Remembering Dr Jim Ford

Jim Ford was a founder member of OPSTA (Ormskirk Preston & Southport Travellers Assn) or OPTA (Ormskirk Preston Travellers Assn) as it was originally constituted. He’d certainly been at meetings ever since I joined and that must be 30 years+ and counting.

Jim was an interesting man and you could not but like him. I’ve heard him described as an ideas man and that fits him well.

I last met him only days before he died when we had an OPSTA Committee meeting in his Southport garden surrounded by his model railway. Little did we know then that Jim would have what proved to be a fatal heart attack and die on 16th September following heart surgery.

Jim was a medical doctor specialising in occupational health and on one occasion earlier this year he described himself as the Clinical Directed and his dear wife Fiona as the Clinical Director, yes Fiona’s a doctor too.

He was very much a politician, being a member of the Labour Party but he was far from being tribal about his politics and would bend the ear of any colour of politician to make his often telling points about local railway matters. He specialised in making Freedom of Information requests to find out what some public bodies would rather not publicise. I recall him being very supportive of John Pugh the former Lib Dem MP for Southport whom he clearly had a bit of a soft spot for. His comments about John, at least in my Liberal earshot, were always positive.

On one occasion we were having an OPSTA meeting in the Heaton’s Bridge Pub and I’d ordered a pint of one of my favourite tipples – Morrhouses Black Cat. To my embarrassment, I then realised I’d left my wallet at home! Jim immediately stepped in and paid; that was the kind of chap he was.

There are some lovely tributes to Jim in the latest edition of the OPSTA magazine Connexion, see scan above. I’ll miss engaging in conversation with him about trains and politics. RIP JIm

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…..