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:-

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.

Skelmersdale – The detail of the Skem’ rail link project

I don’t know about you but I get so frustrated when the press concentrate on the headline of a story and often fails to give much significant detail. This is a case in point as the latest stage of the proposed project to bring a railway back to Skelmersdale has not brought with it the required detail into the public domain.

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

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

So care of Bob a friend and informed railway watcher here is the detail that you are unlikely to find in the press but is important to assess whether the project will be a runner of not. I have added a few comments of my own along the way.


The scheme studied is for two new stations at Kirkby Headbolt Lane and Skelmersdale with 3rd rail electrification extended to Skelmersdale. The basic scheme is 4 trains per hour (tph) to Headbolt Lane with 2tph continuing to Skelmersdale. 1tph would operate between Manchester and Skem but an enhanced option of 2tph to Manchester is also being considered.

Capital costs will not finalised before Grip 3 (A technical term which defines the progress of new railway projects) but the work done so far has produced Low/Medium/High estimates of £250m £320m £350m, in addition £10.2m will be required for Merseyrail to purchase 2 extra 3 car EMU’s (Electric Multiple Units or new trains to put it simply) to operate the service as part of their fleet renewal.The plan also requires leasing two additional DMU (Diesel Multiple Units or Trains) to operate from Skem’ to Manchester.

Kirkby-Skelmersdale would be 7.5 miles with a journey time of 13 minutes, Skelmersdale-Manchester would be 25 miles with a journey time of 60 minutes. 1tph would operate to Liverpool on Sundays and in the evenings while no trains would operate to Manchester in the evenings or on Sundays (seems daft to me not to run trains to Manchester in the evenings and on Sundays). Merseyrail says Headbolt Lane Station would be fully manned while the assumption is Skelmersdale would have a ticket office as it will also be a bus interchange.

Forecasting indicates that because of forced rail interchange at Skelmersdale demand from Kirkby to other stations on the line would see a small drop in existing passenger demand while other stations would all see increased demand arising from the change (the issue here is that through trains from Wigan to Kirkby would cease). Overall modelling forecasts a 10.5k reduction in Kirkby passengers and a 110k increase in passenger usage for the line (99k to stations between Wigan and Manchester) arising from the change to service pattern.

Kirkby Headbolt Lane would also split the catchment population of Kirkby almost exactly in half, the new station is predicted to have a usage of 700,351 passengers per year while Kirkby would fall from 944,801 to 472,049, after abstraction this is a net increase of 227,599 or 24%.

Skelmersdale in the base service option is forecast to have annual passenger usage of 932,319, 73% to Merseyside, 8% to Manchester, 3% to Wigan and 17% to wider network, if the enhanced 2tph is used there would be an additional 4,500 trips per year to Wigan and 3,000 to Manchester, meanwhile Kirkby would also generate an additional 2k trips per year to Wigan.

The base service is expected to produce 1,234k extra passengers on the line generating revenue of £2.75m, the enhanced service package would produce 1,375k passengers generating revenue of £3.069m. By 2023 the base package would have costs of £2.3m per year and revenues of £5m generating an operating surplus of £2.8m, it would be profitable from the first year of operation. The enhanced frequency option would have operating costs of £4.6m and revenues of £5.65m producing an operating surplus of £0.97m though it would require subsidy of £705k in its first year as passenger numbers are ramped up falling rapidly into an operating profit in its third year. Both options would produce a BCR range of 1.0-1.6 with an average of 1.3 purely on business grounds. Factoring in economic benefits such as time savings, regeneration, increase in jobs, etc… would produce a GVA of £137m – £184m for the base service and £227m – £279m for the enhanced service. Once these are added the BCR of the base scheme becomes 1.6/1.7 while the enhanced package becomes 1.8/1.9.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby. Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby.
Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Click on the photo to enlarge it

So far nothing has been said about redoubling the tracks from Fazakerley Junction to Rainford but it is suspected that the absence of this is the reason for only 2tph east of Kirkby Headbolt Lane. Not quite a Metro level timetable but it is a start.

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:-


And Wikipedia says:-

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:-

Merseytram – Finally killed off in 2013 – But the City Region’s public transport problems remain




The ill-fated Mersytram project, which the last Labour Government was having none of, was finally killed off in 2013 and we are told that investigations into it are ongoing as part of the wide ranging probes into Merseytravel generally. But the death of this project and the time and money wasted upon it leaves Liverpool and its commuter belt with unresolved public transport problems which will do harm to the local economy by holding it back.

In my view the big transport issues in the Liverpool City Region are resolvable via investment in the already established and highly successful heavy rail system that serves the City and some of its commuter belt.

Two of the heavy rail electrified lines need to be extended to their logical ends as opposed to the present artificial ones:-

* The Northern Line which presently terminates at Ormskirk needs to extended first to Burscough and then ultimately to Preston.

* The Northern Line route to Kirkby needs to extended through to Wigan, with a potential spur into Skelmersedale.

A new heavy rail/tram line is required as follows:-

* Liverpool Airport needs to be rail connected to Liverpool South Parkway Station or a connecting tram from that railway station needs to be built to the airport.

The following lines should be electrified and see enhanced services:-

* The Bidston to Wrexham line.

* The Southport to Wigan line.

The Burscough Curves need to be reconnected so that Southport to Preston and Southport to Ormskirk rail journeys are again possible.

To me these objectives are straight forward but on Merseyside the obvious got muddled into what may have been seen as a competition with other major cities to get a tram system established. Yes, trams were then the new fashion and Liverpool’s great rival Manchester along with cities like Nottingham and Sheffield have had great success in establishing and then extending new tram lines. But, was it right to propose trams for Liverpool when it already had a highly successful heavy rail electrified system in place? I think the planning in the 1990’s and early 2000’s was wrong and Liverpool ended up following the fashionable route towards trams instead of doing the obvious and developing what it had already started in the 1970’s when the heavy rail systems were brought together via the underground tunnels.

In some ways the tram plan was also too insular as it did not address the need to easily get people people into the City from a commuter belt that stretches well beyond the rather odd Merseyside boundaries. It was a plan to better move around the present population of a small city rather than a plan to spread Liverpool’s wings into its wast commuter belt in Lancashire and Cheshire.

And the lessons for this are all to clear from Greater Manchester where public transport developments have been logical and well supported by Governments of all colours. It may be hard to learn from an arch rival city but the fact is that Manchester has played its transportation cards well and Liverpool needs to learn from that.

Merseyside’s big advantage is its network of heavy rail electrified lines. They simply need to be developed so please lets get on with it.