Regular readers of this blog will know that I rely on the railways to get around, which has been extra tricky for the last six months. The train I was using five days a week to get from Kirkby to Wigan has been starting and terminating at Rainford while the work to get my new home station at Headbolt Lane ready continued. The station is significantly behind schedule but an end to the disruption might be in sight.
Then again, it might not.
This morning, Merseytravel told a potential passenger that there’s no opening date scheduled for Headbolt Lane:
Good morning. No, Headbolt Lane Railway station isn’t open yet. When we have an opening date, we will promote it via our social channels. ^AS
— Merseytravel (@Merseytravel) September 28, 2023
Northern, however, are telling people, including me, that services start next week:
Hello, Headbolt Lane will be open from the 2nd we have been advised.^AH
— Northern 🚆 (@northernassist) September 28, 2023
So, which is it?
The website Real Time Trains shows the first Northern service from Headbolt Lane departing at 6:39am on Monday 2nd October. Given that the site is showing data from the Working Timetable, it seems likely to be accurate.
Perhaps inevitably, the service from Headbolt Lane mirrors the original Kirkby – Blackburn service, meaning that there’s been no ‘Headbolt Flyer’ timetabled yet, although I maintain that such a route is a good idea.
Yet, according to Merseytravel – the transit authority in charge of the station – there’s ‘no opening date yet’. That suggests that, even if Northern are finally reinstating the service there’s nothing in place for anyone needing to go on from Headbolt Lane into Liverpool for work or connections to other destinations. I wouldn’t want to be travelling from Wigan, or Orrell and disembarking at my brand new terminus only to find that I need to get a bus or a taxi from one station to another because Northern’s services are operating but Merseyrail’s aren’t.
Now, this is an £80 million project that was first suggested in the 1970s, so you think the PR would be on point. But… nothing. No press release from the Metro Mayor or Merseytravel. Conflicting information about the opening date will confuse and alienate passengers at what should be a moment of celebration. And, if I got off a train at Headbolt Lane on Monday to discover I needed to take the 217 bus to get from station to station, the swearing would be loud and prolonged.
In many ways, this “is it or isn’t it?” confusion about whether Kirkby’s new station is available to passengers next week is the UK rail industry in microcosm. Merseytravel have responsibility for the station and (eventually) the majority of trains running to and from it but the track has been laid and tested on behalf of Network Rail, who presumably have told Northern that they’re ‘good to go’. The chances are that someone at Merseyrail – which is, to all intents and purposes at ‘arm’s length’ from the Travel Authority – knows this too, but because driver training on the new line from Kirkby isn’t sufficiently advanced, services continue to run to and from the original station, at a reduced frequency (every 30 minutes instead of the usual 15 minutes).
I was always told that ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ and I fear that what should be a watershed moment for the town I live in will, instead, be a false dawn. If, according to Merseytravel, Headbolt Lane isn’t due to open on Monday, does that mean passengers disembarking from the first service at 6:39 will step onto an unstaffed station?
The whole situation is a mess.