The Wirral Loop Line track renewal explained

Linking the Wirral with Liverpool by rail, the Wirral Loop Line is built on a concrete base. Since this was built in the 1970s, it’s now over 40 years old, worn, and needs completely replacing.

What is the Wirral Loop?

Liverpool is one of only four cities in the UK that have an underground railway. The body that runs the railway, Merseyrail, operates 75 miles of track and 67 stations. The underground portion of the network is 6.5 miles.

The Wirral Loop is the underground portion of the Wirral Line. Four terminus stations are on the line: Chester, Ellesmere Port, New Brighton and West Kirby. The underground Wirral loop section of the Wirral Line is a single-track electrified line that runs to and from Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square station, through the Mersey Railway Tunnel to Liverpool’s city centre, then loops back to the Wirral.

When the loop is not being disrupted by engineering work, trains run about every 15 minutes during busy periods.

There are 59 Class 507 and Class 508 electric unit trains that operate the services on the Liverpool underground railway network. These were refurbished between 2002 and 2005 at a cost of £32m.

Some of the trains are named after Liverpool icons, including Red Rum, Bob Paisley, Dixie Dean, John Peel and an advertising train for the Beatles Story.

What is the renewal?

Network Rail is renewing the track so that it will be reliable, efficient and last for a long time. The work is taking place between January and June 2017, during which period the concrete track is being dug out and a new concrete base laid. Once the new track is completed, no major engineering works should be necessary on the Wirral Loop for many decades.

The track is 40 metres underground and will require 140 wagon loads of concrete to replace. The work will require four miles of cabling to provide power, lighting and water for the workers. The working areas is restricted, as the Mersey Loop tunnel is just 4.7 meters in diameter.

The only access to the work is from the Wirral, which means that vehicles servicing the site make a six-mile underground round trip to reach the site.

The history of Liverpool’s rail network

People have been traveling from Wirral to Liverpool by rail since the early 19th Century, when the original Liverpool area rail network was run by several companies: the Lancashire Company, the Cheshire Company, Mersey Railway, Liverpool Railway and the Wirral Railway.

The UK’s first intercity line was built from Manchester to Liverpool. Work started 1827 and in 1829 before the line was opened, a competition was held to find the best locomotive for the line. Many steam locomotives competed, and the winner was the famous Stephenson’s Rocket.

In 1886, a cross-river railway tunnel was constructed and this linked the Wirral peninsula with the rest of the Mersey rail network.

In the 1950s, following rail nationalisation, Merseyrail was created to run an integrated Mersey rail network. Merseyrail constructed the Wirral loop in the 1970s to enable trains to enter Liverpool from Wirral then loop back across the river and back to Wirral again.

After the privatisation of the railways in 1995, the Mersey rail network was operated by Merseyside Transport Ltd., but it experienced financial difficulties. the Merseyrail franchise is now operated by Arriva Trains Merseyside.

The three phases

Renewing the Wirral loop line will impact rail travellers. Although all passengers will be able to travel from the Wirral to Liverpool, part of the journey will be on replacement buses.

The work is in three phases. Phase One lasted from the begging of January until February 12, when all Wirral trains terminated at Birkenhead North and Birkenhead Central, with buses taking passengers into Liverpool.

Phase Two lasts from February 13 until May 29, when all Wirral trains will start and terminate at James Street station, but at weekends all trains will start and terminate at the same Birkenhead stations at in Phase One.

Phase Three lasts from May 30 to June 18, and will see the same restrictions applied as in Phase One.

The managing director of Merseyrail, Jan Chaudhry, commented on the impact this will have on travelers, explaining:

“We think journey times will increase by about 20 minutes overall. We will be running express replacement buses using the two major highway tunnels.”

Work is carried out 24 hours a day and seven days a week so that the project can be completed as soon as possible. The Wirral loop renewal is currently making good progress.

Alternative transport

Passengers disrupted by the Wirral loop renewal work can use alternative modes of transport. Mersey Ferries operate a service across the Mersey and accepts cross-rail tickets. The ferry is a suitable alternative for cyclists as, for some periods of the Wirral loop renewal, cyclists cannot use the trains or replacement buses.

Buses are available for journeys between Wirral and Liverpool, and they will run more frequently until the Wirral loop work is completed.

Cars can travel through the Mersey Tunnels but this is not recommended at peak times when extra traffic is expected to cause delays. Seacombe ferry terminal provides free parking for 370 cars.

The future

The Wirral loop renewal should provide the people of Wirral with a safe, fast and reliable way to travel to Liverpool. The renewal work will also include improvements to signaling and platforms. This will allow the use of longer trains and a more frequent service, with up to three extra trains running per hour.

Merseyrail is committed to improving the rail service in the Liverpool area. The new HS2 high speed rail link is planned to reach Liverpool and this could fuel the city’s economic growth.

Merseyrail’s plans are based on a growing number of railway passengers. It intends to upgrade the trains and extend Liverpool centre stations so that they can handle more passengers.

The Wirral loop renewal work is bound to cause some inconvenience for travellers but, once complete, it should provide a better service for travellers between the Wirral and Liverpool for the foreseeable future.

Posted by Mark
March 3, 2017

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