Skelmersdale – The ‘Skem Jazzer’ from the days of steam

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1960’s progress!

With much talk these days of Skelmersdale being once again connected to the railway network, bearing in mind that this ‘New Town’ was deliberately designed not to be rail connected, I have recently come across this short video on Youtube:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIpDSDbxQgk

It’s from 1956 when Skem’ was railway connected by the line that ran from Ormskirk to Rainford Junction. The Ormskirk – Skem train back in the day was known as the ‘Skem Jazzer’.

The plan of Merseytravel and Lancashire County Council is for a new line to be brought into the Town from the present Kirkby – Wigan line, thereby extending the present Merseyrail line from Liverpool all the way into Skem. It presently terminates at Kirkby with a Northern diesel service onwards to Wigan.

The video is a lovely bit of nostalgia and worth a couple of minutes to watch.

Kirkby – Another end of the line for Merseyrail (at present)

The Merseyrail half of Kirkby Station looking towards Liverpool.

I have posted previously about the bizarre severing of the Liverpool – Preston railway line at Ormskirk which leaves a great 15 minute service from Ormskirk to Liverpool and a far from impressive irregular service from Ormskirk to Preston.

My posting about the Liverpool – Preston Line is available via this link:-

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

But there’s another of these bizarre serverings on the Merseyrail network at Kirkby where the Liverpool – Wigan Line is in effect chopped in two. In some ways this is actually more bizarre than the severing at Ormskirk because there’s another Merseyside community which Merseyrail does not reach just up the line at Rainford, part of St Helens Borough. If a severing had to take place surely Rainford would have been the obvious place would it not? BTW I am not arguing for such split tracks, indeed they make no sense to me at all.

Kirkby (like Ormskirk) is a single line, single platform station where the two separate train services meet end on and like Ormskirk the service on to Wigan and beyond is far less frequent and the Merseyrail one into Liverpool.

Also like on the Ormskirk Line there is is always talk of the Merseyrail system being extended, in the case of the Kirkby Line onto Skelmersdale. To achieve this a brand new spur line needs to be built into the 1960’s ‘New Town’ of Skem as the planners of the day ripped up and built on the railway line that ran through the old town of Skem from Ormskirk to St Helens. It will also mean a new station as well so the bill will be huge if the project ever gets the go ahead.

Looking at this optimistically the proposals are reasonably sound as Merseyrail would then run directly into Skem with a separate diesel service from Skem to Wigan from the new station. If the project was in the south it would have have had money chucked at it at least a decade ago but with recent back-tracking by Government over rail electrification schemes across a huge swathe of Northern England, whilst Cross-Rail 2 in London starts to get the thumbs up from Ministers, optimism about rail investment in the North of any sort is in very short supply. So for the foreseeable future Merseyrail will continue to stop at Kirkby.

The photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

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

Skelmersdale – Putting it back on the railway map?

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/skelmersdale-rail-link-moves-step-13639557

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

I have covered this project previously and whilst I know that some Lancashire folk are highly sceptical of the £300m+ new railway line and Skem station ever being funded this is clearly another, if small, milestone along the right track.

Here’s a shot of the old and now long gone former Skelmersdale Station:-

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of 1950’s/60’s progress!

And here’s a couple of shots taken at Rainford Junction Station (there is no junction now):-

And finally a shot at Kirkby Station (the subject of a future posting of mine) where the present line from Wigan meets head on with Merseyrail’s electric service to/from Liverpool:-

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

NoteThe last trains to Skelmersdale ran on Sunday 4 November 1956 and the station closed to passengers on Monday 5 November 1956. Skelmersdale station remained open for goods services until 4 November 1963 when it was closed completely. Information from Disused Stations UK.

Click on the photos to enlarge them

The last photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

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

Skelmersdale rail connection – the picture starts to develop

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of progress!

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/new-skelmersdale-rail-station-step-11572987

The Southport Visiter newspaper has the story – see link above

I have commented on this developing project many times before but it really does seem to have legs and probably stands a reasonable chance of getting off the ground despite the huge cost. I hope it does come off.

In many ways though whilst it illustrates how large railway projects can be taken forward it is sadly the case that smaller projects to improve the rail network are actually much harder to pursue. The Burscough Curves come to mind!

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/

Skelmersdale – That railway project – An update

Preliminary studies have begun into opening a new rail line to serve a new station at Skelmersdale.

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of progress!

Lancashire County Council, Network Rail and Merseytravel are looking at the issues, which will continue through Network Rail’s GRIP Stage 3 (Governance for Railway Investment Projects, Option Selection).

Network Rail has advised Lancashire County Council that the GRIP3 work alone will cost as much as £4 million, and has suggested these key dates:

* GRIP3 concluded, January 2017.

* GRIP4 (Single options selection), to January 2019.

* GRIP6 (Construction, commissioning) April 2021 to April 2023.

* Train services start December 2023.

With thanks to my friend Bob for this updated info.