An OPSTA meeting in Croston – So are things looking brighter on the recently appalling (for cancellations) Ormskirk – Preston line

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Norther trains meet

Croston is a lovely largish village which is somewhat isolated in public transport terms with few if any local bus services. And those that do run seem to be permanently under threat.

But what Croston does though have is a railway station on the Ormskirk – Preston line, a line that in the early 1980s was under threat of closure itself and the reason the then OPTA (Ormskirk Preston Travellers Assn) campaign group was formed. That battle was won although there were some amusing reminiscences at the meeting held last Wednesday about politician Den Dover having to leave a campaign meeting because his stance was not seen to be one that helped the then beleaguered line.

Croston Station

But as readers of this blog site will know the performance of Northern Trains on the line was in the utterly appalling category during 2018, indeed it got so bad that it made the BBC national TV news. That the BBC got hold of the story was down to OPSTA (notice the change of name to include Southport) and some very determined Croston residents. Thankfully performance has very much improved in recent weeks but OPSTA continues to monitor the on-time performance of every train and Northern know it.

A guest at the meeting was Cllr. Keith Iddon the Transport portfolio holder on Lancashire County Council. The impression he gave to the meeting was one of optimism for the Ormskirk – Preston Line. He clearly backs the idea of Merseyrail trains running through Ormskirk on to Preston, indeed if anything he came over as more optimistic about that happening than Liam Robinson (the Chair of Merseytravel) did at a similar OPSTA public forum held in Southport a few months back.

Burscough Junction Station

We pressed Keith on the need to run trains on the Ormskirk – Preston Line on Sundays whether or not the line is eventually taken over by Merseytravel – they would do that as a matter of course. He promised to take that request away and speak to Rail North about it. Rail North is in effect the northern branch of the Department for Transport.

If I recall correctly Cllr. Iddon referred to himself as someone from a truck driving background and thereby hangs an ever-present problem in Councils – their engineers are 99 times out of a hundred from a roads/highways background so they know little of the ways of the railway industry. Bearing in mind that many councils are responsible for transport in all its forms this must put them at a disadvantage, indeed they must miss opportunities because of the lack of expertise in railways. By the way, I’m not criticising Cllr. Iddon here, his working background is just as worthy as anyone else’s, I just use what he said to help illustrate a point that has long concerned me and which I witnessed when serving as a councillor on Sefton Borough Council.

Rufford Station

So are things on an upward curve for the Ormskirk – Preston Line? We can only hope so because so many passengers were left stranded day after day during Northern’s troubles, which are not at an end even now. Terrible communication issues with passengers, very poor rail replacement buses and a feeling that that Northern look upon the Rail North/DfT as their real customer who has to be satisfied rather than poor travelling public whom they let down day after day. The only way is upwards and please get the line into the Merseyrail system ASAP, it really is a no-brainer…..

Northern Trains – Could the Ormskirk-Preston Line be the most poorly performing in the UK?

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Norther trains meet

Well if it’s not I would hate to be a passenger on one that is even worse.

Last night I attended an open meeting of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association) and the stories of absolute chaos on this rail route were sad and numerous. An 80-year-old lady told the meeting how she can’t get to hospital appointments in Preston due to cancellations and the fact that some of the rail replacement buses don’t call at all the stations on the line! She lives in Croston and without the train, as she does not drive, getting to Preston is very difficult indeed.

Burscough Junction Station on the Ormskirk – Preston line.

If I’m correctly informed, which I think I am, there have no trains on the line at all this week so far. What’s more, I hear that Northern are resistant to paying for taxis when the trains and rail replacement buses both fail to provide a service.

Northern are supposed to be operating an hourly service on the line since the May 2018 timetable changes but it looks like they are interpreting this as 1 a week! We heard stories of passengers missing exams, having to take time off work or even getting to the stage where their jobs may be at risk because of this poorly performing rail franchise.

Unsurprisingly, Northern is reputed to be losing a lot of money on the franchise and there seems little confidence in those who know about the local rail industry that anything is going to change much in the foreseeable future. Will Northern have to pull out of the franchise, or will it have to be taken away from them?

It’s a sorry story indeed but it is ruining the lives of passengers who rely on Northern’s trains to get to work, to hospital, do their shopping or just run their day to day lives and frankly it is just not good enough. And the big question is what are the MP’s representing constituents along the Ormskirk – Preston line doing about it? One suggestion at the meeting was to try to replicate what Tim Farron the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale did when Northern failed spectacularly on the Lakes Line from Oxenhome to Windermere – he helped organise an alternative rail provider and made the DfT/Northern pay for it.

OPSTA are going to be banging the drum very hard indeed to get local politicians to take action. Oh, and by the way, there’s a clear suspicion that when Northern is in trouble they will often choose the Ormskirk – Preston Line to cancel trains – It would be interesting to get to the bottom of that train of thought.

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, 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.

Ormskirk – The end of the line – How daft is that!

Having been a supporter of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association) for more years than I care to recall I, like many folk, continue to find the fact that the electrified Northern Line from Liverpool stops at Ormskirk.

The Merseyside commuter belt certainly goes at least as far as Burscough/Rufford whilst the logical end for this electrified service is quite obviously Preston. One day a Government of whatever colour will see the sense of extending the electrification but whether I am still breathing is a different matter.

The shot below (taken in April) is looking towards Ormskirk Station with it being just beyond the bridge in the background. Click of the picture to enlarge it.

rsz_ormskirk_railway_04_05_13

If you agree with me please consider joining OPSTA and maybe we can have another big push at this most stubborn of projects.
See my link to OPSTA for details of this campaigning rail group.