HS2 – It’s in a bit of a pickle – But it should still be built

An HS1 train stands at St. Pancras Station in April 2009.

My good friend Phil Holden has recently been commenting at length (Phil is rarely short of words) on the pickle that HS2 finds itself in. Here’s a link to Phil’s blog posting on the matter:-

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2019/09/take-h-out-of-hs2-now.html

And here’s my comment on what Phil has said:-

Well Phil you’ve blown a whistle on HS2 with your full head of steam aimed at the chief promoter. Anyone would think you are trying to shunt him into a siding or even send him to Barry scrap yard where steam engines went to die.

But seriously, I agree with much that you say. HS2 is mainly about capacity, it always has been. Whether it is being poorly managed or not I bow to your expansive knowledge on such matters.

But yes of course it should be built, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. As for significantly high speed, I can live without that.

And finally how come the French, Spanish, Germans etc. can build high speed rail networks (and have been doing for many years) when we can’t without huge delays and breaking the bank?

Edinburgh Tram was another massive failure (in cost terms) and so has been our attempts to electrify rail routes across the UK. Indeed, the Government got so cheesed off with Network Rail’s carry on that they (wrongly in my view) cancelled many planned electrifications rather than sort out the dysfunctional Network Rail. I think a significant part of the problem will be associated with the UK losing too many experienced railway engineers in the years when we (not me I must add) thought railways were done and gone. We then got caught out with folks flocking back to them and having no capacity. Out came the plans for HS2 and electrifications but no one knew how to do it any more.

We should probably have got SNCF or the Spanish/German equivalents to design and build HS2 and it would probably be up and running before your mid 70’s. The birth place of railways has forgotten how to build them I’m sad to say.

Aughton – It’s big green slab-sided pedestrian bridge

Well you can’t miss it – it’s big, green and very long:-

My previous posting of a few days ago refers:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/08/22/aughton-doctors-bridge-footbridge-being-replaced/

My first thought having seen it in place was that when walking across it you will not be able to see anything as the walls are so high. This must be a Network Rail specification but of course the good people of Croston (see link below) recently protested about another Network Rail slab-sided bridge which they feel is poor architecture:-

www.lancs.live/news/lancashire-news/croston-residents-campaign-changes-meadow-16131748

But as mentioned in my original posting this bridge seems to have been replaced by Lancashire County Council not Network Rail, although I guess it will be to NR’s specifications.

Well it will serve a purpose but the days to aesthetically pleasing railway architecture seem to be a thing of the past sadly. I wonder why NR specify things to be simply functional rather than pleasing on the eye too?

Whilst marveling at the engineering of this Dutch GRP-type bridge I can’t help but be disappointed with how it looks. Yes I know, the old pedestrian bridge was of no architectural merit either but at least you could see around you when crossing it.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

West Coast to the rescue again on Lakes Line

Lakeland MP Tim Farron says “The line was set to be shut over Easter because of engineering works on the West Coast Mainline, so it’s brilliant news for the Lake District that we’ll now have trains running again on the line on Saturday and Sunday.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to West Coast Railways and Network Rail for helping to make this happen.

The guys at West Coast did an amazing job last summer when they stepped in to provide a service on the Lakes Line – roll on the weekend!”

An OPSTA meeting in Croston – So are things looking brighter on the recently appalling (for cancellations) Ormskirk – Preston line

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Norther trains meet

Croston is a lovely largish village which is somewhat isolated in public transport terms with few if any local bus services. And those that do run seem to be permanently under threat.

But what Croston does though have is a railway station on the Ormskirk – Preston line, a line that in the early 1980s was under threat of closure itself and the reason the then OPTA (Ormskirk Preston Travellers Assn) campaign group was formed. That battle was won although there were some amusing reminiscences at the meeting held last Wednesday about politician Den Dover having to leave a campaign meeting because his stance was not seen to be one that helped the then beleaguered line.

Croston Station

But as readers of this blog site will know the performance of Northern Trains on the line was in the utterly appalling category during 2018, indeed it got so bad that it made the BBC national TV news. That the BBC got hold of the story was down to OPSTA (notice the change of name to include Southport) and some very determined Croston residents. Thankfully performance has very much improved in recent weeks but OPSTA continues to monitor the on-time performance of every train and Northern know it.

A guest at the meeting was Cllr. Keith Iddon the Transport portfolio holder on Lancashire County Council. The impression he gave to the meeting was one of optimism for the Ormskirk – Preston Line. He clearly backs the idea of Merseyrail trains running through Ormskirk on to Preston, indeed if anything he came over as more optimistic about that happening than Liam Robinson (the Chair of Merseytravel) did at a similar OPSTA public forum held in Southport a few months back.

Burscough Junction Station

We pressed Keith on the need to run trains on the Ormskirk – Preston Line on Sundays whether or not the line is eventually taken over by Merseytravel – they would do that as a matter of course. He promised to take that request away and speak to Rail North about it. Rail North is in effect the northern branch of the Department for Transport.

If I recall correctly Cllr. Iddon referred to himself as someone from a truck driving background and thereby hangs an ever-present problem in Councils – their engineers are 99 times out of a hundred from a roads/highways background so they know little of the ways of the railway industry. Bearing in mind that many councils are responsible for transport in all its forms this must put them at a disadvantage, indeed they must miss opportunities because of the lack of expertise in railways. By the way, I’m not criticising Cllr. Iddon here, his working background is just as worthy as anyone else’s, I just use what he said to help illustrate a point that has long concerned me and which I witnessed when serving as a councillor on Sefton Borough Council.

Rufford Station

So are things on an upward curve for the Ormskirk – Preston Line? We can only hope so because so many passengers were left stranded day after day during Northern’s troubles, which are not at an end even now. Terrible communication issues with passengers, very poor rail replacement buses and a feeling that that Northern look upon the Rail North/DfT as their real customer who has to be satisfied rather than poor travelling public whom they let down day after day. The only way is upwards and please get the line into the Merseyrail system ASAP, it really is a no-brainer…..

Maghull – Views of our presently closed down railway

I decided to have a good look at what Network Rail and their contractors are up to whilst the Liverpool – Ormskirk Northern Line of Merseyrail has been shut down for enabling works to take place so the stations are ready for the new class 777 Stadler EMU’s in 2020. All the photos were taken on 5th November.

The first couple of shots show the ongoing platform works at Maghull Station:-

This next shot in effect shows why the works are being done at stations across the Merseyrail network:-

If you look carefully (it may be best to click on the photo to see it enlarged) you will see that the floor of the new trains will be level with the platforms and a small gap filler will come out when the train stops at a station. This is so that people with disabilities, wheelchairs, and bikes can be wheeled straight onto the new trains without the need for station staff to meet trains with portable ramps as at present with the current 507/508 trains.

Here’s a look back at Maghull Station from Poverty Lane and a look northwards from Poverty Lane in the direction of Maghull North Station. Clearly, other works were being undertaken during the shut down such as cutting back overgrowing trees:-

We then move on to the new Maghull North Station where I think that snagging work from the previous works was taking place. There was scaffolding around the lift towers but I could not get a close look as I was advised to leave the station by a member of Merseyrail’s staff. I had wandered onto the station footbridge and had not seen any warning signs but advised to leave I was. The following photo was taken looking back at the station from the Park lane overbridge:-

And finally a look north from the Park Lane overbridge in the direction of Town Green Station. Again other works were clearly taking place in the distance during the shut down of the line:-

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them

Maghull – It’s new North Station certainly has had it’s fair share of snagging issues

I guess that any new building and construction will have its snagging issues but Maghull’s new North station certainly has had what some folk would suggest is more than its fair share.

* No level access off School Lane for pedestrians, cycles and those with disability until 3 months after the station was opened and still no dropped kerb off School Lane for cyclists.

* A rather strong smell which I’m told is now being attended to.
* Lifts not working to platforms for first couple of weeks after station opening.
* Still a non-functioning public toilet

* No pedestrian/cycle path from Park Lane yet

* Appalling noise from testing of PA system
* Why only one small open shelter on the busy Liverpool bound platform?

Another issue raised by some locals is the old 6ft wooden boarded fence which has mostly been taken away but for part that fronts the station onto School Lane. Yes it presently has artwork on large banners affixed to it that was produced by local school children but obviously those banners will have a limited life. What happens to the old fence then? It will be no positive advert for Merseyrail that’s for sure when the banners are gone.

And of course there’s some head scratching going on about why the bus stops are a fair step or fifty away from the station:-

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that it’s been built as I campaigned for it over many years but I really do wonder about the detail of the project management. And you may wonder why I’ve not mentioned the size of the car park which is clearly a problem too i.e. it seems to be far too small. Well yes it is but that’s really a consequence of the lack of adequate car parking at the 3 stations north of Maghull North, indeed Aughton Park has none at all! Also the pricing structure of tickets can encourage folk to drive to Maghull’s 2 stations to pick up a Liverpool bound train. Trouble is this in turn means that whilst Maghull has a vast car park and Maghull North has a reasonably sized one there’s no room on a normal work day in either for Maghull, Lydiate and Melling resident’s cars unless they get there very early. This unfortunate conundrum, which will inevitably lead to more and more commuter’s cars being parked on the Poppy Fields Estate, needs to be addressed by Merseytravel & Lancashire County Council.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.