The Burscough Curves – An historical talk by Roger Bell

The Burscough Curves are in West Lancashire. This historic shot of them is from when they were in place, in 1960’s.

My good friend Roger Bell, former Chairman of OPSTA and former Lab’ Leader on West Lancs Council, gave a talk last Wednesday at Hurlston hall Golf Club about the history of the Burscough Curves to members of the West Lancs Heritage Association.

As an OPSTA member I went along to both hear and support Roger. I had never been to Hurlston Hall Golf Club before.

Roger spoke for quite some time with photos and videos which were really interesting. I learned a lot that I did not know about before even though I have been a part of OPSTA for more years than I care to recall and in all that time pressing for these connecting rail curves to be brought back into use has been a big issue.

Looking towards Wigan from Burscough Bridge Station with the Ormskirk – Preston line crossing the Southport – Wigan line via the bridge in the background.

Here’s a link to West Lancs Heritage Association’s web site:-

www.westlancsheritage.org/

In straight forward terms the curves link the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan railway lines which cross each other at Burscough. If they were brought back into use travelling by train from say Maghull to Southport would be possible without having to go via Sandhills for example. A Southport – Preston train could be reintroduced too so the opportunities are obvious to anyone who looks at the situation. Sadly, the railway powers that be have certainly been dragging their heels over this for far too many years and even more sadly it looks like they remain determined to keep on dragging them!

Burscough Junction Station – July ’15 – on the Ormskirk – Preston line.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

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

Rail Curves – Vital rail connections – 3 projects come to mind

Curves on railways – in reality pieces of hardly or never used track/trackbed that folks are campaigning to have reinstated so that better services can be delivered.

I can think of 3 of them in the north west of England:-

The Burscough Curves – They should connect the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines but were taken out of use in the 1960’s. OPSTA, John Pugh (MP for Southport) and others across the political spectrum have be fighting for years to get the curves brought back because Southport – Preston trains would be a possibility and indeed Ormskirk – Southport trains as well. Sadly, the powers that be continue to drag their heels whilst giving tea and sympathy.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk - Preston line crossing the Southport - Wigan line via the bridge. The Burscough Curves would reconnect these two lines.

Looking towards Wigan at Burscough with the Ormskirk – Preston line crossing the Southport – Wigan line via the bridge. The Burscough Curves would reconnect these two lines.

The Todmorden Curve – It has recently been reinstated and trains from Burnley will be able to reach Manchester far more quickly. Burnley’s last MP Gordon Birtwistle was a big driver for this work to be done.

The Halton Curve – down near Runcorn/Widnes and it looks like it is on the verge of being slated for reinstatement. When it is it will improve rail services for Merseysider’s and folks in North Wales.

So two out of 3 north west rail curves (2 out of 4 in reality as the Burscough Curves is plural of course) is not bad but rail travelers in West Lancashire and Sefton should not rest from their campaigning until all 4 are slated for being brought back into use.

John Pugh MP & Southport Manchester Trains

mail.google.com

Click on the Champion newspaper article to enlarge it

John Pugh MP for Southport

Well said John, this is of course a vital part of giving Southport a healthy economic future. Without a quality rail connection to the east (to Wigan & Manchester) and indeed the north of the Town (to Preston) to match the one to the south Southport can’t develop to its true potential.

www.johnpughmp.com/mp_determined_to_keep_southport_rail_upgrades_on_track

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.

Southport – Crossens Station March 1912

Crossens Station March 1912 - Southport Preston Line

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

On the former West Lancashire Railway line from Southport to Preston and 3rd rail electrified too. Crossens is on the northern side of Southport.

A line like this would never have been shut these days; shame it did not survive the Beeching era. The alternative route for Southport – Preston trains would be/still could be via Burscough but this would need the the Burscough North Curve to be reinstated. Quite doable and the Ormskirk Preston and Southport Travellers Assn (OPSTA) is campaigning for that amongst other things. The Ormskirk – Preston line crosses over the Southport – Wigan Line at Burscough.

The photo was purchased from the National Railway Museum’s collection at York.

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