Hope for ‘quick wins’ for rail network if government sticks to its word

Posted on - 5th October, 2023 - 1:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Preston Railway Station, Transport
Preston Station Pic: Donna Clifford
Preston Railway Station Pic: Donna Clifford

Lancashire’s politicians are lining up with wishlists of the rail schemes that they would like to see funded with the cash that will be saved from the cancellation of the HS2 link to Manchester.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, made the widely expected announcement during his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference.

However, he pledged to spend “every single penny” of the £36bn windfall that will be created by the culling of the high-speed project on “hundreds” of other transport improvements across the country – including in the North of England.

Read more: HS2 axe could impact hoped ‘transformative’ Preston investment

The so-called “Network North” element of the new funding pot that has been created will be used to support a raft of initiatives identified in a document published on Wednesday to set out the plans in more detail.

The blueprint is light on detail about the railway upgrades that Lancashire might be able look forward to, but the the county is mentioned as a beneficiary of a £2.5 billion fund “to transform local transport in 14 rural counties, smaller cities and towns in every part of the North outside the big city regions”.

South Ribble’s Tory MP Katherine Fletcher already has her eyes on one particular prize – the reopening of Midge Hall station in Leyland, which has been closed for over 60 years.  Bizarrely, however, trains do still stop at the disused boarding point.

“It is absolute madness to have what is potentially the only station in the country where trains stop at the platform, but passengers can’t get on and off,” Ms. Fletcher told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

“It’s a piece of single track [at that point], so the driver has to stop to exchange a token at Midge Hall, then they go down the single track and stop again at Rufford to hand the token back.

“I’ve been making the case for Midge Hall to reopen for years and will now continue making the case that this is where [some of] this funding needs to go.

“I will also be [pushing for] removing the buffers at Ormskirk to allow direct trains to Liverpool and reinstating the Burscough Curve to allow direct services between Southport and Preston, without having to change at Wigan.”

Meanwhile, the Labour opposition group leader on Lancashire County Council, Azhar Ali, said that there were now a number of “quick wins” that Lancashire should be able to expect if the government is true to its world about investing across the North.

“We desperately need investment to reopen the Poulton to Fleetwood link, we need the electrification of the route from Liverpool, via Preston, up to Leeds and we need the Colne to Skipton line reinstating.

“If I wanted to go from Pendle to Newcastle, I’d have to get a car or bus to Skipton, then a train to Leeds and change again for one to Newcastle – it would take probably four hours to get there.  I’ve always said we need better connectivity east to west.

“We also want the Metro link extension from Bury to Rawtenstall so we have got better transport links from the east of the county through to Greater Manchester.

“Then there’s Skelmersadsle, which doesn’t even have a train station, the government turned it down.

“So there are lots of things that need to happen and that have been on the government’s waiting list for decades – and they should be done,” County Cllr Ali said.

The Network North document also floats the idea of “more trams for Blackpool”, but offers no further detail.

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