Merseyrail is a predominately electric, rapid transit hybrid commuter rail network serving Merseyside. Centred on Liverpool the network runs underground in the city centre and Birkenhead, moving over 100,000 passengers per day through 67 stations. The DC electrified network comprises two distinct lines, the Wirral Line, serving the Wirral Peninsula and the Northern Line serving Liverpool, Sefton and Knowsley. These are integrated in central Liverpool. A third line, the City Line with its terminus at Lime Street Station provides a mixture of diesel and electric services to the south and east of of Liverpool and to St Helens, Newton le Willows and Crewe . The City Line is not part of the Merseyrail franchise, although supported by Merseytravel.
The Mersey Railway, which forms the core of the Merseyrail system, is the oldest deep level passenger railway in the world (predating the City and South London Railway). There are other historic sections of the network. Merseyrail is one of five urban rail networks in the United Kingdom, that operate trains underground, the others being the London Underground, London Docklands Light Railway, the Glasgow Subway and the Tyne & Wear Metro.
The network is gaining in popularity with increasing passenger levels, to the point that there is overcrowding in some stations. The underground Liverpool Central Station is being reviewed for expansion or relocation. Network Rail announced a programme in April 2009 to expand Merseyrail capacity by 30%, by improving passenger management, later adding more cars to trains and increasing frequency. Further expansion and electrification of the network is being considered with the possibility of opening existing freight lines for passenger services.
In 2003 the franchise to run Merseyrail was awarded to a consortium of Serco and NedRailways, a division of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways). The franchise is contracted for 25 years.
The Merseyrail Network
Merseyrail transports over 100,000 passengers per day and has the highest frequencies of any British commuter rail network outside of London. Seven of the eight branches have one train every fifteen minutes with the underground section having metro-like frequencies of more than one train every five minutes. A fifteen minute interval service is considered a 'walk on service' meaning that the frequency of services makes it unnecessary to consult a timetable. The combination of suburban high frequency branches with underground running in the central area makes the Merseyrail network a British equivalent of a German 'S-Bahn'.
The total route length of the Merseyrail electrified network is 120km (75 miles) of which 6.5 miles is underground; there are 67 stations of which five are underground. Electrification is by means of a 750 volt DC system using third rail current pick up. The Manchester and Wigan branches of the City Line are currently being electrified on the overhead AC system. No changes to the existing franchise have been announced.
The City Line within the Merseytravel area has a total of 14 stations, which gives a total of 81 stations across the P.T.E. area.
The Northern Line
The Northern Line has four branches that link central Liverpool with Southport, Ormskirk, Kirkby and Hunts Cross.
The Wirral Line
This line extends under the River Mersey linking Liverpool with New Brighton, West Kirby, Chester and Ellesmere Port
The City Line is not part of the Merseyrail franchise being operated by Northern Rail. Merseytravel sponsor the lines where they enter Merseyside, using Merseyrail branding at stations and seamless ticketing. The City Line uses predominately diesel hauled trains. The line consists of the surface level lines out of Liverpool Lime Street. The line includes the original Liverpool and Manchester Railway via Broad Green and Earlestown, the branch to Wigan from Huyton, the southern line to Manchester via Warrington Central and the overhead AC electrified line from Lime Street mainline station to Crewe via Runcorn.
The current electrification of the Wigan and Manchester lines will mean that the City Line network (and the whole of the Merseyrail system) will be almost completely electrified - the only remaining diesel section being the former CLC line from Hunts Cross toward Warrington.
Interchange stations and Service Frequencies
Interchange points between the three lines are located as follows:
- Lime Street Station: Wirral and City Lines
- Moorfields and Liverpool Central Station: Wirral and Northern Lines
- Liverpool South Parkway: Northern and City Lines
- Hunts Cross: Northern and City Lines
Frequencies on the electrified Merseyrail network are as follows:
- Central Loop and Link tunnels and Mersey Railway tunnel : every 5 minutes (maximum) except Sundays.
- All branches (except Ellesmere Port): every fifteen minutes except Sundays
- Ellesmere Port branch: every 30 minutes.
- Sundays all branches: every 30 minutes.
- Trains run from before 6 a.m. until around midnight.
- Frequencies are maintained from first until last train, with additional services during peak hours.
The Merseyrail system makes use of some of the oldest sections of railway in the world:
- The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (Edge Hill to Manchester) - opened in 1830 - is the oldest main line railway in the world and currently carries City Line services.
- The former Mersey Railway between James Street and Hamilton Square underground stations - opened in 1886 - is the oldest deep level passenger railway in the world and now carries Wirral Line services.
- The Mersey Railway was the first railway to be converted from steam to electric operation - by Westinghouse in 1903.
- The world's oldest railway station still in use, Broad Green, dating from 1830, is on the City Line.
- Merseyrail runs through the worlds oldest tunnel still in use - part of the former tunnel to Lime Street that was later largely opened out to create the Lime Street cutting. The remaining tunnel section near Edge Hill Station was constructed in 1836, and now used by City Line services.
Separate Railways Merged
The five former rail networks that form the core of Merseyrail are:
- The Mersey Railway - who operated the underground line beneath the Mersey from Liverpool Central to Rock Ferry and Birkenhead Park.
- The Wirral Railway - who operated lines from Birkenhead Park to New Brighton and West Kirby
- The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway - who operated lines from the former Liverpool Exchange Station to Southport, Kirkby and Ormskirk.
- The Cheshire Lines Committee Railway - who operated the line from Liverpool Central Station (high level) to Hunts Cross.
- The Great Western Railway - who operated the line from London (Paddington) to Birkenhead via Chester
The underground sections in the centre of Liverpool and under the River Mersey to Birkenhead form the nucleus of the network. The Mersey Railway Tunnel was opened in 1886, running from Green Lane, Birkenhead terminating at James Street station in Liverpool. This route was extended to Liverpool Central Station in 1890. A branch to Birkenhead Park was added in 1888 to connect with the Wirral Railway. The original line was extended to Rock Ferry to connect with the Birkenhead Woodside to Chester line in 1891.
Electrification of the separate rail networks started in 1903 with the Mersey Railway. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line from Liverpool Exchange to Southport was electrified in 1906. Further electrifications on the old Wirral Railway line took place in 1938 to New Brighton and West Kirby. In the 1970s, these electrified sections were integrated into the current Merseyrail network with the construction of the 'Loop' and 'Link' tunnels. The old Cheshire Lines Committee line from Central Station to Garston and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Line from Kirkdale to Kirkby were electrified as part of the Loop and Link scheme and became part of the Northern Line.
More recent electrification are: 1981 - Garston to Hunts Cross, 1985 - Rock Ferry to Hooton, 1993 - Hooton to Chester and 1994 -Hooton to Ellesmere Port.
A major rationalisation of the national rail network was carried out in the 1960's by Dr Richard Beeching. This determined that all long distance routes to and from Merseyside would be run into the mainline Lime Street Station. The electric commuter routes serving the north and south of the city (the former Lancashire and Yorkshire and Cheshire Lines Committee lines) would be closed. This entailed closing : Liverpool Central Liverpool Central Station, Liverpool Exchange, and Birkenhead Woodside terminal stations as well as Liverpool Riverside Station which served the diminishing liner trade.
A study was carried out into the future of transport provision on Merseyside known as MALTS - Merseyside Area Land Use and Transportation Study. This recommended both retention and expansion of the existing commuter rail network with integration by means of new tunnels beneath the city centre.
In 1969, a government transport act set up the Passenger Transport Authorities covering the major metropolitan cities. The Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and its executive arm the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (later Merseytravel) redesignated the local commuter rail network as Merseyrail. Merseyrail was split into three sectors, the Northern, Wirral and City Lines based on their terminal stations: Exchange, Central Low Level and Lime Street respectively. The next stage was the integration of these lines to form a network.
The Loop and Link Scheme
The Loop and Link scheme consisted of the following elements:
The Loop Line
A single track tunnel beneath the city centre forming a terminal loop for the Wirral line running from James Street via new stations at Moorfields, Lime Street and Central (deep level) and returning to James Street. Trains run in a clockwise direction around the loop.
The purpose of this was to give passengers a greater choice of destinations within central Liverpool, to increase line capacity by eliminating the turnaround facility at Central Low Level Station and to permit interchange with both the Northern and City Lines.
The new tunnel was bored from an existing junction with the Mersey Railway tunnel at Mann Island near the Mersey shore (built by the Mersey Railway for a planned extension to Huskisson Dock) and runs through new station tunnels at Moorfields, Lime Street and Central and rejoins the Mersey Railway Tunnel beneath Derby Square. The former Liverpool Central bound platform at James Street, therefore became redundant except for use when the Loop is out of service.
The Link Line
A double track underground rail route running from Leeds Street in the north end of the City Centre, through a new station at Moorfields Low Level and the existing station at Central Low Level. The tunnel continues past Central to link up with the former Cheshire Lines Committee tunnel out of the closed Central High Level station to form a route into South Liverpool.
The purpose of this was both to allow through running beneath the city centre and to complete the western side of a proposed Outer Rail Loop around the city, which was not built.
The north end of the tunnel consists of two new parallel bored tunnels which join the former Mersey Railway tunnel at a new junction formed beneath the Paradise Street, Church Street intersection. A new double station tunnel is provided at Moorfields Low Level. The route runs through Central Low Level station, formerly served by Wirral Line trains, and a ramp, formed by excavation of the tunnel invert, takes it up into the CLC high level tunnel. The existing turnaround facility at Central is retained but for use by trains from Ormskirk and Kirkby.
The Hamilton Square Burrowing Junction
To increase capacity on the Wirral Line, it was important to remove the existing underground flat junction to the west end of Hamilton Square station.
A new single track tunnel was bored from a new junction to the Liverpool side of Hamilton Square, running through a new station tunnel to the south side of the existing station and linking with the existing branch tunnel to Birkenhead Park to the Wirral side of Hamilton Square.
The new station is served by trains en route to West Kirby and New Brighton with trains to Rock Ferry using the existing station tunnel. All trains to Liverpool continue to use the existing station tunnel. By so doing, a conflicting movement is removed between trains from Rock Ferry heading toward Liverpool and ones from Liverpool heading toward West Kirby or New Brighton. This increases line capacity.
The currently disused 1829 Wapping Tunnel giving a route from Central Station to the large Edge Hill rail junction in the east of the city was a part of the original plan. However this was later amended to use the Waterloo Tunnel from the city centre to Edge Hill. At the time of planning the tunnels had only be disused for a few years being operative until 1972. The eastern section of Outer Loop line from Hunts Cross to Aintree via West Derby, with a new interchange station at Broad Green, to be named Rocket, was also a part of the plan. This would have given Liverpool a highly comprehensive network leaning towards a metro not a pure commuter-rail network. The network would have been a commuter rail/metro hybrid. However both plans were shelved because of budget cuts, leaving the lines safeguarded.
The cancellation of these extensions disconnected the east of the city with the electric underground core. A compromise was diesel trains serving the City Line in the east of the city.
The Wirral Line serves the Wirral and the Northern Line serves the Liverpool side of the River Mersey. The Northern line only serves the north and south of the city centre. There is no Merseyrail electrification to the east of the city as the link from the city centre to Edge Hill junction via the Wapping Tunnel was not completed in the 1970s due to budget cuts.
The construction of the Liverpool city centre single track Loop tunnel entailed that Wirral trains terminate in the Wirral at their respective terminals. The trains enter Liverpool centre, loop around the centre and back out to the respective terminus in the Wirral. The Loop under Liverpool city centre is a single-track tunnel, along which Wirral Line trains run clockwise. Trains enter from the Mersey river tunnel to James Street, Moorfields, Lime Street Station Low Level, Liverpool Central Station, back to James Street and out back to the Wirral through the Mersey river tunnel again.
The Link tunnel through the city centre is twin-tracked, connecting the former three track Cheshire Lines Committee route in the south of Liverpool to the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway lines in the north. This created one long tunnel from Brunswick in the south of the city at the docks, through the city centre, to near Waterloo Dock in the north of the city centre. Moorfields underground station replaced Liverpool Exchange overground station. The link tunnel creates one continuous line from the south of Liverpool at Hunts Cross, through the city centre and out to the north at Southport, Ormskirk and Kirby. The new line was named the Northern Line.
The present twin island Northern Line platform at Liverpool Central Station was originally the terminus of the Wirral lines. The original tunnel between James Street and Liverpool Central Station has been retained to connect the Link and the Loop lines at James Street. This tunnel is used for transfers of rolling stock, but not for passenger services.
A new burrowing junction at Hamilton Square station in Birkenhead was built to increase line capacity by eliminating a flat junction.
The train fleet is predominately British Rail Class 507 and 508 units formerly used on the Southern Region of British Rail.
The fleet is maintained and housed at Kirkdale and Birkenhead North. Repair works and cleaning is undertaken at Kirkdale, with overhauls at Birkenhead.
The fleet has been refurbished. Merseyrail's fleet is due for replacement in 2015, according to the Local Transport Plan for Merseyside. The benefits of dual-voltage electric trains, utilising third rail and overhead wires, on future Merseyrail electrified was stated inn the plan.
In July 2008, four trains were named after Merseyside icons following a poll in the Liverpool Echo: Red Rum, Bob Paisley, Dixie Dean and John Peel.
Future of Merseyrail
Merseyside has an abundance of disused: lines, trackbed, stations and tunnels. Near 3.5 miles of safeguarded disused tunnel is under Liverpool's city centre. Some of these lines and tunnels have been considered for reopening.
To recommission all the lines and stations on the map would be uneconomical as the population in some districts could not sustain a station, however many of the lines and stations would assist in the regeneration of Liverpool and the wider Merseyside.
There have been various suggestions for ways to enlarge the Merseyrail network. Some would extend beyond the current area moving out of Merseyside, while others would use existing disused tunnels and track beds. In approximately 2016 the current Merseyrail fleet will need replacing. If trains are selected for use beyond the electrified network as replacements, then expansions can be achieved without electrification of the entire new route using diesel/electric pick-up trains. These trains would not be allowed into the underground section as they carry flammable fuel on-board.
The renewed feet ideally would largely need trains similar to London's Dockland's Light Railway. The light trains are nimble and can use light long bridges expanding over the Mersey's docklands making matters easier to expand across water-spaces.
The expansion of Merseyrail since 1977 has largely ignored the poor inner-city districts who need to be on rapid-transit Merseyrail to encourage economic growth. This omission has disenfranchised many people creating needless misery.
Network Rail in their Rail Utilisation Schedule, March 2009, have suggested that light-rail tram-trains could be a solution to connecting more areas of Merseyside to the Merseyrail network. Operating tram-trains would allow street running in the centre of boulevards which would relieve pressure on the underground section of the network. Tram-trains running down boulevards to Liverpool John Lennon Airport is feasible. Network rail put a date of 2024.
Proposals for Liverpool Central Station
The issue of overcrowding at Liverpool Central station was addressed in the 2009 Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS) document. The low level station, serving the Northern Line, is experiencing increased levels of passenger crowding, which is likely to increase to the point at which peak time station closures will become necessary. Space is constrained by the island design of the platform, which prevents widening.
Several proposals were put forward in the document from short term inexpensive measures such as relocating train stopping positions to long term highly expensive measures such as rebuilding and / or relocating the station.
Reconstructing the station roof to remove supporting columns would free up some space and be a medium term expedient. In the long term, the RUS mentions the possibility of a new underground station excavated near to Paradise Street Junction on the Northern Line. This is at the Lord Street-Paradise Street junction at street level. This new station would directly serve the Liverpool One retail complex, the very heart of the new relocated city centre which is moving towards the dock waters. An extra station would help to disperse passengers more evenly.
Proposals to Reopen/Electrify Lines
Canada Dock Branch
The Canada Dock Branch, sometimes referred to as the Bootle Branch Line, is a line running from Edge Hill Junction in the east of the city in a long curve to Bootle in the north of the city. The line is currently a busy freight-only diesel line serving the Port of Liverpool.
The line has great potential to expand Merseyrail. The route to Liverpool Docks will be electrified according to the Department for Transport's Rail electrification document of July 2009. The Canada Dock Branch Line is the only line into the docks. From the document:
70. Electrification of this route will offer electric haulage options for freight.
There will be an alternative route to Liverpool docks for electrically-operated freight trains, and better opportunities of electrified access to the proposed freight terminal at Parkside near Newton-le-Willows.
Despite the above, the Liverpool to Manchester line electrification plans the line has been omitted.
The widening of the Gladstone Dock river locks to accommodate larger ships and the building of the Liverpool2 container terminal timed to open on the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal locks, will increase freight traffic on the line considerably. The port of Liverpool is projecting a 70% increase in container traffic within 10 years. Electrifying the line would be essential. Electrification of the line would allow the reopening of stations along its length: Kirkdale, Spellow, Walton & Anfield, Breck Road, Tuebrook, Stanley and Edge Lane. The line from Edge Lane would continue through to Edge Hill station to terminate at Lime Street Station. A total of nine stations brought onto Merseyrail.
The line passes under the adjacent Kirkdale and Bankhall stations through a tunnel and cutting and onwards to Bootle. There is enough space to build an interchange station in the cutting or in the tunnel under Kirkdale station. This would provide a connection from the Merseyrail Northern Line at Kirkdale to Liverpool Lime Street Station. At Lime Street Station or Edge Hill station there is a connection to the City Line that runs east of the city. The line would be limited being only from Bootle to Lime Street Station. However the electrification of this line changes matters and would reduce commissioning costs for passenger use.
If the line is electrified, dual-voltage pickup trains, third rail and overhead wires, would ideally be used. The trains could run on the third rail Northern Line at Bootle and use overhead wires along the Canada Dock Branch line into Lime Street Station. Having the branch line electrified with overhead wires give benefits of enabling electric freight trains to use the line and also use the electrified West Coat Main line. Using main line Lime Street Station is not ideal for a commuter train, as valuable long haul platforms are used. At Lime Street Station it is a compromise as there will be no direct platform transfer to Lime Street low level station beneath the main line station above, with passengers having to leave the main line station and then enter the underground station beneath.
If the 1970's scheme to branch into the Wapping Tunnel from Liverpool Central Station and re-commission the tunnel went ahead, the Canada Dock Branch line would have direct access to the city centre and the Wirral if need be, via Edge Hill. The great advantage is that a loop could be formed via Edge Hill and Kirkdale giving great flexibility of logical line creation and train routing. Works would need to be undertaken to merge the Canada Dock Branch line into the Merseyrail Northern Line at Kirkdale/Bank Hall stations to form this loop. Also the Wapping Tunnel can give direct access to the Liverpool Arena at Kings Dock with the Canada Dock Branch running into the tunnel. Merseytravel have proposed tram-trains to use this tunnel to access the Arena directly. Whether tram-trains would be suitable for the Canada Dock Branch line remains to be seen.
A likely benefit of reopening of the Canada Dock Branch line would be the access that it would provide to the proposed Liverpool FC Stanley Park Stadium. Expansion of this stadium proposal above the 60,000 limit recommended by the planners is likely to involve the opening of a station to handle the large crowds generated. Liverpool F.C. are interested in an eventual stadium capacity of 73,000. In July 2007 it was suggested that Liverpool FC could partially fund the reopening of this line to provide a direct rail link to their proposed new stadium. If trains capable of use beyond the electrified network are selected as replacements, "then the case for bringing the Canada Dock Branch into passenger service operation will be examined". There are suggestions to introduce passenger services on this line in the Local Transport Plan for Merseyside.
North Liverpool Extension Line - Eastern Section of the Outer Loop
The Outer Loop was to form a complete loop of the city using the existing Northern Line as the western section and the North Liverpool Extension Line as the eastern section. The loop was to have mainline interchange parkway stations at Broad Green (Rocket) and Liverpool South Parkway. Only South Parkway station was built decades later in 2006. This continuous rapid-transit rail loop is ideal for moving large volumes of people as trains continuously run around the loop, or two sub-loops. An operational advantage of the loop is that if there is an interruption at any point in the loop trains can still operate.
The original 1975 plan for Merseyrail had a junction and underground station at Broad Green, named Rocket, to take the eastern section of the Outer Loop into the Edge Hill junction. However the plan was abandoned after extensive preliminary work was undertaken. The trackbed of the eastern section of the loop is now the Liverpool Loop Country Park, a route for walkers and cyclists. Liverpool City Council suggested to Liverpool FC and Everton FC a stadium site at Long Lane on the northern part of the line. Everton FC have no firm site for a new stadium. Although there are no current proposals for the re-opening of this line, Merseytravel are protecting the route against obstructive development.
If the branch into the Wapping Tunnel from the Northern Line at Liverpool Central Station goes ahead, linking the underground city centre with east of the city, this gives further justification to construct the junction at Broad Green. Justification for opening this line depends on other parts of the network being re-opened and whether surveys indicate that passenger levels and environmental concerns are justified. If recommissioned, many districts would be connected to Merseyrail creating economic growth along the line. If a large stadium is located along the line this would give further justification for reopening. Park & ride points could be located on the line to ensure success reducing the nuisance of large stadium crowds.
Cost overruns on the Loop and Link tunnel projects, the financial stringency of the late 1970s, the delays to the parliamentary bill required to authorise the works caused by the objection of Anthony Steen, the Conservative MP for Broad Green on the grounds of the disruption to local residents, compounded to the postponement of the project.
A number of Route Utilisation Strategy documents have mentioned opening the North Mersey Branch line and full Outer Loop for incorporation into the Merseyrail network. The eastern section of the Outer Loop, the North Liverpool Extension Line, is the only section not to be completed to form the outer city rail loop. The most expensive aspects of the Outer Loop were completed, leaving the relatively cheap to implement eastern section safeguarded. The trackbed is safeguarded from development from Hunts Cross to Aintree. The Liverpool Loop Country Park was created, a walking and cycling route, until the line is reused. The long span steel bridges and tunnels were left in place. When the M62 motorway was constructed in the mid-seventies, an expensive underpass was built under the motorway to accommodate the Eastern section of the Outer Loop.
An initial proposed route for the northern section of the Outer Loop was via the southern side of the Walton Rail Triangle, skirting Walton Hall Park. From the park the line would enter the Rice Lane and Breeze Hill tunnels to Kirkdale station. The tunnels are now disused. This section was not safeguarded resulting in residential houses being built on a part of the southern section of the Walton Rail Triangle curve. It is possible to reinstate the curve on a new alignment over parkland. The later more northern alignment using the North Mersey Branch via Aintree and Bootle is safeguarded. The North Mersey Branch Line which would form the northern section of the Outer Loop is still used, however only by maintenance trains.
Attempts were made to revive the project in 1985 and 2006 following the cancellation of the Merseytram scheme. However, the current electrification of the City Line would entail a cheaper project with one of the Outer Loops proposed interchange stations built, Liverpool South Parkway, the scheme becomes more attractive.
Liverpool City Council are attempting to revive the project and in a 10 February 2011 Transport Select Committee meeting stated they desire the eastern section of the Outer Loop operative using Liverpool FC and Everton FC as financial enablers http://councillors.liverpool.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=10728&T=11 Liverpool City Council has stated, in the minutes of the Regeneration and Transport Select Committee meeting of 31 March 2011, that it is willing to formally discuss re-activation of the Liverpool Outer Loop Line with interested parties.
North Mersey Branch
Proposals to open this section as part of Merseyrail's Northern Line have been put forward in Sefton's transport plan. The first details to emerge about a possible reopening being published by the media on 28 February 2008. The Crosby Herald newspaper reported that the line could be reopened in conjunction with Liverpool FC's Stanley Park Stadium, to provide additional transport links via the town of Litherland. The line is currently a single track and used by engineering maintenance trains. This would involve using Sefton Junction enabling reopening of Ford and Linacre Road stations, along with the possibility of a further two stations also on this stretch of line.
The Network Rail Route Utilisation Strategy document of March 2009 stated:
The possibility of running passenger trains along the North Mersey and Bootle branches was examined by the RUS and cannot yet be recommended. However, future development and regeneration could lead to increased demand for such services. Any such passenger services would need to be implemented in a way that ensures current and future freight demand can be accommodated.
This line is safeguarded and is proposed as the northern section of the Outer Loop Line, if the full Outer Loop is completed.
Kirkby to Skelmersdale
Extending the electrified Northern Line to Skelmersdale has been proposed, "requiring two mile rail restoration to re-establish a link to a town of 35,000". This would entail a new short line being laid - a curve branched off the line between Rainford and Upholland stations into Skelmersdale town centre. This short extension is reported as being feasible and will bring onto Merseyrail Rainford station, giving a connection to Wigan Wallgate. This extension would give Skelmersdale a new town centre station with direct access to Liverpool city centre's shopping and business districts.
If the Northern Line extension to Skelmersdale is undertaken, direct access is given from Kirkby to Liverpool's centre and Skelmersdale. Currently there is a diesel train service from Kirkby to Wigan Wallgate run by Northern Rail, this connection would move to Rainford station, between Skelmersdale and Wigan Wallgate. Long term aspirations of Merseytravel are to extend the line from Kirkby to Wigan Wallgate. Merseyrail would meet up with proposed Manchester's Metrolink trams at Wigan Wallgate, using the existing rail line from Manchester.
The Kirkby to Skelmersdale/Wigan Wallgate extension was originally planned during the creation of Merseyrail in the 1970's, however financial constraints meant that only electrification to Kirkby was implemented. Funding may be available to extend the Northern Line with electrification to a new station beyond Kirkby station at Headbolt Lane in Kirkby.
The opening of the Halton Curve, south of Runcorn, to passenger traffic to provide a Liverpool-Runcorn-North Wales connection is under consideration, with an additional station on the curve. Wrexham and Chester would access John Lennon airport via the Runcorn-Widnes bridge, one of the prime reasons for wanting the curve re-instated. If the Halton Curve is re-instated it is not certain the line would be on Merseyrail. If Merseyrail do operate the line, dual pickup trains would be an advantage as part of the line is already electric overhead wires.
Electrification from Ormskirk to Southport, with the reinstatement of the Burscough Curves would bring the town of Burscough onto Merseyrail with direct access to Southport and Liverpool for Burscough and Ormskirk. This extension would bring and extra 5 stations onto the Merseyrail network.
Wrexham Line - Mid-Wirral Line
Wrexham which is regarded as the capital of North Wales, have been wanting to be on Merseyrail to give the town access to Liverpool city centre and Liverpool John Lennon Airport. This entails electrification of the diesel hauled Bidston to Wrexham line, currently run by Arriva Trains Wales, and continuing into the underground Liverpool and Birkenhead sections. When Network Rail quoted £207 million for 3rd rail electrification, Merseytravel requested quotes for cheaper overhead wires, entailing dual-pickup overhead wire and 3rd rail trains to run on Merseyrail.
Dual-mode diesel and 3rd rail electric pick-up train were considered, however rejected because of trains carrying combustible diesel fuel inside the Merseyrail underground section. In the 1970s when Merseyrail was being planned, it was suggested that electric trains at Birkenhead Park station could be quickly hitched to a diesel locomotive and hauled to Wrexham, giving direct access to Liverpool city centre's underground section. This was rejected.
Electrification of this line enables Wirral and North Wales trains to run into into James Street and around the city centre loop and also onto Liverpool Central Station via the stock interchange shunting tunnel, which is currently not used for passengers, and then out onto the Northern Line to Liverpool South Parkway station and hopefully, eventually a station at John Lennon airport. This will give direct access to passengers from Chester, Wrexham, Ellesmere Port, New Brighton and West Kirby to Liverpool centre, Liverpool south docks, the Arena at Kings Dock if the partially underground St. James station is re-opened, and onto South Parkway.
In the 1970's a part of the original 1880s tunnel between Liverpool Central Station and James Street was used by the new Northern Line. The remaining part of the tunnel was retained as a shunting tunnel. This shunting tunnel from James Street station to Liverpool Central Station maybe re-used for passengers, primarily to accommodate the Wrexham line, if this line is merged into Merseyrail. This gives access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport via Liverpool South Parkway station then unfortunately onwards using a bus.
In the 1990s, a section of this line, from Bidston to Woodchurch was planned to be electrified and incorporated into Merseyrail as a part of the construction scheme of Conway Park station in Birkenhead. A new park and ride station with M53 motorway junction access at Woodchurch would become the terminal station for a Wirral Line branch and the the diesel Wrexham line. Conway Park station would access the Birkenhead shopping district. A new station was also planned named Beechwood between the existing Upton station and Bidston station, thus adding three stations to the Merseyrail network. Conway Park underground station was built, however the extension to Woodchurch was cancelled, leaving Conway Park less used than what was planned.
The line from Bidston to Wrexham is not far short in length as the Liverpool to Manchester lines. The outlook on electrification of the full length of this line and merging into Merseyrail is long term as currently there is only one 3 car diesel train per hour. Even projected increased passenger levels after electrification and direct access to Liverpool city centre is poor. It is hoped that the section of the line near Wrexham would be busy and also the section from Neston to Liverpool if a few more stations are built.
The most recent study, conducted by Network Rail in 2008, investigated the costs of extending the Merseyrail network third-rail electrification to Wrexham. However, when the cost was estimated at £207 million, Merseytravel announced that cheaper overhead-line electrification would also be considered. This would require dual-voltage trains with third-rail and overhead-wire capability. Technology has advanced and adopting trains using on-board supercapacitors that charge up very quickly while stopped at stations and run without wires until the next station for a subsequent recharge may be the way forward. This technology has met with success in Germany, France and China. The Welsh government is pressing for improved rail connections between North Wales and Liverpool which may accelerate the electrification of the line. The decision may be political rather than one of passenger demand. However government budget restrictions in light of the Credit Crunch may further delay electrification.
The Edge Hill Spur
In the 1970s, during planning work for the Merseyrail underground in Liverpool city centre, there were two proposals to use parts of the Wapping Tunnel or Waterloo / Victoria Tunnel) to connect the eastern section of the city into the city centre underground section via Liverpool Central Station, low level.
The plan was to construct a new section of tunnel from a junction just south of Central Low Level station running into one of the existing tunnels of Waterloo or Wapping, forming a route to Edge Hill. This would link the eastern part of the city with the underground city centre section. This project, known as the Edge Hill Spur, was developed in conjunction with a proposal to reopen the former Cheshire Lines Committee North Liverpool Extension route forming the eastern section of the city circling Outer Rail Loop. The Edge Hill Spur would allow the loop to be cut into two smaller loops, thereby reducing journey lengths making the scheme more viable. The project would have allowed the City Line services from St Helens to run directly into the city centre Merseyrail underground network, thereby allowing direct access into Liverpool City Centre and through running or interchanging into other parts of the network.
The original proposal was to re-use the Wapping Tunnel, the former freight tunnel to Wapping Goods yard constructed as part of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and opened in 1830. Access to the St Helens line would be via a flyover at Edge Hill, which has since been demolished. Liverpool City Council proposed an alternative route using the Waterloo / Victoria Tunnel. This route would be much longer but would allow an underground station to be developed to serve the University and a surface station to be developed to serve the proposed new business park at Pique Lane. This station, known as Wavertree Technology Park was eventually opened in 2000. This revised route was later adopted.
A major feature of the Edge Hill Spur scheme was a large underground station at Broad Green. This would have six platforms and would be a major interchange between the St Helens route, the Liverpool and Manchester main line route and the Outer Rail Loop. The disruption that would be caused by the construction of this station and the many connecting tunnels, coming soon after the construction of the M62 motorway, meant that there was significant local opposition instigated by Anthony Steen, the Tory MP for Broad Green. Steen opposed the parliamentary bill. This opposition, coupled with the large cost overruns on the Loop and Link project, forced the cancellation of the project isolating the large eastern section of the city from the city centre electric underground section and hence the rest of Merseyside.
Enabling works were constructed as part of the Edge Hill Spur Scheme. The M62 motorway extension into Liverpool incorporated an expensive underpass at Broad Green to accommodate the Outer Rail Loop route. The Rocket Pub, relocated to accommodate the motorway works and construction of the Broad Green underground station, to be known as 'Rocket', underneath the building and car park. The most substantial work was the formation of Liverpool Central South Junction, a 'burrowing junction' on the Link Line tunnel route south of Liverpool Central Station Low Level. This junction, similar to the junction constructed at Hamilton Square as part of the Loop Line scheme on the Wirral LIne, would eliminate conflicting movements between trains from St Helens and Hunts Cross and so increase line throughput. As part of this work, two short header tunnels were constructed south of Central Station for the new route east, which would allow work to proceed without disrupting existing services.
Should the scheme ever go ahead, the eastern part of the city would eventually be connected to the underground central section. The scheme would allow direct access from St Helens into the retail and commercial core of Liverpool and direct interchange between the St Helens line and the Northern Line and improved interchange with the Wirral Line. It would also remove local urban services at Lime Street mainline station freeing up platforms for mainline services.
An attempt was made to revive the project in 1985 and also following the postponement of the Merseytram scheme in 2006. The tunnel section from Liverpool city centre to Edge Hill of Edge Hill Spur scheme remains a long term aspiration of Merseytravel with the route safeguarded. However, the current electrification works in progress of the City Line east of the city may accelerate the scheme into life when funds are available.
Ideally, all parts of Liverpool city centre should be within ten minutes maximum walk of an underground station. Whilst this is undoubtedly true in the central core, and in central Birkenhead, many areas designated as 'city centre' are quite remote from the network. Over the years, there have been several proposals for new stations, although none are current:
St James Street: A former partially underground station located on the Liverpool Central to Brunswick route - and close to the Anglican Cathedral, the Parliament Street residential area and the Novas Urban Centre. The station is located in a section of cutting adjacent to Parliament Street and Ashwell Street. Reopening was proposed in connection with the development of the Kings Dock Arena and Convention Centre. One drawback would be the deep level of the platforms requiring lift access, although, as the station is partially open to the air and no major civil engineering works are likely to be required, the cost would be much less than an underground station.
Chinatown: An underground station on the Liverpool Central to Brunswick route was proposed by city centre planners in the 1990s although not, to date, pursued. Whilst the precise location of such a station has not been announced, it is likely that it would serve the area around Duke Street by its junction with Nelson Street (by the Chinese Arch) and would serve not only Chinatown but also the Anglican Cathedral, the Ropewalks and the south end of the Hope Street area. Although probably more conveniently located for the city centre than St James Street, the cost of underground construction on a line open to traffic would be considerable, as was found in the construction of Birkenhead's Conway Park Station. The present four trains an hour service would likely need to be augmented, by extending the Ormskirk service through to Liverpool South Parkway, to give sufficient passenger throughput.
University: This station was proposed as part of the Edge Hill Spur project of the 1970s (see above) and was authorised under the Merseyside Metropolitan Railway Act of 1975. It would have been located in Mount Pleasant, to the rear of the Students Union building and is likely to have had the double platform tunnel configuration of Moorfields Low Level. The station would serve Liverpool University, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the north end of Hope Street. The cancellation of the Spur project due to financial cutbacks put an end to this proposal.
Catherine Street: This station would be the alternative to Waterloo had the cheaper proposal to construct the Edge Hill Spur using the Wapping Tunnel been adopted rather than the Waterloo / Victoria Tunnel. This was only an outline proposal and no precise location was been determined, although it is likely that such a station would serve the Canning Street residential area, the Women's Hospital and the south end of Hope Street.
Vauxhall: Though some distance from the current city centre, this station on the Moorfields to Sandhills line, which was proposed by planners in the 1990s, may go ahead to serve the proposed Peel Liverpool Waters development. The rail line in this area is elevated on viaduct and so the station might be similar to those on the London Docklands Light Railway.
Limitations of network
As a predominately commuter-rail network to transit people from the outers of Liverpool to its centre, the network has limitations.
The underground section is limited in providing convenient city centre transport
Often perceived as a drawback of the network is that the city centre underground section does not provide a convenient means of travelling around the centre. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the network was never designed to perform this function, being primarily a suburban and outer suburban network with the city centre stations intended as a means of distributing passengers within the central area and at Lime Street Station, the one remaining mainline station in Merseyside. The network can be viewed as a classic 'S Bahn' network.
Merseyrail direct access to Lime Street Station does mean that main line passengers can journey onwards by Merseyrail underground to James Street Station, which would save a longish walk or taxi journey across the centre. However, there is no direct mainline station connection to Moorfields station, which is located in the heart of the city's business district and the need to change trains at Liverpool Central Station would tend to make rail an unattractive option. In practice, the short walk from Lime Street to Central means that the underground is seldom used for this section of journey.
City centre stations lack multiple access points
The city centre stations lack passenger access/exit points at both ends of the platforms and other points around the stations to give maximum service. An access point at the top of Bold St would bring Central station in reach of people around Hardman Street. Another access point in Renshaw Street would also be beneficial. Lime Street station could have tunneled access points in Williamson Square, London Road and William Brown Street. James Street Station could have an access tunnel on Mann Island nearer to the Albert Dock.
With greater access to stations around the city centre, people would be encouraged to use the underground stations to move around the centre, which currently rarely occurs.
Access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport
The lack of direct rail access to Liverpool John Lennon Airport seriously reduces the attractiveness of the Airport. Merseytravel safeguarded a rail route to the Airport until the early 1990s but this has now been lost to development. Liverpool South Parkway station is used to access the airport which has platforms serving the Merseyrail line to Liverpool Central and the City Line to Liverpool Lime Street and also mainline routes to Manchester, Crewe via Runcorn and Warrington, etc. Liverpool South Parkway was designed as an interchange station on the Liverpool Outer Loop Line. which as yet has not been full completed. The drawback is the fact that South Parkway is over two miles distant from the airport terminal and requires passengers to access the airport by bus. Merseytravel have installed a dedicated bus lane for this service and there is a possibility of a tram-train service in the future but the need to change and the increased journey time involved makes the Liverpool City Centre to Airport journey more convenient using the 500 dedicated bus service.
The absence of a station at the airport terminal building hinders economic growth in the city. A line can can easily be run into the airport across mainly fields. A branch east of Halewood station across fields near to Everton FC's training ground and leaving a station at Hale Village has few complexities and relatively cheap and easy to build. Halewood station would integrate into Merseyrail as a bonus.
Trains operated by other networks from Manchester, Warrington, Chester and North Wales, via an updated Halton Curve, could ideally access an airport station directly improving the attraction, throughput and subsequently economic growth of the city.
Lines east of the city not integrated with the electrified core of network
The area covered by the electrified and integrated Merseyrail network does not cover the whole of the Merseyside conurbation. For example, the Metropolitan Borough of St Helens is remote from the electrified network, operating on diesel train on the City Line, whereas the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral has three branches on the Wirral Line. This discrepancy will be addressed in part by the current project to electrify the line east of the city from Edge Hill to Manchester and Wigan. However, full integration of the newly electrified eastern section would require the revival of the Edge Hill Spur project of the 1970s, which was using disused tunnel from Liverpool's city centre to Edge Hill. Wapping Tunnel The Edge Hill Spur scheme was never revived as the costs also involved electrification of the eastern lines. As these lines are being electrified, the costs of reviving the project after electrification becomes highly attractive.
The Wirral Line does extend beyond Liverpool's city centre
The four Wirral Line branches only access Liverpool's city centre. No line extends further than Liverpool's centre and runs through to the Wirral peninsular. There is provision for a Wirral line to run through the old James Street to Central Station tunnel, which would need to be double tracked not single. The line would ruin onto the Northern Line to the south of Liverpool to Hunts Cross and Liverpool South Parkway station for Liverpool's John Lennon Airport. Direct airport access is denied to Wirral passengers.
Ticketing not state-of-the-art
Merseytravel PTE tickets require the date to be scratched off, this makes them unsuitable for automatic ticket barriers. The London Underground Oyster ticketing system ideally is the system to aim for, which encouragingly is being pursued.
Train floor levels not level with platforms
The trains used on Merseyrail are mainly acquired from southern England networks, not being fully suitable for Merseyrail platforms. Passengers need to step up into the trains rather than the train's passengers floors being level with the platforms. As the trains are scheduled for replacement in 2013. The companies tending for the replacement train cars, have to present designs to specific Merseyrail requirements.
Eco aspects absent
Many electric urban rail networks elsewhere have brake regeneration energy reclaim, clawing back normally wasted kinetic energy, incorporated on-board trains or on the trackside using banks of supercapacitors. Supercapacitor energy reclaim is also suitable for elevators. Elevators are used at two Merseyrail stations. Merseyrail does not have these eco technical measures and no announcements have been made to incorporate them.
There is chronic overcrowding at Liverpool central station. In the short term some of the overcrowding can be addressed by revising the timetabling of Northern Line trains through Liverpool Central station and Moorfields station. There are three northbound destinations, Southport, Kirkby and Ormskirk, each served by 15 minute frequency departures. The trains should leave evenly-spaced, at five-minute intervals. The Kirkby train departs at 5 minutes past the hour, the Southport train three minutes later at 8 minutes past the hour, with the Ormskirk train 10 minutes past the hour. All three leave within five minutes, followed then by a ten-minute period of no service.
As the outgoing passengers are required to be on the platforms in the same five-minute period, the infrastructure is stretched. The situation is worsened further by the Kirkby service using Platform 2 at Liverpool Central station. This train leaves the Southport train coming in from from Hunts Cross stationary in the tunnel behind the station. A minute’s delay to the Kirkby train cascades to the Southport train and Ormskirk train.
The spread of train frequencies is accomplished on the Wirral Line at every 5 minutes, giving less overcrowding on these lines. Ideally this should be the case on the Northern Line.
In the long term, overcrowding due to the popularity of Merseyrail, the attraction of Liverpool's city centre shopping and leisure attractions and the increasing population of the city centre, is only addressed by a new station at Paradise Street-Lord Street junction, which has been proposed.
Merseyrail/Merseytravel is undertaking a programme to refurbish and build new stations. Refurbishment of other city centre stations are also planned.
- Sandhills Station - Refurbishment, of interchange station for the Northern Lines with football buses to Anfield and Goodison Park.
- James Street underground station - In the City Centre, was recently refurbished being the nearest station to the new Liverpool One complex.
Merseyrail Web Site Extending Rapid Transit Merseyrail Liverpool Central Station Liverpool's Historic Rail Tunnels Rapid-Transit Rail for Everton FC Liverpool FC and Arena Miseryrail Web Site - a critical view on Merseyrail services