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

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.