Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! Posting 3

This is the 3rd and, for now, final of my reviews of Merseytravel and its rail achievements and failures. The first two reviews can be found by following the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/01/29/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-1/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/19/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-2/

The starting point for this final review is an article in Today’s Railways Magazine of June 2009.

The first and highly significant point made in this article is that the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Merseyside, which had been published a few months before the article by Network Rail, looked at the ‘journey to work area’ for Liverpool and it had concluded that it went well beyond the present Merseyrail boundaries. Shades here of my previously stated concerns about the Liverpool City Region area being far too small to be effective. Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Chester, Wrexham and Flint are mentioned as the real boundaries of travel into Liverpool for work and this demonstrates all too well why insular inward looking politicians have got Merseyside’s transport planning wrong.

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

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

But lets look at the detail of this 2009 examination of Merseytravel/Merseyrail:-

* A 1km extension of the Kirkby Line (Northern line) to Headbolt Lane was being evaluated. I think we have heard of that before and it has still gone nowhere at all.

* A new railway into Skelmersdale (from the Kirkby – Wigan line) was to be investigated. This has popped up again quite recently with Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council seemingly very keen to get this project moving, but it will cost an arm and leg!

* An extension of the Ormskirk line electrification to Burscough and even Southport was suggested as a possibility for 2014 onwards. The article writer notes that electrification reached Ormskirk in 1913 so there would seem to be little urgency! What could be a small piece of good news is that extending the Northern Line beyond Ormskirk to Burscough is very much on the cards in 2014 probably on the back of major house building in Burscough. Watch this space.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

* Bidston – Wrexham and Kirkby – Wigan electrifications. Well, where do we start! The first one has been doing the rounds for a very long time and both of them fit with the real travel to work area of Liverpool. Don’t hold your breath on either of them though.

* The Halton Curve – Yes, you have heard of that before and it got a mention in this July 2009 article. And, not so long ago, Merseytravel announced another feasibility study into reconnecting it to provide a Liverpool Lime Street Chester service.

* The need to run more 6 car trains was looked at. This problem, certainly on the Ormskirk Line, has led to folks abandoning rail travel because of some peak time trains being only 3 cars.

* There was talk of Liverpool Central being too small to cope with the number of passengers that flow through it and indeed the number of trains. Since then the Station has received a cosmetic refurbishment which also cleared as much clutter from the platforms of the Northern Line as possible to improve the passenger environment.

* Construction of a new Station at Maghull North! – Well I have been campaigning for that for a long time and it has still to appear. The article says it was planned for 2010 but sadly that was far too too optimistic and may well have been ‘Merseytravel speak’ i.e. talking things up beyond what was likely to happen.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Maghull Station

A Merseyrail electric unit at the present Maghull Station

* Replacement of the rolling stock in 2014 – Well that did not happen although another upgrade is presently being rolled out of the Class 507/508 EMU’s and they are getting a new ‘graffiti’ livery – well that’s what residents call it!

* And what about dual voltage, yes that gets another mention so that Merseyrail trains can take power from overhead lines as well as the 3rd rail. And no, it has not happened.

This article was very significantly based on the Merseyside RUS document but readers of my earlier posts will note that Network Rail in effect referred to projects that Merseytravel have been on about for 20 odd years or longer.

And to be fair 2007 saw the biggest financial crash in living memory so looking back it is blindingly obvious that many of the area’s transport schemes that relied on Government money to make them happen were going to be shunted into the sidings until things picked up. But, having said that, I can’t but look at places like Greater Manchester where the transport investment has continued apace despite hard times because Governments of all colours have confidence in the leadership of Greater Manchester and by implication they don’t in you know where!

My conclusion having read the commentary on the railways of the Merseyside area of the past 20 years is that Merseytravel always took a far too optimistic view of what was achievable and thought that if they talked long and hard enough Government money would flow into Merseyside transport. Sadly Merseytram proved the opposite to be the case. In my view poor governance of Merseyside has over the years ensured that investment by Governments in transport could only be limited, but have those in power learned from this? Will they take a trip down the East Lancs Road to see how successful transport planning, governance and investment is achieved?

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Regional 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/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers!

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! – Posting 1

This is the first of 3 articles I am posting about Merseyside’s rail network and the big ambitions of Merseytravel (The Transport Authority for Merseyside) as played out in the railway press over the past 20 years.

My starting point is an edition of RAIL Magazine dated September 1st 1993 which had a 4 page spread on Merseyside’s local railway network and interestingly a full page advert for Merseytravel. Did the advert buy the article I wonder?

rsz_img_5208

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The advert

This advert is interesting as it was in a national railway magazine so was unlikely to bring many passengers to Liverpool’s local rail network

In terms of stand out issues the first is with regard to ‘dual voltage’ which means trains being able to operate from the electrified 3rd rail and from overhead power lines. It says ‘Merseytravel plans to convert 14 units [trains] to dual voltage to run a service extension from Hunts Cross to Warrington Central. This conversion work is planned within the next 5 years’ [i.e. by 1998]. Mm, well that never happened did it and neither did a new proposed service from Ellesmere Port to Liverpool Lime Street via Earlstown which gets a mention as a Merseytravel ‘opportunity’. However, my recent posting about the Halton Curve may indicate a potential resurrection of such a project?

Also on the down side is the Wrexham line extension where the magazine says ‘Electrification plans along the Shotton and Wrexham line are tied in with the recently discussed plans for Conway Park station [this new station has been built]. This could be the first of the system extensions to go ahead, possibly within the next two years’ [i.e. by 1995]. Well it clearly didn’t so the new stations at Woodchurch, one between Upton and Heswall and one to be called ‘Beechwood’ between Bidston and Upon have not happened. The report even talks of Woodchurch Station having ‘good park and ride possibilities with good access from the Wirral motorway.’

‘One outcome [of a study called MERITS] may be a re-emergence of the Liverpool tram in a modern form’. Oh dear, well it certainly did emerge only for the last Labour Government to knock it very firmly on the head! But the article also gives an inkling as to why the tram may not have been a runner when it says ‘One third of Merseysiders already live within walking distance of a station’. I wonder if the writer realised how true that would prove to be?

But what about the airport? The article says ‘One new proposal is for an airport branch’, oh how we all wish that had been achieved!

New stations were an issue back in 1993 as they are now. Eastham Rake [done], Conway Park [done], Brunswick [done], Maghull North [still waiting], Headbolt Lane (Kirkby) [still waiting], Town Meadow (on West Kirby line) [still waiting], Vauxhall (between Sandhills and Moorfields on Northern Line) [still waiting], Marshalls Cross [still waiting], Wavertree Technology Park [done], Huyton Quarry [still waiting] and Carr Mill (all on City Line) [still waiting].

And finally a telling comment ‘Merseyside has been left out of the EPS regional proposals in favour of the more populous Manchester’, together with what may well have been no more than a pipe dream – ‘Merseytravel sees the possibility of starting a sleeper from Liverpool’.

Initial thoughts – No mention of Southport what so ever and its long-standing eastern/northern rail access problems. No mention of extending the Ormskirk Line to Burscough and beyond to Preston. No mention of extending the Kirkby line to Skelmersdale and Wigan. A lot of projects that never got far if at all out of the sidings. Was this hugely ambitious shopping list realistic?

Read on in the next of my reviews that are to follow soon on this blog site.

Maghull North Railway Station – The proposed new station gets in Merseytravel’s top twelve (at number 10) of projects it wants to take forward – But what does that mean?

I have long campaigned for a second railway station to be built in Maghull because the present station is getting beyond capacity. It is accessed by narrow roads and its car park is usually full to bursting. A new station to the north of Maghull would open up much wider and more convenient travel opportunities.

In reality the project has been talked about for many many, years but it never got to a ‘let’s do it stage’ until the worst possible time i.e. when the latest financial recession knocked us all for 6 from 2007 onwards. It is still the case that part funding of the station will be via a developer contribution from building on the Ashworth South Site which the proposed station will share. This site is also known as that of the former Moss Side Hospital which has remained derelict ever since it was decided not to build a new prison there.

So where are we now? I have been asking questions of Merseytravel every few months via my good friend Cllr. John Dodd who sits on Merseyside’s Integrated Transport Authority but the answers have always been negative in that money is the barrier. However, some almost good news is that the project is firmly in Merseytravel’s top twelve of projects that it wants to take forward bearing in mind very limited resources. Does this mean it will happen? Well, I suppose you could say that it remains aspirational rather than a ‘yes it will’.

This is how Merseytravel see the project:-

‘New stations on the existing network offer the potential to improve the accessibility and coverage of the Merseyrail network. They also provide the opportunity for the rail network to respond to other development and regeneration of various areas of Merseyside and the new patterns of trip making that will occur. The proposals are to provide railway station with two platforms, lifts and stepped (or ramped) access, a ticket office, two on-street bus stops, cycle routes from School Lane and Park Lane and a car Park of about 200 spaces. The railway service will be typically every 15 minutes in each direction to (1) Liverpool and (2) Ormskirk. Vehicular access is already provided to the site via an aborted scheme involving the Ministry of Justice and Sefton Council.’

And the estimated cost of construction? – £6,830,000m

So will we see this new station really take shape soonish? Well a number of factors come into play here. Firstly, will the development of the Ashworth South site for housing come on stream soon providing a financial contribution from the developer towards the project? Secondly, will the new Joint Authority proposal which effectively sees off Merseytravel as an independent transport body (and all but brings back Merseyside County Council) lead to the money being snatched to fund a Liverpool based project instead? This has to be a big worry and is one of the reasons we Lib Dems in Sefton are very much opposed to the Joint Authority with its potential for a Liverpool-centric money hoover that could leave Sefton with little more than crumbs from the table.

Keep campaigning is the only way forward to my mind because one day we may just succeed in getting Maghull’s second and much needed railway station.

My thanks to colleagues at OPSTA for providing some of the information I have used in this posting.