Southport – Loss of trains to Manchester Airport and Piccadilly, seems Merseytravel has form here!

I have always been annoyed by the fact that Merseytravel, the publicly funded passenger transport committee for Merseyside, shows such little interest in the railway line from Southport to the east of the Town.

Northern Rail train standing in Southport Station.

In fact this line is of some considerable importance despite it being run as little more than a secondary line for the past 40 years or so. One of the reasons that Southport developed in the railway age was that Manchester businessmen set up home in the Town because of its excellent railway service. There can be little doubt that the fortunes of Southport are still bound up to some degree in the quality of service on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester line so for Merseytravel to be less than interested in it when Southport council tax payers are helping to fund passenger transport costs via their contributions is appalling to my mind.

I helped expose Merseytravel’s could hardly care less attitude to this line during my time as a Sefton councillor when it became clear that it did not even get a mention in the original Long Term Rail Strategy for Merseyside. To some extent that battle was won but with the second iteration of that plan, published last October, the lack of targets for the line raised fears once more that the now grandly named Liverpool City Region was once more little interested in the line or indeed Southport. Indeed, my fears about City Regions sucking power towards the main city to the detriment of the surrounding towns and communities is sadly coming true and I’m not the only one to think that.

But what started this latest rant off about the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line? Well it came from my picking up a copy of the book ‘Merseyrail Electrics – The Inside Story’ by T B Maund published in October 2001. It’s book I have had a copy of for many a year but I happened upon this:-

‘To secure other reductions in expenditure on railway services, the PTE [Passenger Transport Executive] decided to give the statutory twelve months’ notice to withdraw support from some services. Notice had already been given in respect of the Southport – Manchester services……’

This decision seems to have been taken in 1977/78 and if nothing else it clearly shows that in times when money was tight the PTE were quite willing to withdraw support for the line back then. Some 40 years on it seems that lack of commitment to the needs of commuters in the north of Sefton Borough is sadly just as steadfast.

Note:- Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) and Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) are what we now know as Merseytravel.

Sefton Council’s opposition leader on Southport’s loss of rail services

Southport Station

Cllr. John Pugh the Lib Dem Leader of the opposition on Sefton Council and former MP for Southport has hit out at the loss of trains between Southport and Manchester Airport which have been proposed [in the May 2018 timetable] by Northern Trains and Network Rail.

TOWN HAS BEEN LET DOWN

Rail services to Manchester Piccadilly- the university and business sector are being pared back to two to three a day trains- there and back- with the train to Manchester Airport doomed. That’s the result of the new timetables just announced on March 21st by Northern Rail and agreed with Network Rail.

The Southport line to Wigan and Manchester is on schedule to be the only place in the north to LOSE services under Northern Powerhouse plans

Former MP, Cllr. John Pugh stated, “It is hard not feel angry with the way we have been treated and strung along. We have had warm words from Rail Ministers and the Secretary of State for Transport but the downward spiral in our services and connectivity continues just the same.

I have no confidence that Sefton Council or the Merseyside City Region has even broken sweat to fight our corner

We don’t need any more patronising waffle from the government, rail companies or anyone else. The fact is that we are being strung out to dry- a corner of the north that needs to finds its own voice.

We cannot quietly stand by and let our connections with the business quarter of Manchester and the airport just wither.

*****

Editors View:- John is obviously right and I share his skepticism about what the Liverpool City Region and its Transport arm Merseytravel have been doing or indeed not doing to both keep the present level of service on the line and promote Southport’s trains to Wigan, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. I go back to the first draft of the first ever Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy where the line did not even get a mention! At the time I was a Sefton Councillor and I pushed the Council to demand that the line be included. That Long Term Rail Strategy has now been updated (October 2017) and surprise surprise the line hardly gets a mention at all again. Must we conclude that rail connectivity for Southport (which is in the Liverpool City Region) to the east and the north of the Town is of no interest to the powers that be? Sadly I think we must!

Southport – Wigan – Manchester Trains suffer appalling cutbacks!

A blogged yesterday about some reasonably good news (extra trains) on the Ormskirk – Preston Line, now the other side of the coin on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line where services are in effect being cut back!

Departure board at Southport Station.

Southport to Manchester Airport trains withdrawn

The current service [from Southport to Manchester] is dreadful with consistently poor punctuality, many cancellations, short forming of trains [too few carriages] and disruption of services for overrunning ‘improvement works’ (sic) and as feared the plan is to withdraw the Southport – Airport service for it to be replaced with a Stalybridge – Wigan North Western – Alderley Edge service pattern.

There will be just two morning services from Southport, departing 06.17 and 07.17, to Alderley Edge via Manchester Piccadilly and three return services in the evening:

– 17.19 departure from Piccadilly will not call at Oxford Road but will call at Deansgate.

– 18.18 departure from Piccadilly will call at Oxford Road but will not call at Deansgate.

– 21.27 departure from Piccadilly

All other services will go through Manchester Victoria to and from Leeds and Blackburn. There will be two services from Southport to Victoria departing Southport between 06.30 and 07.00.

All services will call at Gathurst and Meols Cop.

On Sundays there will be one train per hour to/from Blackburn via Victoria.

OPSTA (Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers Association) say they will continue to fight these service reduction proposals because there’s no reason to withdraw services this year. They need community support to take the fight once again to Northern Rail and Network Rail.

My thanks to OPSTA for the information contained in this posting

Another example of the Northern Poorhouse, sorry Powerhouse?

Click on the photo to enlarge it

OPSTA Update – From the pages of Rail User Express

Rail User Express is the newsletter of Railfuture

Ormskirk’s Station with it’s split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by ‘mwmbwls’ borrowed from Flickr.

Ormskirk-Preston-Southport Travellers Association

In the draft Northern timetable from May 2018, just two peak services each way between Wigan and Manchester Piccadilly via Bolton would start and end at Southport, using bi-mode Class 319 Flex trains. Diesel powered alternators under the driving trailer cars of these units power the existing DC electric motors and on-board systems, so they can run both on electrified lines and to non-electric destinations. OPSTA believes that with just two more Flex trains, through services to Southport could be retained all day every day, though the extra trains may not be ready until Oct 2018. Local councils and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority back the idea, and Northern is helping OPSTA to build its case, but has yet to be convinced of the need for a Sunday service, which is not specified as a franchise requirement.

Departure board at Southport Station.

The 2018 timetable also proposes an hourly Preston – Ormskirk service from Monday – Saturday between 0626 and 2236 from Preston and 0701 to 2301 from Ormskirk, with a half-hour journey time. The trains arrive at Ormskirk and Preston from Colne, and Blackpool South respectively. Although not be shown as such in the timetable, these through services should make for both shorter and more convenient journeys. However, there is very little recovery time in the timetable, so any delay could have a lasting effect, albeit mitigated by the newly replaced passing loop at Rufford. Also, whilst the timings and connections at Preston look good, those from Liverpool at Ormskirk would be 17 mins, increasing to 24 mins in the evening. However, the Merseyrail timetable will change when Maghull North station opens in 2018.

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.

Southport – It’s rail link to Manchester is vital if our tourist town is to fulfill its potential

I have commented on this blog site many times about the importance of the Southport – Wigan – Manchester railway line but a recent reading of Nigel Dyckhoff’s book ‘Portrait of the Cheshire Lines Committee’ really does press home why this is the case.

Southport Station at night with a 507/508 EMU awaiting to depart for Liverpool.

Southport Station at night with a 507/508 EMU awaiting to depart for Liverpool.

This quote from the 5th chapter of Nigel’s book (published in 1999) says it all:-

‘Modelled on the exclusive resorts of the South of France and laid out as a garden city, Southport became known in publicity material as the ‘Montpellier of the North’. A fashionable watering place and residential area for the businessmen of Manchester and Liverpool’

Of course in 2016 we would say ‘businessperson’ but what Southport really, really needs (and soon) is the return to the fast train services into Manchester which were lost in the 1960’s. To achieve that the line needs to be electrified before we enter the next Ice Age rather than on the vague goodness knows when Network Rail timetable that presently exists.

Departure board at Southport Station.

Departure board at Southport Station.

It stands to reason, especially with our choked roads/motorways and the lack of an east/west Ormskirk road bypass, that if folks are to live in Southport and have quick and comfortable access into Manchester (like they have into Liverpool) that upgrading of the railway line has to be a top priority for the Town. It will also need a decent park and ride station on the eastern edge of Southport with a significantly large car park.

A Southport bound Class 156 DMU at Burscough Bridge Station on the Southport - Wigan - Manchester Line.

A Southport bound Class 156 DMU at Burscough Bridge Station on the Southport – Wigan – Manchester Line.

This is surely an important way of improving the economy and indeed the retail offer of Southport. It will mean that wealth generated in Manchester can more easily be spent in Southport by people who depend on their income by working in Manchester but who love to live by the sea in Southport.

It’s really not rocket science just a look back to the way Southport used to be so much better rail connected to Manchester.

Southport Rail Transport Forum logo

Southport Rail Transport Forum logo

The present campaign to save the Southport rail services into Manchester Piccadilly is of course an important part of developing better rail access to Manchester from Sefton Borough’s tourism Town. The work of OPSTA, Southport Rail Transport Forum and John Pugh MP is vital but where are Merseytravel and Sefton Council in all this?

OPSTA logo

OPSTA logo

Merseytravel had to be dragged into including the Southport – Manchester Line in its Long Term Rail Strategy not so long ago but credit to them for accepting the arguments put forward at the time. But if Southport is to flourish as Merseyside’s tourism capital, which is surely in all our interests, then we will need to see some real, determined and positive campaigning by our Sub-Regional Transport Body and Borough Council, potentially over a number of years, to make serious change happen.

Without an electrified railway offering fast services into Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria Stations Southport will not be able to regain what it once had and so desperately needs. Just read that quote above once more; the railway answer to Southport’s eastern transport link problems is all to obvious!