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?

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.

Southport to Manchester Trains – From the pages of OPSTA’s Connexions Magazine

Rail travellers who commute from Southport, Burscough, Parbold and other stations along the line through West Lancs are concerned about the proposal to push all Southport trains into Manchester Victoria as opposed to the present situation where some go through to Manchester Piccadilly. OPSTA [Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association] have been lobbying over this for some time now and below is an update from their September Connexions Magazine.

Departure board at Southport Station.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The campaign continues in concert with the Southport Rail Transport Forum to press for the best we can get with the new franchise and to retain direct links from Southport to both Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly. More recent responses to lobbying suggest the routing of all services to/ through Victoria may not be the fait accompli we were once led to believe and the right campaign may result in us retaining both Manchester routes.

Burscough Bridge Station with a Manchester bound train from Southport.

Burscough Bridge Station with a Manchester bound train from Southport.

Until we are sighted on what the preferred bidder proposes – December at the earliest – and we have a realistic time frame for the Northern Hub our efforts will focus on gathering the evidence with another platform survey targeted for this autumn. We mobilised in large numbers last year and achieved an impressive 75% sample on the stations attended; this time we intend to cover Gathurst too.

We have recently briefed all 3 MPs whose constituencies are on the line between Southport and Wigan.

And pleasingly TfGM [Transport for Greater Manchester] has invited OPSTA to participate in an exercise to consider future timetable requirements, aspirations and opportunities with our submission to be made as this newsletter goes to print.

Southport – Trains to Manchester Airport – Under threat?

Southport has long benefited from good rail connections with Manchester but since the Beeching era there has been some significant chipping away at the level/standard of service. Indeed, Southport grew partly because Manchester business people liked to live in the town and commute to Manchester due to its once excellent rail connections.

Often these days Southport – Manchester trains can be overcrowded, slow and made up of the ‘Pacer’ units that people like John Pugh MP have campaigned to have removed from the British railways network. Of course the get rid of the ‘Pacers’ campaign has recently been won as we all know.

But sadly another threat is on the horizon and it could well mean that Southport will lose it connection with Manchester’s Piccadilly Station and Manchester Airport. You see as part of the Northern Hub project which is aimed at getting more trains per hour through congested tracks in Manchester there is talk of Southport’s trains going into Manchester Victoria Station only. Presently some go to Victoria and some to Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.

This is a serious threat that rail campaign groups like OPSTA and John Pugh are trying to fight off but are we close to seeing train departure boards at Southport Station no longer showing trains to Manchester Airport?

rsz_southport_to_manchester_airport

The Southport – Wigan – Manchester line desperately needs greater investment not being downgraded further!