Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

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For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Merseyrail as it used to be

Harking back to that recent trip of mine to see the Class 502 EMU being restored in Burscough I also saw some interesting artifacts.

Firstly, there is the destination blind roll from an old 502 unit which reminds us of the former parts of this electrified network which are no longer even railways.

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And then what about this old illustrative map of the extent of what we now call the Northern Line to Southport and Ormskirk.

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Of course Southport lost its suburban electrified service to Crossens a long time ago (1964) and indeed the whole of its railway line to Preston. The loss of this line (known as the Lettuce Line locally) has been a huge economic disadvantage to Southport particularly as the alternative rail route to Preston, via the Burscough Curves, has also been lost (the connecting curves that is) and the powers that be seem far from willing to reinstate them. OPSTA, our local railway campaign group, John Pugh MP and others try to keep this option on the agenda though despite Lancashire County Council showing little interest and Merseytravel not driving the project forward despite its often warm words.

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The other interesting loss is the electrified line from Bootle to Aintree (see map above) and you can see from the destination blind roll (also above) how it was possible to reach Maghull via Marsh Lane (now Bootle New Strand) Station. This line ceased to be used for passenger trains in April 1951 although it was used for freight for many years after. It is now overgrown but protected from development in Sefton Council’s present Unitary Development Plan and will seemingly continue to be so protected in the draft succeeding Local Plan. Talk of it being reopened to provide another rail link to the expanding docks at Seaforth often pops up but despite years of such speculation by Merseytravel nothing actually happens.

The Merseyrail Northern Line may well have gained the Kirkby line but sadly it has lost two other electrified lines over the years. Feels like 2 steps back and 1 forward to me.

Click on the 3 photos to enlarge them

The second photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Community Rail Partnerships – Lancs leads the way?

A recent read of railwatch magazine (July ’15 edition) really made me wonder how ‘Lancs leads the way’ could have been seen to be the right headline for an article Chris Austin.

Chris may well be right about what is going on in the east of Lancashire but over in the west of the County ‘leads the way’ is hardly what we in OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Assn.) would say about Community Rail Partnerships. Frankly the CRP for the Ormskirk – Preston Line seems to go around in circles getting nowhere.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station.

Actions plans (such as they are) come and go, Lancashire County Council seem at best to be treading water over the line and oddly, from my perspective, the CRP is chaired by Merseytravel despite none of the line being in Merseyside.

Instead of Lancs County Council driving a positive agenda forward to develop the line they seem to be giving it little more than a tea and sympathy approach.

We backed CRP for the Ormskirk – Preston line within OPSTA as we felt it would revitalise the line by:-

* Making the trains more frequent
* Introducing Sunday Trains
* Planning for the eventual extension of the Merseyrail service to Burscough and then to its logical destination Preston.
* Progressing the reconnection of the Burscough Curves so that the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston lines are one again connected.

Sadly such an agenda in not being developed so in West Lancashire CRP is not leading the way and the headline in railwatch would have better reading ‘East Lancs leads the way’.

The Fylde, Quadrilla and Planning – Some thoughts

No this is not another rehearsal of the wrongs of fracking which worry us all but more the planning process that goes on within Councils over highly controversial issues like this. Let’s start with the news that Lancashire Planning Officers have made a recommendation that will see fracking start in Fylde Borough if councillors vote to accept their report next week – see link below to the BBC news item:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-33132569

Planning Officers always try to teach, or is that indoctrinate, councillors that planning is simply a matter of interpreting planning law, guidance and policy to define whether a proposed plan is acceptable or not. Of course that says nothing for the real world of politics, lobbying and the pressure that elected councillors can be put under.

Imagine you are a councillor in Lancashire at present representing the Fylde and you are on the Planning Committee. You would be subject to all kinds of pressure in the form of massive Council reports, lobbying of campaigners, e-mails by the dozens from concerned citizens saying what will happen to your electoral chances if you vote the wrong way and amongst this you may even get some mail from supporters of fracking.

Now what do you do at the Planning Committee meeting when you are sat there with the eyes of the world seemingly on you, as it is you has to make the decision?

You could simply vote against the officers recommendation with a beggar the consequences approach. After all the applicant will simply appeal the decision and a Government appointed Planning Inspector will make the decision for you. Job done, you have done the right thing electorally and the Planning Inspector gets the blame if he/she gives the plan the nod.

You could look to bring in more delaying tactics in the hope that in the intervening time something will come along to make things easier. I have seen this done a few times, particularly by Labour on Sefton’s Planning Committee, by proposing a deferral. In fact usually not much changes but the process can give campaigners the feeling that they may be winning when all that is happening is that local politicians are playing for time.

You could just vote for fracking because if you represent a ward that is not likely to be affected by it in the foreseeable future then your calculation could be that your electorate will not be much bothered. This calculation is I suspect usually right but this is a big, big issue.

Members of the real planning committee will be going through all these thoughts and more as they are pulled one way then the other. Planning committees usually endorse what planning officers recommend but when the wheels are coming off politically you can bet that the control that the officers usually like to have have over planning members is simply not there.

By the way the real issue will be what the majority political group do on the Planning Committee. Yes I know that the rules say that there can be no whipping on a planning committee but votes can often go down party political lines in the real world.

Who would be a Planning Committee member with such decisions to take?

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.

Boundary signs – Seen in Tosside – A mixed message?

Boundary signs always make me wonder about the messages that are being delivered and how the visitor may see them. The one below is in Tosside in the Trough of Bowland – its seems to mix the messages of welcome and crime in one place.

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Not so long ago there was a boundary sign as you left Lydiate (Merseyside) and were entering Lancashire and it read ‘Lancashire a place where everyone maters’. It has now been replaced by another one that reads ‘Lancashire welcomes careful drivers’, like the one in the photo.

Apart from the cost of changing them (just think how many there must be in a vast place like Lancashire) do these vague ‘welcome’ messages really serve any purpose?

I can see the point of say a Town like Maghull making a big fuss on its boundary signs (hint, hint) about Frank Hornby because he created a worldwide brand that makes Maghull unique and lived in the community for many years. But really, ‘a place where everyone matters’, no wonder they took it down.

The photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/