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:-

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.

Skelmersdale – That plan to bring a railway back to the town – An update

I blogged about this ambitious plan last August. Here’s the link to it:-

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

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

Well the Southport Visiter newspaper is carrying an update:-

Looks like things are progressing although it is fair to say that what could well end up being a £100m+ project is thought not to be a runner in some circles simply because of that price tag. The theory goes that such a huge amount of money spent elsewhere on the local rail network could deliver other much needed projects (the Burscough Curves?) for far less money.

If delivered the project may well see Merseyrail electric trains reaching Skem’ with a diesel hauled service connecting Skem with Wigan.

This one has a long way to go before it really is a runner I think but as I said in my previous posting correcting the errors of the past does not come cheap!

With thanks to Cllr. John Dodd of Meols Ward in Southport for the lead to this updated story. John sits on the Merseytravel Committee.

Old Ordnance Survey Map – It’s 1958 in West Lancs and it still has the railways we now want restoring to use!

Back again to that old Ordnance Survey map of Liverpool that I picked up not so long ago from a second hand bookshop on Bewdley Station – Severn Valley Railway.

This latest posting about the map concerns the area of West Lancashire around Ormskirk, Skelmersdale and Burscough. Let’s have a look at it:-

Ormskirk & Skem' 1958

Click on the map to enlarge it.

The two notable issues are the north and south Burscough curves that once connected the Southport – Wigan & Ormskirk – Preston lines and the branch line from Ormskirk to Skelmersdale and off the map St. Helens.

Firstly the Burscough curves. I have posted on this blog site many times about them and OPSTA the voluntary group who have been campaigning for them to be reconnected over many years. The advantage of reconnecting them is obvious – Southport – Preston trains would again become possible as would Ormskirk – Southport trains. In 1958 they were still in place and the track beds still are; all it needs is a little vision from local authorities (Sefton and West Lancashire) and Network Rail.

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of 1960's progress!

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

The Skelmersdale rail connection issue is interesting as the original branch was taken out of use as Skelmersdale New Town was being constructed, indeed some of Skem’ is built on the old railway. It is hard these days to understand the mentality of building a town and deliberately not including it on the railway network but such was the thinking in the 1960’s. Now a £1b project is seriously being considered to reconnect Skem to a railway by taking a spur off the Kirkby – Wigan line into the Town. Will it happen? I don’t really know but some seem to think that it will and I certainly hope so too.

Map of railways Southport-Ormskirk-Preston

Just look what we have lost.


Above is a photo of a part of one of the famous North Eastern Railway tiled maps which now is preserved at the National Railway Museum in York. This part of the map covers the Sefton/West Lancs area and Preston.

The most obvious rail loss is the line from Southport to Preston. You could not imagine it being closed now if it had survived the Beeching era. Just think how it could be helping the Southport economy by bringing visitors to the Town and how it would assist in getting students between Southport and Preston. And this gets me back on my soap box about the inadequate nature of the both the Sefton and West Lancashire Local Plans as neither have majored on fixing the appalling east/west travel difficulties that are holding the Southport economy back.

But also look at the line leaving Ormskirk and running to Rainford Junction. This line also served Skelmersdale, a Town now desperate to to reconnected to the UK rail network and with some plans to try to achieve it.

Merseyrail – Modern Railways magazine updates us

My previous postings on Merseyrail/Merseytravel refer:-

I was not intending to post on this subject again just yet but my attention was drawn to the July edition of modern railways magazine and an article headed HALF-TIME FOR MERSEYRAIL.

The article is built around an interview with Maarten Spaargaren the Managing Director of Merseyrail. It is sound comment and information surrounding the present concession to operate the Merseyrail lines around Liverpool which happen to be half way through the contract life.

The interesting points though very much relate back to the ‘optimistic’ comments that have flowed from Merseytravel over the past 20 years or so, many of which could be put in the ‘wildly optimistic’ category in my opinion.

First we are told that the present fleet of trains, built between 1978 and 1980, could run for another 10 years. I am sure this is correct but why have so many predictions been made by Merseytravel about brand new trains? Frankly, I am in the value for public money category so if it is cost effective to run the old trains for a longer period (and they will continue to be reliable) let’s just get on with it. But please make your minds up, promising new trains and then not delivering is just poor PR in my book.

Approaching Ormskirk Station - the end of the line.

Approaching Ormskirk Station – the end of the line.

And what about the long, long, long promised or at least highly speculated on ideas from Merseytravel to extend the network which have never happened? Getting north of Ormskirk comes to mind as a starter – long talked about to get to the real end of the Liverpool commuter belt at Burscough. Getting east of Kirkby is another one. I could go on but you get my drift. And talking of the Liverpool – Kirkby line the article mentions the big plan of Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council to take the railway into Skelmersdale. The Merseyrail MD is quoted as saying ‘Skelmersdale is a possibility but really it’s a town built for car travel and a better solution may be to offer a fast bus to Kirkby to link with the trains.’ Hardly a ringing endorsement for this big project but it is not far from what I heard a prominent Lancashire politician say not so long ago.

The planned new station at Maghull North gets a mention but no more than that.

A cold day at the present Maghull Station. The new station, in addition to the present one, will be about a mile north of here.

A cold day at the present Maghull Station. The new station, which will be in addition to the present one, will be about a mile north of here.

What I draw from the article and indeed from the Merseyrail MD is that Merseytravel’s utterances, which I have long been sceptical of, have indeed been ‘wildly optimistic’.

I remain convinced that the Merseyrail network needs to expand so that it matches the real travel to work area of Liverpool. How that is done and over what period will be dictated by the availability of public money to invest in such a plan but for goodness sake let’s get the plan written and then use it, develop it and promote it until it is achieved.

Oh and while I am on the subject of railways can I make a plea for the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line to be included in the Draft Liverpool City Region Rail Strategy. And can anyone tell me why on earth it was not in the recently published draft one?

The photos above are amongst my Flickr shots at:-