So what does OPSTA think should happen?

OPSTA Response to LCR Local Transport Plan Consultation

OPSTA logo

I’ve been a member of OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Assn for more years than I care to mention because they consistently campaign for improved local rail services. Here’s their submission to the Liverpool City Region which has been running a consultation process about the future of local transport:-

‘This submission is on behalf of the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association (OPSTA) a non political group that uses an evidence-based approach to campaign for improved public transport in the north of the City Region and south-west Lancashire. We have a longstanding relationship with the CTA.

It outlines the case for extending Merseyrail services north of Ormskirk to Preston and through re-instatement of the south junction at Burscough to Southport and similarly extension of public transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan.

The planned implementation of an extended rail service to a new station at Headbolt Lane demonstrates what can be achieved in a short timescale and the potential of the new Class 777 trains when battery-equipped.

Extension of Ormskirk service to Burscough

OPSTA recommends this as a fast follower project to Headbolt lane as it could be delivered very simply and quickly at very low capital cost.

There is a strong and increasing passenger demand case with counts conducted by OPSTA showing continuous growth of journeys made between Burscough Junction and Ormskirk (present entry point to Merseyrail) despite the disruption of recent years. Moreover, it is known there is significant rail heading at Ormskirk, Maghull North and even Aintree by people travelling along the A59. The population of Burscough all within 15 minutes walking distance of the station will soon have increased by over 50% in the last few years.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston service

OPSTA passenger surveys conducted between 2013 and 2019 have shown consistently that around 25% of those using the Northern Trains’ service use a connecting Merseyrail service towards Liverpool.

Many from Preston and Lancashire will travel into the City Region for work, education and leisure. Similarly, residents in the City Region travel into Lancashire for work and leisure reasons and notably to Preston for education (UCLAN) and connections with northbound services.

A Merseyrail service between the two cities would complement and add capacity/services to the route between Lime Street and Preston; an easier and quicker route for residents north of Liverpool would encourage use of the train while reducing the numbers of passengers passing through very busy city centre stations to travel elsewhere. It would also alleviate congestion all along the A59 arterial road into the city centre thus helping to meet zero carbon and air quality targets.

Liverpool – Ormskirk – Southport via Burscough South Curve

With a through line at Ormskirk, reinstatement of the south junction at Burscough would connect it to the Southport – Wigan line and enable a frequent and fast Merseyrail service between Southport and Ormskirk, Aughton, Maghull and Aintree and bringing Meols Cop into the Merseyrail network.

Previous journey requirement analysis and modelling conducted by the rail consultancy Steers incorporated in a formal proposition made in 2021 for the Burscough Curves demonstrated that there is a unique demand that is not met by the ‘fingers’ of the current Merseyrail Northern lines estimated to be 350-400k journeys annually. A rail options report by WSP Global consultancy in August 2020 also recommended reinstatement of the south curve.

Improved transport links from Kirkby Headbolt Lane to Skelmersdale and Wigan

Now it is clear that the Department for Transport will not fund and progress the development of a new rail line the latent demand for fast and efficient public transport links remains.

A dedicated and fast rail bus service connecting the town to the Merseyrail network would be a very low-cost and quickly implemented option that appears to be a good fit with the City Region’s plans for bus services and multi-modal transport, with cognizance this would be within Lancashire and need a partnership approach with the County Council.

The Dft decision also creates an opportunity to extend the Merseyrail service from Headbolt lane to Wigan instead for which there are similar benefit case arguments for operating through services to Preston. Along this rail corridor demand for rail travel to Liverpool will be strengthened by the house building taking place close to stations and it will facilitate access to Manchester for those residing inside the City Region.’

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

Skem’s reconnection to national rail network hits buffers

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

Well, it’s been a long time coming and I guess quite a bit of cash must have been spent (in person-hours particularly) in the planning but Government has probably unsurprisingly run for the hills over the cost of reconnecting Skelmersdale to the national rail network. The BBC has the story on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-62087680

I say unsurprisingly as folk I know who are knowledgeable of Lancashire’s politics and indeed its railways have been indicating such an outcome pretty much ever since this major project, with its eye-watering costs, was first proposed. Here’s a link back to an earlier posting of mine (from 2015) on the matter:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

Of course, the new and 2nd Merseyrail station for Kirkby at Headbolt Lane did get the go-ahead (plus funding) and it is actually being built right now.

When you consider that this latest knock-back for the North West comes on top of the HS2 Goulbourne link being axed and the reconnection of Burscough Curves being blocked yet again it makes the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda look as worthless as was the Northern Powerhouse, or Poorhouse as my old chum, Jim Ford, accurately once labelled it.

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.

Remember the Skem ‘Jazzer’ train?

I recently came across a detailed recollection and very significant analysis of this fabled train by Mike Pealing, who has generously allowed me to publish his work on this blog site.

The Skem.Jazzer. A Personal Reflection

I was born in Ormskirk during 1947. My father and his father before him were both railwaymen and as a family we used the railways extensively, which in those days, was so easy to do. There was little need to own a motor car, something that would be considered unbelievable today.

It was as a small child, that I first became acquainted with the Jazzer. Sometimes while waiting for the local service for Town Green at Ormskirk station, I would run off, to the top end of the station. There the Jazzer could often be seen. Belching black smoke, it looked like and was something, from a bygone age even in those days. What I remember most vividly was the huge chimney’s those locomotives had.

My father use to chase after me and I could be found staring at the engine. Sometime later he took me for a ride on the Jazzer, which I can barely remember.

Many places in the country in those days, had access to a station, even isolated villages. You could quite literally, travel anywhere by train.

Ormskirk was a very busy mainline station, with frequent express services to many destinations further north. (Windermere, Blackpool, Glasgow to name a few). Freight and goods trains were also very common. In addition, there were the local services to Southport, Skelmersdale, Rainford and St. Helens. It was a hive of activity. The water cranes were particularly fascinating to us as children.

I will not dwell on the history of the Rainford Branch Line, as there are many books and sources of information available, should the reader wish to explore further.

My interest in the Skem. Jazzer was rekindled some years back, when there was much local speculation that the old branch line might be reopened to Skelmersdale. Articles were written and with the rise of social media many posts appeared, some of which were just not true. One even suggested that the Skem.Jazzer operated between Liverpool and Wigan.

I decided to explore this local legend in an attempt to find out how the Jazzer came by its name. Little did I know that it would be a journey full of red herrings and dead ends.

The Jazzer operated between Ormskirk and St. Helens with seven through services each weekday but only services as far as Rainford Junction on Sundays. In addition, on weekdays, a more local service operated between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction with an onward connection at Rainford Junction for St. Helens. There were intermediate stops at Westhead Halt and Skelmersdale.

Among the first trains to operate on the line were the “Hughes Rail Motors”

Below, rare colour photograph of a Hughes Rail-Motor.

Above, Hughes Rail-Motor at Ormskirk Station

As can be observed from the photographs, the locomotive and carriage were fixed together and quite rigid, which could make the ride a little “jerky”. These rail motors operated with what was known as a “push-pull” system, which meant the train could be operated from either the locomotive or from the last carriage. This eliminated the need for turning at the destinations. The photograph below shows how the system worked. The driver can be seen in the coach.

The rail motors operated on the Rainford Branch until c1933* by which time, they were all withdrawn.

Photo below…. merged picture of how the Jazzer would have looked passing over Sefton’s bridge, Plough Lane. Lathom.

It seems likely that the “Jazzer” name started to be used to describe the Hughes Rail Motors from the mid-nineteen twenties, probably due to the characteristic ride experienced on these trains. In some way, the name was “borrowed” from the Jazz dance craze of the era. There is evidence that the rail motors had the nickname “Iffit” in their early years on the line. Possibly meaning “if it comes” or “if it runs” or “if it gets there” or a similar connotation.

Wherever these old trains operated on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, they acquired nicknames, such as “The Horwich Jerk “and “The Altcar Bob”. These nicknames and there are others, may very well have referred to the ride experienced on the trains, for example… “Bobbed about,” “Jerked around”, or even “Jazzed”.

“The Altcar Bob” at Downholland Station.

A locally, well-known painting and prints of the same exist of a Hughes Rail Motor, by a railway artist, the late Jim Petrie. This excellent painting shows a train at Ormskirk Station in 1914. The painting is titled “The Skem Jazzer 1914” and depicts an incoming service from Rainford using the mainline platform and a WW1 scene at the station. The photograph below shows a copy of this painting. However, in my search to find the origins of the Jazzer name, we must analyse the evidence.

The word “Jazz” did not enter UK English until sometime in the early 1920s. It can therefore be ruled out, that the Hughes Rail Motors carried the Jazzer nickname before this time.

The Hughes Rail Motors were withdrawn from service c1933* and replaced by two types of locomotives on the branch line. They were the Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t and the Hughes 1P. 2 4 2t

Both continued to use the “push-pull” system, utilising extra coaches, known as trailing coaches, according to passenger demand.

*Ormskirk engine shed (photos above&below) closed in 1935. There is evidence that the shed allocation of 1934 included one rail-motor, although it was most likely out of service and awaiting disposal.

Skem. Jazzer. Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t at Ormskirk Station. c1949.

Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t at Rainford Junction station.

Hughes 1P 2 4 2t

(Below) Hughes 1P 2 4 2t approaching New Lane, Burscough. Heading towards Southport.

These locomotives operated on the line from c1932 until c1950. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were generally used on the passenger services between Ormskirk and Rainford Junction. Other loco types operated the goods and freight services. The Hughes type 1P locos seem to have been mainly used on the through passenger services between Ormskirk and St. Helens. Both types were fitted with the push-pull system. The Aspinall Type 5 locos were based and maintained at Aintree MPD. The Hughes type 1P locos were based and maintained at Sutton Oak (Peasley Cross). Both were also known as radial tanks.

They were used throughout the wartime years and my late father remembered them very well.

As a young man and before joining the R.A.F. in 1942 he served with the Local Defence Volunteers (the precursor to the Home Guard) guarding Ormskirk Station from the might of Hitler. He told me how quiet and scary it was wandering around during the night. The lads used to spend the nights when off duty in a camping type coach, which was situated in the sidings adjacent to the Jazzer bay.

It has proved difficult to obtain definitive information on how and when the Jazzer got its name. Most of my research is based on hearsay. Information from an elderly family member has clarified the mystery.

During the WW11 years and for some time after, dances where held in Skelmersdale. Local people, including many American soldiers who were billeted in Maghull, made the journey from Ormskirk using the train. Extra coaches were added to accommodate the increase in passengers on Friday and Saturday nights. The place where the dances were held was the old Cooperative Hall (pictured below). This venue (there may well have been others) along with the dances held there, adopted the combined name of “Skem. Jazzers”.

Today, if you were to ask young people what they were doing on a Saturday night, the answer would probably be “Clubbing”. In those days, a similar question would be answered with “Jazzing”.

In those wartime years dancing was extremely popular, with dances such as the Jitterbug being a favourite. During those difficult and austere times, railway maintenance was at a minimum, the rolling stock in use was also well passed its sell by date. The trains would have been crowded, with many passengers standing. Travelling on the line was known to “jolt” or “jazz” passengers around, particularly when passing over points, level crossings and on the long curve in the line approaching and leaving Ormskirk.

The Co-operative Hall. Skelmersdale. Home of the “Skem. Jazzers”

From c1950 the old radial tank engines were withdrawn and replaced by the more familiar Ivatt tank engines. (At this time, the line between Rainford Junction and St. Helens was closed). The Ivatt Tanks remained in service until the closure of the line to passengers in 1956. The locomotives used on the line were numbers 41283 and 41284, still utilising the push-pull system. Both were based and maintained at Aintree MPD.

My conclusion is that the name “Jazzer” came about in the mid to late 1920s based on the jolts and rickety journey experienced, particularly by those standing and the comparison with the Jazz dance styles and craze of the era.

The Jazzer name and local tales of the train journey would have been very well known in the area, as well as to those in later WW11 times travelling to the dances.

The dances and venues in Skelmersdale simply adopted and used the name “Jazzers” which was a part of everyday conversation in those days.

Photos above and below show Ivatt Tank Engines, the last locos to carry the Jazzer name (Ormskirk Station.

Early morning photo of The Jazzer. Travelling light engine from Aintree MPD to Ormskirk, passing through Town Green Station. (Photo below)

The Skem Jazzer in its final form. Ivatt Tank Engine at Ormskirk Station.

It does appear that the answer to this local legend has been clarified or solved, but as previously mentioned, there is no definitive evidence. The Skem.Jazzer remains an important part of our local history.

The chance of the old branch line between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale ever reopening is unlikely. Current railway plans for the area, suggest a new station for Skelmersdale, which will be connected to the present-day line at Upholland. Other options include electrification to Burscough.

Modern thinking for the railways, is what is known as “rail heading”. New stations are built or in some cases reopened, to where people can drive and park their cars. The journeys are then continued by rail into the cities.

The old train is still fondly remembered, and we can only imagine the difference it would now make to the area if you could still catch a train to Skelmersdale, Rainford or St. Helens with onward connections to Wigan, Manchester and other places. Not forgetting the much-missed service between Ormskirk and Southport.

Below, The Jazzer near Westhead, heading towards Ormskirk. The loco is a Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. c1949 Note, the large chimney.

Below, The Skem Jazzer at Westhead Halt. c1949. The loco is an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2 t.

Jazzer at Westhead Halt. (Hughes Rail motor) c1930. Note the steps to the top right of photograph. Used for getting on and off the train.

Below, Jazzer at Crank Halt, Rainford Junction to St. Helens line. Hughes Type 1P 2 4 2t.

Crank Halt, showing remains of the platform

Skelmersdale Station(below) showing a goods train operated by an Aspinall Type 5. 2 4 2t

Skelmersdale station(below) after closure. Limited freight traffic along with some rolling stock movements continued to use the line until the tracks were finally lifted.

Skelmersdale Station. Now abandoned. One of the final goods services passing through.

The line in the past also served the many coal mines and pits that were in the area. In the Ormskirk direction a mineral railway branched off and served Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate pit, then Brookfield pit and finally Tawd Vale (later Glenburn) colliery.

The mineral railway at Lord Skelmersdale’s Blaguegate Pit.

Photo below shows the Sandwash (top blue marker on the map above) and lines to the pits and collieries.

A mineral railway also ran from White Moss Crossing. This served White Moss and Mossfield collieries.

And another ran to Bickerstaffe Colliery, to the south of White Moss Crossing.

In WW1, a military railway ran from Skelmersdale Station into the Lathom Park Remount Depot. Its purpose was to transport warhorses. Standard gauge from Skelmersdale but became narrow gauge on entering the depot. (of the same type that was used in the trenches)

Below, horses at Ormskirk Station awaiting movement to the remount depot at Lathom Park.

Ormskirk Station showing the Rainford Branch, centre right. Lower right corner, tracks to Jazzer and Coal Sidings.

Photographs below shows the approaches to Ormskirk Station. The points and curves were the most likely source of the “jolts” experienced by passengers.

Aerial view of Ormskirk Station (below) showing the Rainford Branch top left.

Above, Hughes type 1P 2 4 2t. For me, the iconic locomotive type that operated on the line and the engine I most remember from my childhood.

What remains today?…

Photos above and below courtesy of Orion Aerial Images. Track bed from Ormskirk and Westhead Village shown.

Some of the former track bed between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale is extant but generally inaccessible and mainly on private land. Between Skelmersdale and Rainford, the old route can be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

This section of the former line, however, has generally been obliterated by White Moss Landfill but some of the route remains as farm track. It is mainly on private land.

From the former Rainford Junction Station (now Rainford) towards St. Helens, a long section of the old track bed remains. This has become a cycle/walkway. Starting near The Junction Public House. It is known as Rainford Linear Park.

The final few miles from where the Linear Park ends at Mill Lane, near Crank and onwards into St. Helens is generally inaccessible and has all but disappeared under roads and development. This section of the old line can also be traced using “Satellite” in Google Maps.

(More information can be found on the excellent “Disused Stations” webpage…http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/)

Photos of the Jazzer or in some example’s identical locos, included with very many thanks to the unknown original photographers of these and some other photographs contained in this article.…….

Footnote…. To some the trains were also known by the name “Skem. Joey”. But that’s another story!

My thanks to Mike for allowing me to blog about his excellent reasearch. My thanks also to Keith Page for this help with my befuddlement over technical aspects of sorting out computer stuff.

Click on the photos and graphics to enlarge them where that is possible

So is Skem’ to get linked to Merseyrail? It’s still a wait and see

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

The Liverpool Echo has the latest in what is clearly going to be a very long saga with at present an uncertain outcome – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/skelmersdale-could-finally-merseyrail-station-17549470

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