Midge Hall Railway Station

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 6:51 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble 6:51, 17 Ebrill 2024

May I say how grateful I am to the Speaker for granting this important debate, and to the Minister for responding? The topic is a train station called Midge Hall, which is to the west of Leyland. It provided a much-loved local service, but unfortunately, during the Beeching cuts, it was designated for closure. What happens now for the people of west Leyland is that a train comes along to Midge Hall station and stops, and the passengers peer out at the platform, but they cannot get off, and no one can get on. This has been described as nonsense, and the people of Leyland and the broader communities of South Ribble have said to me on many occasions that they agree.

Let me examine, with the House’s permission, why I am trying to fix this situation. Midge Hall was originally closed back in the ’60s. It sits on a line that goes directly between Preston and Liverpool. I was not around on this planet to understand the rationale for the closure at the time, but there has subsequently been a significant development, in the form of a trading estate not too far a walk from the station. There has also recently been a wonderful brownfield development of homes on the old Leyland test track, where the heavy goods vehicles used to be whizzed around in circles. You can imagine the size of it, Madam Deputy Speaker. Houses are being built there, and the ultimate plan is to have up to 2,000 people living there, within a very short walk of Midge Hall station.

Let me return to the train station. Why does the train stop, allowing passengers to peer out at a platform they can only dream of using, then carry on? It is because the line switches to a single track there, so the train has to stop for the exchange of a safety token. This means that there is already dwell time at the station, because the trains already stop there. We are looking for an opportunity for investment in new station platform access and buildings. There is a precedent. Recently, near Liverpool, a train station of a similar age and ilk was reopened and connected to the Merseyrail network. The station works cost approximately £13 million, so even with some cost inflation, thanks to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, we are not talking about an unachievable amount of money to allow passengers to get on and off a train where it already stops to exchange a token.

Let me talk about the broader issues, because it is not just that nonsense that I am trying to right. There are businesses within walking distance that are not served well by public transport, and approximately 1 km south of the site, within easy access of an active travel walkway and cycleway, the Government have a planning application for a third prison at Ulnes Walton. That decision is with the planning inspector, who, extraordinarily, reopened the planning inquiry just to focus on the issues of transport and infrastructure, and the servicing of the new prison. I politely suggest to the Minister, and Ministers in the Ministry of Justice, that reopening Midge Hall station will be important in addressing some of the issues that are being considered by the Planning Inspectorate, given the station’s proximity to this new development site.

But that is not all. I am a Conservative and a realist; I understand that we need to use taxpayers’ money well. The issue is not just use of the existing train and platform. There is an opportunity to make the Preston-to-Liverpool train service zing even more. As the Minister well knows—he is a dedicated and passionate advocate of the railways—when Merseyrail was created, it made a decision to have trains running on a third rail, an electric rail that runs alongside the track and supplies electricity to the trains. The point where Merseyrail turns into Northern Rail—where Liverpool turns into Lancashire—is at Ormskirk, which is a wonderful town. The line that the trains use stops at Ormskirk, because buffers have been put up. Those buffers are purely administrative; they demarcate the point to which Northern trains run the service, and from which Merseyrail trains run the service. Anybody using the line from stations in my patch—from Croston or Rufford, for example—who wants to go to Liverpool gets the train to Ormskirk, stops, gets out, toddles down the platform, past the set of buffers, waits for the Merseyrail train to come, then gets on that and continues their journey to Liverpool.

Previously, with the technology available, it was expensive to try to run trains directly from Liverpool to Preston because of the question of how we would supply electricity to the trains. Installing the third-rail infrastructure is expensive; given the need to store overhead electricity, it is not a cheap job. Here, the miracles of modern science and wonderful engineers in the UK and around the world come to the rescue, with the recent innovation of battery-powered trains. Merseyrail is already starting to run battery-powered trains to solve problems like this one. When the third rail ends, trains continue their journey on standard rails, with no additional electricity needed. They go to their station, come back, pick up the third rail and their charge, and carry on.

My argument to this House, and to the Minister, is that removing the buffers at Ormskirk and installing battery trains on the line will improve the service, allowing for a direct connection from Leyland, Lostock Hall, Preston, Croston, Rufford, Ormskirk and the stations beyond to Preston or Liverpool. Furthermore, this innovation will improve the usage of the line, which will result in greater footfall at Midge Hall, which will further improve the case for allowing people to get the train from there.

For context, if somebody who is on the Midge Hall side of Leyland wants to get a train to Liverpool, they walk all the way across Leyland to the main Leyland station, which picks up a line that goes via Wigan, then comes in through the east of Liverpool. There is enormous support in South Ribble for a direct service between Preston and Liverpool. That would cut journey times and carbon emissions, and open up leisure opportunities involving Liverpool’s fantastic nightlife, which has been highlighted wonderfully this weekend, after the warm welcome that all Liverpudlians gave to visitors to the Grand National. All those opportunities are unlocked by infrastructure.

As I am sure you are aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, the idea behind the northern powerhouse—a passion of many of us in this Chamber, not least you—is to grow the economics of the north of England through agglomeration economics, which is, in part, the idea that better joining up communities creates a larger spread, which allows for economic growth. Infrastructure is the tool that connects those communities to deliver economic growth and a northern powerhouse. What is not to like?

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)