Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Preston to Liverpool by Rail

When I was writing the post Railways around Preston, I was reminded that there remained one passenger line in the area I'd not travelled on - the Preston to Ormskirk line. This had been a double track main line with services from Liverpool Exchange to Preston and East Lancashire but it is now withered to a single line from Farington Curve Junction near Preston which terminates at Ormskirk, where there is now an 'end on' connection with the Merseyrail network which operates an electric train service to Liverpool.

Incidentally, there's another 'end on' connection between Merseyrail and Network Rail at Kirkby, on what was the Liverpool - Wigan Line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. I'd tried out this service, just over a year earlier, as described in the post Day Trip to Southport and Liverpool (Part 2). Perhaps the service from Liverpool Lime Street via St. Helens to Wigan North Western on former LNWR lines is more convenient.

Keen to try out the Ormskirk line before it changes any more, I decided on a trip on Saturday 17th October 2015. The first part of my journey, to Preston, is described in the post Wolverhampton to Preston by rail.

On arrival at Preston, I made my way to platform 1 for the 10:08 to Ormskirk. After a couple of minutes, a single-car Class 153 rumbled into platform 1 from the south.

The Ormskirk train arriving at platform 1.

I was quite surprised at how many people were waiting to board the service. The Driver and Guard changed ends and we departed on time, taking the Up Slow to Farington Curve Junction where the double-track East Lancs Line diverges to the right. We initially joined the East Lancs Line but, within 100 yards, we had taken the crossover and the right hand route leading to the single line to Ormskirk.

After a little less than three miles, we slowed for the approach to Midge Hall Level Crossing, which is provided with manual controlled barriers and skirts. A 2-aspect colour light signal of 1970's vintage beckoned us over the crossing but we paused momentarily to pick up the single line electric token to Rufford. I only glimpsed the British Rail pattern signal box provided in 1972 as part of the Preston area resignalling. At the time, double track was retained between Farington Curve Junction and Midge Hall (presumably worked 'Track Circuit Block') but it has since been singled (so I assume 'Tokenless Block' is now used).

Midge Hall Level Crossing.

About two and a half miles beyond Midge Hall, our first station stop was at Croston, which features a handsome stone former station building now in private hands. A station noticeboard displayed a poster for Community Rail Lancashire. The Preston - Ormskirk line is one of two lines in the West of Lancashire Community Rail Partnership (the other is the Wigan - Southport line, which I described briefly in the post Day Trip to Southport and Liverpool (Part 1)). A second poster at Croston featured the history of the station.

The former station building at Croston.

We were passing across a flat plain, brightly illuminated by a low sun, with the hills of East Lancashire in the background. It was all very attractive and pastoral whilst the 'click-clack' of the rail joints was a reminder of how little fishplated track remains. The driver frequently sounded the horn as we approached minor level crossings with user-worked gates.

"It was all very attractive and pastoral".

We crossed over the River Douglas and stopped at Rufford station. This retains a level crossing with manually controlled barriers and skirts, a passing loop, two platforms and an inelegant 'Portacabin' signal box. The waiting facilities look like converted garden sheds, painted white - one step up from 'bus shelters', I suppose. The Midge Hall - Rufford electric token was surrendered and the Rufford - Ormskirk one train token issued.

Just over two miles beyond Rufford, we passed over the double-track Wigan - Southport line mentioned above. Originally, the (then double track) Ormskirk line made a triangular connection with the Wigan - Southport line just south of Burscough Bridge station on the Southport line. We stopped at Burscough Junction a shadow of its former self, where only the old Up platform is now used.

Burscough Junction, showing disused Down platform.

A final run of about two and a half miles took us to Ormskirk - the end of the line. Originally, there were two through platforms, two bays, an 80-lever Lancashire and Yorkshire pattern signal box, extensive goods sidings and a four-road locomotive shed with a 50 foot turntable. At least the attractive station building on the down side has been tastefully restored. Presumably, this is due to Merseyrail, who have a policy of staffed stations, well-lit with toilets (the 35-year old Class 507 and 508/1 electric multiple units operated are without toilets). The inside of the station building was brightly-lit, warm, provided with reasonable seating and a modern ticket office facing the door. The platform side of the building has a partly-glazed canopy of modern design but apparently retaining the original cast columns. The effect is quite pleasing. I was reminded of similar restorations of platform canopies at Irlam (described in the post Irlam Station Launch) and Llandrindod Wells (described in the post A Trip to South Wales (Part 1)).

Ormskirk station building from the road side.

Ormskirk station building from the platform side.

The passenger information displays indicated a wait of less than ten minutes before the next Liverpool train. Meanwhile, the Class 153 I'd arrived on left on its return journey to Preston.

The Class 153 prepares to return to Preston.

The Merseyrail trains arrive at the same platform as the Preston trains, but further along. Just outside the station, the single platform line splits into separate Up and Down lines. My train arrived and we were soon counting off the stops - Aughton Park, Town Green, Maghull, Old Roan and Aintree. I was surprised at how many passengers boarded for only one or two stops before getting off, but throughout we seemed to be carrying a reasonable load in our 3-coach set. Beyond Aintree, I was back on a previously-travelled line (briefly described here). My train terminated at Liverpool Central and I made my way down to the Wirral Line and took a train to James Street.

From here a brisk walk took me to the Museum of Liverpool to check up on their 'star exhibit', the locomotive 'Lion' (there's more than you need to know about 'Lion' and its supporters club OLCO on my blog here). In the Atrium, a special performance of traditional Irish music was in progress, performed by young people and adults from the Wirral who have learned to play traditional Irish music from scratch. I thought they were excellent. There's a short video here. When you've seen the video, the Back Button will return you to this post.

Museum of Liverpool: A special performance of traditional Irish music in the Atrium.

Next, I hurried to Pierhead to book on the ferry departing at noon for Seacombe and Birkenhead Woodside. It's a trip I've done many times but I never tire of it. (I've previously written about taking the ferry, for instance here, here, and here. I commented to the booking clerk that they seemed very busy and he agreed. 'Snowdrop' (still, I'm afraid, with the 'razzle-dazzle' paint job) docked and discharged a heavy load of passengers, before filling up again with the waiting crowd. I positioned myself, as usual, on the open deck towards the bow but I'd forgotten just how breezy it can be. As 'Snowdrop' crossed the Mersey diagonally, I watched an MSC container ship leave Liverpool docks, fussed by two tugs. 'MSC' always makes me think of the 'Manchester Ship Canal' but, in fact, the shipping line is the Mediterranean Shipping Company (their English website is here). With the container ship turned seawards, the two tugs were freed to make their way upstream. Meanwhile, the rather odd superstructure of an approaching ship resolved itself as the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's futuristic-looking wave-piercing catamaran 'Manannan', heading for her berth next to Pierhead. There's an interesting article about 'Manannan' on Wikipedia here.

As the MSC container ship turns seawards the two tugs have completed their job whilst 'Manannan' makes her way upstream.

We docked at Seacombe with quite a tide running and it took a minute or two to moor and put the gangway in position. Once we'd disembarked departing passengers and boarded 'joiners', we were off again on the short leg to Birkenhead Woodside.

Ferry 'Snowdrop' berthing at Seacombe Landing Stage.

I disembarked when we arrived at Birkenhead Woodside and walked towards Hamilton Square Merseyrail station, pausing to take in the view of Liverpool (rather spoiled by the remarkable clutter of street furniture in the foreground).

I decided I'd time to take the train to the next station on the West Kirby Line - Conway Park. It's a modern station constructed in a 'box' open to the air. A quick look around outside sufficed, then I returned to the platform to catch a train back to Liverpool.

Conway Park station looking towards West Kirby.

After our stop at Hamilton Square, we passed under the Mersey quite effortlessly but I always think of the men who constructed this remarkable tunnel and the tough breed of enginemen who ran steam trains through the tunnel for the first new years prior to electrification. There's a post called Early Days of the Mersey Railway. With still a few minutes in hand, I stayed on the train around the 'Liverpool Loop', getting off at Liverpool Central. I treated myself to a portion of chips which I consumed whilst walking to Liverpool Lime Street.

I was in good time to catch the London Midland service to Wolverhampton where I was able to catch the last bus on a Saturday to my village (at five past four, would you believe?). I'd had an interesting trip and, as usual, returned home fairly tired.

Former Railway Signalling between Preston and Liverpool

Signal boxes on the main line from Preston to Farington Curve Junction are listed in the post Railways around Preston. The signal boxes which dealt with West Lancashire line traffic between Farington Curve Junction and Liverpool Exchange are detailed in the John Swift plans (Book reference [1] below) and are listed below:-
Moss Lane Junction
Midge Hall (21 lever L&Y Tappet)
Littlewood Tile Siding (15 lever)
Rufford (21 lever)
Burscough Jn. North (20 lever)
Burscough Jn. South (50 lever)
Burscough Jn.
Burscough Abbey
Ormskirk (80 lever)
Aughton Park
Town Green (25 lever LMS frame)
Maghull (28 lever L&Y)
Aintree Cheshire Lines Jn. (52 lever L&Y Tappet)
Aintree Station Jn. (88 lever L&Y Tappet)
Orrell Park (8 lever R.S. Co 1887)
Walton Jn.
Kirkdale East (48 lever)
Kirkdale West (44 lever)
Sandhills No. 2 (76 lever)
Sandhills No. 1 (145 lever)
Exchange Jn. (60 lever)
Liverpool Exchange No. 1 (136 lever)
Liverpool Exchange No. 2 (168 lever)
Pre-grouping railways in West Lancashire

Click for larger view.
My journey from Preston to Liverpool was on the former Lancashire and Yorkshire line (blue/white) to Ormskirk where I changed to Merseyrail's Northern Line (originally Lancashire and Yorkshire) to Liverpool Central where I changed to Merseyrail's Wirral Line (originally Mersey Railway) for the short trip to James Street. I then crossed the Mersey by ferry, made a brief trip from Hamilton Square to the modern station at Conway Park (on the Wirral Line) before travelling to Liverpool Central and finally walking to Liverpool Lime Street for my homeward journey. Many of the railways on this map no longer exist.

[1] ‘British Railways Layout Plans of the 1950’s - Volume 5: ex-Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Lines in West Lancashire’ (ISBN: 1 873228 04 X).
[2] ‘Railway Track Diagrams Book: 4 Midlands & North West’, published by TRACKmaps (ISBN 978-0-9549866-7-4). [3] ‘A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain: Volume 10 The North West’ by G. O. Holt, revised Gordon Biddle published by David & Charles (ISBN: 0946537 34 8).
[4] ‘The Railways around Preston – An Historical Review’ by Gordon Biddle (Foxline Publishing 1989) ISBN 1 870119-05-3.
Related Posts in this Blog

Day Trip to Southport and Liverpool (Part 1)).
Day Trip to Southport and Liverpool (Part 2).
Railways around Preston.

My pictures

General pictures:
Museum of Liverpool.
Birkenhead and its Docks.

Railway pictures:
West Midland Railways.
Stafford Area rail.
Crewe Area rail.
Railways around Preston.
Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in West Lancs.