Another take on why Merseytram didn’t make the grade

I’ve commented on this very significant urban transport debacle many times before but the other day I came across an article published in June 2008 in an international magazine called Tramways & Urban Transit. Yes I know, railway/tramway enthusiast niche issue……..

The article covered the ever more desperate attempts to breath new life into a project which had been all but killed off by the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling back in 2005 when he withheld £170m of government funding. Quoted in the article was former Labour MP (for Liverpool Riverside) Louise Ellman who said the project had failed because there was a ‘lack of clarity’ from the bidding partners.*

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

Louise was of course right. If memory serves the big issue for the Labour government of the day was concern over the funding package and rising costs. The article points towards Knowsley (Lab Council) & Liverpool (Lib Dem Council) being unwilling to cover further cost over-runs.

I was leader of Sefton Council at that time and can recall the tortuous process of trying to get Merseytram going through 2004 to 2009, but where the article is silent is with regard to another big issue which led directly to what Louise Ellman called the ‘lack of clarity’. I refer to the destination of the first line – Kirkby. I took the view, as did many others on Sefton Council and indeed politicians across the wider Mersey Region at the time, that the first line should go to the airport. Liverpool John Lennon Airport was in our view the obvious destination to start a tramway system on Merseyside but our voices were lost as Merseytravel was determined the first destination should be Kirkby. We had nothing against Kirkby but it already had a 15 minute Merseyrail service which simply needed extending to a 2nd station in that Town, whereas the airport had no rail/tramway connection and indeed it still doesn’t.

One of the ‘pulls’ towards Kirkby for the 1st Merseytram line was a proposed and huge TESCO/Everton FC redevelopment in that Town but that plan fell over it’s own hurdles with Everton now likely to he headed to a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock at some point yet to be determined.

The other thing not mentioned in the article is the position of Wirral Council. They were hardly big supporters of Merseytram because being on the other side of the River Mersey they would be highly unlikely to see any benefit from the project at all. Maybe they and their residents still harked back to the first Mersey Tunnel which was supposed to have trams running through it to Birkenhead as well as road vehicles. Of course that never happened so once bitten (even though back in the 1930’s) twice shy?

Anyway, on with the thrust of the article, having given a bit of the local political background, as it was written on the basis that then (in 2008) Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly** had offered to revisit the stalled/virtually failed Merseytram project. In effect she was asking Merseytravel to come up with a new more viable scheme. At this point Merseytravel still had another 2 years to enact the powers given to it by Parliament to build the first phase of the tram system.

Sadly, of course, Merseysiders will know that no such viable plan was put forward and in 2010 the powers lapsed.

To me the project was a lesson in how not to plan major public infrastructure. It seems obvious now, as it should have been then, that the partners in the project needed to have a common view as to how it would be taken forward and as I think I’ve shown above there was no such common view. My feeling is that Merseytravel launched into the Merseytram project with far too many loose ends trailing behind it, hoping that all would be ‘alright on the night’ so to speak – It never was and probably was never going to be.

The irony is that within the same magazine there’s a celebration of NET (Nottingham Express Transit) which had won ‘Light Rail Operator of the year – 2007’ as it had been able to gain government support for it’s system (first opened March 2004) on the basis of it being clearly robust and well supported. I’ve travelled on NET; it is indeed a good system and I hope that I’m not just saying that as a Notts born lad.

A Nottingham NET Tram at the Phoenix Park terminus.

* The bidding partners were Merseytravel (the passenger transport body for Merseyside), Liverpool City Council, St. Helens Borough Council, Knowsley Borough Council, Sefton Borough Council & Wirral Borough Council.

** Ruth Maria Kelly is a former British Labour Party politician, serving as Member of Parliament for Bolton West from 1997 until she stood down in 2010 – Wikipedia

Merseyrail – Kirkby Line extension to Headbolt Lane takes shape

The Merseyrail half of Kirkby Station looking towards Liverpool.

The Liverpool Echo has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/major-step-forward-merseyrails-brand-18605983

Whilst long term plans to extend the Kirkby Line of Merseyrail through to Skelmersdale are still in the melting pot a short extension of the line within Kirkby to a 2nd station in that community at Headbolt Lane is very much on the cards as the Liverpool Echo article explains.

Maghull residents will immediately spot a likeness in the design of the proposed new Headbolt Lane Station to that of the newish Maghull North Station building – see photo below:-

Maghull North’s Station Building during construction in May 2018.

The extension to Headbolt Lane, which has been discussed for more years than I can recall, will leave just the Merseyside community of Rainford (the next station along the line) outside of the Merseyrail network. This is what the end of the Northern Line looks like at Kirkby:-

The present end of the line for trains from Wigan, the Merseyrail service to Liverpool is accessed under the bridge.

Presently, the line from Kirkby to Wigan is in the hands of Northern Rail due to the railway being split at Kirkby for many years now – in a similar way to the split at Ormskirk of the Liverpool – Preston rail corridor.

Let’s hope that the Headbolt Lane Station project now moves forward without delay.

Melling – New Cycle path from M58 Ashworth Junction?

Firstly let me say that I’m delighted that Sefton Council is, together with Knowsley Council, creating a safe cycle route from Melling to Kirkby, but, there’s always a but……..

Have a look at this photo:-

What you can see is the end of the brand new cycle path where it crosses over the dual carriageway to continue on the other side of the road in the Kirkby direction. From where it ends the narrower original pavement can be made out. Beyond that is the junction with Prescot Road.

My question is what are cyclists supposed to do if they are heading northwards along Prescot Road? Answer – they either have to stay on what becomes pavement or rejoin the traffic coming off the motorway junction. Both options are hardly desirable so why hasn’t the cycle path also been continued (on the side as in the photo) down to the Prescot Road junction and around into Prescot Road for a short distance to facilitate safe cycling?

Obviously I don’t know the answer to my question but I highlight the matter as, in my view, highway engineers who are not themselves cyclists or who do not know the routes cyclists take in a community can end up (with all the best of intentions I might add) not really resolving safety issues for cyclists as their cycle routes do not end in appropriate places.

Kirkby – ‘Made on Merseyside’ Exhibition

I’m always happy to promote local history events and this looks to be one to check out between the 23rd September and 16th November:-

Poster for Made on Merseyside Exhibition at Kirkby Gallery

Click on the poster to be able to read the text on it.

And here’s a map showing how to access Kirkby Gallery:-

The Frank Hornby Heritage Center, based in Maghull’s Meadows Leisure Center, is pleased to be lending some items to Kirkby Gallery as one part of this exhibition will cover the Binns Road Meccano Factory in Liverpool and its products.

That 133 bus issue – Some clarity but questions remain

I understand that Merseytravel has told the Champion newspaper that it isn’t the case that they are reducing the service based on the publicly available tender document/service specification that is doing the rounds on this and at least one other website where a Maghull resident first spotted it.

They say that the cut-back timetable [in the service specification that I hold] was one of the options considered when the tender was put out, but it wasn’t the one taken up and that there will actually be no change to the present timetable.

They have however confirmed that a new operator (Hatton’s) will be taking on the route as of April.

So we now know that the service spec’ found by the local resident and passed to me was genuine and that it was one of the options being considered. What any additional options were, other than stay as is, of course, if there were more than two we do not know.

That Merseytravel was seriously considering a reduction in the 133 is a given as they had gone well down the planning route to the point of having a draft timetable to implement. But why consider reducing this route other than for the rather obvious reason of not enough money to spread around the publicly subsidised bus routes across Merseyside?

Was some extra funding found for the route at the last minute? Was Merseytravel aware of a negative backlash if they took the reduction plan further? Did the tenders to run the route come in lower than the price they had been expecting thereby creating the scope to keep things as they are?

I guess we are unlikely to get to know the back story to this matter but however, we got to the point of no service reduction in the 133 bus route it looks like it was a close shave but a very welcome one at that.

Oh, and by the way, the service spec’ that has not now had the timetable reduction within it implemented says that the start of the new contract is on 28th April 2019 and that it ends on 1st September 2019. Is that still the case and if it is will there be another challenge for the 133 bus route later this year?

Kirkby – When it’s Ski Slope project went down the hill far too fast

Remember the ill-fated Kirkby Ski Slope project from the mid-1970’s?

It was the talk of Merseyside for quite a while but whilst it was meant to be for downhill skiing the whole project went down the hill far too fast to the great embarrassment of the Council of the day.

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/heres-how-kirkbys-ambitious-plan-15353527