batch of 20 ordered by the former Ribble Motors. In 1960 it was sold to the former Southport Corporation with 2 others from the original 20. It was converted to Open Top and started tours of Southport in 1961. It ran until 1985 and was then sold to a bus operator in Rhyl.

Following some neglect it was purchased for restoration but this was never completed. Step in Graham Ryder who brought it back from Wales to the Trust’s facilities in Burscough. Two and a half years of hard work followed until it had its first run back in Southport earlier this year.

It looks grand indeed and notice it has the ‘Circular Tour’ headboard on it which harks back to those circular tours by trams back in Southport’s glorious past.

The photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

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

OPSTA – Rail User Express article

Readers of this blog will know that I am a big supporter of our railways and in particular the campaigning activities of OPSTA our local rail lobbying group for Southport and West Lancashire. Below is an article from Rail User Express about the recent activities of OPSTA:-

opsta logo new

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – operator continuing with improvements

OPSTA has now been involved in meetings with all three of shortlisted bidders for the Northern franchise. There are only about 14 months left to the end of the current franchise, so OPSTA finds it encouraging that Northern continues to progress initiatives and investment commitments, adding “we should see customer information systems installed at a number of our stations this year.” Also welcome is the statement that the operator will facilitate user group discussions on timetabling. A petition calling for the retention of the ticket office at Burscough Bridge has been sent to Lancashire County Council, but OPSTA fears that the Council has already made up its mind to close the facility.

The group thinks that there is much untapped demand for the Ormskirk-Preston line, currently operated by a single-car unit. They plan to conduct another full passenger count this Spring, and meanwhile the committee welcomes feedback from members using the service. Worryingly, some users have recently reported a major drop off in fare collection, and OPSTA has brought this to the operator’s attention. Some of the passengers participating in OPSTA’s recent travel surveys suggested that Twitter would be an effective way of getting the group’s message out to a wider audience. Consequently anyone can now “follow” the group on @opsta15.

Note:- OPSTA’s logo (above) shows the Southport – Wigan line (in red), the Ormskirk – Preston line (in blue) and the curved green lines represent the missing connecting lines at Burscough. The lines were taken out in the Beeching era and need to be reinstated so that Southport – Preston and Ormskirk – Southport trains can run again.

Old Ordnance Survey Map – It’s 1958 in West Lancs and it still has the railways we now want restoring to use!

Back again to that old Ordnance Survey map of Liverpool that I picked up not so long ago from a second hand bookshop on Bewdley Station – Severn Valley Railway.

This latest posting about the map concerns the area of West Lancashire around Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Burscough. Let’s have a look at it:-

Ormskirk & Skem' 1958

Click on the map to enlarge it.

The two notable issues are the north and south Burscough curves that once connected the Southport – Wigan & Ormskirk – Preston lines and the branch line from Ormskirk to Skelmersdale and off the map St. Helens.

Firstly the Burscough curves. I have posted on this blog site many times about them and OPSTA the voluntary group who have been campaigning for them to be reconnected over many years. The advantage of reconnecting them is obvious – Southport – Preston trains would again become possible as would Ormskirk – Southport trains. In 1958 they were still in place and the track beds still are; all it needs is a little vision from local authorities (Sefton and West Lancashire) and Network Rail.

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of 1960's progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

The Skelmersdale rail connection issue is interesting as the original branch was taken out of use as Skelmersdale New Town was being constructed, indeed some of Skem’ is built on the old railway. It is hard these days to understand the mentality of building a town and deliberately not including it on the railway network but such was the thinking in the 1960’s. Now a £1b project is seriously being considered to reconnect Skem to a railway by taking a spur off the Kirkby – Wigan line into the Town. Will it happen? I don’t really know but some seem to think that it will and I certainly hope so too.

Merseyrail – Modern Railways magazine updates us

My previous postings on Merseyrail/Merseytravel refer:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/06/11/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-3/

I was not intending to post on this subject again just yet but my attention was drawn to the July edition of modern railways magazine and an article headed HALF-TIME FOR MERSEYRAIL.

The article is built around an interview with Maarten Spaargaren the Managing Director of Merseyrail. It is sound comment and information surrounding the present concession to operate the Merseyrail lines around Liverpool which happen to be half way through the contract life.

The interesting points though very much relate back to the ‘optimistic’ comments that have flowed from Merseytravel over the past 20 years or so, many of which could be put in the ‘wildly optimistic’ category in my opinion.

First we are told that the present fleet of trains, built between 1978 and 1980, could run for another 10 years. I am sure this is correct but why have so many predictions been made by Merseytravel about brand new trains? Frankly, I am in the value for public money category so if it is cost effective to run the old trains for a longer period (and they will continue to be reliable) let’s just get on with it. But please make your minds up, promising new trains and then not delivering is just poor PR in my book.

Approaching Ormskirk Station - the end of the line.

Approaching Ormskirk Station – the end of the line.

And what about the long, long, long promised or at least highly speculated on ideas from Merseytravel to extend the network which have never happened? Getting north of Ormskirk comes to mind as a starter – long talked about to get to the real end of the Liverpool commuter belt at Burscough. Getting east of Kirkby is another one. I could go on but you get my drift. And talking of the Liverpool – Kirkby line the article mentions the big plan of Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council to take the railway into Skelmersdale. The Merseyrail MD is quoted as saying ‘Skelmersdale is a possibility but really it’s a town built for car travel and a better solution may be to offer a fast bus to Kirkby to link with the trains.’ Hardly a ringing endorsement for this big project but it is not far from what I heard a prominent Lancashire politician say not so long ago.

The planned new station at Maghull North gets a mention but no more than that.

A cold day at the present Maghull Station. The new station, in addition to the present one, will be about a mile north of here.

A cold day at the present Maghull Station. The new station, which will be in addition to the present one, will be about a mile north of here.

What I draw from the article and indeed from the Merseyrail MD is that Merseytravel’s utterances, which I have long been sceptical of, have indeed been ‘wildly optimistic’.

I remain convinced that the Merseyrail network needs to expand so that it matches the real travel to work area of Liverpool. How that is done and over what period will be dictated by the availability of public money to invest in such a plan but for goodness sake let’s get the plan written and then use it, develop it and promote it until it is achieved.

Oh and while I am on the subject of railways can I make a plea for the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line to be included in the Draft Liverpool City Region Rail Strategy. And can anyone tell me why on earth it was not in the recently published draft one?

The photos above are 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!