Does the West of Lancashire Community Rail partnership serve a useful purpose?

I’ve been reading in RAIL magazine (issue 855 – June 20th – July 3rd) all about how CRP (Community Rail Partnerships) can deliver social benefits and many other things. And then I thought about the two lines covered by the West of Lancashire CRP and wondered what on earth does it do?

I found a link to it’s web site and you can see it here

www.communityraillancashire.co.uk/lines/west-of-lancashire/

It’s profile is low and frankly these two lines have many issues with cancelled trains, overcrowded trains (Southport Wigan Line), lack of Sunday services (Ormskirk – Preston Line) etc. etc. So how effective is the CRP at addressing these issues? Based on the fact that pretty much all the social media input and campaigning on the issues/problems raised above seems to emanate from SRTF (Southport Rail Transport Forum) and OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn) I really do wonder what the CRP actually does and how it engages with the communities it serves?

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Norther trains meet

Anyway, only the Ormskirk Preston Line is actually designated as a CRP line as defined by Government so the Southport – Wigan Line through West Lancs Borough can only be some form of informal CRP I guess.

I hear that Lancashire County Council are at best lukewarm over the potential to reopen the old station at Midge Hall on the Ormskirk – Preston Line despite the district council for the area being keen to press on with the reopening associated with major house building going on not so far away from the old station. Is this not the kind of project the CRP should be up and running with to develop the line?

And just what has the CRP done to address the lack of Sunday trains on the Ormskirk – Preston Line? This has been a local transport issue needing to be resolved for a long time now, particularly with the huge number of students in and around Ormskirk at Edge Hill University.

Departure board at Southport Station.

Then we look at the loss of virtually all the trains on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line into Manchester Piccadilly Station, the vast majority of which now terminate at Manchester Victoria to the inconvenience of many Southport and West Lancs rail users. Just how has the CRP tried to influence this pressing issue?

Also, the Southport line was until recent times on the list to be electrified all be that some vague number of years down the line – no pun intended. The line has old trains which are run in an overcrowded way and with unreliability being the unfortunate watchword. And this well predates the May 2018 timetable meltdown by many years.

What I’m getting at here is that from my perspective the CRP is hardly high profile on any of these issues and the voluntary sector in the form of SRTF and OPSTA have seemingly had to take the lead in battling with our failed railway industry.

So I can I ask again what purpose does the West of Lancashire CRP serve?

Northern Rail – Just why are their services struggling to deliver and who’s going to fix things?

I guess many of passengers using Northern Rail in recent times will have asked themselves this question. Cancelled trains due to a lack of rolling stock and or drivers/guards seem to be an everyday occurrence nowadays and of course, as with Merseyrail, Northern are deeply into industrial action with rail union RMT over loss of train guards on new rolling stock.

I’m told that locally cancelled trains on the Ormskirk – Preston Line are now a common occurrence, but it’s clear that Northern’s problems extend over the whole franchise area and it must be the case that Arriva, who own the Northern Rail franchise, are under pressure.

That northern MP’s are getting to the end of their tether with Northern is to be expected as their constituents fill the MP’s post bags with stories of poor performance. That frustration amongst northern MP’s leads to this (see link below):-

www.parliament.uk/edm/2017-19/1240

And of course we have seen that the services on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line are soon to go into Manchester Victoria Station, with few going to Manchester Piccadilly and none to Manchester Airport anymore.

All in all it seems that Northern’s passengers have a lot to be unhappy about but how are the problems going to get fixed?

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.

Southport – Manchester Trains – Please support this petition

you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/defend-rail-services-in-to-manchester-piccadilly?source=facebook-share-button&time=1472504523

Departure board at Southport Station.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The petition available via the link above is well worth supporting as we try to stop Arriva Trains Northern/Network Rail and other public bodies making all Southport – Wigan – Manchester trains go into Manchester Victoria Station.

Southport Rail Transport Forum logo

Southport Rail Transport Forum logo

Presently around half go into Manchester Piccadilly Station which is far more convenient for commuters working in Manchester.

OPSTA logo

OPSTA logo

Southport Rail Transport Forum, OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association) and MP’s representing constituencies along the this line, such as John Pugh (Southport), Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) etc. are all backing the campaign. The petition started by Lisa Nandy MP (Wigan) is a part of that campaign and I urge folk to sign it.

Southport & West Lancs – Manchester Trains – Local MP’s cheesed off by Arriva Rail North and just about everyone else involved in the North West rail industry

A return to that knotty problem of the railway powers that be making all trains from Southport, Burscough, Parbold etc. run into Manchester Victoria Station from 2017. A bad idea if ever I heard one as it is clear that rail travellers on the line want half the trains to continue to go through to Manchester Piccadilly as they do now.

L:ib Dem Leader Tim Farron at Southport Station with Southport Councillor David Pullin.

Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron at Southport Station with Southport Councillor David Pullin.

The campaign to get Network Rail, Rail North and Arriva Rail North to reverse their decision recently came to a head with local MP’s leading the charge with OPSTA and Southport Rail Transport Forum etc.

Parbold Level Crossing

Parbold Level Crossing

To say the MP’s were unimpressed with what they heard is putting it too politely. Here’s what Rosie Cooper Labour MP for West Lancashire thinks:-

www.rosiecooper.net/rosie_cooper_mp_furious_at_arriva_s_dishonesty_over_rail_links_to_manchester

And here’s a report on events from Southport Rail Transport Forum:-

www.facebook.com/southportrailtransportforum/posts/638817542960877?notif_t=notify_me_page&notif_id=1467713462228408

Looks to me as though Southport, West Lancashire and Wigan rail travellers have been shafted by a rail industry that did not consult them before it made the decision and has not backed off since. Who are our railways being run for? The convenience of the rail industry or for the ticket buying passengers? It seems we know the answer!!

Southport – Manchester Train Services an update from OPSTA

Loss of Piccadilly/ Airport Services under the New Franchise –

Departure board at Southport Station.

Departure board at Southport Station.

Arriva Rail North took over the Northern franchise from 1st April 2016 with a plan to divert our Piccadilly and airport services to Manchester Victoria from December 2017.

Since the last newsletter, OPSTA has been running the Make Your Voice Heard campaign in collaboration with the Southport Rail Transport Forum (SRFT), North West Manchester Stations Alliance (NWMSA) and station and community groups around Wigan.

While we felt the evidence of numbers we provided had made an impression, it would need real life and community impact if we were to convince the incoming train operator and the transport authorities, namely Rail North, Merseytravel, Lancashire County Council and Transport for Greater Manchester that the plan is wrong.

We have managed this through website, (www.opsta.org) social media: twitter (@opsta15 #gotopicc) and facebook (southportrailtransportforum), and the traditional methods of press, posters and flyers.

We asked rail users to petition individually by sending an e mail or writing a letter and hundreds have done so. Now the rail company and transport authorities know they cannot simply ignore this.

At the commencement of the new franchise, in reply to passenger objections and a body of evidence, Northern (the operational management) stated they would look at timetables in detail and consult but made no commitment to modify the plan to retain the direct service to Piccadilly. The Chair of Rail North also committed to hold the operator to its promise to conduct a review of plans but he placed this in a context of benefits that will result from the Ordsall Chord/ Northern Hub, electrification and new franchise.

Now in the second month of its franchise, Northern has become almost mute, Northern (Arriva Rail North) seem to be heavily under pressure in getting the new franchise organised which may explain their lack of communication. Or is it possibly because many passengers comprehensively deconstructed their initial response, not least the suggestion that a change at Salford Crescent would be reasonable? Their position remains ‘it’s being looked at’ with no time frame on when we will hear more.

In total contrast with the rail company and Rail North, any and all local authorities and business groups that the campaign group speaks to, immediately recognise the seriousness of the issue and act on it.

Wigan MBC quickly flagged its concerns with the plans and noted its formal objection stating the case from their part of Greater Manchester. On 21st April Sefton MBC gave its full support to a motion to state clearly its objection to the loss of service, expressing concern at the serious economic impact if the plan went ahead.

On the same evening OPSTA presented to the Local Association of local councils which comprises all parish councils in traditional West Lancashire and they unanimously gave their full backing to the campaign; active support and interventions had already come from many of them.

We have been working with many of our MPs who have been galvanised by their growing personal case files and are taking action.

Friends of Hindley station conducted ‘our’ survey at their station in March; the communities east of Wigan were now getting concerned and involved.

Recently completed platform surveys and counts by the Friends of Westhoughton station established that half of their travellers use the line for stations on the Piccadilly/ Airport route. We have now identified that 650 daily commuters will be seriously and adversely affected by the loss of
service. In order to obtain the complete view, on June 8th and 9th we will conduct a morning commuter survey at Wigan Wallgate and then report figures for all stations. Furthermore, while huge numbers need the service for work and education, the surveys at Westhoughton were extended through the morning and their findings reinforced passenger feedback, this is not just an issue for commuters.

NEXT PHASE OF THE CAMPAIGN

In June we will be seeking passenger participation again in Making Our Voice Heard with a fresh emphasis.

This will be ahead of a proposed meeting with the MPs for Southport, West Lancs, Wigan and Makerfield; Rail North; Northern and our local transport authorities (anticipated 1st July).

Where do our transport authorities stand?

TfGM says the matter can be looked at but so far has made no commitment. Merseytravel has not offered much more although working with Sefton Councillor Gordon Friel who is Vice Chair at Merseytravel he should have
influence and has continued to voice his support. Lancashire County Council has stated it will support us and evidently is taking some action in this respect.

The bottom line – Northern, our transport authorities and Rail North must be made to understand it is wrong to withdraw our Piccadilly service and we are not going to let this go.

Should you wish to raise an objection now while we press for meaningful dialogue and resolution visit our website www.opsta.org to see how you can make your voice heard – it is very quick and easy. If you use Twitter please
comment using #gotopicc and Campaign for Better Transport’s #railwoes. Or if Facebook is your social medium, have a look at southportrailtransportforum.