Ormskirk – End of the Line – Well end of two lines actually

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

Two faced in Ormskirk (two clock faces that is) with both a tower and a steeple on its Parish Church.

The market town of Ormskirk (famous for its gingerbread and for having a very rare Parish Church with both a tower and a steeple) nestles in a rather awkward spot sandwiched between Preston, Southport, Liverpool, Skelmersdale and Wigan. And by awkward I mean with regard to its transport connections with surrounding communities. It also has one of the oddest present day railway configurations you could come up with (although it shares such a configuration with Kirkby on Merseyside as you will find out later in this posting) if you wanted to restrict folk’s ability to travel by train.

I tracked down some traditional Ormskirk gingerbread at DC Scott & Sons in Church Street and very nice it is too.

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For reasons best known to the railway planners of the 1960’s the through Liverpool – Preston line was severed at Ormskirk. So now you can get a train from Liverpool to Ormskirk and return with a frequency of every 15 minutes most of the time. You can also get a train from Ormskirk to Preston and return with a frequency of, well let’s be polite, not very often! The trains even meet end on at Ormskirk Station with a noticeable few feet of former railway track that has been removed.

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

Ormskirk’s crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo.

And here’s a second shot of the missing link taken by my Flickr friend mwmbwls:-

Ormskirk's crazy railway arrangement with split tracks and disjointed railway journeys is illustrated well by this photo by 'mwmbwls' borrowed from Flickr.

At face value those railway planners were seemingly keen for Ormskirk folk to go southwards towards Liverpool but not at all keen for the Town’s residents to travel northwards towards Preston. That’s pretty much the only conclusion you can come up with. Or could it be that the good Berger’s of Preston said look do us a favour British Rail keep that Ormskirk lot out of our community by offering them a really poor train service to Preston. Or could it even be that Ormskirk folk have deep seated reasons not to want to go to Preston? Neither of these possibilities is realistic and in the real world faceless railway planners just beggared things up in an era when running down our railways was the popular sport of the day.

Talk now is of the 15 minute frequency electrified line from Liverpool being extended deeper into rural West Lancashire to reach Burscough and ultimately even on to Preston. Well to be fair there has been talk of this for 30 years or more but less than nothing has happened so far.

The same ‘visionary’ railway severing was also visited on Kirby in Merseyside. There at Kirkby Station, on the Liverpool – Wigan line is a similar missing section of track. But, like with the Ormskirk – Preston Line, there is now talk of extending the electrified railway to Skelmersdale, which will even mean a couple of miles of brand new track bed will have to be laid where no track has been before. Radical transport planning indeed although it’s worth remembering that Skelmersdale (the old town) did once have a railway and station (on the former Ormskirk – St Helens line) but it was abandoned and built on for the Skem New Town. Yes, Skem was deliberately built without a railway connection and Station in the 1960’s and 1970’s but unsurprisingly it now needs one.

But returning to Ormskirk which is in West Lancashire and a part of Lancashire County i.e. it is not a part of Merseyside like Liverpool and Southport*. You may be starting to get my drift here in that Lancashire County Council’s transport planners are responsible for how folks get in and out of Ormskirk so why have they not addressed the ridiculous railway severing? It’s not as if they have not had time to get around to it; they’ve had since local government re-organisation in 1974. That’s over 40 years!

As a transport planning body goes Lancashire County Council must be a rum lot because neither have they addressed the need to reconnect the Burscough Curves where the Ormskirk – Preston and Southport – Wigan lines cross each other just west of Burscough. Just a few hundred yards of track being put back would mean that Ormskirk folk could go to Southport by train. Wouldn’t that be nice.

It’s the lack of vision that beggars belief especially as Ormskirk can be very congested at times of good weather because drivers from far and wide are trying to navigate its narrow roads to get to Southport. So yes you’ve guessed it Lancashire’s County Council has not come up with a credible package to have a by-pass around the Town east to west either but that’s another story.

By rail Ormskirk is only well connected to Liverpool. It’s poorly connected to Preston and not connected at all to Southport, Skem or Wigan. You could not make this up. It’s a funny old transport world in that oft forgotten part of Lancashire called West Lancs. Time to go chew on a piece of gingerbread me thinks.

* West Lancashire does have an ‘associate’ seat at the Liverpool City Region table but that seems to mean they get to watch what goes on (usually a lot of bickering, if we understand how Merseyside politics works or probably does not work) without having to buy a ticket. In other words poor old West Lancs is a second class passenger at that table.

Both of my photos are amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

Skelmersdale – More on that railway prioject

Merseyrail through to Wigan?

The old Skelmersdale Station - now long gone in the name of progress!

The old Skelmersdale Station – now long gone in the name of progress!

I have been pondering the recent news which seems to indicate that if Government can come up with a big enough cheque and other significant sources of money can be tapped into then a railway into Skelmersdale could well be a runner.

My previous postings on this subject are available via the links below:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2014/08/08/is-skelmersdale-really-going-to-get-a-railway-station/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/01/skelmersdale-that-plan-to-bring-a-railway-back-to-the-town-an-update/

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2015/06/11/skelmersdale-the-detail-of-the-skem-rail-link-project/

As you may have picked up by now the plan is to extend the Merseyrail electric service from Kirkby to Skem’, whist then having a less frequent diesel service from Skem’ to Wigan. Is that not just moving the present problem down the line from Kirkby to Skem’?

By this I mean that Kirkby is presently the end of the line for Merseyrail and passengers to Wigan have to change trains there. Under these new proposals the change will still have to be made but in Skem’ instead of Kirkby.

Would it not be more sensible to extend Merseyrail all the way to Wigan just like in the good old days when there were no silly sets of buffers breaking up the service between Liverpool and Wigan via Kirkby? Wigan is still the most logical end of the line.

What next for West Lancs Borough Council – it’s 27 all!

27 Tories and 27 Socialists; that’s it, they are deadlocked.

But they have been in this bind before and I am old enough to recall the time when Bob Germin was the sole SDP councillor on that council and him holding the balance of power.

As West Lancs is often in this situation a small group of councillors who are neither socialist nor Tory could have significant influence but for some odd reason such a group has not developed.

Common political talk is that West Lancs Borough Council does not have a secure and sustainable future as a unit of local government especially as it is a small District Council stuck between Merseyside (Sefton and St Helens Boroughs) and Greater Manchester (Wigan). This result will not help that situation one bit and West Lancs needs to find a way of becoming a Unitary Authority, sooner rather than later, probably by merging with a neighbouring Council.

I have posted before about the West Lancs dilemma but it is now a bigger dilemma than when I last raised the subject.