Skelmersdale – That plan to bring a railway back to the town – An update

I blogged about this ambitious plan last August. Here’s the link to it:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/08/08/is-skelmersdale-really-going-to-get-a-railway-station/

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

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

Well the Southport Visiter newspaper is carrying an update:-

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/skelmersdale-railway-plans-right-track-9370775

Looks like things are progressing although it is fair to say that what could well end up being a £100m+ project is thought not to be a runner in some circles simply because of that price tag. The theory goes that such a huge amount of money spent elsewhere on the local rail network could deliver other much needed projects (the Burscough Curves?) for far less money.

If delivered the project may well see Merseyrail electric trains reaching Skem’ with a diesel hauled service connecting Skem with Wigan.

This one has a long way to go before it really is a runner I think but as I said in my previous posting correcting the errors of the past does not come cheap!

With thanks to Cllr. John Dodd of Meols Ward in Southport for the lead to this updated story. John sits on the Merseytravel Committee.

Southport and its railways – a victim of the 1960’s Beeching era and Local Government reorganisation of the 1970’s.

The 1960’s loss of the Southport – Preston Line, should it still be there, would be laughed at these days but gone it has even though it was electrified to Crossens. It must rank as one of the most bizarre Beeching era losses.

Then in the 1970’s Southport suffered again, this time at the hands of local government reorganisation. Many hold the view that Southport was added into Merseyside as a party political fix and this is probably the case because the Borough of Sefton, which I led for 7 years, is geographically most odd. It is that odd geography that has caused a continuing and ongoing transport problem for Southport.

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

This photo is amongst my Flickr photo’s at
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Having lost its rail connection to the north the Town has been left with one high quality line to Liverpool and one poor quality one to Wigan and on to Manchester. The problem being that virtually all of the line east of Southport is in West Lancashire where Lancashire County Council is the transport authority. So to get the Southport – Wigan line upgraded it clearly needs West Lancs Borough and Lancashire County Councils to make it a priority – they have failed to do that ever since 1974 when the Merseyside – Lancashire boundary was erected. I say failed but, from their perspective, why should they look upon the Southport tourist economy as being a priority as Southport is not in Lancashire’s area of responsibility.

Then there’s the Burscough Curves; two very short sections of curved track that if reconnected could bring back a Southport – Preston railway service and a Southport – Ormskirk service to boot. Again, this is not a priority for Lancashire’s politicians and seemingly may never be such, but it is a huge priority for Southport.

So Southport at least from a rail perspective as lost out all ways round and finding a solution when that solution is in Lancashire has proved to be all but an insurmountable barrier for 40 years, despite the campaigning of Southport’s MP’s and its councillors.

When the railways first reached Southport Manchester businessman came to live in the Town because of its excellent rail links to Manchester – excellent is not what you would call the service these days!

My contention is that until the West Lancashire area becomes a unitary authority and joins the other Merseyside Authorities as an equal partner Southport’s rail challenges may not be given much more than tea and sympathy. And sadly this seems to have been the stance of Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority, then Integrated Transport Authority and now little more than a Committee of the Merseyside Joint Authorities) since 1974.

Southport has been served up a raw deal in the modern day rail era but, we must not let the challenges daunt us, tough though they may be. The Southport economy will continue to be held back if the battle is not eventually won.

The original article was written for OPSTA’s magazine ‘Connexion’ of April 2014.

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Passenger Focus publishes new research into bus passenger views on value for money.

Passenger Focus is a national group which always looks at public transport from the users perspective. This is a recent survey they did about bus services which, lets’s face it, are generally hardly of the quality to make folks leave their cars at home!

Interestingly, Cllr. John Fillis the Transport portfolio holder for Lancashire County Council told us all at the OPSTA meeting on 31st October (which I posted about) that the whole of Lancashire would fall within a Quality Bus Contract in the foreseeable future meaning the routes, ticket prices etc. will be specified by Lancs CC.

This is what Passenger Focus says:-

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We asked passengers about this as our 2013 Bus Passenger Survey showed that satisfaction with value for money ranged from 30-70 per cent – averaging at only 54 per cent. We wanted to understand what really influenced this.
The key findings are:
•passengers’ views on value for money are most influenced by getting a seat on punctual, frequent and reliable buses
•the attitude of the bus driver and the difficulties when trying to find information about timetables, routes and fares, also greatly affected passengers’ views
•young bus passengers are more reliant on buses than many other passengers and their needs for more flexibility to balance education, work and their social lives are not being met
•young passengers resent paying adult fares when they are still in education, training or low-paid work – they think that adult fares should only be charged from 18 years onwards.

Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus chief executive, said:

“Bus fares and passenger satisfaction varies widely across the country. In many places, bus fares increase by more than inflation each year. Passengers rightly expect buses to deliver them to their destination in relative comfort at the promised time.”

Please click the link below to download the report:
www.passengerfocus.org.uk/research/publications/bus-passenger-views-on-value-for-money

OPSTA Meeting with Cllr. John Fillis – Lancashire County Councillor

I attended an Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) meeting in Ormskirk Civic Hall last night where the guest speaker was Cllr. John Fillis a Labour member of Lancashire County Council and its Cabinet member for Transportation.

Cllr. John Fillis speaking to the OPSTA meeting last night.

Cllr. John Fillis speaking to the OPSTA meeting last night.

It was a good meeting and John was not your usual politician turning up to say all the right platitudes; in many ways he was blunt but refreshingly straight forward.

He seemed quite optimistic about the Merseyrail Northern Line, that presently ends in Ormskirk, being extending firstly to Burscough and then on to Preston within the next 15 to 20 years. I Hope his optimism is well placed as this should be a no brainer of an objective.

He also said he was hopeful of getting a railway back into Skelmersdale after generations of there not being one since the New Town was built. But he said this would be on the back of rail freight into the Town associated with the expansion of Liverpool Docks.

An upgrade in just about every way of the Southport to Wigan line also had his support.

I congratulated him on his contribution because to be honest I have always found Lancashire County Council and indeed West Lancs Disrict Council rather disinterested in seriously improving the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston Lines as they have always had bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

We shall see what becomes of all this but a positive approach from Cllr. Fillis was good to hear indeed and it builds on the work of John Pugh the MP for Southport.