HS2 secured: Northern towns now need better rail services
Many will be delighted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement today, after much deliberation, that the HS2 high-speed rail link will finally be built.
And now it is time to really begin connecting communities in the North and creating real wealth outside of London and the South East.
Here in Southport we are lucky to enjoy superb public transport links with Liverpool.
Earlier this month, Merseyrail won the best performing regional rail operator award at this year’s Golden Whistle Awards. The train company had its best performing year in 2019, with 96% of trains running on time.
Merseyrail has recently unveiled its new fleet of 52 brand new trains, part of a £500m investment in the network with space for 50% more passengers in the Liverpool City Region.
Jump on a train at Southport Train Station – they depart every 15 minutes – and you will complete the 19.6-mile journey in just 44 minutes.
But while Southport’s links to the south are excellent, trying to connect to towns and cities to the north or east becomes more difficult.
Southport is a stunning seaside tourist town which attracts over 9million visitors every year.
This is partly due to our packed events calendar, which includes: Southport Air Show, Sefton Borough of Culture, Southport Flower Show and Southport Comedy Festival; business tourism through conferences; and through attractions such as Southport Pleasureland, Southport and Ainsdale Beaches and Lord Street.
Southport has hugely ambitious plans to grow our visitor numbers, but to be able to do that, we have to make it easier for people to get in and out of our resort.
Southport Pleasureland is about to undergo a massive expansion and transformation; Bliss Hotels are leading a £15million regeneration of the Waterfront area; while attractions including Southport Theatre & Convention Centre, Southport Splash World, Southport Market; Southport Golf Links and Southport Pier are undergoing radical upgrades.
As a result, visitor numbers are set to rocket over the next few years – as long as local transport links can be improved.
Around 7,000 jobs in Southport depend directly on the tourism industry and we need that to grow, not just in terms of numbers, but also in the quality and variety of roles available.
But while the 19.6-mile train journey to Liverpool takes just 44 minutes, if you ask Google for directions via public transport to head north to Preston (17.2miles away) it will take you one hour and 34 minutes, while travelling to east to Ormskirk (8.7miles) will set you back one hour and nine minutes.
Journeys to Manchester via Northern have been beset by delays, cancellations and a combination of outdated and insufficient rolling stock to such an extent that the rail operator was recently stripped of its licence. It was good to see however that direct services between Southport and Manchester Piccadilly were eventually restored following a campaign.
Followed by a sprint across platforms at Manchester Victoria to get the second leg home.
Train blocking the platform here is 20 mins late and still awaiting a guard. Southport train behind is stranded. This is perfectly normal here. #northernfail pic.twitter.com/BZSMjIiZIV
— Camilla Sutcliffe (@CamSutcliffe) January 15, 2020
Car travel, which the government is trying to reduce, doesn’t offer many solutions. The commute to Preston is tortuous while the proposed Ormskirk Bypass has been shelved by Lancashire County Council.
Until the 1960s people could travel by train directly between locations including Preston, Blackpool and Ormskirk, until the controversial Beeching Cuts severed ties.
Today, Southport MP Damien Moore and West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper are meeting to discuss the possibility of re-opening the Burscough Curves which would bring those routes back into use.
They must first put together a compelling business case in order for the government to act. There are many arguments in their favour.
Damien Moore said: “If you drive down the road between Southport and Preston every day, then you will know that it is full.
“But this isn’t just about re-connecting Southport and Preston by rail.
“Preston is a major hub station on the West Coast main line.
“It would allow people from places such as Cumbria, the Lakes, Glasgow and elsewhere to connect easily with Southport through Preston.”
The boost to Southport would be huge.
Mr Moore said: “I always talk about our local economy and trying to increase footfall that will benefit the whole town.”
We need to deliver better rail infrastructure nationally, but not at the cost of smaller much-needed rail projects locally. I welcome the clear commitment by @BorisJohnson today that infrastructure commitments in the North will not be compromised for #HS2.
— Damien Moore MP (@Moore4Southport) February 11, 2020
Moving forwards, HS2 should mean that communities across the North will benefit economically.
It is just the start of what our region needs in terms of improving connectivity, by rail, bus, bicycle, and car.
Southport is pushing ahead with really exciting plans to grow visitor numbers by expanding our range, size and quality of attractions, so we now have to work hard to make our town more accessible to tourists and visitors.
We also need better access to places including: Ormskirk Hospital, which houses our children’s A&E and maternity services; the rapidly-growing Edge Hill University in Ormskirk; and the bustling city of Preston, which is surprisingly closer than Liverpool to Southport.
But that journey is only as the crow flies – it is sadly further away when you factor in rail or road travel.
We must get Southport better connected.