HS2 – It was always going to get the green light

Class 66 Diesel Locos at Seaforth Container Terminal

I’ve been amused by all the chatter about the potential for government to stop HS2 in its tracks when the reality was they were never going to do that.

Yes I know, they held a review of it and made a lot of noise about cost but that was to keep the issue off the political agenda surrounding the General Election. The Tories wanted to be seen to have a foot in the camp of those who oppose HS2. You could say it was cynical political manipulation as that’s what I call it.

HS2 and the associated new line from Liverpool across the north are vital if we want decent passenger and freight carrying railways with capacity because there’s precious little capacity left in the present rail network.

Take Liverpool and it’s expanding port. One of the big issues is that there’s no capacity to get freight to and from that port and it’s because of pretty much the same reason that passenger services east of Liverpool are in a mess. There’s no capacity for the number of trains needed to be run, simple as that.

So do I celebrate High Speed Rail and the associated east west line across the north? Yes I do because it’s a common sense decision that had to be made. My only reservation in this daft process was that government may still be in Brexit mode i.e. doing things without taking account of facts, but maybe they’ve got enough of promoting fantasy land on their plate for now so they gave in to the experts who they studiously ignored over Brexit.

Now we need investment in other lines in the north such as:-

* Ormskirk – Preston:- just hand it over to Merseyrail so they can run trains right through to Preston
* Southport – Wigan- Manchester:- Get it back to being a decent reliable service as it was until the 1960’s
* Burscough Curves:- Reinstate them so there can be trains between Southport and Preston and Ormskirk and Southport

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

How Preston’s transport plan could benefit Southport & the Ormskirk Merseyrail Northern Line

The graphic above*, which you will need to click on to enlarge for reading, is an extract from the recently published Preston City Transport Plan. It’s an important document because it discusses much needed transport, in this case rail, improvements to the south and west of Preston.

If you look closely the document is promoting the re-connection of the Burscough North Curve so that trains can once again travel between Preston and Southport. This is what the curves looked like when they were in place in the 1960’s:-

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

OPSTA, the Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travelers Association has been promoting the re-connection of the Burscough Curves since the 1980’s and they have been the driving force behind improving the Ormskirk – Preston Line and the reopening of Midge Hall Station. But it’s been an uphill struggle with Lancashire County Council (the Transport Authority) seeming being at best lukewarm about the line the present train operator (Northern) struggling to deliver the present basic service reliably.

Ormskirk’s Station where Merseyrail and Northern trains meet.

Another way forward is for Merseyrail to run trains all the way from Liverpool Central to Preston via the removal of the buffer stops at Ormskirk and other signaling/track improvements. To me this has always been the most sensible solution to bring the Ormskirk – Preston Line up to its true potential, together of course with the introduction of Southport – Preston trains. The fact that some of Merseyrail’s soon to arrive Class 777 Stadler rolling stock will now have battery operation facility (this had been in doubt previously) then them operating on the line without the need for expensive electrification equipment opens up real opportunities.

A mock-up of a Class 777 – The new Merseyrail trains that will soon replace the Class 507/508 EMU’s

Graphic Notes:-
* ‘P’ is Preston – Numbers 2, 3 & 6 are points along the Ormskirk – Preston Railway Line – 2 is the proposed new Coote Lane Station – 3 being the proposed reopening of Midge Hall Station and 6 is where the connecting Burscough Curves are situated i.e. where the Ormsirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other.

Southport – Its Victorian legacy has not been fully understood by modern custodians

Place North West has an interesting and thought provoking article on its website – see link below:-

www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/my-place-southport/

In my view Southport suffers from two distinct and unique disadvantages. Firstly, of being at one far end of a Metropolitan Borough (Sefton) whilst being mostly surrounded by a County (Lancashire) it no longer (since 1974) has any significant political connections with. Secondly, of having some very poor road and rail connections to the east and north of it.

If you start from the premise that the modern custodians have failed then I feel the disadvantages which have been put in their way are very much the cause. What’s more they’ve not been self-created disadvantages but very much imposed ones from Beeching’s railway cut backs of the 1960’s, the lack of an Ormskirk road by-pass, and the reorganisation of local government in 1974. The fact that none of theses significant downsides for Sunny Southport have been successfully addressed is the ongoing challenge which the present day custodians can’t crack – although that’s not for the want of trying.

I’ve commented on this so tough to crack conundrum previously:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2019/01/06/southport-betting-on-a-bright-future-for-our-local-seaside-town/

My view is that Southport has been failed but the causes of that failure are very much external to the Town.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

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.