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.

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.

As Northern Rail starts another week of misery for its passengers……………….

End of the line from Wigan, the Merseyrail service to Liverpool is accessed under the bridge.

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/diary-commuter-what-really-like-15427245

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.

I’m informed that this week is going to be yet another commuting challenge on many Northern routes because of the lack of availability of trains i.e. too many of them are bust. And the reason they are bust? Well for those of you who are interested in the technicalities my understanding is this. The shortage of trains follows a high number of wheel tread damage ‘flats’* incurred over the last 7 days following a deterioration of the railhead due to extreme autumn conditions. What’s extreme about this Autumn compared to any other?

Northern is predicting, so I’m told, a lack of around 20 trains on their network resulting in shorter more crowded trains along with full bus replacement services on the Ormskirk – Preston line today.

Northern expect, or more precisely their passengers expect, to experience crowding on many routes particularly into Manchester and Liverpool.

When will this madness end and Northern’s put out of their misery and the misery they cause to their passengers on a daily basis?

* Oddly on Remembrance Sunday when getting a Merseyrail train to Liverpool from Maghull the train I got on seemed to have wheel flats as you could hear it banging as the wheels turned. Not only that but whilst waiting for my train another passed through Maghull heading for Ormskirk and I could swear it had wheel flats too. Is there something to this extreme autumn conditions claim and what on earth is it?

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?