The study - commissioned by South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire councils - explores a variety of options for increasing take-up of train travel in the sub-region.
It was designed to come up with ways of helping the three authorities achieve a target of being carbon neutral by 2030 - an ambition also shared by Preston City Council.
Currently, transport accounts for 40 percent of carbon emissions across Central Lancashire - more than industry and domestic consumption.
The report also warns that in spite of “broadly static” levels of traffic on the area’s main roads, significant future housing development is likely to lead to increased congestion and slower journey times.
It identifies the potential for three new stations along the seven-mile gap between stops at Croston and Preston. The proposed locations are:
Midge Hall, Leyland - reopening a station that closed in 1961, whose fabric is broadly intact. Moss Side, Walmer Bridge and Much Hoole are highlighted as potentially providing a sufficient catchment for a new stop. Also in the vicinity is the former Leyland Test Track, on which over 900 new homes were last year approved to be built. The station could be branded “Leyland West”, in order to give it a more recognisable name. A bid for the scheme was made to the government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund over the summer.
Parker Lane, New Longton - a new station close to the “Tank Roundabout” on the A582, which is less than 500m from the railway line. Potential for a park and ride facility as part of a station designed to better serve New Longton.
Coote Lane, Lostock Hall - a station close to sites allocated for housing - including Pickering’s Farm - and within walking distance of established residential areas such as Kingsfold, Penwortham Lane and Tardy Gate. It could also serve the East Lancashire line, as an additional stop between Preston and Lostock Hall.
A longer-term, low priority option is identified for a station to serve the Garth and Wymott prisons - for staff and visitors. However, the report acknowledges the “significant political, security and social considerations” of any such proposal.
Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for economic growth, environment and planning said that the study was “helpful” - but only served to reinforce possibilities previously identified.
County Cllr Michael Green welcomed any move to reopen Midge Hall, something he said he had been seeking “for many years”. He also backed the idea of a station at Coote Lane.
“It is adjacent to potentially what is a very large development [now known as] The Lanes. As and when that comes forward, that will be a wonderful place for a station to avoid people having to use cars and give them a viable [alternative] option,” County Cllr Green told a meeting of Central Lancashire’s strategic planning joint advisory committee.
The report also raised the possibility of tram-train travel between Burscough in West Lancashire and Preston, using vehicles suitable to run on rail and road - although "careful assessment" would be required of the interface with existing highways, cycleways and footpaths.
Options include a new line to serve New Longton and run alongside Penwortham Way - approaching Preston city centre from the west and serving Penwortham, or crossing the West Coast Mainline and coming into the city via Avenham.
Another suggested tram-train route would be based on the restoration of the rail chord at Coote Lane, serving Lostock Hall and again approaching the city via Avenham - possibly using the old bridge.
Preston City Council’s planning policy lead Chris Blackburn said it was “critical” to look at connectivity between new housing developments in South Ribble and Preston, where many residents would commute for work.
“If we are really going to look to achieve...carbon neutrality, then alongside the dualing of the A582, we really need to look at other vehicular and public transport options,” Mr. Blackburn said.
Marcus Hudson, Lancashire County Council’s head of planning, said that the Preston City Transport Plan looked at issues beyond the borders of the city itself and how these might all be connected.
He added: “Notwithstanding whether we can attract government money into the area to support some of these [proposed projects], there will still be a sizeable local contribution expected to sit alongside [it] - and, more often that not, the only place we can look to for that is [housing] developer contributions.”
COULD COPPULL FINALLY BE RECONNECTED TO THE RAILWAY?
A study looking into the future of rail services in Central Lancashire has identified three possible locations for a new station at Coppull in Chorley.
The original train stop serving the village closed just over 50 years ago, but councillors and locals have been calling for it to be reopened in recent years.
It looked like their campaign had reached the end of the line back in 2015 when a report commissioned by Lancashire County Council concluded that its position on the West Coast Mainline would make the work needed to create a new Coppull facility too costly to be viable.
However, a new study on behalf of Chorley Council has now suggested that it could be a “medium-term” option given the possibility of capacity improvements in the area connected to the development of HS2 further south. It is likely that just a single extra track would be laid under such a plan, leading to a single platform island-style station, similar to that at Euxton Balshaw Lane.
The three potential sites suggested in the report are that of the original station on Spendmore Lane, a northern option off Mill Lane and a southern location at Chapel Lane.
The final one of the trio was deemed the most feasible, with the possibility of incorporating a park and ride facility and new housing. However, it was acknowledged that it was not a central location and, although in walking distance of most of Coppull, access was not as “strategically well-connected” as the other options.
Chorley South county councillor Julia Berry welcomed the findings of the study, but warned that it would still require further investigation - and funding.
“It will need government money, because the only option we have for local funding would be to build many more houses - so we have got to be cautious, because this needs to be done on the terms that the residents of Coppull want it.
“We now need to get the government to start considering it and I have asked [Chorley MP] Sir Lindsay Hoyle to arrange a formal conversation with the rail minister.
“People in Coppull want to believe it can happen, but there has been such a long mire and mess over it, that they have given up on the expectation that it can ever be delivered,” County Cllr Berry said.
A meeting last month of the Central Lancashire strategic planning joint advisory committee (JAC) heard that the needs of Coppull alone would not support the development - making HS2 involvement key.
The Post understands that Lancashire County Council was told during informal conversations with Network Rail that a station for Coppull was unlikely to be forthcoming at the present time due to capacity constraints - which make it impossible even to add stops for existing services - and the major infrastructure investment required to facilitate it.
Michael Green, cabinet member for economic development, environment and planning at County Hall, told the JAC that he was supportive of the Coppull proposal “in principle”.
He added: “There are massive issues, but as and when those issues can be addressed in terms of there being additional capacity, that will be [an option] which can be looked at at some point in the future.”
Chapel Lane resident Steve Hearne said that the villagers he knew would be delighted if trains were able to call at Coppull.
“It’d be of huge benefit if you could get from Coppull by train to Chorley, Preston or Wigan.
“They have just built a lot of new houses in this area and there is no bus going up and down Chapel Lane anymore.
“It’s a fair walk to Spendmore Lane just for the privilege of getting the bus into town,” said rail memorabilia enthusiast Steve, who is the proud owner of a sign from the original Coppull station.
A petition to reinstate rail services to Coppull has attracted almost 800 signatures. The man behind it, Alan Leach, says that the call to reopen the station has previously made it to the desk of transport secretary Grant Shapps - but the minister said a proposal would be considered by the government only if Lancashire County Council first put the wheels in motion by commissioning investigations into potential passenger demand, service options and economic benefits.
Engagement with train operating companies over the practicalities of the plan would also be required, Mr. Shapps said in a letter seen by the Post.
"It's often claimed that the station at Coppull would require the addition of two new lines before it could be reopened," said Alan.
"But that's a red herring - it wouldn't even need the one extra line suggested in the latest [borough council] study - there are plenty of stations between Preston and Glasgow which are located in places where there are just two lines. We just need the local will."
HOW BUSY IS YOUR LOCAL STATION?
Passenger entries and exits 2019/20 (UK rank out of 2,567 stations):
Preston - 4.9 million (97th)
Chorley - 699,000 (743rd)
Buckshaw Parkway - 455,000 (956th)
Leyland - 400,000 (1,015th)
Kirkham and Wesham - 308,000 (1,170th)
Bamber Bridge - 87,000 (1,802nd)
Lostock Hall - 38,000 (2,087th)
Croston - 47,000 (2,011th)
Source: Office of Rail and Road
WHAT ABOUT WEST LANCASHIRE?
Suggestions in the report for rail improvements in the borough span the short, medium and long-term categories:
Merseyrail extension from Ormskirk to Burscough Bridge
Identified as another option with "particular promise", this would involve a short extension of Merseyrail services from Ormskirk to a new platform east of the A59 at Burscough Bridge with access through the arches of the road bridge. It would rely either on electrification or use of new hybrid rolling stock but is described as "relatively low-cost and easy to deliver".
New Burscough station
The current Burscough Junction station is only 900m from Burscough Bridge, but as the town expands to the south - especially on the Yew Tree Farm development site - an opportunity has been identified to close Junction station and replace it with a new Burscough South station close to Square Lane. The report suggest this would better serve the south of the town and may divert some park and ride car trips away from Ormskirk town centre.
Southport to East Lancashire
Identified as a low priority at this stage, this heavy rail option would include reopening Burscough Curves and Farington chord to allow direct services connecting Southport, Burscough, Lostock Hall and Blackburn - with the possibility of extending to Bradford and Leeds
Another low priority scheme, this would see improved links between Southport, Ormskirk and Skelmersdale, achieved through a combination of rail, tram-train and cycle routes. Work is progressing on developing a new station in Skelmersdale, after Lancashire County Council bought the former Skelmersdale College site over the summer. On the basis that the Merseyrail Kirkby branch is extended to this point, a tram-train service from Southport to Burscough and Ormskirk could be complemented by a cycle link between Ormskirk and Skelmersdale to provide what is described as "a direct sustainable travel corridor". Further expansion of the Merseyrail network east from Skelmersdale, or other improvements to services there, would enhance links with Wigan, the report notes.