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/

Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus – Posting 3 – Rails and Road conundrum

This is my 3rd and last posting about this recently published Lancashire Transport Prospectus. My previous 2 postings are available via the link below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2016/02/22/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-the-lancashire-strategic-transport-prospectus-posting-2-we-are-not-connected-to-southport/

Well this prospectus is a real curates egg of muddle to me and shows how both good and bad transport planning have come together in one document. The issue/problem seems to be associated with naturally adjoining communities that need connectivity with each other being in differing local authority areas.

An example of some good joined up planning is the proposal to bring rails and a station back into Skelmersdale. Sadly necessary because in the 1960’s town planners built a New Town whilst tearing up the original railway tracks. Page 36 of the report addresses this:-

Skelmersdale rail link – The Partnership want it completed by 2024

Whilst Skelmersdale enjoys excellent strategic connectivity to the Strategic Road Network via the M58, access to both Liverpool and Manchester is limited; it is one of the largest towns in the country without a town centre railway station. The nearest railway station, Upholland, is not easily accessible without a car and only served by an hourly train service to Kirkby and Wigan, and bus services are slow and journeys indirect.

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

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

The West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan, adopted by Lancashire County Council in October 2014, is proposing the wholesale reconfiguration of Skelmersdale’s transport networks to meet both current and future needs, not just for local residents and businesses but for West Lancashire as a whole. At its heart is a new rail link and town centre railway station, fully integrated with the bus network and easily accessible on foot or by cycle, and with sufficient car parking provision to function as a ‘Parkway’ station.

So good planning here to reconnect Skem in West Lancs to Kirkby/Knowsley and Liverpool. And there’s yet more good transport planning – to continue the electrified Liverpool – Ormskirk line on to Preston. Can’t come too soon in my view after another ridiculous severing of the original Liverpool – Preston link in the 1960’s. Here’s what the report says:-

Ormskirk-burscough-Preston rail link (the Partnership wants it in place by 2029) and the prospectus says:-

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport - Wigan and Ormskirk - Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

A 1958 map of part of the West Lancs area. The crossing of the Southport – Wigan and Ormskirk – Preston rail lines can be seen north-east of Burscough.

Merseyrail currently operates a fast and frequent service between Liverpool and Ormskirk using electric trains. However, onward travel to Preston requires a change of train to a diesel-operated service that is infrequent and run to an irregular timetable. Rolling stock quality is also poor. Electrification of the Ormskirk to Preston route with appropriate infrastructure enhancements would resolve the majority of issues, significantly improving connectivity between Preston, West Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region. In addition, there is the potential to provide better interchange between Liverpool-Ormskirk-Preston and
Manchester-Wigan-Southport services at Burscough. Both are aspirations in the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy published in August 2014.

So ticking all the right boxes again here. BUT, BUT, BUT…..

Firstly an aside not directly connected with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. Merseytravel (the public transport body for Merseyside) commissioned a study not so long ago called the Burscough Demand Study regarding the first stage of moving the electrified train service further north from Ormskirk to Burscough. Merseytravel Committee member Cllr. John Dodd has been trying to get hold of a copy of the study report for months now but so far with no response. Cllr. Dodd requested that it be copied to him on the following dates 21st October, 2nd November, 16th November, 30th November, 14th December, 4th January, 18th January, 1st February but he has not even had a reply from the Transport Authority he is a member of! Just keep that thought in mind.

Returning to the LEP Prospectus – Sadly, however, this LEP report follows on from the 2014 West Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan in not addressing two huge transport issues in West Lancashire i.e. not proposing an east/west Ormskirk road by-pass and not proposing serious development of Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line.

Both these issues could if they were properly pursued have really positive benefits for West Lancashire and Southport/North Sefton residents but with Southport being in Merseyside the joined up thinking that seems to be there with the Skem/Kirkby/Liverpool rail link is missing in spades here.

I don’t know about you but surely Ormskirk should have had an east/west road bypass years ago in my book. It should have been built for the sake of the folks who live in an almost permanent Ginger Bread Town* traffic jam (together with the associated air and noise pollution) and for the economic development and much needed better access to Southport. Why keep ducking this issue when what it needs is the determination akin to that which recently delivered the new Switch Island – Thornton Link Road (Broomscross Road) in Sefton?

Then there is the very small mention in the prospectus of the Manchester – Wigan – Southport railway line (in the quote from the document above) and even that is only about connectivity between the two rail lines which cross each other at Burscough. Yes, such better interchange facilities are obviously required but far more than that the line from Southport through Wigan to Manchester needs serious investment. Such investment would benefit Southport and West Lancashire but where is the ambition in Lancashire and within the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership? And don’t forget that the Burscough Curves need to be reinstated (you can see them still in place on the 1958 map above) so that rail travel is again possible between Southport and Preston and Ormskirk and Southport.

Readers of this blog site will recall that when a Sefton Borough Councillor I had to fight tooth and nail to get Merseytravel to include the development of the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line in their City Region Long Term Rail Strategy. That battle was finally won with the help of John Pugh MP, OPSTA and the Southport Rail Transport Forum but now we have both Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership seemingly heel dragging on the very same issue!

So at the conclusion of my 3 part commentary on the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership Strategic Transport Prospectus I am both delighted at the progress in some transportation areas but utterly deflated about the lack of it in others.

Come on Lancashire, start talking seriously to Sefton and do some joint transport planning which the residents of both areas could benefit from immensely.

* Ormskirk is famous for its Gingerbread

Lancashire Enterprise Partnership – The Lancashire Strategic Transport Prospectus January 2016 – Posting 1 – The SuperPort implications

There’s some interesting, encouraging and indeed worrying information (or the lack of it) in this 47 page prospectus. I will cover the various aspects in 3 separate postings because they are all worth a mention in their own right.

The words Norther Powerhouse litter the document as they seem to every public sector paper from t’north these days. I assume this is to either keep or get George Osborne on side rather than the authors being enthusiastic about it?

The first thing that jumped out at me was a reference to Skelmersdale on page 12 not least because of the connection with the Liverpool SuperPort project. The relevant text says this:-

Skelmersdale in West Lancashire is closely linked to the Merseyside economy and is able to offer major sites for logistics and distribution companies keen to take advantage of the opportunities being generated by the opening of Liverpool SuperPort. This is supported by research commissioned by Peel Ports and the Liverpool City Region has highlighted the need to increase large market-attractive sites to take advantage of Atlantic Gateway opportunities.

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This is interesting not because it is new news but because it shows how far the tentacles of the SuperPort project spread. Readers will probably know that a huge piece of Green Belt/high grade agricultural land in Melling, next to the M57, is firmly on Peel Ports agenda for similar purposes and that Sefton Council has, for now, kicked the issue into the long grass.

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The problem will of course be how all the freight that lands in either or both of Melling and Skem actually gets to Seaforth Docks. Of course this will all have to happen in reverse too. The A5036 is the only road from the ends of the M57 and M58 motorways. Fools some years ago took up the rail connection and Highways England are now promoting a new road straight down the middle of Sefton’s Rimrose Valley Country Park as their preferred option to addresses the ‘need’ for a new freight route!

Never has so much Green Belt and green space been under more threat in Sefton, than via these proposals and of course Sefton Council’s own appalling Local Plan.

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.

Skelmersdale – More on that railway prioject

Merseyrail through to Wigan?

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

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

I have been pondering the recent news which seems to indicate that if Government can come up with a big enough cheque and other significant sources of money can be tapped into then a railway into Skelmersdale could well be a runner.

My previous postings on this subject are available via the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/08/08/is-skelmersdale-really-going-to-get-a-railway-station/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/01/skelmersdale-that-plan-to-bring-a-railway-back-to-the-town-an-update/

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

As you may have picked up by now the plan is to extend the Merseyrail electric service from Kirkby to Skem’, whist then having a less frequent diesel service from Skem’ to Wigan. Is that not just moving the present problem down the line from Kirkby to Skem’?

By this I mean that Kirkby is presently the end of the line for Merseyrail and passengers to Wigan have to change trains there. Under these new proposals the change will still have to be made but in Skem’ instead of Kirkby.

Would it not be more sensible to extend Merseyrail all the way to Wigan just like in the good old days when there were no silly sets of buffers breaking up the service between Liverpool and Wigan via Kirkby? Wigan is still the most logical end of the line.

Skelmersdale – The detail of the Skem’ rail link project

I don’t know about you but I get so frustrated when the press concentrate on the headline of a story and often fails to give much significant detail. This is a case in point as the latest stage of the proposed project to bring a railway back to Skelmersdale has not brought with it the required detail into the public domain.

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

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

So care of Bob a friend and informed railway watcher here is the detail that you are unlikely to find in the press but is important to assess whether the project will be a runner of not. I have added a few comments of my own along the way.

*****

The scheme studied is for two new stations at Kirkby Headbolt Lane and Skelmersdale with 3rd rail electrification extended to Skelmersdale. The basic scheme is 4 trains per hour (tph) to Headbolt Lane with 2tph continuing to Skelmersdale. 1tph would operate between Manchester and Skem but an enhanced option of 2tph to Manchester is also being considered.

Capital costs will not finalised before Grip 3 (A technical term which defines the progress of new railway projects) but the work done so far has produced Low/Medium/High estimates of £250m £320m £350m, in addition £10.2m will be required for Merseyrail to purchase 2 extra 3 car EMU’s (Electric Multiple Units or new trains to put it simply) to operate the service as part of their fleet renewal.The plan also requires leasing two additional DMU (Diesel Multiple Units or Trains) to operate from Skem’ to Manchester.

Kirkby-Skelmersdale would be 7.5 miles with a journey time of 13 minutes, Skelmersdale-Manchester would be 25 miles with a journey time of 60 minutes. 1tph would operate to Liverpool on Sundays and in the evenings while no trains would operate to Manchester in the evenings or on Sundays (seems daft to me not to run trains to Manchester in the evenings and on Sundays). Merseyrail says Headbolt Lane Station would be fully manned while the assumption is Skelmersdale would have a ticket office as it will also be a bus interchange.

Forecasting indicates that because of forced rail interchange at Skelmersdale demand from Kirkby to other stations on the line would see a small drop in existing passenger demand while other stations would all see increased demand arising from the change (the issue here is that through trains from Wigan to Kirkby would cease). Overall modelling forecasts a 10.5k reduction in Kirkby passengers and a 110k increase in passenger usage for the line (99k to stations between Wigan and Manchester) arising from the change to service pattern.

Kirkby Headbolt Lane would also split the catchment population of Kirkby almost exactly in half, the new station is predicted to have a usage of 700,351 passengers per year while Kirkby would fall from 944,801 to 472,049, after abstraction this is a net increase of 227,599 or 24%.

Skelmersdale in the base service option is forecast to have annual passenger usage of 932,319, 73% to Merseyside, 8% to Manchester, 3% to Wigan and 17% to wider network, if the enhanced 2tph is used there would be an additional 4,500 trips per year to Wigan and 3,000 to Manchester, meanwhile Kirkby would also generate an additional 2k trips per year to Wigan.

The base service is expected to produce 1,234k extra passengers on the line generating revenue of £2.75m, the enhanced service package would produce 1,375k passengers generating revenue of £3.069m. By 2023 the base package would have costs of £2.3m per year and revenues of £5m generating an operating surplus of £2.8m, it would be profitable from the first year of operation. The enhanced frequency option would have operating costs of £4.6m and revenues of £5.65m producing an operating surplus of £0.97m though it would require subsidy of £705k in its first year as passenger numbers are ramped up falling rapidly into an operating profit in its third year. Both options would produce a BCR range of 1.0-1.6 with an average of 1.3 purely on business grounds. Factoring in economic benefits such as time savings, regeneration, increase in jobs, etc… would produce a GVA of £137m – £184m for the base service and £227m – £279m for the enhanced service. Once these are added the BCR of the base scheme becomes 1.6/1.7 while the enhanced package becomes 1.8/1.9.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby. Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Rainford Station looking towards Kirkby.
Taken from the footbridge of the presently sleepy Rainford Station looking west towards the end of the line from Wigan at Kirkby where passengers have to change trains to reach Liverpool. Rainford Signal Box is on the left.

Click on the photo to enlarge it

So far nothing has been said about redoubling the tracks from Fazakerley Junction to Rainford but it is suspected that the absence of this is the reason for only 2tph east of Kirkby Headbolt Lane. Not quite a Metro level timetable but it is a start.