Our goal is to achieve a transformational improvement in rail travel for the people of North Merseyside and West Lancashire including easier access to/from further afield, through integrated services and a single, relatively low cost interconnection of the Southport-Wigan and Ormskirk-Preston lines, the missing link.
Decades of ‘cost-cutting’ on our railways have resulted in a significant reduction in our public transport services and people, many who do not own private vehicles, lack travel options. Moreover, we all need to be concerned with sustainable transport.
We have seen some significant investment in the railways in the North West recently but we have yet to win the argument and secure similar commitment. Why? Perhaps timing, geography and local authority boundaries, and certainly some misconceptions by decision makers, based on poor research data, that this is unviable.
We know our proposals make sense, and not only in narrow economic terms, but we have to demonstrate this.
The running lines in West Lancashire must be recognised as important commuting, connecting and through routes and not left to wither as isolated, rural community branch lines.
Our start point is to keep pressing for those changes that can be made within the fiscal, industry and administrative constraints that exist today, making it very clear on how and where they deliver tangible, immediate and cumulative benefits. Each improvement is a ‘jigsaw piece that makes up the total picture’. Every step will give value for money and form part of a progressive programme.
We will lobby and persuade everyone in the rail industry and local and national government that the proposals make sense. We will win the ‘hearts and minds’ of those decision makers based on fresh research showing the major economic regeneration and social mobility that will result from these incremental developments culminating in the huge multiplier effect by connecting the two lines at Burscough, initially through re-instatement of the south curve.
SWOPlink stands for Southport Wigan Ormskirk Preston link.
Southport is an attractive resort and shopping centre. Many residents commute daily to Liverpool, Manchester, and Preston. To Liverpool, there is an excellent train service that is deservedly popular. To Manchester, there is a reasonable train service. But to Preston the only alternative to the car is a bus service and this suffers from the same congestion as the car.
Ormskirk is a classic market town. It is blighted by traffic. The main A570 road, joining Southport to the motorway network, runs right through the town on narrow twisting roads that were not built for this traffic. A proposal for a by-pass has been put forward, but it has failed to obtain a high priority in regional planning reviews. A new University, Edge Hill, is growing impressively and many students travel there from across the area. Ormskirk lies about 2½ miles south of Burscough, where the route from Southport to Wigan runs. The lack of a connection to that line means that rail travel to Southport, Wigan and Manchester is extremely unattractive.
Burscough is one of the fastest-growing communities in the area. The population has increased by 50% in the last 15 years and continues to grow. In the last 5 years, a very significant amount of investment, both public and private, has come in to the village. Burscough enjoys the same reasonable train service as Southport to Wigan and Manchester. The links to Liverpool and Preston are however extremely poor. While a local train service operates between Preston and Ormskirk, the infrequent, irregular service means that it is very much a choice of last resort.
Preston is one of our newest cities. It has grown considerably as an employment centre, with the main offices of Lancashire County Council being a major employer. The University of Central Lancashire has many students from across our area. Preston is also rapidly becoming an attractive shopping centre and a lot of investment is going to making Preston a major centre for the Arts. None of the major towns and centres in our area enjoy good rail service to Preston. There is none from Southport, and Ormskirk and Burscough have a very irregular and unattractive service.
Over the last twenty years, Wigan has enjoyed a renaissance. It is now a significant employment centre, and its shopping facilities attract people from a wide area. Wigan Pier is a major tourist attraction, and the professional sports teams (football and rugby league) bring fans in from a wide area. From most of West Lancashire and North Merseyside there are no good services to Wigan.
The map which follows shows the rail network as it currently stands.
A series of simple and cost-effective enhancements of the rail infrastructure would lead to valuable new and improved train services between the Southport, Ormskirk, Burscough, Preston and Wigan. The work could be done 3 phases. The map next slide shows the changes after phase 1, with the Merseyrail network extended from Ormskirk to Burscough Junction.
The benefits of this minor modification are immediate with more frequent and quicker journeys along Liverpool-Ormskirk-Preston corridor. For example, the journey time from Burscough to Liverpool is currently a 44 min journey with a frequency between 65-95 min, with a change at Ormskirk. After Phase 1, it would be a direct 35 min journey every 15 mins. The map next slide shows the changes after phase 2, with the reinstatement of the south curve at Burscough, providing Southport with rail links to Ormskirk and Preston.
Following phase 2 it will be possible to travel from Southport to Ormskirk in 23 minutes regardless of traffic, and to preston in 42 minutes (compared with 58 minutes by bus in rush hour). The following map shows the changes after phase 3, where the lines from Burscough to Preston and Burscough to Southport are electrified. This will provide a direct service from Liverpool to Preston (via Ormskirk, and Burscough) with 2 trains per hour and a journey time of 55 minutes. It will also provide Southport with an electrified service to Ormskirk, Maghull, Aintree etc.