Southport – Wigan – Manchester Trains – Still running way below par

A Southport bound train running into Wigan Wallgate Station – April 2019

That the service on this important rail route has been below standard for far too long is sadly a given but unlike our other local rail line run by Northern Assist (Ormskirk – Preston) it has not really picked up enough since the well publicised troubles flowing from the May 2018 timetable changes.

In simple terms the trains on this line suffer from the following problems – being short-formed i.e. too few carriages, being terminated short of their destination, being cancelled.

The reasons for these troubles seem to be a combination of insufficient rolling stock and lack of availability of train crews. That this has gone on for as long as many travellers on the line can remember is a appalling.

OPSTA, the local volunteer railway campaign group covering the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan Lines is continually badgering Northern Assist and indeed anyone in the rail industry who will listen to try to drag the performance on the line up. Sadly, based on what we presently know, it may be some time (after the December 2019 timetable changes?) before the Southport Wigan – Manchester Line is back up to acceptable standards in terms of reliability.

Southport Station

Ormskirk – Preston Line – A CRL video promoting it

Croston Station

I was just a little surprised to come across a seemingly pre-May 2018 railway timetable change video* (see link below) being circulated via Twitter very recently. I’ve been of the view that Community Rail Lancashire was rather disinterested in the line. The video promotes an hourly train service on the line from May 2018 and of course that didn’t happen back then** with the line suffering huge service failures during much of 2018 which even made the national news!:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvqCraWQYfU&app=desktop

I’ve blogged before (August 2018) about the seemingly disappointing approach of Community Rail Lancashire towards the Ormskirk – Preston Line. My relevant previous posting is accessible via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/08/03/does-the-west-of-lancashire-community-rail-partnership-serve-a-useful-purpose/

Burscough Junction Station on the Ormskirk – Preston line.

Maybe I need to be more positive about Community Rail Lancs if we’ve turned a corner now for the better. Here’s hoping for more positive initiatives from them.

* The video actually showcases the ‘Bee Line Project’ (no I had not heard of that either) which promotes the whole presently split rail corridor from Preston to Liverpool via Ormskirk.

** The line does now have a hourly train service and it has reached around 90% of the trains both running and near to timetable times. This is quite an improvement from the only 30%ish figures back in 2018 when services on the line all but collapsed completely. Sadly though, the consequence of such poor services for so long have meant passenger numbers on the Ormskirk – Preston part of the rail corridor are much, much lower than they were before the May 2018 timetable fiasco.

Merseyrail – The new Stadler 777 trains

A mock-up of a Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

* The first Class 777 unit is expected to arrive on Merseyside in the Autumn of this year.

* The seventh unit delivered, I am told, will not now have battery capability and the battery trial has been suspended due to an identified technical issue. Battery capable units are being looked upon by OPSTA and others to enable the extension of the Ormskirk line (for example) to Burscough and possibly even Preston as this option will be much cheaper than having to install electrification along the present Ormskirk – Preston Line. It is to be hoped that the technical issue will be solved.

* There seems to be some truth in the rumour that a number of the present Class 507 EMU’s may be retained. This is, I understand, a contingency plan should the movement of platform signals not be achieved in time. This would be an interim measure.

A new Stadler Merseyrail train artist impression

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.

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.