To consider a presentation regarding the development and delivery of rail schemes
The Committee received a presentation from Merseytravel’s Senior Head of Service Operations regarding the development and delivery of rail schemes.
Councillor McGlashan commended the detail contained within the presentation. He also expressed his pleasure at seeing Headbolt Lane mentioned; connectivity from Liverpool to Skelmersdale had been an aspiration for many years and the fact it had taken 15 years to get to its current stage demonstrated the significant costs involved in the development and delivery of rail schemes. He further referred to the accessibility issues at Prescot Station. The Shakespeare North theatre was soon to open in the area which would see increased patronage at the station and the need for these issues to be addressed.
The Senior Head of Service Operations commented that when the Long Term Rail Strategy was compiled in 2014 it took time to work out the ‘behind the scenes’ work regarding Skelmersdale and where Headbolt Lane fitted in. Merseytravel were now represented on a Board led by Lancashire County Council, as 85% of the infrastructure was outside of Merseyside, and a flow chart for the delivery of this scheme had now been developed. In relation to Prescot Station, this would be part of a submission for Single Investment Fund (SIF) funding to undertake the improvements needed; the deadline for the Strategic Outline Case submission was 9 December 2016.
In response to a question from Councillor Abbey regarding where the electrification of the Bidston – Wrexham (Borderlands) Line fitted in to the Long Term Rail Strategy, The Lead Officer for Transport explained that Borderlands frequency enhancements would be delivered in Control Period 6 of the Strategy, which had an indicative delivery timescale up to 2024. With regard to the electrification of the line, this was also included in the Strategy but a gradual approach to improvements would be taken in order to ensure increased demand, which would support the business case for electrification.
Councillor Abbey further expressed the importance of the need for the Welsh Government to confirm their commitment to lobby for funding for the Borderlands Line and was advised that Officers had recently met with the Department for Transport and rasied the same points. Councillor Robinson had also written to their Transport Minister requesting a meeting to discuss cross border issues. As previously reported to the Committee Merseytravel were represented on Rail Track 360 which was looking at all cross border initiatives. The frustration of Members was understood but development and delivery of such schemes was not a quick process and was the reasoning behind development of the Long Term Rail Strategy.
Councillor Robinson added that he remained optimistic as the Transport Minister and the Welsh Government were keen to work with Merseytravel and other cross boundary authorities to improve rail services. Merseytravel were leading on the Bidston – Wrexham Working Group and as the Welsh Government were currently in the process of looking at their new franchise he was confident that there would be improvements to the Line during the first phase of the new franchise. As mentioned previously these first improvements would not see electrification but include increased frequency and other enhancements, culminating in electrification and the ability of Merseyrail services to use the line. There was a significant amount of work still to do but the current position was favourable.
Following a request from Councillor Stockton regarding an update on Halton Curve, the Senior Head of Service Operations advised that the scheme was on schedule for delivery in March 2018 and monthly meetings were held with Network Rail and train operators to discuss the progress. Additional funding for the scheme was approved by the Combined Authority in April 2016 and would allow for stabilisation work to be undertaken on Frodsham Embankment, which Network Rail were progressing.
Councillor Rowlands referred to the Long Term Rail Strategy as ‘living and breathing’, which was subject to change dependent on external influences. He asked whether recent changes such as High Speed 2, the Northern Powerhouse and the change in Government had changed the delivery time, cost and/or priorities of the schemes contained within the Strategy.
The Senior Head of Service Operations explained that the first five years of the Strategy had not been affected by these factors and was mostly on schedule; however timelines for future projects would be affected and Skelmersdale was an example of this. The timeline included in the Strategy for this scheme was indicative and a significant amount of work had been done over the past two years to develop Merseytravel’s relationship with Lancashire County Council and a Governance Group had been established. As part of this, consideration had also been given to the steps involved in engaging with Network Rail and due to better evidence gathering the expected date of delivery would change. The Strategy would be reviewed every few years to take these external influences into account and ensure timelines, costs and priorities were appropriate.
Councillor Rasmussen asked if work had ever been undertaken to establish the cost of providing a direct rail link to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and was advised that this was considered as part of the business case for the development of Liverpool South Parkway (LSP). The cost was higher than that needed for LSP and the scheme was approved on the basis that it would be a multi-modal interchange with direct transport links to the airport. The development of a direct rail link to the Airport was in the latter part of the Long Term Rail Strategy and would require £11 to 12 million for it to be considered.
Councillor Nicholas referred to the significant amount of recent publicity regarding the expansion of Heathrow Airport, which would see an increase in passengers to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and enquired whether the Strategy would be reviewed as a result. Officers advised that Liverpool John Lennon Airport had an expectation that links would improve with Heathrow following the expansion and if passenger growth did occur Merseytravel would certainly look to review the Strategy, which as discussed was constantly changing. However; without growth there would be no supporting evidence for the business case for a direct rail link. Merseytravel did currently work with the Airport to improve transport links and in partnership had developed the Surface Access Strategy, which was reviewed periodically.
In response to a question from Councillor Carr regarding whether opportunities for European Union (EU) grant funding were being pursued, following some assurance from Government that these would be honoured when the UK left the EU; Councillor Robinson clarified that transport had been removed from the existing EU programme by the current Government, therefore there were no opportunities but reassurance was given that any available funding prospects continued to be sought.
Resolved that the contents of the presentation be noted.