So what does OPSTA think should happen?

OPSTA Response to LCR Local Transport Plan Consultation

OPSTA logo

I’ve been a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn for more years than I care to mention because they consistently campaign for improved local rail services. Here’s their submission to the Liverpool City Region which has been running a consultation process about the future of local transport:-

‘This submission is on behalf of the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA) a non political group that uses an evidence-based approach to campaign for improved public transport in the north of the City Region and south-west Lancashire. We have a longstanding relationship with the CTA.

It outlines the case for extending Merseyrail services north of Ormskirk to Preston and through re-instatement of the south junction at Burscough to Southport and similarly extension of public transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan.

The planned implementation of an extended rail service to a new station at Headbolt Lane demonstrates what can be achieved in a short timescale and the potential of the new Class 777 trains when battery-equipped.

Extension of Ormskirk service to Burscough

OPSTA recommends this as a fast follower project to Headbolt lane as it could be delivered very simply and quickly at very low capital cost.

There is a strong and increasing passenger demand case with counts conducted by OPSTA showing continuous growth of journeys made between Burscough Junction and Ormskirk (present entry point to Merseyrail) despite the disruption of recent years. Moreover, it is known there is significant rail heading at Ormskirk, Maghull North and even Aintree by people travelling along the A59. The population of Burscough all within 15 minutes walking distance of the station will soon have increased by over 50% in the last few years.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston service

OPSTA passenger surveys conducted between 2013 and 2019 have shown consistently that around 25% of those using the Northern Trains’ service use a connecting Merseyrail service towards Liverpool.

Many from Preston and Lancashire will travel into the City Region for work, education and leisure. Similarly, residents in the City Region travel into Lancashire for work and leisure reasons and notably to Preston for education (UCLAN) and connections with northbound services.

A Merseyrail service between the two cities would complement and add capacity/services to the route between Lime Street and Preston; an easier and quicker route for residents north of Liverpool would encourage use of the train while reducing the numbers of passengers passing through very busy city centre stations to travel elsewhere. It would also alleviate congestion all along the A59 arterial road into the city centre thus helping to meet zero carbon and air quality targets.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Southport via Burscough South Curve

With a through line at Ormskirk, reinstatement of the south junction at Burscough would connect it to the Southport – Wigan line and enable a frequent and fast Merseyrail service between Southport and Ormskirk, Aughton, Maghull and Aintree and bringing Meols Cop into the Merseyrail network.

Previous journey requirement analysis and modelling conducted by the rail consultancy Steers incorporated in a formal proposition made in 2021 for the Burscough Curves demonstrated that there is a unique demand that is not met by the ‘fingers’ of the current Merseyrail Northern lines estimated to be 350-400k journeys annually. A rail options report by WSP Global consultancy in August 2020 also recommended reinstatement of the south curve.

Improved transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan

Now it is clear that the Department for Transport will not fund and progress the development of a new rail line the latent demand for fast and efficient public transport links remains.

A dedicated and fast rail bus service connecting the town to the Merseyrail network would be a very low-cost and quickly implemented option that appears to be a good fit with the City Region’s plans for bus services and multi-modal transport, with cognizance this would be within Lancashire and need a partnership approach with the County Council.

The Dft decision also creates an opportunity to extend the Merseyrail service from Headbolt lane to Wigan instead for which there are similar benefit case arguments for operating through services to Preston. Along this rail corridor demand for rail travel to Liverpool will be strengthened by the house building taking place close to stations and it will facilitate access to Manchester for those residing inside the City Region.’

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

Skem’s reconnection to national rail network hits buffers

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I guess quite a bit of cash must have been spent (in person-hours particularly) in the planning but Government has probably unsurprisingly run for the hills over the cost of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the national rail network. The BBC has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-62087680

I say unsurprisingly as folk I know who are knowledgeable of Lancashire’s politics and indeed its railways have been indicating such an outcome pretty much ever since this major project, with its eye-watering costs, was first proposed. Here’s a link back to an earlier posting of mine (from 2015) on the matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

Of course, the new and 2nd Merseyrail station for Kirkby at Headbolt Lane did get the go-ahead (plus funding) and it is actually being built right now.

When you consider that this latest knock-back for the North West comes on top of the HS2 Goulbourne link being axed and the reconnection of Burscough Curves being blocked yet again it makes the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda look as worthless as was the Northern Powerhouse, or Poorhouse as my old chum, Jim Ford, accurately once labelled it.

RMT Union V Merseyrail – Still no resolution

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s a while since I’ve dropped into the long-running dispute between RMT trade union and Merseyrail, but there’s been some recent movement. Here’s a link back to a previous posting of mine on this subject:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/06/merseytravel-merseyrail-liverpool-city-region-v-rmt-train-guards-dispute-ended-but/

And the movement? The latest peace deal has been rejected by Merseyrail’s RMT members in a ballot. According to the RMT website, there were 217 eligible members in the ballot of which 182 voted i.e. 84%. I often wonder why in such trade union ballots some members choose not to vote. Yes, there’ll be illness etc. but can we assume those not voting were not bothered either way? The result was 83 accepted the deal and 99 voted to reject it.

So far I’ve not been able to track down much else about where this long-running dispute is now headed and as an outsider looking in, even one who is a retired trade union officer, the alternatives look rather bleak to me. I’m wondering whether those voting no to the deal had an eye to the ticket checking (revenue protection) part of it and a wish not to have to? Although ticket checking onboard trains by guards is still reasonably common, not so on Merseyrail who seem to have opted more for mobile teams to enforce those travelling ticketless over the past few years. However, with this new and now rejected deal the guards, renamed Train Managers, would be walking through the new Class 777 Stadler trains checking tickets and of course, dealing with the confrontations flowing from such interactions with folk deliberately trying to travel for free. My feeling is that the revenue protection part of the new Train Manager’s job is aimed, at least in part, at raising more money to assist in paying the wages of the Train Managers*.

It will be interesting to see if the rejected deal now becomes the marker for another fully-fledged industrial dispute between Merseyrail and the RMT.

A Merseyrail train just noth of Maghull Station heading for Liverpool on the Ormskirk LIne.

* I keep coming back to a point that I’ve made many times before. The fact is that the Liverpool City Region ordered new trains which were intended to run without guards being required at all. On that basis, a dispute with the unions representing the train operator’s staff was always going to be on the cards. You can’t help but wonder if the Labour-run City Region was looking for a fight with Merseyrail’s trade unions all along? The City Region came unstuck when the RMT and passenger groups said they wanted a 2nd person onboard each Merseyrail train to aid passenger safety. This argument gained traction and the politicians were forced to back down.

1959 just north of Aughton Park Station

Here’s the latest instalment in my long term project to share the photographs in the Neil Reston Collection.

To recap the family of Neil passed the photos on to me last year and I’ve already blogged about the closed Sefton & Maghull, Lydiate and Altcar & Hillhouse Stations on the former Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway. Similarly I’ve blogged about trains on the Liverpool – Ormskirk Line at Mickering Lane/Sandy Lane in Aughton & Poverty Lane Maghull – all @1960.

Here are 2 photos which I think will both date back to 1959, although I’m not 100% sure about that. Both are looking back towards Aughton Park Station with the trains heading towards Ormskirk, whilst the view is towards Liverpool.

On the back of this photo it says – 4.20 Scotsman at Aughton Park Whit Monday

The note for this shot says – 5 car compartment stock

And for comparison here are a couple of Merseyrail era shots taken at Aughton Park Station in 2017:-

In the first modern shot you get a clearer view of the bridge (carrying Long Lane over the railway) which is only just visible in the 1959 shots. In the second, looking north, there seemed to be quite a weed problem in 2017.

Merseyrail – Art On The Network

Do any of you Merseysiders out there recall this ‘Art On The Network’ project being launched by Merseytravel in 2005? Can’t say I do but during a rummage through my collection of books and magazines about Merseyside’s railways I rediscovered a forgotten pack from Merseytravel dated August 2010 all about the progress and future of this artistic project.

In the pack, sent to me by Merseytravel’s former Chief Executive and Director General Neil Scales was an Official Trail Guide, a book mark, a brochure and a DVD. In terms of ‘Selected forthcoming projects and plans’ the brochure says that in 2010 the following will take place – Animate the Underground, Art on the Network website to be launched, Art on the Artwork Open Art Competition and Charity of the year Art Project. And in 2011 – Animate Your Wait, Art on the Network Open Art Competition, Charity of the Year Art Project, Olympic 2012 programme, New [Merseytravel] Headquarters Artwork. It seems that Merseytravel was really becoming quite arty indeed. Time to start some internet searches for the project as I’m partial to art, particularly if it’s railway related:-

The first hit was this Flickr page www.flickr.com/groups/1557796@N25/ trouble is it has no photos on it!

This internet link to – Art on the Network – Public Art Update moderngov.merseytravel.uk.net › documents › Art on the… 15 Nov 2012 — The purpose of this report is to update Members on Merseytravel‟s. Public Art Policy/Strategy and Art on the Network (AOTN) activities. 2 – no longer works

I then found this Liverpool Echo article from 2012 launching that year’s art competition www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseytravel-launches-art-network-competition-3348110

I also found this from back in 2010 ‘The Drum’s’ website – www.thedrum.com/news/2010/06/23/merseytravel-launches-art-network-site-mando The link to the Art on the Network site does not work though.

In 2009 the Art on the Network Competition was won by Ron Davies farm8.clik.com/rdphoto/articles_114212.html

That’s pretty much all I found by Googling Merseytravel Art On The Network so I went onto Merseytravel’s own website and searched ‘Art on the Network’ but nothing came up at all. Now don’t get me wrong here, it’s not as if nothing was achieved by this project which may or may not be on-going. Indeed, some quite significant pieces of artwork have been created and displayed across the rail network on Merseyside it’s just that Merseytravel seems to have all but let the initiative go as there’s nothing on it’s website that I can find. That’s rather sad I feel.

But My point in penning this posting is not just to say how sad I am that the initiative ground to a halt (or should that be shunted into the sidings?) because it didn’t and hasn’t! I know that because my two local Merseyrail Stations have had artwork displayed on them in recent years and here’s the proof. First Maghull:-

Displayed at Maghull Station and designed by Deyes High Academy students

By Maghull artist Margaret Walton as part of the Station Volunteers project.

And at the new(ish) Maghull North Station:-

These two photos of the same sculpture celebrate the fact that this new station is on the former grounds of Moss Side Hospital which as a consequence of the Great War became a centre of expertise dealing with shell shock victims.

So to conclude my voyage into Art on the Network all I can say is how about celebrating it all at least on your website Merseytravel if nowhere else?

Merseyrail – First 508’s Going for Scrap

Merseyrail Class 508 EMU at Maghull Station

Well it had to happen as more new Class 777 EMU’s arrive on the Merseyrail system but it’s always sad when long-serving trains go to the scrap yard. The link below (to You Tube) shows the first 2 Class 508’s on their last journey:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K3h_fE1SwE

I then realised I’d photoed one of the 508’s that went for scrap on 16th August at Maghull Station back in June 2015 – it’s the photo at the head of this posting.

If you check out the detail of the You Tube posting there’s a link to an interesting blog site called Engineering FOCUS – engineeringfocusblog.blogspot.com/2020/08/end-of-line-nearing-for-merseyrails.html

Just one thought, which I know is on other minds too, will early scrapping of the 508’s and 507’s leave Merseyrail short of rolling stock if a problem pops up with the new Class 777’s akin to the situation Northern found themselves in not so long ago?

If you’d like to see a Class 777 on a test run there’s one below in a You Tube video taken at Birkdale station:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_SPoSC9OSY

And finally, for those of you with longer memories here’s yet another You Tube link about the former Merseyrail Class 502 EMU’s which were replaced by the Class 507/508’s between 1978 and 1980

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbN-Yixo2N0