OPSTA – Rail User Express article

Readers of this blog will know that I am a big supporter of our railways and in particular the campaigning activities of OPSTA our local rail lobbying group for Southport and West Lancashire. Below is an article from Rail User Express about the recent activities of OPSTA:-

opsta logo new

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – operator continuing with improvements

OPSTA has now been involved in meetings with all three of shortlisted bidders for the Northern franchise. There are only about 14 months left to the end of the current franchise, so OPSTA finds it encouraging that Northern continues to progress initiatives and investment commitments, adding “we should see customer information systems installed at a number of our stations this year.” Also welcome is the statement that the operator will facilitate user group discussions on timetabling. A petition calling for the retention of the ticket office at Burscough Bridge has been sent to Lancashire County Council, but OPSTA fears that the Council has already made up its mind to close the facility.

The group thinks that there is much untapped demand for the Ormskirk-Preston line, currently operated by a single-car unit. They plan to conduct another full passenger count this Spring, and meanwhile the committee welcomes feedback from members using the service. Worryingly, some users have recently reported a major drop off in fare collection, and OPSTA has brought this to the operator’s attention. Some of the passengers participating in OPSTA’s recent travel surveys suggested that Twitter would be an effective way of getting the group’s message out to a wider audience. Consequently anyone can now “follow” the group on @opsta15.

Note:- OPSTA’s logo (above) shows the Southport – Wigan line (in red), the Ormskirk – Preston line (in blue) and the curved green lines represent the missing connecting lines at Burscough. The lines were taken out in the Beeching era and need to be reinstated so that Southport – Preston and Ormskirk – Southport trains can run again.

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/

Ormskirk, Preston & Southport Travellers’ Association – time to redress 50 years of neglect!

The article below, about the Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) is from the May edition of Rail User Express the newsletter of Railfuture

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Much of the committee’s time in the early part of 2014 was taken up with formulating a response to the draft West Lancashire Transport Masterplan. Useful meetings were held with both council officers and local MP’s, and the group is hopeful that many of its suggestions will be incorporated in the final Masterplan. The lack of any statement about the Southport-Wigan line was an omission; also the group wanted to see a firm commitment to carry out further studies into the merits of a south-west curve at Burscough.

OPSTA has been involved in meetings about the role of Rail North, and the development of the railway in their area – especially prospects for electrification. The group notes that Northern has been tasked to refocus on revenue collection during their franchise extension period, and OPSTA members are asked to report incidents where ticket checks are not conducted on trains. The group will be monitoring patronage of the additional service on the Ormskirk-Preston route from the May timetable change, and they’ve persuaded Northern to at least produce a cost estimate for a Sunday service on the line.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the direct Southport-Preston line, and an event in September to mark the occasion is being planned. Correspondents to OPSTAs newsletter make the point that routes to Southport have been neglected in the intervening period, not the least because the town was perversely placed in Merseyside, while the railways to the east run primarily through West Lancashire. Reinstatement of the Burscough curves would once again facilitate easier journeys between Southport and Preston.

The OPSTA stand at Preston Model Rail Club show generated a good level of interest – and 4 new members! The stand will be out again at events in June. The Friends of Meols Cop Station have started work on a new wild flower garden, despite suffering the attention of vandals earlier in the year. At Croston Station, the Friends group has been working tirelessly for three years to turn the overgrown wilderness on the disused platform into a neat and colourful garden; “before” and “after” photos on the back cover of OPSTA’s magazine amply illustrate the fantastic transformation.

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I will write about Southport’s Meols Cop Station in a future posting.

Southport and its railways – a victim of the 1960’s Beeching era and Local Government reorganisation of the 1970’s.

The 1960’s loss of the Southport – Preston Line, should it still be there, would be laughed at these days but gone it has even though it was electrified to Crossens. It must rank as one of the most bizarre Beeching era losses.

Then in the 1970’s Southport suffered again, this time at the hands of local government reorganisation. Many hold the view that Southport was added into Merseyside as a party political fix and this is probably the case because the Borough of Sefton, which I led for 7 years, is geographically most odd. It is that odd geography that has caused a continuing and ongoing transport problem for Southport.

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

A train at Southport Station bound for Manchester

This photo is amongst my Flickr photo’s at
www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Having lost its rail connection to the north the Town has been left with one high quality line to Liverpool and one poor quality one to Wigan and on to Manchester. The problem being that virtually all of the line east of Southport is in West Lancashire where Lancashire County Council is the transport authority. So to get the Southport – Wigan line upgraded it clearly needs West Lancs Borough and Lancashire County Councils to make it a priority – they have failed to do that ever since 1974 when the Merseyside – Lancashire boundary was erected. I say failed but, from their perspective, why should they look upon the Southport tourist economy as being a priority as Southport is not in Lancashire’s area of responsibility.

Then there’s the Burscough Curves; two very short sections of curved track that if reconnected could bring back a Southport – Preston railway service and a Southport – Ormskirk service to boot. Again, this is not a priority for Lancashire’s politicians and seemingly may never be such, but it is a huge priority for Southport.

So Southport at least from a rail perspective as lost out all ways round and finding a solution when that solution is in Lancashire has proved to be all but an insurmountable barrier for 40 years, despite the campaigning of Southport’s MP’s and its councillors.

When the railways first reached Southport Manchester businessman came to live in the Town because of its excellent rail links to Manchester – excellent is not what you would call the service these days!

My contention is that until the West Lancashire area becomes a unitary authority and joins the other Merseyside Authorities as an equal partner Southport’s rail challenges may not be given much more than tea and sympathy. And sadly this seems to have been the stance of Merseytravel (the Passenger Transport Authority, then Integrated Transport Authority and now little more than a Committee of the Merseyside Joint Authorities) since 1974.

Southport has been served up a raw deal in the modern day rail era but, we must not let the challenges daunt us, tough though they may be. The Southport economy will continue to be held back if the battle is not eventually won.

The original article was written for OPSTA’s magazine ‘Connexion’ of April 2014.

www.opsta.btck.co.uk/