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?

Merseyrail – So just why has public sector body Merseytravel decided there will be no Guards on trains?

I have been pondering about the recent announcement that the new Merseyrail trains will operate without train guards yet the more I read about the project the less clear the answers become.

Take the latest issue of RAIL magazine, which leads on the £460m fleet renewal. It quotes two significant things.

Firstly it says ‘It’s implementation [ i.e. no guards on the new trains] was also a key recommendation made by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, following a fatal incident at James Street Station in 2011 that resulted in the conviction of a train guard for manslaughter by gross negligence.’

Now then I think it fair to say that many folk were very uncomfortable with the guard referred to above carrying the can for that accident. I previously blogged about it and a later similar incident:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/01/25/merseyrail-guard-in-the-dock-seems-it-is-happening-all-over-again/

Of course the clear implication of this is that trains will be safer without guards. Now how can that be?

But then in the same RAIL article the magazine quotes the Chairman of the Merseytravel Committee saying ‘In an idea world we’d like to have a second member of staff [a train guard?] on every train, but there aren’t resources to do that.’

Now then, does this second quote not make it seem that money was at least a significant deciding factor? Well that’s how it reads to me for what my opinion is worth.

But aren’t the guards are already there doing the job? On that basis keeping them in that job would not increase the pay bill at all surely.

Are we to surmise then that, what may be the case is that, the savings from taking away the train guards are being used to help pay for the new trains?

This feels like wading through mud to me but the bottom line is how will a train without a train guard be safer or at least as safe as one with one? And I come back to a question I have asked before. What will a driver do when he/she is responsible for the passengers on a train (and I mean specifically here those who are acting dangerously to themselves and others) as well as driving the train?

Ignoring the high profile politics of this issue (as presently highlighted by the Southern Trains dispute, which is fundamentally about the same issue) this is about safety and the powers that be need to try to convince us all that trains without guards will be at least as safe as those with guards. I for one will need a lot of convincing.

And finally, its no surprise at all that the RMT is now balloting its members for industrial action over the loss of train guards on Merseyrail. Well Merseytravel/Merseyrail you started this dispute, how are you going to end it?

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! – Posting 1

This is the first of 3 articles I am posting about Merseyside’s rail network and the big ambitions of Merseytravel (The Transport Authority for Merseyside) as played out in the railway press over the past 20 years.

My starting point is an edition of RAIL Magazine dated September 1st 1993 which had a 4 page spread on Merseyside’s local railway network and interestingly a full page advert for Merseytravel. Did the advert buy the article I wonder?

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The advert

This advert is interesting as it was in a national railway magazine so was unlikely to bring many passengers to Liverpool’s local rail network

In terms of stand out issues the first is with regard to ‘dual voltage’ which means trains being able to operate from the electrified 3rd rail and from overhead power lines. It says ‘Merseytravel plans to convert 14 units [trains] to dual voltage to run a service extension from Hunts Cross to Warrington Central. This conversion work is planned within the next 5 years’ [i.e. by 1998]. Mm, well that never happened did it and neither did a new proposed service from Ellesmere Port to Liverpool Lime Street via Earlstown which gets a mention as a Merseytravel ‘opportunity’. However, my recent posting about the Halton Curve may indicate a potential resurrection of such a project?

Also on the down side is the Wrexham line extension where the magazine says ‘Electrification plans along the Shotton and Wrexham line are tied in with the recently discussed plans for Conway Park station [this new station has been built]. This could be the first of the system extensions to go ahead, possibly within the next two years’ [i.e. by 1995]. Well it clearly didn’t so the new stations at Woodchurch, one between Upton and Heswall and one to be called ‘Beechwood’ between Bidston and Upon have not happened. The report even talks of Woodchurch Station having ‘good park and ride possibilities with good access from the Wirral motorway.’

‘One outcome [of a study called MERITS] may be a re-emergence of the Liverpool tram in a modern form’. Oh dear, well it certainly did emerge only for the last Labour Government to knock it very firmly on the head! But the article also gives an inkling as to why the tram may not have been a runner when it says ‘One third of Merseysiders already live within walking distance of a station’. I wonder if the writer realised how true that would prove to be?

But what about the airport? The article says ‘One new proposal is for an airport branch’, oh how we all wish that had been achieved!

New stations were an issue back in 1993 as they are now. Eastham Rake [done], Conway Park [done], Brunswick [done], Maghull North [still waiting], Headbolt Lane (Kirkby) [still waiting], Town Meadow (on West Kirby line) [still waiting], Vauxhall (between Sandhills and Moorfields on Northern Line) [still waiting], Marshalls Cross [still waiting], Wavertree Technology Park [done], Huyton Quarry [still waiting] and Carr Mill (all on City Line) [still waiting].

And finally a telling comment ‘Merseyside has been left out of the EPS regional proposals in favour of the more populous Manchester’, together with what may well have been no more than a pipe dream – ‘Merseytravel sees the possibility of starting a sleeper from Liverpool’.

Initial thoughts – No mention of Southport what so ever and its long-standing eastern/northern rail access problems. No mention of extending the Ormskirk Line to Burscough and beyond to Preston. No mention of extending the Kirkby line to Skelmersdale and Wigan. A lot of projects that never got far if at all out of the sidings. Was this hugely ambitious shopping list realistic?

Read on in the next of my reviews that are to follow soon on this blog site.