Urban transit systems feed the beast at the centre

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s true, they all tend to serve the city at the centre of things and rarely offer connectivity between the satellite towns/districts. I’ve often thought about this because of my experience with Merseyrail but the same will be true of virtually all metro/transit systems. The link below addresses Greater Manchester’s very similar problem:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0yekbZWMWw&t=482s

But like Greater Manchester, there are potential solutions available subject to the money to do them and the political will. Readers of this blog site will probably recall that I’ve always been sceptical of the Liverpool City Region as a concept because it potentially sets up power and resources being pulled into Liverpool at the expense of towns such as Bootle, Southport, St. Helens, Ormskirk, Kirkby and Birkenhead. To my mind, Liverpool City benefiting from losses in the districts is simply bad politics, bad for the wider than Liverpool local economy and bad social policy. Yet the Liverpool City region is set up with a public transit system which is in effect designed to deliver such outcomes!

I don’t want there to be excellent transit to Liverpool but crap irregular and unreliable buses joining up important district centres. So what are the possible solutions? I’ll look at just two for the Liverpool City Region but from it, you’ll get my drift, I hope.

Expanding Merseyrail

If you take the Liverpool – Southport and Liverpool – Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Lines they effectively head north from Liverpool in a ‘V’ shape with Southport and Ormskirk at the top of the ‘V’. What’s needed is for the Ormskirk Line to head further north to Burscough (a fast-growing town in itself these days) and then for it to finish at two destinations – Preston and Southport. The track/trackbed’s already there to enable this, indeed the only bits without track and regular train services are the two ‘Burscough Curves’. It really is a ‘no brainer’ because at a stroke you’ve ended up connecting Ormskirk with Southport and Southport with Preston. What’s more, you’ve converted the present hourly service between Ormskirk and Preston to a far more regular Merseyrail service.

One end of the mothballed North Mersey Branch seen here from the platform of Aintree Station.

Coming down the present ‘V’ towards Liverpool you have a second very clear opportunity to connect up Bootle and Aintree using the currently mothballed North Mersey branch. Or look at it a different way. Presently, if you live say in Maghull and want to get a Merseyrail train to Southport you have to travel south all the way to Sandhills Station in Liverpool to change trains to then go back northwards towards Southport. Under what I’m outlining here you could go via Ormskirk without needing to change trains.

None of this needs land to be acquired, buildings to be demolished or major engineering works but it would significantly help to connect up north Merseyside and Lancashire communities assisting their economies.

Of course, there will be other similar solutions in other parts of Merseyside/Liverpool City Region such as reconnecting Skelmersdale with the railway network. That project, which does require heavy engineering, land to be purchased etc. is being seriously looked at despite it having an eye-watering price tag.

Covid 19 stats at a more local level?

I’ve been getting a little frustrated with seeing, via the media, Covid 19 stats that are only broken down by council areas.

Sefton Council Logo

In my local case the council area is Sefton which is a geographically large/long Borough with numerous diverse and in some cases unconnected communities except that they sit within a creation of the Local Government Boundary Commission.

Let’s be honest Bootle, Southport and Lydiate, for example, hardly have much in common, so being told that in Sefton Borough the number of positive cases is ‘X’ in any particular week is almost meaningless.

But then a helpful Liverpool Echo journalist, Joe Thomas, pointed me towards a web site with more detailed Covid 19 information at Post Code level. Here’s a link to it:-

www.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=47574f7a6e454dc6a42c5f6912ed7076

My understanding is that the information you can gain from the web site is not bang up to date – Joe’s Tweet to me explains ‘Hi Tony, this link will take you to a map that has a more detailed breakdown. The figures are a few days behind my latest tweet [yesterday] but give a good indication of local case clusters’

Now as the figures are presently low for Sefton as a whole you won’t get much in the way of more detailed information about its communities and let’s hope it stays that way as we don’t want to see our Borough’s neighbourhoods getting a mention. However, as Preston is this week an area with greater lockdown measures you can, if you look at that community, see how the information is presented with Preston City Center having 11 cases 27th July – 2nd August.

The only directly neighbouring area to Sefton that I could spot on the map (look for the blue shaded areas) when I looked was Rufford & Banks with 6 cases in the same period 27th July – 2nd August.

My thanks to Joe for the lead to this posting…….

Note:- It seems that 2 or less case are not recorded on this data base unless I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

Merseyrail – That new train fleet in more detail

The new Stadler trains (ordered by Merseytravel the Transport Committee of Liverpool City Region) which will be coming to Merseyrail in early 2020 look to be innovative and potentially class leading.

Here’s some photos from a mock-up of a Stadler train carriage so you can see how very different the new trains will look from the present rather elderly (40 years old in fact) British Rail built 507 and 508 trains:-

And you can see the mock up yourself too. Here’s where and how:-

The mock-up will be on display at the following times:

· Pacific Road, Birkenhead, CH41 1LJ: 1-14 October, Mon-Sun 8.00 to 17.30, Tues 8.00-19.30

· Liverpool Lime Street, L1 1JD: 5-18 November, Mon-Sun 7.00 to 18.30

The new trains are going to be fitted with battery packs so that they will be able to travel beyond the present electrified 3rd rail network. This brings all kinds of possibilities in terms of expanding the reach of Merseyrail to places like Burscough, Preston, Skelmersdale etc. without the need for costly electrification. Such opportunities are clearly most welcome and OPSTA* will be looking to pursue them at every turn.

With thanks to Bob for the lead to this posting.

*OPSTA – Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association

Preston by train from Ormskirk

We decided to go to Preston recently but to go by train from Ormskirk on that almost backwater line that has an irregular service.

My previous posting of not so long ago about Ormskirk, details the history of the bizarre splitting of the through Liverpool – Preston line at this market town. See link below to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/05/01/ormskirk-end-of-the-line-well-end-of-two-lines-actually/

Ormskirk Station at night.

Ormskirk Station at night.


We got the 1.24 from from Ormskirk, one of only 13 trains to Preston that day. On a similar weekday there are trains to and from Ormskirk to Liverpool every 15 minutes daytime and every half hour in the evenings!

Burscough Junction Station

Burscough Junction Station

First stop was Burscough Junction Station. Firstly, there is no junction and has not been for many, many years because some bright sparks in the 1960’s took away the connecting curves (The Burscough Curves) to the Southport – Wigan Line which our train crossed on a bridge soon after this station stop. The other noticeable thing is that Burscough is expanding fast with many new homes around Burscough (No) Junction Station and many more to come I hear. Shame they will get such an irregular railway service to Ormskirk and Preston.*

Rufford Station

Rufford Station

Next came Rufford, where there is a passing loop for the trains that don’t pass each other any more! The same diesel unit usually trundles between Ormskirk & Preston all day. Rufford is of course famous for its Old Hall, a very nice National Trust property that is well worth a visit.

Rufford Old Hall

Rufford Old Hall

Croston Station

Croston Station

The final stop before Preston was Croston a pleasant village that suffered terrible flooding only a few months ago.

Between Croston and Preston is a disused Station with the building, on the Preston bound side of the line, still standing although not in railway use any more. The Station was called Midge Hall and there have been calls for it to be reopened due to new housing going up on the former Leyland Test Track quite near to it.

The middle section of the line is not continuously welded rail so the familiar clickity-clack of the train going over the rail joints is quiet apparent. Indeed, we were riding on an infamous Class 142 Pacer or ‘Nodding Donkey’ or Pile of Crap depending on your view of them. They were built for lightly loaded railway lines based on a bus body and just 4 wheels on each of the two carriages. You soon get to realise why they became nick-named Nodding Donkeys on the jointed rails! They really do bounce up and down. Pacers are due to be phased out by around 2018/19 and that can’t come soon enough. They even have bus type seating from the 1970’s, well at least the one we were on did. Not uncomfortable but definitely from a long gone era.

Checking Tickets

Checking Tickets

The West Lancs countryside is lovely, with the Rufford Branch of the Leeds Liverpool canal following the line and a canal marina to see. The conductors were friendly and seemed to be very diligent in checking tickets both there and back. The rail franchise to run Northern trains changed on 1st April and Arriva now operate most trains in the north of England. I hear that the previous operator was not good at checking tickets but as I say the new one seems to be.

If you have need to travel to Preston why not go by train, its a nice trip it was only £5 return during the day and we really enjoyed it.

* One of the promises made my the new Arriva franchisee is that the Ormskirk – Preston Line will gain an hourly service equating to 17 trains per day (but oddly still no trains on a Sunday) from December 2017. Why on earth do railway planners think folks don’t move around on a Sunday and Ormskirk is a university town too!

Why not check out OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association) who campaign to have this line upgraded (and the Southport Wigan Line). Their web site is at:-

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/

Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

WP_20160430_15_56_43_Pro r

For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Southport – Planning for a positive future

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-british-lawnmower-museum-and-town.html

Above is a link to the blog site of my good friend Cllr. Iain Brodie Brown, please take a moment to click the link and read his posting. It is pure community politics to my mind.

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Click on the photo to enlarge it

There can be little doubt that the towns/boroughs surrounding Liverpool have not benefited from being a part of the Liverpool City Region. Indeed, my own view is that centralising power in Liverpool as both Tories and Labour are planning for, with a Metro Mayor, could well be the road to ruin for places like Southport St. Helens, Birkenhead, Maghull, Formby, Prescot etc.

Whilst Iain’s posting is all about what needs to be done to give Southport a bright future his fundamental concerns could well be about any of Liverpool’s satellite communities that sit outside of the Liverpool City Council boundary.

Centralising power and influence in Liverpool will just not work, except for Liverpool itself. Unlike the Greater Manchester communities, which mostly seem look towards Manchester, the same can’t be said of Merseyside. Southport has always seen its connections with Preston and Lancashire as being of great importance but it was wrenched away from such historical links by local government reorganisation in 1974. Much of Wirral Borough has historic connections with Chester and Cheshire but it too was forced into Merseyside.

Merseyside because of its odd geographic shape was never likely to be a runner as a viable unit of local government and the years that have passed since 1974 have only proved that theory correct. Sefton, itself a strange collection of diverse communities, realised this some years ago and it began a process of decentralisation. Bizarrely though Labour then slammed this process into reverse when its Bootle based party took control of the Council. What was their motivation to say ‘the Borough will work well as a one size fits all because we say it will’ not least because this approach had failed miserably when first tried?

Presently we are seeing the start of a process to take 1000’s of civil service jobs out of Netherton, St Helens and Bootle for them all to be centralised in Liverpool. Liverpool’s gain will be big losses for Sefton and St Helens Boroughs.

Make no mistake the Tories are wedded to cities being made more powerful at the expense of their surrounding towns and boroughs. What’s more Labour are pretty much behind this process, why else did the 6 Labour Council Leaders on Merseyside sign up to a 3rd rate devolution deal?

Towns surrounding big cities need investment, public and private, not dependency on the nearest City because that is the road to ruin except for the big cities of course.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/