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…..

Sefton Focus Review of 2018

It’s always interesting to look back at a year just ending – lessons can always be learned from history (even very recent history) but that’s a piece of traditional advice many of our present-day politicians really seem to struggle with.

So let’s look back at the past 12 months via 12 Sefton Focus postings – each month has a link back to my original posting. It’s my personal take on 2018:-

January – A celebration of everything Hornby:-

In the Hornby Room at Meadows Leisure Centre Maghull – Michael Portillo with Frank Hornby Trust Chairman Les French as seen on TV this year.

Well, I had to start this review with the TV programme which put Maghull firmly on the map. I refer of course to the Town being a part of one of Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys celebrating the life and works of Maghull’s most famous resident – Toy maker Frank Hornby:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/01/18/maghull-hornby-as-seen-on-tv/

February – Pavement Politics:-

We Libs are known for our ‘pavement politics’ so it’s no surprise that in February I was going on about pot-holes! Sadly, as we shall see later, a pot-holed/poorly maintained road which I mentioned back in Feb’ ended up being a contributory factor to a cyclist’s death later in the year.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/02/26/the-state-of-our-road-surfaces-on-your-bike/

March – Youth and CAB make way for Police:-

The move of Maghull’s Police Station from Westway into Maghull Town Hall, facilitated by Labour-run Maghull Town Council, made my blood boil because a successful CAB help point (still not replaced when we were told it would be) and a unique youth facility (a Youth Coffee Bar run by local young people) were both lost to make way for the boys and girls in blue.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/03/24/maghull-cheering-on-the-new-police-station-no-remembering-what-we-lost-to-rehouse-the-police/

April – Oh for decent services on the Southport-Wigan-Manchester line:-

Departure board at Southport Station.

Railways have always been of great interest to me and I’ve been a member of OPSTA for many years now. Their campaigning to bring about a decent train service from Southport to Wigan and Manchester has been long-running and as I type it still is. This was the state of things back in April BEFORE the complete melt-down of the May timetable changes. Note – I think it fair to say that Merseytravel have now upped their game a little regarding services on this line but the reliability of it (It’s run by Northern Trains) is still very poor indeed.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/04/18/southport-loss-of-trains-to-manchester-airport-and-piccadilly-seems-merseytravel-has-form-here/

May – Did Merseytram burn Merseytravel’s fingers?:-

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

In May I mused about the lack of significant public transportation developments across the Liverpool City Region and pondered on whether the failed Merseytram project burnt Merrsytravel’s fingers too hard.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/05/25/merseytravel-did-merseytram-knock-the-stuffing-out-of-innovative-progressive-transport-planning-in-the-city-region/

June – Canal Breach in Melling:-

The Leeds Liverpool Canal breached in the Waddicar part of Melling during June, stopping the many pleasure boats that use the canal during the summer season. The canal was closed for quite a few weeks whilst repairs were undertaken by the canal and River Trust.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/06/13/melling-canal-breach-this-mornings-photos/

July – How accessible is the new Maghull North Station?:-

I penned this posting a few weeks after the new station was opened. The level accessible route into the station has now been provided although there’s still no dropped kerb for cyclists off School Lane.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/07/23/maghull-its-new-north-station-an-accessible-interchange/

August – The sad death of a local Councillor and cyclist:-

The August posting links directly back to the one I highlighted in February i.e. the fatal accident involving Melling Parish Councillor Alion Doyle who was cycling on one of the lanes in Aughton which I raised concerns about back then. A stretch of this lane, maybe a 100 yards or so, is still in terrible condition this December and I have raised this with Lancashire County Council. Such a sad loss of life. RIP Allison Doyle.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/08/20/aughton-fatal-accident-on-bold-lane/

September – The battle against fracking:-

Being an environmental campaigner the battle against Fracking is important to me as it is to many others. This month’s chosen posting is about Lydiate Parish Council gaining information from the volunteer campaigners against fracking. And yes, Lydiate PC did subsequently agree to put £500 to one side to help the volunteer Moss Alliance with their legal costs.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/27/lydiate-parish-council-gets-insight-into-fracking/

October – Building on high-grade agricultural land, which feeds us, is the politics of the madhouse:-

The vast Maghull East urban extension (presently high grade agricultural land) site as seen from Poverty Lane, Maghull

Another environmental campaign that I feel passionately about. That governments and councils (of any political colour) can allow building on the highest grades of agricultural land, which grows the food we eat, is utterly mad to me – a subject I have blogged about many, many times…..

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/10/15/we-import-50-of-our-food-now-do-opposition-politicians-get-why-i-keep-banging-on-about-saving-high-grade-agricultural-land-from-development/

November – Ormskirk to Preston Line – The worst performing in the UK?:-

Ormskirk Station – The train in the foreground is Preston bound (when it’s not being replaced by a bus). The one behind it is Liverpool bound.

As the year dragged on for the poor long-suffering passengers of Northern Rail questions began to be asked about whether the line from Ormskirk to Preston could possibly be the worst performing in the UK. The question was taken up by BBC News with particular reference to a whole week without a single train running on the line. Performance can only improve in 2019, it just could not get any worse.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/11/23/northern-trains-could-the-ormskirk-preston-line-be-the-most-poorly-performing-in-the-uk/

December – The battle to try to save Rimrose Valley Country Park from Highways England’s plans for a new road:-

Idyllic view of Rimrose Valley Country Park

And to close 2018 a subject I have oft-blogged about, the campaign to try to stop Highway’s England building a new road to the Port of Liverpool through Rimrose Valley Country Park. There have been many angles which I have reported on but the bizarre tangle Sefton Council’s Tory Group have got themselves into takes a lot of beating.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/12/04/rimrose-valley-country-park-are-sefton-tories-backing-highways-england-plan-for-new-road-through-it/

Northern Assist – Your inability to run trains is just appalling

Sadly a subject I keep returning to as the troubles with the Northern Assist franchise seem to get deeper when you thought they had already reached rock bottom.

Below is a link to the Lancashire Evening Post date 6th December all about the rail chaos on the Ormskirk – Preston Line.

www.lep.co.uk/news/transport/rail-chaos-leaves-village-stranded-as-every-train-in-a-week-is-cancelled-1-9481152

The lady and quoted in the article was one of the contributors to the OPSTA public meeting I attended and reported on only a few days ago. here’s a link to that previous posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/11/23/northern-trains-could-the-ormskirk-preston-line-be-the-most-poorly-performing-in-the-uk/

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station.

Chris Jackson Regional Director of Northern is quoted saying this in the LEP article:-

“Cancelling an entire route – as we had to do with the Preston to Ormskirk Line – is not a decision we take lightly, but the unusual circumstances called for extreme measures. The trains which operate the Ormskirk line were those most affected by the autumn conditions, and the route itself was also problematic. When we were unable to operate trains we did provide a reliable rail replacement service which ensured our customers on the line were still able to get where they needed to be.”

His statement raises more questions, such as:-

* So why is the Ormskirk – Preston Line more affect by autumn leaves than any other line that Northen operate?
* Why is the Ormskirk – Preston line ‘problematic’?
* I hear that the rail replacement buses were not reliable and did not stop at each station on the line – Why?

Sorry Northern you are letting travellers down in a very big way and its been going on for far too long. Just sort it or hand the franchise back, enough is enough.

Arriva 300 Liverpool – Southport via Lydiate Route

An Arriva 300 bus at the Meadows bus stop, Maghull.

A recent conversation with a Maghull resident made me aware that there are concerns that weekday afternoon 300 Arriva buses are not necessarily reliable and it made me think. Think because I have previously heard concerns being raised about the unreliability of the 300 bus on weekday afternoons. Is this a common issue? I’d like to hear from any users of the route, so please get in touch.

Coincidentally, I’ve also picked up a copy of a recent report from Mike Perkins of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association) on the sate of bus services in and around Southport and he also makes mention of the 300 route. This is what he says:-

Please click on the text above to enlarge it for reading

I understand that Mike was previously involved in managing some local bus services so he’ll know what he is talking about and I thought his comments on the 300 route were worth sharing.

Just how bad is Northern at running trains?

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station.

Well, have a look at this chart which I gained from OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Assn). It shows performance on the Ormskirk – Preston Line:-

Please click on the chart to enlarge it.

This is shocking performance in anyone’s book surely. People’s jobs, livelihoods, medical appointments, schooling etc. etc. are all at risk by such appalling performance. And more to the point what on earth is the Dept. of Transport doing about this state of affairs?

Oh and as an aside, my fellow blogger Phil Holden has just posted this about train performance in Wales. It seems Northern have a rival for crap railway franchisee of the year award:-(((

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2018/11/what-way-to-run-railway.html

One thing that Phil hints at is that the franchise operators need virtually all their rolling stock to be available to run a normal timetable. To me, the lack of spare units is a key issue here when services need enhancing or when major repair work is required on more than 1 or 2 units at a time. Running on the absolute minimum number of units is asking for trouble don’t you think?

Merseytravel – Are they delivering?

Well according to their Chairperson, Liam Robinson, they are.

I reported on OPSTA’s (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers assn) public meeting a few days ago which was actually held in the community room of Southport Fire Station of all places. That posting was about the utterly appalling train service, or indeed the complete lack of a train service last week, on the Ormskirk Preston Line and here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/11/23/northern-trains-could-the-ormskirk-preston-line-be-the-most-poorly-performing-in-the-uk/

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming Liam Robinson in any way for Northern’s terrible performance but he listened to stories of Northern’s Failures at the meeting (he was our guest speaker) and because he has an influence on Rail North those sad stories were heard and you never know……….

I quite like Liam’s handling of transport issues on Merseyside and I feel he has been a positive influence on what to me seemed to be struggling public sector organisation before he took the chair of it. Yes, I know we live it terribly tribal party political times and I’m expected to hate anyone who is not a Lib Dem; well I don’t think in traditional British political tribal terms………

Stadler Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

Cllr. Robinson presented his vision of how bus services could be improved in the Liverpool City Region (beyond the present Bus Alliance with Arriva and Stagecoach) and he talked in very enthusiastic terms about the Class 777 Stadler trains that Merseytravel have ordered for the Merseyrail network. Without being prompted he also made reference to the potential to extend Merseyrail Northern Line beyond Ormskirk to Burscough and even Preston although he was clear that he was not promising that it would happen. To be honest passengers on that line would welcome it being run using the Titfield Thunderbolt of Ealing Comedy fame as surely no one could run it as badly as Northern have been doing.

The other rail thing that he touched on and which is vital to expanding the Merseyrail system is the lack of capacity at Liverpool Central Station. If that issue is not seriously addressed in the near future there’s every possibility, in my view, that Merseyrail will be stuck with a bottle-neck which will impede the running of our local railway.

So yes I was pleased to sit and listen to Liam at the meeting and readers who have a liking for tribal politics will have to be disappointed with me.