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…..

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.

Southport & West Lancs – Manchester Trains – Local MP’s cheesed off by Arriva Rail North and just about everyone else involved in the North West rail industry

A return to that knotty problem of the railway powers that be making all trains from Southport, Burscough, Parbold etc. run into Manchester Victoria Station from 2017. A bad idea if ever I heard one as it is clear that rail travellers on the line want half the trains to continue to go through to Manchester Piccadilly as they do now.

L:ib Dem Leader Tim Farron at Southport Station with Southport Councillor David Pullin.

Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron at Southport Station with Southport Councillor David Pullin.

The campaign to get Network Rail, Rail North and Arriva Rail North to reverse their decision recently came to a head with local MP’s leading the charge with OPSTA and Southport Rail Transport Forum etc.

Parbold Level Crossing

Parbold Level Crossing

To say the MP’s were unimpressed with what they heard is putting it too politely. Here’s what Rosie Cooper Labour MP for West Lancashire thinks:-

www.rosiecooper.net/rosie_cooper_mp_furious_at_arriva_s_dishonesty_over_rail_links_to_manchester

And here’s a report on events from Southport Rail Transport Forum:-

www.facebook.com/southportrailtransportforum/posts/638817542960877?notif_t=notify_me_page&notif_id=1467713462228408

Looks to me as though Southport, West Lancashire and Wigan rail travellers have been shafted by a rail industry that did not consult them before it made the decision and has not backed off since. Who are our railways being run for? The convenience of the rail industry or for the ticket buying passengers? It seems we know the answer!!

Cut backs in rail improvements – Don’t cut in Merseyside and West Lancs as we have so far had b*gger all!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33270586

The BBC has the story – see link above.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Site for the new Maghull North Railway Station.

Tories have always been the Party of the private car, are they retuning to type?

Will the Tories take back the money for Maghull North Station which the Coalition Government promised?

Will the Skem’ project get off the ground?

As for Labour’s carping, they invested so very little in rail upgrades when in Government and have no room to moan.

Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line to be electrified!

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-31753447

Tier One priority lines for electrification – The top five in the north of England

1 Calder Valley
2 Liverpool to Manchester via Warrington Central
3 Southport/Kirkby to Salford Crescent
4 Chester to Stockport
5 Northallerton to Middlesbrough

Southport Station - Unpopular 'Pacer' trains heading for Wigan & Manchester could well be replaced by more environmentally friendly electric units if these proposals are accepted.

Southport Station – Unpopular ‘Pacer’ trains heading for Wigan & Manchester could well be replaced by more environmentally friendly electric units if these proposals are accepted.

There may well be a long way to go yet but all the campaigning of organisations such as OPSTA, Southport Business Improvement District, John Pugh the MP for Southport and the Lib Dem Sefton Council Group seems to have hit home with the powers that be in the rail industry.

The extension of the electrification which presently stops at Kirkby (out of Liverpool) is also an obvious and welcome move forward and one on which this web site has commented previously.

Let’s hope these projects move forward without delay.

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – time to redress 50 years of neglect!

The article below, about the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) is from the May edition of Rail User Express the newsletter of Railfuture

*****

Much of the committee’s time in the early part of 2014 was taken up with formulating a response to the draft West Lancashire Transport Masterplan. Useful meetings were held with both council officers and local MP’s, and the group is hopeful that many of its suggestions will be incorporated in the final Masterplan. The lack of any statement about the Southport-Wigan line was an omission; also the group wanted to see a firm commitment to carry out further studies into the merits of a south-west curve at Burscough.

OPSTA has been involved in meetings about the role of Rail North, and the development of the railway in their area – especially prospects for electrification. The group notes that Northern has been tasked to refocus on revenue collection during their franchise extension period, and OPSTA members are asked to report incidents where ticket checks are not conducted on trains. The group will be monitoring patronage of the additional service on the Ormskirk-Preston route from the May timetable change, and they’ve persuaded Northern to at least produce a cost estimate for a Sunday service on the line.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the direct Southport-Preston line, and an event in September to mark the occasion is being planned. Correspondents to OPSTAs newsletter make the point that routes to Southport have been neglected in the intervening period, not the least because the town was perversely placed in Merseyside, while the railways to the east run primarily through West Lancashire. Reinstatement of the Burscough curves would once again facilitate easier journeys between Southport and Preston.

The OPSTA stand at Preston Model Rail Club show generated a good level of interest – and 4 new members! The stand will be out again at events in June. The Friends of Meols Cop Station have started work on a new wild flower garden, despite suffering the attention of vandals earlier in the year. At Croston Station, the Friends group has been working tirelessly for three years to turn the overgrown wilderness on the disused platform into a neat and colourful garden; “before” and “after” photos on the back cover of OPSTA’s magazine amply illustrate the fantastic transformation.

*****

I will write about Southport’s Meols Cop Station in a future posting.