The Anonymous Widower

Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link

Skelmersdale is the second largest town in the North West of |England without a railway station.

But it does appear that things are progressing towards the town having what is probably a much-needed station.

This article in the Southport Visiter is entitled Funding boost for new rail link to Skelmersdale.

Reading the article, you get the impression that all the stakeholders have got together and come up with a sensible plan.

The Route

The article says this about the route.

The plan would see Merseyrail services extended on from the current terminus at Kirkby station to serve Headbolt Lane, Rainford and Skelmersdale. Skelmersdale would become the new interchange for Merseyrail, and Northern Services on to Wigan and Manchester.

This would seem to be a well-thought out plan to use Skelmersdale as an interchange.

This Google Map shows the Southern part of Skelmersdale and the railway that runs through Rainford and Upholland stations.


  1. The town centre of Skelmersdale is the Concourse, which is marked by the town’s name in the top-centre of the map.
  2. The Kirkby Branch Line runs across the map.
  3. Rainford station is in the South-West corner of the map.
  4. Upholland station is on the left-centre of the map.
  5. Kirkby station and the new Headbolt Lane station would be West of Rainford station on the existing line which is single track.
  6. The track from Rainford through Upholland and to the East is double-track.

It looks like a triangular junction would be created East of Rainford, that would allow trains from both the East (Upholland, Wigan and Manchester) and trains from the West (Kirkby and Liverpool) to turn to the North to a station in Skelmersdale.

Looking at the area in more detail from my virtual helicopter, I’m certain that  a station could be placed close to the town centre with the capability of handling four trains per hour from both Liverpool and Manchester.

The station would probably need two platforms; one for Liverpool and one for Manchester.

There would be various possibilities for the track layout between the station and the existing Kirkby Branch Line.

In the simplest form, each platform would have an independent single track, which would allow trains from both Liverpool and Manchester to arrive and depart from Skelmersdale simultaneously.

I would also arrange the two platforms as opposite faces of a shared island platform.

This would mean the following.

  • Trains from Liverpool and Manchester would arrive at the same time.
  • Trains to Liverpool and Manchester would depart a few minutes later at the same time.
  • Passengers needing to change at the station would only have to walk across the platform and wait for the other train to leave.
  • A coffee kiosk and a shop could be positioned on the shared platform.

The Northern end of the platform could be open and passengers could walk straight into the Shopping Centre or to the parking.

It would not only be passenger-friendly, but totally step-free and very affordable.

The only restriction would be that trains must be able to do the following in under fifteen minutes.

  1. Travel from the Kirkby Branch Line to Skelmersdale station.
  2. Turnback the train at Skelmersdale.
  3. Travel from Skelmersdale station to the Kirkby Branch Line.

I have said fifteen minutes, as that would be needed for four trains per hour.

This might not be possible with the current Class 508 and Class 142 trains, unless they were extremely well driven, but Merseyrail’s new Stadler trains and Northern’s 100 mph Class 319 trains, would probably be able to handle the service.

It would be a unique way to serve a town like Skelmersdale, which is a few miles from a double-track line.

The only complicated track-work needed would be where the branch joined the Kirkby Branch Line.


Merseyrail’s network is electrified using 750 VDC third-rail, whereas if the line to Manchester were to be electrified it would probably use 25 KVAC overhead wires, as has been used all over North-West England.

Keeping the two lines independent would enable each to have its own system. This layout has been used between Dalston Junction and Highbury and Islington stations on the London Overground and it has worked successfully for over seven years.

The article in the Southport Visiter also says this.

Merseyrail’s new trains will be running on the existing network from 2020, and trials to run them beyond the existing electrified ‘third rail’ track could help inform the scope of the Skelmersdale scheme, potentially meaning that major changes to install electrified track wouldn’t be needed. Developments in Northern trains over the next few years could also remove the requirement for lineside infrastructure and power connections as part of the project.

In Battery EMUs For Merseyrail, I talked about how Stadler were going to fit batteries to two of the new Merseyyrail trains.

I’m sure that if the third-rail electrification was extended from Kirkby to Rainford, that one of the new Stadler trains will be able to reach Skelmersdale and return.

The Stadler trains might even be able to travel from the existing electrification at Kirkby to Skelmersdale and back.

Northern could run the service between Skelmersdale and Manchester, using their new Class 769 trains, which can operate on lines with or without electrification.

This could mean that the link to Skelmersdale station could be built without electrification.

Kirkby Station

Kirkby station would only need minor rebuilding as it is effectively a single long platform, where Liverpool and Manchester trains meet head-on.

The barrier in the middle of the single-track under the bridge would need removing and there would be some moving of signals, but nothing very expensive would be needed.

Headbolt Lane Station

Headbolt Lane station would be another single platform station, which would serve trains going between Liverpool and Skelmersdale.

Rainford Station

Rainford station wouldn’t need any modification, but it might be reduced to a single step-free platform.

A Co-Operative Project

The article in the Southport Visiter says this.

The Skelmersdale Project is led by Lancashire County Council, involving Merseytravel, West Lancashire Borough Council, Merseyrail, Northern Rail and Network Rail.

This must be the key to the success of the project.

The Cost Of The Project

The article in the Southport Visiter says that the current estimate of the project cost is £300 million.

These actions will need to be done.

  • Create the track to connect Skelmersdale station to the Kirkby Branch Line.
  • Build a shared double-platform station at Skelmersdale.
  • Build a single-platform station at Headbolt Lane.
  • Upgrade the signalling.
  • Deliver the new Stadler trains and ascertain their range on batteries.
  • Northern must acquire some trains for Skelmersdale to Manchester.

It looks to me, that a budget of £300 million would be adequate.

Building The Project

The major work would be creating the junction East of Rainford station and the route to Skelmerrsdale and its new station.

If it could be built without any major electrification, it shouldn’t be the most difficult of construction projects.

Headbolt Lane station could be built as a single platform alongside the existing line.

It looks to me, that this is a classic project that fits into Network Rail’s new philosophy as outlined in this article in Rail echnology Magazine, which is entitled Carne: I’m determined for private sector to directly invest in railway.


It is an excellent plan!


September 19, 2017 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , ,


  1. […] In Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link, I talked about Kirkby station. […]

    Pingback by Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – Kirkby Station « The Anonymous Widower | September 25, 2017 | Reply

  2. […] In Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link, I talked about Headbolt Lane station. […]

    Pingback by Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – Headbolt Lane Station « The Anonymous Widower | September 25, 2017 | Reply

  3. […] In Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link, I talked about a new Skelmersdale station. […]

    Pingback by Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – Skelmersdale Station « The Anonymous Widower | September 25, 2017 | Reply

  4. I have read through your post on this and agree this is doable and I also hear there is a strong possibility it could happen. My main concern here would be how to get the line from the point between Rainford and Upholland stations on the Kirkby-Wigan line to the preferred station site at the former Glenburn and West Bank schools in the centre of Skelmersdale. As a former resident of the town, I feel that I would like to see the proposed spur come off the line just before it passes the Pimbo industrial estate on the left-hand side when travelling towards Wigan. The line then proceeds northwards through open farmland with the River Tawd and the industrial estate on the right-hand side of the line until it reaches Nipe Lane.

    From here, the line crosses Nipe Lane on a small bridge.Then the line needs to go under the bridge which carries the M58 motorway. There is ample room for both the rail line and Whiteledge Road to go under here but I suggest that Whiteledge Road should be used as the track bed for the rail line all the way up to Dog Bone Island and therefore closing the said road. In this case, when the line reaches Gillibrands Road roundabout, it carries straight on towards the Town Centre. Gillibrands Road will then need to cross the line on a bridge. If you look at the map there are ramps already in place to do this as the road was originally going to go over the roundabout. I think in this case that it only needs to be a single carridgeway road bridge in both directions. Once the line reaches Dog Bone Island, I think that it should cross here on a bridge as it is a busy road junction for the Town Centre. As with Gillibrands Road, there are ramps in place here for the road to go over the line but with this being a busy road junction, the rail line is of secondary importance here. The line would then terminate at the preferred station site on an island platform as you had proposed in your post.

    So maybe a little more than £300 million would be needed to construct the line? Or maybe it will be enough after what I have written? I would be interested to hear back from you on this?

    Comment by Neil Blanchard | October 12, 2017 | Reply

    • I’m in Sheffield at the moment! When I get back to London, I’ll give a careful reply, that your comment deserves.

      Comment by AnonW | October 12, 2017 | Reply

      • I am still awaiting your opinion to my comment. Thank you.

        Comment by Neil Blanchard | November 9, 2017

    • Good assessment, and one which I believe to be the main/preferred option from those involved in the study so far.

      Realistically, there’s probably no other way you could do it without pushing costs too far off the scale.

      The only thing I want to change about your proposal is the Nipe Lane section. I know the area well so I’m not speaking as someone who’s just looked at map on Google. Indeed, I once used to go out with a Polish girl who used to live along this very road. She may even still live there, but we don’t need to go into this just now.

      My assessment is that Nipe Lane can be closed off altogether at the junction with Whiteledge Road, along with Whiteledge Road itself (south of Thorn Island, as you quite rightly point out). For everyone who wants to get to Skem/Pimbo from Rainford: Tough – you’ll have to go along the bypass and then on the M58 for J4 or J5. There’s no need for it to remain open. On the back of the closure, as traffic volumes will be so low along there, it would now allow for a traffic-free cycleway from Rainford to Skem/Pimbo. Currently, a number of motorists use the lane as a rat run (also a chav run to the Pimbodrome Illegal Racing Circuit), and as it’s national speed limit, motorists will floor it all the way – even when overtaking a cyclist. There is absolutely zero respect for cyclists along here, so I for one, would welcome the closure.

      Also important to note there is a footbridge over Whiteledge Road, just before Thorn Island, connecting Gillibrands with Digmoor. This bridge cannot afford to be lost at the railway’s expense, under any circumstance.

      North of Thorn Island, there is ample room adjacent to the northbound carriageway to continue the line northwards, but Dog Bone Island is where the biggest conundrum will kick in. I suspect the junction will need a complete remodelling in itself, but like Thorn Island, it also has half-baked ramps in place (west-east) which presumably were scaled back, like much of the Skem road network once the town was ‘finished’ (with a pinch of salt).

      Thus, in theory, Grimshaw Road could be connected via a new bridge, creating a new through route from west to east, although the slip roads for Southway will require some thought. Ideally, you want the rail line running at ground level all the way in, without the need for an expensive to be built. It’s time to put rail first, cars second. If motorists are disrupted by a remodelling of the network, tough. If they need to seek out new routes, tough. They’ve had it good for too long. It’s time for a sea change in the way we approach Transport Planning policy – and that means putting sustainable, mass rapid transit first. Active travel second. Cars/roads to the back of the queue.

      Back to the line – really speaking, once the line has crossed Dog Bone island (with new slip road bridges above it for cars to access Southway), it has reached its destination at Glenburn High. Build a large park (like Newton le Willows), and ensure every local bus passes through with a new bus terminus there too.

      One other question I’d like to raise about this scheme is this: What about the existing line? I.e. the section between Rainford and Up Holland. Do we really want to severe this simply because Merseyrail run on electric, and Northern run on diesel? Is it not better to leave this section open, so as to allow for direct services between Liverpool and Wigan? It seems odd to spend so much money redeveloping this line only to push back the “break in play” from Kirkby to Skelmersdale. You still have the divide between the two lines/services and I want a rail network free of such divides. It closes the potential for future through services.

      The quickest train from Lime St to WNW is 29 mins.
      Central to Kirkby is 19 mins + Kirkby to Wigan is 24 mins = 43 mins.

      But bear in mind this on two different/old trains with slow acceleration, and lets also not forget that those who currently travel from Kirkby to Wigan (and vice/versa) will now have to change at Skem – UNLESS of course Merseyrail can continue onwards to Wigan using their battery packs. Which then begs the question: Why would Northern bother continue to run a service? It would need to remain as a direct service to Manchester in order to keep bums on seats. In which case, the park and ride facility should in theory attract a plethora of Manchester-bound commuters from West Lancashire. If Northern can buck up over the next few years and roll out more new rolling stock, one would like to think car+train to Manchester becomes a no-brainer. The Orrell Interchange / M6 to Haydock / M62 into Manc is absolutely horrendous at peak times, so it’s clear to meet there are large flows of commuters from West Lancs headed towards Greater Manchester. The only thing putting people off getting the train is quite simply – the lack of connectivity. Particularly from Ormskirk. A short drive down the road to Skelmersdale should become a no brainer for West Lancs folk.

      My solution then would be for the 4tph Kirkby services to simply continue on to Skelmersdale, while Northern run 2tph from Skelmersdale to Manchester and the existing Kirkby to Manchester service can remain as 1tph. This way, commuters from Kirkby travelling to Manchester aren’t put out, and on the plus side, the intermediate stations of Up Holland, Orrell and Pemberton would now have 3tph into Wigan/Manchester, as opposed to the solitary one.

      If we want to win back motorists and ensure future generations of youngsters don’t grow up addicted to the car, we need to bring back the WOW factor. We need to bowl people over with a supreme railway network, with high frequencies and high connectivity, along with ample parking/bus solutions to get to and from stations.

      This really is the only way we can realistically reduce long distance journeys and commutes. Buses need much more investment at the local level, ditto cycling and walking, but West Lancs is a very sprawled out Borough with most people (around 55%) commuting to places outside of the district. Sefton, Liverpool and Wigan make up around 25% all commuting locations for West Lancs workers, so clearly the demand to travel to these areas is high. But we must not forget the high volumes of people travelling eastbound to GM from north Merseyside too.

      Comment by Scott Mitchelton | January 29, 2020 | Reply

      • Thanks! You ought to contribute to the study which will happen, but Liverpool seem to get their railways right. The Stadler trains will hopefully be superb and now that the Tyne and Wear Metro has bought a fleet, there will be ideas whizzing across the Pennines on how best to use the trains.

        I think they will have a range of about thirty miles, so they will easily make Wigan Wallgate, where there is a convenient bay platform, which could have a length of third-rail backed up by a container of car batteries as a charger.

        I don’t think the trains will go farther than Wigan as Andy Burnham will get annoyed.

        Initially, I think that Merseyrail will build Headbolt Lane station as an interchange and have a single-track shuttle to Skelmersdale. Simple, but it will work and test the market!

        These trains will change Merseyside forthe better, as they can go anywhere.

        I did here a rumour from the University, that they’re teaching the trains to swim, so they can run a service to the Isle of Man.

        Comment by AnonW | January 30, 2020

  5. People of Skelmersdale deserve it.

    Comment by Paul | July 20, 2018 | Reply

  6. […] I wrote about this plan in Merseyrail To Skelmersdale – How To Plan A New Rail-Link. […]

    Pingback by Merseyrail’s Battery Intentions « The Anonymous Widower | November 21, 2018 | Reply

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