Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus – Posting 3 – Rails and Road conundrum

This is my 3rd and last posting about this recently published Lancashire Transport Prospectus. My previous 2 postings are available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/02/22/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-the-lancashire-strategic-transport-prospectus-posting-2-we-are-not-connected-to-southport/

Well this prospectus is a real curates egg of muddle to me and shows how both good and bad transport planning have come together in one document. The issue/problem seems to be associated with naturally adjoining communities that need connectivity with each other being in differing local authority areas.

An example of some good joined up planning is the proposal to bring rails and a station back into Skelmersdale. Sadly necessary because in the 1960’s town planners built a New Town whilst tearing up the original railway tracks. Page 36 of the report addresses this:-

Skelmersdale rail link – The Partnership want it completed by 2024

Whilst Skelmersdale enjoys excellent strategic connectivity to the Strategic Road Network via the M58, access to both Liverpool and Manchester is limited; it is one of the largest towns in the country without a town centre railway station. The nearest railway station, Upholland, is not easily accessible without a car and only served by an hourly train service to Kirkby and Wigan, and bus services are slow and journeys indirect.

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

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

The West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan, adopted by Lancashire County Council in October 2014, is proposing the wholesale reconfiguration of Skelmersdale’s transport networks to meet both current and future needs, not just for local residents and businesses but for West Lancashire as a whole. At its heart is a new rail link and town centre railway station, fully integrated with the bus network and easily accessible on foot or by cycle, and with sufficient car parking provision to function as a ‘Parkway’ station.

So good planning here to reconnect Skem in West Lancs to Kirkby/Knowsley and Liverpool. And there’s yet more good transport planning – to continue the electrified Liverpool – Ormskirk line on to Preston. Can’t come too soon in my view after another ridiculous severing of the original Liverpool – Preston link in the 1960’s. Here’s what the report says:-

Ormskirk-burscough-Preston rail link (the Partnership wants it in place by 2029) and the prospectus says:-

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport - Wigan and Ormskirk - Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

Merseyrail currently operates a fast and frequent service between Liverpool and Ormskirk using electric trains. However, onward travel to Preston requires a change of train to a diesel-operated service that is infrequent and run to an irregular timetable. Rolling stock quality is also poor. Electrification of the Ormskirk to Preston route with appropriate infrastructure enhancements would resolve the majority of issues, significantly improving connectivity between Preston, West Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region. In addition, there is the potential to provide better interchange between Liverpool-Ormskirk-Preston and
Manchester-Wigan-Southport services at Burscough. Both are aspirations in the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy published in August 2014.

So ticking all the right boxes again here. BUT, BUT, BUT…..

Firstly an aside not directly connected with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. Merseytravel (the public transport body for Merseyside) commissioned a study not so long ago called the Burscough Demand Study regarding the first stage of moving the electrified train service further north from Ormskirk to Burscough. Merseytravel Committee member Cllr. John Dodd has been trying to get hold of a copy of the study report for months now but so far with no response. Cllr. Dodd requested that it be copied to him on the following dates 21st October, 2nd November, 16th November, 30th November, 14th December, 4th January, 18th January, 1st February but he has not even had a reply from the Transport Authority he is a member of! Just keep that thought in mind.

Returning to the LEP Prospectus – Sadly, however, this LEP report follows on from the 2014 West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan in not addressing two huge transport issues in West Lancashire i.e. not proposing an east/west Ormskirk road by-pass and not proposing serious development of Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line.

Both these issues could if they were properly pursued have really positive benefits for West Lancashire and Southport/North Sefton residents but with Southport being in Merseyside the joined up thinking that seems to be there with the Skem/Kirkby/Liverpool rail link is missing in spades here.

I don’t know about you but surely Ormskirk should have had an east/west road bypass years ago in my book. It should have been built for the sake of the folks who live in an almost permanent Ginger Bread Town* traffic jam (together with the associated air and noise pollution) and for the economic development and much needed better access to Southport. Why keep ducking this issue when what it needs is the determination akin to that which recently delivered the new Switch Island – Thornton Link Road (Broomscross Road) in Sefton?

Then there is the very small mention in the prospectus of the Manchester – Wigan – Southport railway line (in the quote from the document above) and even that is only about connectivity between the two rail lines which cross each other at Burscough. Yes, such better interchange facilities are obviously required but far more than that the line from Southport through Wigan to Manchester needs serious investment. Such investment would benefit Southport and West Lancashire but where is the ambition in Lancashire and within the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership? And don’t forget that the Burscough Curves need to be reinstated (you can see them still in place on the 1958 map above) so that rail travel is again possible between Southport and Preston and Ormskirk and Southport.

Readers of this blog site will recall that when a Sefton Borough Councillor I had to fight tooth and nail to get Merseytravel to include the development of the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line in their City Region Long Term Rail Strategy. That battle was finally won with the help of John Pugh MP, OPSTA and the Southport Rail Transport Forum but now we have both Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership seemingly heel dragging on the very same issue!

So at the conclusion of my 3 part commentary on the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Strategic Transport Prospectus I am both delighted at the progress in some transportation areas but utterly deflated about the lack of it in others.

Come on Lancashire, start talking seriously to Sefton and do some joint transport planning which the residents of both areas could benefit from immensely.

* Ormskirk is famous for its Gingerbread

Skelmersdale – That railway project – An update

Preliminary studies have begun into opening a new rail line to serve a new station at Skelmersdale.

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

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

Lancashire County Council, Network Rail and Merseytravel are looking at the issues, which will continue through Network Rail’s GRIP Stage 3 (Governance for Railway Investment Projects, Option Selection).

Network Rail has advised Lancashire County Council that the GRIP3 work alone will cost as much as £4 million, and has suggested these key dates:

* GRIP3 concluded, January 2017.

* GRIP4 (Single options selection), to January 2019.

* GRIP6 (Construction, commissioning) April 2021 to April 2023.

* Train services start December 2023.

With thanks to my friend Bob for this updated info.

Merseyrail – More on the promised new trains

I have been seeking reliable information about the process for obtaining the new trains and from what I can see at present the situation looks like this:-

* Merseyrail/Merseytravel/Liverpool City Region – have not selected the next generation rolling stock.

IMG_4864

* It will only become known what new rolling stock has been selected once they (Merseytravel on behalf of Liverpool City Region?) have completed the procurement process that is about to commence assuming there is political approval for the procurement.

Could the new guardless Merseyrail trains look like this?

Could the new guardless Merseyrail trains look like this?

* The new fleet of trains will be a little smaller in quantity than the existing one, but will be able to cater for the anticipated growth in passenger numbers.

A current Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

A current Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

* There will be flexibility within contracts to allow additional rolling stock to be purchased, should the Merseyrail network expand.

Whilst at face value procuring fewer trains than presently run on the Merseyrail network seems wrong headed I think this will at least partly be explained by the new electrical multiple units being available a greater % of the time i.e. they will need less maintenance and will break down less than the units they are replacing.

Personally, I would rather see more units being purchased via the main initial tender so that they are procured at a better price than add-ons to the contract which are usually more expensive. Such a signal would also make the obviously required extensions to the Merseyrail system

Ormskirk to Preston
Kirkby to Skelmersdale/Wigan
Bidston to Wrexham

something that will happen rather than something that might happen. In other words make the extensions happen rather than just talk about them as has been the case for far too many years.

If the Liverpool City Region is to be a success it has to be well connected to the wider north west of England and indeed North Wales. Presently, by rail it is certainly not well connected so wider horizons have to be aimed for if a big opportunity is not to be missed.

Merseyrail – New Trains – Some further thoughts

IMG_4864

The Merseyrail report [that I posted about recently – see link below] needs to be read in the light of the March 2015 ORR [Office of Rail Regulation] statement reiterating their opposition to 3rd rail electrification extensions:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/17/merseyrail-what-will-the-new-trains-look-like-and-when-will-they-appear/

ORR says:

1. It must be safe.
2. There is a presumption against 3rd rail in new build or extended 3rd rail due to safety requirements.
3. Where 3rd rail exists the operator should continually review it whilst seeking improvements in design, operation and maintenance.

ORR considers that the weight of safety evidence creates a presumption against new-build or extended third rail being reasonably practicable. A duty holder will therefore need to demonstrate, to ORR’s satisfaction, that any proposed new-build or extended third rail proposal complies with the applicable legislation and be able to explain how and why it rebuts this presumption

Where new 3rd rail extensions are proposed they must demonstrate;

1. They have considered the full range of options available.
2. Proceeding with 3rd rail is the only viable option.
3. How compliance with health and safety legislation will be achieved from the design stage onward.

In any renewal of a 3rd Rail section consideration must be given to replacing it.

In non-technical terms this could mean that if the electrified line is extended from say Ormskirk to Burscough and/or from Kirkby to Skelmersdale that overhead wires ‘should’ provide the power to run the trains rather than an extended 3rd rail.

Again, I am indebted to my friend Bob who is an expert in this field. My comments above are those in italics.

Skelmersdale – More on that railway prioject

Merseyrail through to Wigan?

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

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

I have been pondering the recent news which seems to indicate that if Government can come up with a big enough cheque and other significant sources of money can be tapped into then a railway into Skelmersdale could well be a runner.

My previous postings on this subject are available via the links below:-

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

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/01/skelmersdale-that-plan-to-bring-a-railway-back-to-the-town-an-update/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

As you may have picked up by now the plan is to extend the Merseyrail electric service from Kirkby to Skem’, whist then having a less frequent diesel service from Skem’ to Wigan. Is that not just moving the present problem down the line from Kirkby to Skem’?

By this I mean that Kirkby is presently the end of the line for Merseyrail and passengers to Wigan have to change trains there. Under these new proposals the change will still have to be made but in Skem’ instead of Kirkby.

Would it not be more sensible to extend Merseyrail all the way to Wigan just like in the good old days when there were no silly sets of buffers breaking up the service between Liverpool and Wigan via Kirkby? Wigan is still the most logical end of the line.

Cut backs in rail improvements – Don’t cut in Merseyside and West Lancs as we have so far had b*gger all!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33270586

The BBC has the story – see link above.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Tories have always been the Party of the private car, are they retuning to type?

Will the Tories take back the money for Maghull North Station which the Coalition Government promised?

Will the Skem’ project get off the ground?

As for Labour’s carping, they invested so very little in rail upgrades when in Government and have no room to moan.