Merseyrail Stadler Class 777 EMUs outside Kirkdale depot

UK: There has been a strong local reaction to the Department for Transport’s rejection of the proposed extension of the Merseyrail network from the future Headbolt Lane station to Skelmersdale.

In 2021 Lancashire County Council submitted a Strategic Outline Business Case for the project which had been developed in partnership with organisations including Merseytravel, Network Rail and West Lancashire Borough Council.

There is passive provision for the extension in the design of Headbolt Lane station, which is currently under construction on the existing Kirkby – Wigan line, and the county council purchased the former Glenburn College site for £1 to be the location of the new terminus.

There is passive provision for the extension in the design of Headbolt Lane station

There is passive provision for the extension in the design of Headbolt Lane station.

The scheme was strongly supported by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, and was backed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the lead up to the 2019 general election.

However, DfT has now said that the plan will not be considered for the next stage of development. ‘The construction of a new line into Skelmersdale does not make a compelling case for prioritisation. This reflects both the high anticipated capital costs of those options, as well as the poor value for money assessment’, DfT said.

Councillor Yvonne Gagen, Leader of West Lancashire Borough Council, said the decision was ‘a bitter blow to the people of Skelmersdale who will undoubtedly feel they have been let down’, and ‘given government funding for rail investment is over-subscribed with a high level of competition, a change in decision is highly unlikely’.

Reflecting on DfT’s decision and the suggestion that a bus link would be a better option, Labour MP for West Lancashire Rosie Cooper said the line ‘would have been revolutionary for the town’.

She said ‘during the 2019 election, the Tories repeatedly used Skelmersdale rail as an example of how they will be “levelling up” rail transport. Not just locally, but even on their national campaign website. It is insulting that the government now suggest we should pursue improving the buses instead; Skelmersdale is one of the largest towns without a station, why are we being neglected and ignored?’