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:-

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

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:-

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/skelmersdale-railway-plans-right-track-9370775

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.

rsz_north_eastern_railway_tiled_map

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:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/06/11/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-3/

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

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers! Posting 3

This is the 3rd and, for now, final of my reviews of Merseytravel and its rail achievements and failures. The first two reviews can be found by following the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/01/29/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-1/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/02/19/merseytravelmerseyrail-20-years-of-big-local-railway-ambitions-many-of-which-have-hit-the-buffers-posting-2/

The starting point for this final review is an article in Today’s Railways Magazine of June 2009.

The first and highly significant point made in this article is that the Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Merseyside, which had been published a few months before the article by Network Rail, looked at the ‘journey to work area’ for Liverpool and it had concluded that it went well beyond the present Merseyrail boundaries. Shades here of my previously stated concerns about the Liverpool City Region area being far too small to be effective. Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Chester, Wrexham and Flint are mentioned as the real boundaries of travel into Liverpool for work and this demonstrates all too well why insular inward looking politicians have got Merseyside’s transport planning wrong.

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

Shadows on Merseyrail at Bootle New Strand Station

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

But lets look at the detail of this 2009 examination of Merseytravel/Merseyrail:-

* A 1km extension of the Kirkby Line (Northern line) to Headbolt Lane was being evaluated. I think we have heard of that before and it has still gone nowhere at all.

* A new railway into Skelmersdale (from the Kirkby – Wigan line) was to be investigated. This has popped up again quite recently with Lancashire County Council and West Lancs Borough Council seemingly very keen to get this project moving, but it will cost an arm and leg!

* An extension of the Ormskirk line electrification to Burscough and even Southport was suggested as a possibility for 2014 onwards. The article writer notes that electrification reached Ormskirk in 1913 so there would seem to be little urgency! What could be a small piece of good news is that extending the Northern Line beyond Ormskirk to Burscough is very much on the cards in 2014 probably on the back of major house building in Burscough. Watch this space.

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

A train from Preston pulling into Ormskirk Station. Could a section of this line from Ormskirk to Burscough be electrified soon?

* Bidston – Wrexham and Kirkby – Wigan electrifications. Well, where do we start! The first one has been doing the rounds for a very long time and both of them fit with the real travel to work area of Liverpool. Don’t hold your breath on either of them though.

* The Halton Curve – Yes, you have heard of that before and it got a mention in this July 2009 article. And, not so long ago, Merseytravel announced another feasibility study into reconnecting it to provide a Liverpool Lime Street Chester service.

* The need to run more 6 car trains was looked at. This problem, certainly on the Ormskirk Line, has led to folks abandoning rail travel because of some peak time trains being only 3 cars.

* There was talk of Liverpool Central being too small to cope with the number of passengers that flow through it and indeed the number of trains. Since then the Station has received a cosmetic refurbishment which also cleared as much clutter from the platforms of the Northern Line as possible to improve the passenger environment.

* Construction of a new Station at Maghull North! – Well I have been campaigning for that for a long time and it has still to appear. The article says it was planned for 2010 but sadly that was far too too optimistic and may well have been ‘Merseytravel speak’ i.e. talking things up beyond what was likely to happen.

A Merseyrail electric unit at Maghull Station

A Merseyrail electric unit at the present Maghull Station

* Replacement of the rolling stock in 2014 – Well that did not happen although another upgrade is presently being rolled out of the Class 507/508 EMU’s and they are getting a new ‘graffiti’ livery – well that’s what residents call it!

* And what about dual voltage, yes that gets another mention so that Merseyrail trains can take power from overhead lines as well as the 3rd rail. And no, it has not happened.

This article was very significantly based on the Merseyside RUS document but readers of my earlier posts will note that Network Rail in effect referred to projects that Merseytravel have been on about for 20 odd years or longer.

And to be fair 2007 saw the biggest financial crash in living memory so looking back it is blindingly obvious that many of the area’s transport schemes that relied on Government money to make them happen were going to be shunted into the sidings until things picked up. But, having said that, I can’t but look at places like Greater Manchester where the transport investment has continued apace despite hard times because Governments of all colours have confidence in the leadership of Greater Manchester and by implication they don’t in you know where!

My conclusion having read the commentary on the railways of the Merseyside area of the past 20 years is that Merseytravel always took a far too optimistic view of what was achievable and thought that if they talked long and hard enough Government money would flow into Merseyside transport. Sadly Merseytram proved the opposite to be the case. In my view poor governance of Merseyside has over the years ensured that investment by Governments in transport could only be limited, but have those in power learned from this? Will they take a trip down the East Lancs Road to see how successful transport planning, governance and investment is achieved?

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Regional has to show for its big tram ideas.

This promotional Merseytram bookmark is about all that Liverpool City Region has to show for its big tram ideas.

Merseytravel/Merseyrail – 20 years of big local railway ambitions many of which have hit the buffers!

What next for West Lancs Borough Council – it’s 27 all!

27 Tories and 27 Socialists; that’s it, they are deadlocked.

But they have been in this bind before and I am old enough to recall the time when Bob Germin was the sole SDP councillor on that council and him holding the balance of power.

As West Lancs is often in this situation a small group of councillors who are neither socialist nor Tory could have significant influence but for some odd reason such a group has not developed.

Common political talk is that West Lancs Borough Council does not have a secure and sustainable future as a unit of local government especially as it is a small District Council stuck between Merseyside (Sefton and St Helens Boroughs) and Greater Manchester (Wigan). This result will not help that situation one bit and West Lancs needs to find a way of becoming a Unitary Authority, sooner rather than later, probably by merging with a neighbouring Council.

I have posted before about the West Lancs dilemma but it is now a bigger dilemma than when I last raised the subject.