Southport – Loss of trains to Manchester Airport and Piccadilly, seems Merseytravel has form here!

I have always been annoyed by the fact that Merseytravel, the publicly funded passenger transport committee for Merseyside, shows such little interest in the railway line from Southport to the east of the Town.

Northern Rail train standing in Southport Station.

In fact this line is of some considerable importance despite it being run as little more than a secondary line for the past 40 years or so. One of the reasons that Southport developed in the railway age was that Manchester businessmen set up home in the Town because of its excellent railway service. There can be little doubt that the fortunes of Southport are still bound up to some degree in the quality of service on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line so for Merseytravel to be less than interested in it when Southport council tax payers are helping to fund passenger transport costs via their contributions is appalling to my mind.

I helped expose Merseytravel’s could hardly care less attitude to this line during my time as a Sefton councillor when it became clear that it did not even get a mention in the original Long Term Rail Strategy for Merseyside. To some extent that battle was won but with the second iteration of that plan, published last October, the lack of targets for the line raised fears once more that the now grandly named Liverpool City Region was once more little interested in the line or indeed Southport. Indeed, my fears about City Regions sucking power towards the main city to the detriment of the surrounding towns and communities is sadly coming true and I’m not the only one to think that.

But what started this latest rant off about the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line? Well it came from my picking up a copy of the book ‘Merseyrail Electrics – The Inside Story’ by T B Maund published in October 2001. It’s book I have had a copy of for many a year but I happened upon this:-

‘To secure other reductions in expenditure on railway services, the PTE [Passenger Transport Executive] decided to give the statutory twelve months’ notice to withdraw support from some services. Notice had already been given in respect of the Southport – Manchester services……’

This decision seems to have been taken in 1977/78 and if nothing else it clearly shows that in times when money was tight the PTE were quite willing to withdraw support for the line back then. Some 40 years on it seems that lack of commitment to the needs of commuters in the north of Sefton Borough is sadly just as steadfast.

Note:- Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) and Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) are what we now know as Merseytravel.

Sefton Council’s opposition leader on Southport’s loss of rail services

Southport Station

Cllr. John Pugh the Lib Dem Leader of the opposition on Sefton Council and former MP for Southport has hit out at the loss of trains between Southport and Manchester Airport which have been proposed [in the May 2018 timetable] by Northern Trains and Network Rail.

TOWN HAS BEEN LET DOWN

Rail services to Manchester Piccadilly- the university and business sector are being pared back to two to three a day trains- there and back- with the train to Manchester Airport doomed. That’s the result of the new timetables just announced on March 21st by Northern Rail and agreed with Network Rail.

The Southport line to Wigan and Manchester is on schedule to be the only place in the north to LOSE services under Northern Powerhouse plans

Former MP, Cllr. John Pugh stated, “It is hard not feel angry with the way we have been treated and strung along. We have had warm words from Rail Ministers and the Secretary of State for Transport but the downward spiral in our services and connectivity continues just the same.

I have no confidence that Sefton Council or the Merseyside City Region has even broken sweat to fight our corner

We don’t need any more patronising waffle from the government, rail companies or anyone else. The fact is that we are being strung out to dry- a corner of the north that needs to finds its own voice.

We cannot quietly stand by and let our connections with the business quarter of Manchester and the airport just wither.

*****

Editors View:- John is obviously right and I share his skepticism about what the Liverpool City Region and its Transport arm Merseytravel have been doing or indeed not doing to both keep the present level of service on the line and promote Southport’s trains to Wigan, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. I go back to the first draft of the first ever Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy where the line did not even get a mention! At the time I was a Sefton Councillor and I pushed the Council to demand that the line be included. That Long Term Rail Strategy has now been updated (October 2017) and surprise surprise the line hardly gets a mention at all again. Must we conclude that rail connectivity for Southport (which is in the Liverpool City Region) to the east and the north of the Town is of no interest to the powers that be? Sadly I think we must!

Northern rail franchise – Doubts over Arriva winning it but good news for local rail services

I could hardly say that a cheered when I heard that Arriva had won the Northern rail franchise today as I immediately thought back to them running Merseyrail some years ago and my recollection is that they did not cover themselves in glory back then.

Northern Rail the present operator of the Northern rail franchise has lost the contract to operate it to Arriva Trains. This is a Northern Rail train standing in Southport Station.

Northern Rail the present operator of the Northern rail franchise has lost the contract to operate it to Arriva Trains. This is a Northern Rail train standing in Southport Station.

Of course they are also our major local bus operator and again I groan when I think about them. Loss of the 311 bus recently comes to mind! Also, a concern I picked up only last Monday, when for reasons unknown, they were seemingly not running the 310 or 300 out of Liverpool for the evening rush hour. I heard some angry words about this from a regular Arriva user.

So, sorry Department for Transport we are not jumping for joy but we do hope that Arriva’s second attempt at running a rail franchise in northern England will be better than their first go.

But the good news is that there are to be improvements in some local rail services as part of the new franchise such as:-

* An hourly service on Ormskirk to Preston line, which will mean a significant increase up to 17 trains a day. But the need for a Sunday service on this line is not in the initial announcements so it looks like it may well have been ignored. If so this will be bad news for Edge Hill University and its students.

* One train per hour Southport – Manchester Victoria – Leeds and/or Bradford. But what of the Southport services to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport? More information needed here.

The dates for the improved services are not yet known.

So at face value a mixed bad of good and not so good things with many questions yet to be answered.

Of course credit for campaigning on these issues goes to the Southport Rail Transport Forum, OPSTA and John Pugh MP because they have raised the profile of rail transport issues from Southport and through West Lancs. Without their efforts no improvements would have been forthcoming at all in my view.

And another thing, by way of a gripe. In my latter days of being a Sefton Councillor I had to batter away at Merseytravel to get them to put the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line into the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy as it was not even mentioned in their original draft. Working with others we got them to include it in the final draft so it is somewhat ironic that Merseytravel now seems so pleased about the services out of Southport, on this very line, being down to be improved!

Liverpool – A map for its future rail connections across the region?

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/how-liverpools-rail-system-could-8979832

The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above

Anyone would think that I am a railway enthusiast because today two people have sent me a link to the above Liverpool Echo article. So thanks Keith Page and Andrew Brown you have me banged to rights it seems.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Bootle New Strand Station

A Merseyrail electric unit at Bootle New Strand Station

Seriously, this forward thinking by Kayla Bibby is worthy of significant consideration as Merseyside’s rail network desperately needs to grow so that it encompasses the whole of the travel to work area for Liverpool. Not only that but major towns like Southport need far better rail connectivity especially with Preston but also with Ormskirk.

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

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

Merseytravel went off the rails a few years ago when it got pulled into the tram mania that has been sweeping city after city in the UK. Don’t get me wrong I think trams are a great idea but on Merseyside we already had a good heavy rail network which could reasonably easily be expanded. To wander off dreaming about trams was an unnecessary waste of a few years and a huge amount of public money; no wonder the last Labour Government said no to Merseytram.

Let’s see what from Kayla Bibby’s map can reasonably be achieved and then get the ball rolling or the train on the tracks.

Expanding the Merseyrail system – Now where have we heard that before, before, before…..

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/rail-chiefs-create-massive-30-year-7675746

The Echo has the story – see link above.

I really do hope that this latest big plan works but readers of this very site will know only too well from my reviews of previous Merseytravel ‘big plans’, as they were were covered in the railway press, how they pretty much failed on the majority of counts. My postings can be read from the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/06/11/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-3/

But I would also raise another matter which I had to bring to the table via a motion to the last Sefton Council meeting. The matter? No mention what so ever in the original draft of this strategy of the rail line from Southport to Wigan and Manchester! Thankfully it is now to be included but I have not heard a reasoned account of why it was ignored in the first place. My motion can be read via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/07/24/motion-sefton-council-meeting-24th-july-liverpool-city-region-draft-long-term-rail-strategy/

Let’s hope Merseytravel and the City Region are on the right track at last.

The North – England’s dilemma – Read IBB’s excellent posting

www.birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/the-consensus-on-northern-devolution-is.html

Take a look at the posting via the link above. Iain, lays out the issues very well indeed. It makes you wonder why we in the north of England have accepted being governed so poorly and so remotely (from London) for so long. He makes the Liberal cause of devolution, campaigned for over many generations, seem even more important today than ever before.