Merseyrail logo.svg
507011 Liverpool South Parkway.jpg
Franchise(s): Merseyrail
20 July 2003–2028
Main Region(s): Merseyside
Other Region(s): North West Cheshire, South West Lancashire
Fleet size: 57
Stations called at: 67
Stations operated: 66 (all except Chester)
Route km operated: 120.7
National Rail abbreviation: ME
Parent company: Serco-Abellio
Web site:
Track length: 75 miles

Merseyrail is a train operating company and commuter rail network in the United Kingdom, centred on Liverpool, Merseyside. The network is predominantly electric with diesel trains running on the City Line. Two City Line branches are currently being electrified on the overhead wire AC system with completion planned for 2016, which will almost complete electrification of the network.[1] The third-rail electrified DC section of the network has 67 stations spread across 75 miles of route of which 6.5 miles is underground. Carrying over 100,000 passengers each day,[2] it is one the most heavily used railway networks in the United Kingdom outside London,[3]. Although a part of the National Rail network organistion, Merseyrail is a separate network.

Merseyrail was established in 1969,[citation needed] however the separate rail lines were physically integrated into one network in 1977 when new tunnels were constructed under Liverpool's city centre and Birkenhead, connecting previously separate railway routes. This created a large, comprehensive urban railway network.[2] Although financial constraints prevented some of the earlier plans being realised, the original 1970s network has been extended with more extensions proposed.

The Merseyrail name became the official brand for the network in the days of British Rail, surviving several franchise holders, although the name was not used by Arriva when it held the franchise. Despite this, Merseytravel continued the Merseyrail branding at stations, allowing the name to be adopted colloquially. Merseyrail is referred to as "Merseyrail Electrics" by National Rail Enquiries, and as "Serco/Abellio Merseyrail" by Merseytravel.


The Merseyrail Network

The two lines operated by Merseyrail which form part of the Merseyrail Network are the busiest British urban commuter networks outside London, transporting over 100,000 passengers a day.[2] Train services run on the Northern Line and Wirral Line, covering the Liverpool suburban area and Merseyside. The total track length is 75 miles (121 km), and there are 67 stations. The system's lines connect Liverpool city centre with cities and towns on the outer reaches of the city region (such as Southport and Chester), on their way passing through the intermediate urban areas with frequent stops. Trains run typically every fifteen minutes to most destinations, with lines converging in the central areas to provide a frequency of five minutes or less.

The Northern Line links Liverpool city centre with Southport, Ormskirk and Kirkby to the north, and Hunts Cross to the south. The Wirral Line, extending under the River Mersey, links Liverpool with New Brighton, West Kirby, Chester and Ellesmere Port. The two lines are entirely electrified, using a 750 V DC third-rail.[4]

The currently diesel hauled City Line is not an integral part of the dedicated Merseyrail electrified system. Parts of regional lines, operated by other rail companies, that run through Merseyside are branded the City Line, receiving funding from Merseytravel, with integrated ticketing arrangements within Merseyrail. The diesel trains on the City Line are less frequent than the trains on the electric Northern and Wirral Lines. The whole of the City Line line is scheduled to be electrified with completion due in 2013.[1]

Frequent train services on Merseyrail lines provide for cross-city connections:

  • Northern and City Line services interchange at Liverpool South Parkway and Hunts Cross in the south of the city.
  • Wirral and City Lines interchange at Lime Street in the city centre.
  • Northern and Wirral lines interchange at Liverpool Central and Moorfields.


Merseyrail map

Northern Line

Services on the Northern Line operate from Hunts Cross in the south of Liverpool, via a tunnel from Brunswick Station through Liverpool Central and Moorfields, to Southport. Services also run from Liverpool Central to Ormskirk and Kirkby. Each route has a train every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday giving a five-minute interval between trains on the central section. Connections are available at Southport to Wigan Wallgate, at Hunts Cross to Warrington Central and Manchester Piccadilly, at Ormskirk to Preston and at Kirkby to Wigan Wallgate and Manchester Victoria.[2]

Wirral Line

A Wirral Line train at Liverpool Central

Services on the Wirral Line operate from the Loop described above through the Mersey Railway Tunnel to Hamilton Square station in Birkenhead. From there, they run either south to Hooton, where they continue to either Chester or Ellesmere Port, or west to Birkenhead North, where the line bifurcates to New Brighton and West Kirby. Connections are available at Bidston on the West Kirby branch, for the Borderlands Line to Wrexham operated by Arriva Trains Wales, at Chester to Crewe and London Euston, Wrexham and Shrewsbury, the North Wales Coast line to Llandudno and Holyhead, and Manchester via Warrington or Northwich, and at Ellesmere Port a minimal service to Warrington.[2]

Monday-Saturday services are every 15 minutes from Liverpool to Chester, New Brighton and West Kirby, and every 30 minutes to Ellesmere Port (Monday - Sunday). These combine to give a service less than every five minutes around the Loop.[2]

City Line

The City Line currently runs diesel trains, unlike the Northern and Wirral Lines which operate electric trains. The City Line is not part of the Merseyrail franchise. The 1970s plan for Merseyrail was to electrify the City Line. Budget cuts prevented the plan from being fully realised. However a work-around was that services operated by Northern Rail running through Merseyside are sponsored by Merseytravel and - with the exception of long distance routes - are branded as Merseyrail services. Broadly speaking, the line includes the Liverpool to Wigan Line and the two alternative branches making up the northern and southern Liverpool to Manchester Lines.

In 2009 the government announced that the northerly route would be electrified. Work is due to be completed by 2013[1][2][5] In February 2010 Network Rail's Northern Hub Plan, on page 26, announced that 4 electrified lines will be operative from Broad Green Station to Huyton Station. This is to allow a fast uninterrupted service from Liverpool to Manchester and slower electric urban trains to operate on segregated tracks from Liverpool to Wigan.[6] Merseyrail City Line trains run on this section of track. Whether Merseyrail electric trains, operated by either Merseyrail or Northern Rail will run on this electrified section remains to be clarified.[7]


Current fleet

Class Image Type Top speed Number Unit numbers Routes operated Built
 mph   km/h 
Class 507 507001 Hunts Cross.jpg electric multiple unit
507001-021, 023-033 Northern Line
Wirral Line
Class 508/1 508141-LiverpoolLS-01.jpg electric multiple unit
508103-4, 108, 110-112, 114-5, 117, 120, 122-8, 130-1, 134, 136-141, 143 Northern Line
Wirral Line
Class 507 Merseyrail New Diagram.png

Fleet summary

Services on the electrified Merseyrail network are operated exclusively by the Class 507 and Class 508 electric multiple units. These replaced pre-war Class 502 (originally constructed by the LMS) and almost identical Class 503 electric multiple units. There are a total of 59 trains in service on the network. This is down from an initial 76: twelve 508s were transferred to Connex South Eastern in 1996, a further three were transferred to Silverlink to supplement their fleet of Class 313 electric multiple units in North London. These train sets had been left in storage from the early 1990s due to recessionary conditions.

Two sets have been written-off and subsequently scrapped. These are unit 507022 in 1991 after a collision and unit 508118 which had been gutted by fire in an arson attack in Birkenhead during 2001.

Merseyrail's specially painted 507019 unit, repainted to celebrate Liverpool's capital of culture year

The electric fleet is maintained and stabled at Kirkdale TMD and Birkenhead North TMD, the two depots on the network. Minor repair work and stock cleaning takes place at Kirkdale, while overhauls are completed at Birkenhead.[8] Other depots at Hall Road and Birkenhead Central were closed in 1997, and the former was demolished in April 2009.[9]

The fleet was refurbished during 2003-05, a process involving trainsets being transported to and from Eastleigh works behind Class 67 locomotives.

Depots: An assessment is currently taking place as to whether it would be viable to reopen the Birkenhead Central depot, which would increase the efficiency of Merseyrail services and allow additional train sets to be transferred back to Merseyside. The Merseyrail fleet is due for renewal in 2013.[10]

To celebrate Liverpool's successful 2008 European Capital of Culture bid, Merseyrail named one of their train sets (508136) 'Capital of Culture'. A press ceremony took place at Kirkdale TMD where Cherie Blair, the wife of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, named 508143 Capital of Culture. This nameplate was removed during mid-2009. In February 2008 the first of four sets in a special Capital of Culture promotional livery was released. Set no. 508134 was emblazoned in a purple livery showcasing the "creative" element of the city.[11] Three more followed in blue "maritime", green "heritage" and red "sport" colours, however were removed in November 2009. On 11 October 2011, set 508111 was unveiled in a blue advertising livery for The Beatles Story, a museum for The Beatles in Liverpool.[12]

From July 2008, four trains were named after true Merseyside icons following a poll in local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo. The first, named Red Rum, was unveiled at Southport on 14 July 2008 by Ginger McCain. Four more have followed, named Bob Paisley, Dixie Dean, John Peel.[13] A further train was named Councillor Jack Spriggs on 26 October 2011.[14]

Former fleet

A number of Northern Rail Class 142 Diesel Multiple Units and Class 150 sets wore the Merseytravel yellow livery for several years operating on the City Line, although they were not directly operated by Merseyrail. These have since been repainted into other liveries.

Merseyrail formerly had four Class 73 electro-diesel locomotives for shunting, sandite trains, engineering works and other departmental duties; two of these had been repainted in the yellow livery of the previous franchise holder. These locomotives were sold to a preservation company in 2002.[citation needed]

On-train announcements

All Merseyrail trains have automated on-board announcements voiced by Julie Berry, who also voices for Southern, Heathrow Connect and the London Underground Piccadilly line. A catalogue of announcements may be played by the driver or guard. Announcements in the same style are also activated automatically by the emergency systems on the train, playing on a continuous loop until deactivated. There is also a series of automated station announcements, voiced by Brian Coby, which announce when trains are terminating at a particular station outside of the regular timetable (for example in the case of severe delay). The only other pre-recorded station announcements are in the case of emergency, and all other announcements are made live by the duty station announcer.

The franchise

Following the privatisation of the Great Britain rail network, the Merseyrail service was run first by MTL under the name Merseyrail Electrics, then Arriva Trains Merseyside, before its award to a Serco-Abellio consortium of Serco and Abellio (a division of Nederlandse Spoorwegen) in 2003. The current franchise is contracted to the consortium for an initial 25-year period. The Merseyrail franchise, referred to officially as a "contract", is awarded by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive rather than the Department for Transport which issues all other franchises. The only other exception is the franchise for the London Overground network, awarded by Transport for London in 2007. Merseyrail is given such exception because the tracks concerned are self-contained and separate from the rest of the British railway network – no other services normally run over the third-rail network. As a result of this isolation, the franchise-holder is keen to adopt vertical integration – taking responsibility for maintenance of the track from Network Rail. The current Franchise Manager is Dave Davenport.[15]


Operating as a self-contained network there are relatively few problems because of less conflict with other train operating companies. Merseyrail has publicly committed to aiming to be the best train operating company in the UK.[16][17] The latest figures released by the Office of Rail Regulation (as of the fourth quarter of 2010-11) report that Merseyrail's PPM slipped to 94.8% and the MAA dropped to 94.9%.[18]

In February 2010, Merseyrail were named the most reliable operator of trains in the UK, with a reliability average of 96.33% during 2009-2010, the highest ever achieved by any UK train operator.[19]

Financial performance

Year ending Turnover (£m) Gross profit (£m) Trading profit (£m) Pre-Tax profit (£m) Retained profit (£m)
January 2010[20] 124.5 12.1 12.5
January 2009[21] 127 11.4 6.5
January 2008[22] 116 9.2

Enforcement of bye-laws

Merseyrail employs a team of officers who enforce railway by-laws relating to placing feet on seats, travelling without tickets, and other aspects of anti-social behaviour. Merseyrail is the only UK train operator to take such a vigorous approach, a stand which Merseyrail claims has proved popular with commuters and has reduced anti-social behaviour on the system.[23]

The enforcement of this bye-law by Merseyrail was judged to be "draconian"[24] in September 2007; however, Merseyrail stated that they did not want to take offenders to court, but were not allowed to fine offenders otherwise (unlike people who smoke on trains or station platforms).[25]


Collection of separate railways

The present Merseyrail system was merged from the lines of five former pre-Grouping rail systems:

The nucleus of the system was the Mersey Railway, which opened from Liverpool James Street to Green Lane, Birkenhead running through the Mersey Railway Tunnel, one of the world's first underwater railway tunnels in 1886.[2] This route was extended to Liverpool Central in 1890. A branch to Birkenhead Park was added in 1888 to connect with the Wirral Railway and the original line extended to Rock Ferry to connect with the Birkenhead Woodside to Chester line in 1891.[27]

The Mersey Railway was electrified in 1903 (the first full electrification of a steam railway in the world).[2] This was followed by the separate Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line from Liverpool Exchange to Southport, which was electrified in 1906. The electrification of the former Wirral Railway lines to (New Brighton and West Kirby) took place in 1937 and allowed through running into Liverpool via the Mersey Railway tunnel.

Creation of Merseyrail

The programme of route closures in the early 1960s, known as the Beeching Axe, included the closure of two of Liverpool's main line terminal stations, Liverpool Exchange and Liverpool Central high-level in Liverpool, and also Woodside Station in Birkenhead.

Riverside terminal station at the Pier Head was the fourth terminal station to close. However, this station was not a part of the Beeching cuts, the demise of the trans-Atlantic liner trade forced closure in 1971.

The Beeching Report recommended that the suburban and outer suburban commuter rail services into both Exchange and Central High-level stations be terminated and that long and medium distance routes be concentrated on Lime Street Station. Liverpool City Council, took an alternative view and proposed the retention of the suburban services and their integration into a regional rapid-transit network. This approach was backed up by the Merseyside Area Land Use and Transportation Study, the MALTS report. Liverpool City Council's proposal was adopted and Merseyrail was born.[28]

The Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority, later named Merseytravel, was formed in 1969 with representatives from all Merseyside local authorities taking responsibility for the local rail network, henceforth known as 'Merseyrail'. At that time, the lines out of Liverpool Exchange, Liverpool Central Low Level and Liverpool Lime Street stations were totally independent and were given the names of 'Northern Line', 'Wirral Line' and 'City Line' respectively.

The Strategic Plan for the North West, the SPNW, in 1973 envisaged that the Outer Loop, the Edge Hill Spur connecting the east of the city to the central underground sections and the lines to St.Helens, Wigan and Warrington would be electrified and all integrated into Merseyrail by 1991.[29]

The Loop and Link Project

The major engineering works required to integrate the Northern and Wirral lines became known as the 'Loop' and 'Link' Project. The main works were carried out between 1972 and 1977. A further project, known as the Edge Hill Spur would have integrated the City Lines into the network but was never carried out. This project was to become one of the UK's largest railway infrastructure projects of the 1970s.[citation needed]

The Loop Line

The Loop Line is a single track loop tunnel under Liverpool's city centre serving the Wirral lines. It was built to allow both greater capacity and a wider choice of destinations for Wirral Line users, which included the business and shopping districts of Liverpool city centre and Lime Street Station.

Trains from Wirral arriving via the original Mersey Railway tunnel enter the loop beneath Mann Island and continue in a clockwise direction through James Street, Moorfields, Lime Street, Central, and return to the Wirral via James Street station.[30]

The Link Line

The original tunnel from James Street to Central station, which still exists. The LInk line, in blue, is shown. The Green line is the Loop line

The Link Line is a tunnelled route that linked the south of Liverpool urban line with the north of Liverpool urban line, giving one long line through the city centre. The line was named the Northern Line. The line provides direct access from the north and south of Liverpool to the shopping and business districts in the city centre via the two stations on the Link Tunnel, Liverpool Central and Moorfields which both interchange with the Wirral Line's Loop Tunnel. There is no direct access to Lime Street Station, passengers having to change onto the Wirral Line at Moorfields. Moorfields is near to the former terminus at Liverpool Exchange.[26]

The present Northern Line station at Liverpool Central (Low Level) was originally the Mersey Railway terminus. The original 1880s tunnel between James St and Central stations was partially used to form part of the Link Tunnel, the remainder between Paradise Street Junction and Derby Square, has been retained for use as a rolling stock interchange line between the Northern and Wirral lines containing a reversing siding for use by Wirral Line trains when the Loop Tunnel is inoperative. The rolling stock interchange section of the tunnel is not presently used for passenger traffic.[31]

The Link Tunnel was intended to link the urban lines north and south of the city completing the western section of a planned double track electrified suburban circle line, circling the city, known as the 'Outer Rail Loop'.[citation needed] However, the eastern section of the Outer Loop was never constructed.

The Hamilton Square Burrowing Junction

A burrowing junction was constructed at Birkenhead Hamilton Square station, to increase traffic capacity on the Wirral Line by eliminating the flat junction to the west of the station. This included a new station tunnel at Hamilton Square to serve the lines to New Brighton and West Kirby.

Liverpool Central South Junction

As part of the Link Line, a junction was built for the projected Edge Hill Spur (see below). This junction, called Liverpool Central South Junction, is located to the south of Liverpool Central Low Level station. It is termed a burrowing junction with the line from Central to Hunts Cross passing over the projected line from St Helens in a single track tunnel before rejoining the main route in the old Cheshire Lines tunnel. Short header tunnels were constructed to allow work to proceed at some future date without disrupting services on the Northern Line. The Edge Hill Spur project did not proceed due to financial problems.[32]

Expanding the Network (1977 - Present)

Electrification since 1977

The Loop and Link project was followed by a programme of expansion, electrification and new stations, which built on the greater integration and capacity provided by the new infrastructure.

Walton to Kirkby

This short electrification maintained a Kirkby service when the Liverpool to Wigan diesel service closed on the completion of the Link Line in 1977. The diversion of Northern Line services into Moorfields underground station from Liverpool Exchange meant that the diesel service could not continue. The line was electrified using the standard 750V DC Merseyrail system. The diesel service to Wigan was cut back to Kirkby; the Merseyrail electric service and the Northern Rail diesel service use different ends of the same platform.

Liverpool Central to Garston

The reopening of the former Cheshire Lines Committee line from Liverpool Central to Garston was made possible by the excavation of the invert of the tunnel into Central High Level station to form a link into the southern end of Central Low Level station. This link had been envisaged when the Mersey Railway was extended to Central in the 1890s. The CLC line had been abandoned since the termination of the Liverpool Central to Gateacre service in 1972. On reopening, the line was electrified using the Merseyrail 750v DC third rail system and allowed through running via the Link Line tunnel to the Northern Line branches to Southport, Ormskirk and Kirkby. The line was opened in 1978.

Garston to Hunts Cross

This short extension at the southern end of the Northern Line opened in 1983. It allowed interchange between the Merseyrail Northern Line services with City Line and main line services from Lime Street. The reopened line passed under the West Coast Main Line Liverpool branch at Allerton but needed to cross the old Cheshire Lines Committee line to Manchester on the flat, which affected capacity.

Rock Ferry to Hooton, Ellesmere Port and Chester

Rock Ferry railway station had been a terminus for Wirral Line services since the Mersey Railway was extended there from Green Lane in 1891. Passengers for the lines to Chester and Helsby would change trains at this station from the electric service onto mainline services, operated by steam and diesel. Rock Ferry became one of the terminals for the Merseyrail Wirral Line. In 1985 the line from Rock Ferry to Hooton was electrified and incorporated in the Wirral Line of Merseyrail becoming a new terminus.

Hooton is a junction station where the line to Helsby via Ellesmere Port branches off the main Liverpool to Chester line. The line from Hooton to Chester was electrified in 1993, with Chester becoming a terminus station of the Wirral Line. The line from Hooton to Ellesmere Port was incorporated into the Wirral Line with Ellesmere Port also becoming a terminus and interchange station.

New Stations

A programme of new stations on the Merseyrail network expanded the coverage of the system. They are as follows:

  • Bache: On the Hooton to Chester line, opened in 1983.
  • Bromborough Rake: On the Rock Ferry to Hooton line, opened in 1985 with the completion of electrification to Hooton.
  • Overpool: On the Hooton to Ellesmere Port line, opened in 1988.
    (Bache and Overpool are outside the PTE boundary and were funded by Cheshire County Council with some support from Merseytravel).
  • Eastham Rake: On the Rock Ferry to Hooton line, opened in 1995.
  • Brunswick: On the Liverpool Central to Hunts Cross line opened in 1998. This station serves the South Docks regeneration area and also the Grafton Street area of Dingle high above the station via a staircase and footbridge.
  • Conway Park: On the Hamilton Square to Birkenhead Park underground line opened in 1998. This station was originally intended to be constructed as 'cut and cover' with an office building built on top. More onerous fire protection requirements arising from the Fennel report into the Kings Cross fire of 1987 made this prohibitively expensive and so the station was constructed in an open cut with lift access to the platforms. It serves the Europa Boulevard area of Birkenhead, a regeneration area.
  • Wavertree Technology Park: Opened in 2000 on the City Line route from Edge Hill to Huyton to serve the expanding Technology Park.
Holly Park Football ground, where Liverpool South Parkway Station now stands
  • Liverpool South Parkway: Opened in 2006 on the site of Holly Park football ground of South Liverpool FC in South Liverpool. It is an interchange station between the Merseyrail Northern Line from Liverpool Central to Hunts Cross and the City Line from Liverpool Lime Street to Runcorn and Warrington Central and also main line services. The station also includes a bus terminal and large car park and has frequent bus services to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The station was formed from an amalgamation of the four track Allerton Station and the relocation of the Merseyrail Garston Station. Garston station was closed on the opening of the new facility being the first station closure on the Merseyrail network since Liverpool Exchange station in 1977.[33]


There have been various suggestions for ways to enlarge the Merseyrail network. Some would extend beyond the current area, whilst others would use former existing lines or track beds. In approximately 2013 the current Merseyrail fleet is scheduled to be replaced, if trains capable of use beyond the third rail DC network are selected as replacements then various expansions can be achieved without electrification of the entire new route.[34]

Future fleet

The Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for Merseyside called for additional units to ease overcrowding on peak-time services. Southeastern and London Overground have withdrawn their fleets of Class 508 multiple units. It would be possible to transfer these units back to Merseyside to supplement the current Merseyrail fleet.[35] In November 2009, the Liverpool Daily Post reported that Merseyrail is in talks to add three further trains to its fleet to boost rush-hour capacity, with rolling stock that is currently part of London Overground. Although the trains would have to be refurbished, they could be in service by mid-2010.[36] However, no additional units have been taken on by Merseyrail as of July 2010, despite the suggestions of both passengers and the Merseyside RUS to improve capacity.

On 30th April 2011, it was the last day for train manufacturers from around the world to put bids in to build the new fleet for the MerseyRail network. Merseytravel and MerseyRail have announced that the new fleet should be operational by 2017. This means the lease for the fleet right now will have to be extended 2yrs from the leasing company, Angel Trains, from 2015-2017. This information is supported by Liverpool Echo article dated 22 Mar 2011.

Dual-voltage trains

The Route Utilisation Strategy document makes note of the benefits of dual-voltage Electric multiple units, which can be utilised on both the third rail Merseyrail network and future electrified lines which are likely to use overhead wires.[35]


Network Rail have suggested that tram-trains could offer an opportunity to connect more areas of Merseyside to the rail network. Operating tram-trains would allow street running, providing an alternative route through Liverpool city centre. This could potentially relieve pressure on the busy underground section of the network. This is a long-term aspiration suggested for around 2024 and would be dependant on successful trials of the technology elsewhere on the UK rail network.[35][37]

In August 2009, the Liverpool Daily Post reported that a new tram-train link to Liverpool John Lennon Airport and a link to Kings Dock from the east of the city, had been proposed.[38]

  • John Lennon Airport: the existing Northern Line and the City Line from Liverpool Lime Street station to Liverpool South Parkway station are being assessed. From South Parkway the tram-trains seamlessly transfer to a new tramway.
  • Kings Dock to Edge Hill: a link from Edge Hill in the east of the city to the Arena at Kings Dock in the city centre is also being considered. The disused 1829 1.26 mi Wapping Tunnel links the two locations. Tram-trains then could access existing and proposed electrified lines to the east and south of the city.


Many proposals to electrify lines and add them to the existing Merseyrail service have been put forward.

The City Line

The entire City Line is being electrified from Liverpool to Wigan and the Manchester branches with construction from 2011 to 2013.[1] Much of the details of the City Line have yet to be announced:

  • Whether Merseyrail operates the trains, incorporating the City Line fully into the Merseyrail electric network or Northern Rail continues to operate on behalf of Merseytravel.
  • The extent of the electrified City Line.
  • The terminus stations.
  • If dual-voltage, overhead wire/third rail trains will be used for use on all of the Merseyrail network.[39]

Kirkby to Wigan

In 1977, the Liverpool to Kirkby section of the Liverpool to Bolton route was electrified and merged into Merseyrail. Kirkby station became the terminal of the Northern Line Kirkby branch. The former through service to Bolton was split in two, with passengers wishing to make through journeys forced to change at Kirkby from the Merseyrail electric network to the Northern Rail diesel network onwards to Bolton. An added advantage was that passengers as far as Hunts Cross, in south Liverpool, could travel to Kirkby, north of Liverpool, on Merseyrail. Previously the Bolton line terminated at the old Liverpool Exchange station and the Hunts Cross line at the old high level Central station, entailing a cross city centre journey by foot or taxi, there being no direct public transport (bus) route.

In 2007 Merseytravel announced that funding had been secured to extend the electrification beyond Kirkby to a new station at Headbolt Lane to serve the extensive Tower Hill housing estate, however no work has commenced.[40]

Extension of the electrification extending Merseyrail through to Wigan Wallgate is a long-term aspiration of Merseytravel.[41]

Ormskirk to Preston

Electrification from Ormskirk to Preston has been considered in conjunction with the Burscough Curves reopening detailed below. It would re-establish the most direct Liverpool-Preston route and is one of Merseytravel's long-term aspirations.[41] However in 2008 Network Rail identified that the benefit to cost ratio of the scheme was insufficient to justify pursuing this option in the near future.[42]

Bidston to Wrexham

The Borderlands Line from Bidston to Wrexham Central is operated by Arriva Trains Wales using diesel trains. Various proposals to electrify some or all of the line exist. 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,[43] Merseytravel announced that cheaper overhead line electrification would be considered instead. This would require the replacements for the Class 507 and 508 Electric Multiple Units to be equipped with dual-voltage equipment to operate on both overhead and third rail electrification.[44]

Other electrification proposals

The following routes are included in Merseytravel's rail strategy as "long-term aspirations".[41] No detailed analysis has been carried out into their feasibility and they are unlikely to be developed further in the near future.


Burscough Curves

The Burscough Curves were short chords linking the Ormskirk to Preston Line with the Manchester to Southport Line. The last regular passenger trains ran over the curves in 1962; the tracks were subsequently lifted. The reinstatement of the Burscough Curves would allow direct Preston-Southport and Ormskirk-Southport services and provide an alternative Liverpool-Southport route. Network Rail have recommended that a strategy for the Burscough Curves be developed further.[42]

In a parliamentary debate on 27 April 2011, the Burscough Curves were a prime point of the debate. The transport minister wished to meet Southport MP John Pugh regarding the reinstatement of the curves.[45]

Edge Hill to Bootle

The Canada Dock Branch line[46] is a line running from Edge Hill Junction in the east of the city in a long curve to Canada Dock in the north of the city. It meets Merseyrail's Northern Line at a junction between Bank Hall and Bootle Oriel Road stations. The line's last remaining passenger services were withdrawn in 1977, but the line remains busy with freight to Seaforth Container Terminal.

The line could be reopened to passengers, allowing the reopening of stations along its length: Spellow, Walton & Anfield, Breck Road, Tuebrook, Stanley and Edge Lane. The line from Edge Lane would continue through to Edge Hill station and terminate at Lime Street.

Network Rail have investigated options for the Canada Dock Branch in their Route Utilisation Strategy for Merseyside[37] and have concluded that the expected benefits do not justify the investment in new infrastructure. However, it has been suggested that Liverpool FC could assist in funding the reopening of this line to provide a direct link to their proposed new Stanley Park Stadium.[47]

The Department for Transport's Rail electrification document of July 2009, states that the route to Liverpool Docks will be electrified. The Canada Dock Branch Line is the only line into the docks.[48] 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.

The electrification of this line would greatly assist in recommissioning passenger trains, as costs would be reduced.

North Mersey Branch

The North Mersey Branch from Bootle to Aintree is currently used only by engineering trains to gain access to Merseyrail tracks, however Merseytravel have long-term goals to reopen and electrify the line.[41] The line was considered in the Merseyside Route Utilisation Strategy document, concluding that reopening could not yet be recommended. However the Route Utilisation Strategy document went on to state:

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. There is also a possibility in the longer term of using other infrastructure, including the disused Wapping and Waterloo tunnels, to provide new journey opportunities.[37]
A 1909 map showing some of the highly comprehensive rail lines around Liverpool

Skelmersdale Branch

A reopening of a section of the Skelmersdale Branch from Upholland to Skelmersdale town centre has been proposed. This would give Skelmersdale, the second largest town in North West England without a railway service, direct access to Liverpool city centre's shopping and business districts. Network Rail have recommended that a further feasibility study into this possibility be carried out.[37] In June 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies, in its Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network report, called for funding for the reopening of the line from Ormskirk to Skelmersdale as part of a £500m scheme to open 33 stations on 14 lines closed in the Beeching Axe, including seven new parkway stations.[49][50]

Halton Curve

Merseytravel have shown interest in the Halton Curve, a short section of track from Frodsham to Runcorn which currently operates one passenger train per week. It is only possible for trains to use the curve in the northbound direction because of signalling and permanent way restrictions. The curve was threatened with closure in 2004, however was reprieved and there is a hope that one day a passenger service will return

Proposals for the route were included in Network Rail's Route Utilisation Strategy for Wales.[51] An hourly service between Liverpool and Chester via the curve would be feasible if the line was upgraded.

This would improve railway connections from Chester and North Wales to Liverpool South Parkway, the nearest station for Liverpool John Lennon Airport.[52] Whether the Liverpool Lime Street to Chester line via Runcorn railway bridge and Liverpool South Parkway station will be on the Merseyrail network using dual-voltage trains remains to be seen.

The Outer Rail Loop

West Derby station on the North Liverpool Extension Line

The idea of using the former Cheshire Lines Committee's North Liverpool Extension Line[53] route through the eastern suburbs of Liverpool as a rapid transit rail route serving the city centre was developed in the 1960s into the Outer Rail Loop scheme. This would be an electric passenger railway circling the city by using a combination of newly electrified existing lines and a new link tunnel under the city centre. This was similar to a 1940s proposal for a 'belt' line using the Liverpool Overhead Railway as its western section. The proposal advanced into one large outer loop with two sub loops. One for the northern section of the city and one for the south.

A part of the proposal was that passengers on the mainline radial routes into Lime Street entering from the east and south, could transfer onto the electric urban rapid-transit network at interchange stations on the Loop to access outer suburbs and avoid the need to travel into the city centre. Liverpool South Parkway is an example of such a station although completed in 2006, long after the Outer Rail Loop scheme had ceased to be a live Merseytravel project. Another interchange station was to have been at Broad Green. This would have been a six track underground station called Rocket located near to the M62 and Queens Drive junction.

The Outer Rail Loop, as proposed in the 1960s would use the following sections of line:

The east section of line: the former Cheshire Lines Committee North Liverpool Extension Line from Hunts Cross to Walton which ran through the city's eastern suburbs. This line was originally built as a freight line to Huskisson Dock to allow the Cheshire Lines Committee to have a share of the lucrative North Liverpool Docks trade. Passenger services were also run on this line with the last service ending in 1972 with the closing of the Liverpool Central to Gateacre service. The line crosses the original Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Broad Green.

The north section would use the curve that forms the southern side of the Walton Rail Triangle, skirting Walton Hall Park, and via the Rice Lane and Breeze Hill tunnels to Kirkdale station to join the western section at the old Liverpool Exchange to Ormskirk branch, which would be the new Northern Line. A later version of the project was to extend the eastern section to Aintree and then used the North Mersey Branch as the northern section. The North Mersey Branch branched directly south of Aintree station joining the western section at the old Liverpool Exchange to Southport line, north of Bootle New Strand Station.

The west section would link the former Lanchashire and Yorkshire lines out of Exchange Station with the Cheshire Lines Committee line out of Central by means of a new tunnel under Liverpool city centre. This tunnel, known as the Liverpool Link Line, utilised part of the former Liverpool Central to James Street Mersey Railway tunnel plus some new single track tunnels. Two underground stations, Central Low Level and Moorfields, provided interchange with the Wirral Line, allowing their high level counterparts at Central High-Level and Liverpool Exchange stations to be closed. The Link Line was opened in 1977 forming the most expensive part of the Outer Rail Loop.

The southern section would be formed from the short stretch of line from Allerton Junction to Halewood Junction, linking the Liverpool Central to Hunts Cross Cheshire Lines Committee route with the eastern section, the North Liverpool Extension Line.

Two sub loops

The main drawback of the Outer Rail Loop was the indirect route offered from the eastern suburbs to Liverpool City Centre, the main destination for passenger journeys in the conurbation. For example, a journey from West Derby would involve travelling either via Aintree to the North or Gateacre to the south. As such, it was uncompetitive with slower, but more direct, bus services.

To resolve this problem, the Edge Hill Spur scheme was proposed, which would cut the Loop into two smaller loops, a northern loop and a southern loop, thereby reducing distances. It would involve a complex tunnelled junction with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway[54] at Broad Green, with a six platform underground interchange station under the Rocket pub near the M62 to Queens Drive junction.

The demise of the project was compounded by cost overruns on the Loop and Link tunnel projects and the financial stringency of the late 1970s and by delays to the parliamentary bill required to authorise the works caused by the objection of the MP for Broad Green on the grounds of the disruption to local residents.[citation needed]

Since the postponement of the project, a number of Route Utilisation Strategy documents have mentioned re-opening the North Mersey Branch line to form a passenger link between Bootle and Aintree with stations to serve Ford and Girobank. This would have formed the northern section of the loop. The remaining section of the loop, the line from Hunts Cross to Aintree, is now the Liverpool Loop Country Park, a popular walking and cycling route.

The earlier proposed route for the northern section of the loop via the southern side of the Walton Rail Triangle, skirting Walton Hall Park, and via Rice Lane and Breeze Hill tunnels to Kirkdale station, is now disused and built upon. The later northern alignment using the North Mersey Branch via Aintree and Bootle is still in use but single tracked and used only by maintenance trains.

For several decades, Merseytravel safeguarded the route against development.[citation needed] .[55][56]


Despite the Outer Rail Loop project never having been realised, the project has left an important legacy. The Link Line tunnel beneath Liverpool City Centre, which integrates the Northern and Wirral lines and links the northern and southern rail networks is the most obvious. However the establishment of the Liverpool Loop Country Park owes its existence to the safeguarding of the line, which meant that its bridges and tunnels were left in place and a through route was maintained.

The Edge Hill Spur

Victoria/Waterloo Tunnel portal at Edge Hill Station, taken from Edge Hill Station platform.

In the 1960s/early 1970s the Edge Hill Spur scheme was proposed to extend the Merseyrail underground network from Liverpool Central Station to Edge Hill Station using existing freight and passenger tunnels. The original proposal was extended to widen the benefits of the proposal. The scheme has not been actively pursued since the 1980s but a junction to facilitate future construction was built as part of the Link Line works in the 1970s.

The construction of the Spur would have served two main functions:

  • The complete integration into Merseyrail of the urban lines east of Liverpool city centre. The east-west diesel City Line routes from Wigan, St. Helens and Earlestown to Lime Street mainline station were to be electrified and diverted into the north-south Link tunnel of the Northern Line. This would achieve complete integration of the three lines forming the Merseyrail network: the City, Northern and Wirral Lines. Access from stations on the City Line into Liverpool City Centre would be greatly improved.
  • Giving more direct city centre access from the city's north eastern and south eastern suburbs. The proposed Outer Rail Loop would have been split into northern and southern sub loops, thereby shortening distances and journey times.

The initial and cheaper proposal was to re-use the 1829 Wapping freight tunnel, by means of two new single track tunnels from a new junction, Liverpool Central South Junction, on the tunnel approach to Central Station. The Wapping Tunnel would give access to Edge Hill via the historic Cavendish Cutting built for the 1830 Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Access to the City Line would be obtained via a flyover to the east of Edge Hill Station over the main lines from Lime Street. This flyover has since been demolished. A new station would be needed at Edge Hill, if Edge Hill was to be served, as the existing station is at the head of the Lime Street cutting and Waterloo/Victoria Tunnel.

In the early 1970s, Liverpool City Council planners proposed an alternative scheme, which was subsequently adopted. This revised route would permit a new underground station to be constructed to serve Liverpool University, which would be located behind the Student's Union building in Mount Pleasant. This scheme would extend the tunnels in a large radius curve to the north, passing beneath the mainline Lime Street station approach cutting accessing Edge Hill via the Waterloo/Victoria Tunnel. The tunnel served the former Waterloo Goods depot opposite Waterloo Dock and the Riverside passenger station serving trans-Atlantic liners at the Pier Head. On emerging from this tunnel at the existing Edge Hill Station, the route would be on the right side of the main lines to serve the City Line branches without the need for a flyover.

Although powers were obtained to construct the line under the Merseyside Metropolitan Railway Act (1975), construction was postponed due to the financial cutbacks and political opposition that also halted the Outer Rail Loop. An attempt was made to revive the project in the mid 80s however it was found not to be financially viable, as the city was experiencing a financial collapse.

The only part of the scheme to be realised was Liverpool Central South Junction south of the underground station, which was constructed as part of the Link Tunnel project on the Northern Line. This is a burrowing junction, similar to that at Hamilton Square station in Birkenhead, which would allow trains from Edge Hill to pass beneath trains from Central station on the Northern Line increasing throughput. Two short header branch tunnels were cut into the rock, which would allow construction to proceed on the Spur without disrupting existing services if the project was revived. The two header tunnels can be used for branching into either the Wapping or Victoria/Waterloo tunnels.[57]

Following the collapse of the Merseytram scheme in 2006, proposals were considered to revive the scheme.[58] The route of the tunnels is being protected. Merseyrail required revisions to the Central Village scheme commenced in 2010 to prevent obstruction of the proposed tunnel route. The electrification of the 1830 Liverpool to Manchester line and the Merseyrail City Line, due for completion in 2013, which both run through Edge Hill gives impetus to revive the tunnelled spur into Liverpool's city centre.

The 1849 Waterloo/Victoria Tunnel is over 2 miles long with the 1829 Wapping Tunnel 1.24 miles long. Both run from Edge Hill, under Liverpool city centre to former goods stations on the Dock Road, serving the north and south Liverpool Docks. The Waterloo Tunnel also served the Riverside passenger station at Liverpool's Pier Head, serving the trans-Atlantic liner trade. The tunnels are protected for future use.[59]


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