Published on : Saturday, August 6, 2016
Local politicians visited Liverpool Central station yesterday to take a rare look at the tunnels beneath the city, revealing the seldom-seen passages used by trains every day and the challenges involved in maintaining a safe and modern railway for passengers.
The visit illustrated why essential track renewal work, due to start in January 2017 and take place over six months, is essential in order to maintain the safety and reliability of Merseyrail services, as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.
The tunnels range in age between 45 and 150 years old and vary in size and depth. Some sections under the River Mersey were once used for steam trains, in contrast with others which are much smaller and built 40 years ago to create the famous Liverpool loop.
It is these 1970s tunnels on the Wirral line that will be subject to essential renewal work next year, following Network Rail’s announcement in March. This work is part of Network Rail’s and the Liverpool City Region’s £340m investment in the rail network. The repairs will involve a six-mile round trip for maintenance vehicles, as well as the pumping 140 lorry-loads of concrete 40 metres underground.
The track in the underground ‘loop’, which forms the one way section of the Wirral line under Liverpool city centre has been continuously maintained. However, 40 years on, the concrete that supports the track in the single bore tunnels needs to be replaced. To minimise disruption, Network Rail is taking the opportunity to replace the track under the riverbed between James Street and Hamilton Square at the same time.
Stephen Townley, Network Rail’s scheme programme manager, said: “This work is essential to maintain the safety and reliability of the railway. Replacing the track and undertaking other maintenance can only be done when we can safely access the railway – which unfortunately means closing this part of the railway for passengers.
“Like the original 19th century pioneers, working conditions 40 metres underground are still challenging, and mean that lighting, water, ventilation and a supply of compressed air all need to be installed before work can begin. We have worked closely with Merseyrail and Merseytravel to plan the work to cause the least amount of disruption possible.”
The work means that from January to June 2017, Wirral line trains will not be able to serve Moorfields, Lime Street and Liverpool Central stations. At certain times, trains towards Liverpool will be unable to travel beyond Birkenhead Central and Birkenhead North, including the first six weeks, the last few weeks and most weekends. Northern line services will remain unaffected throughout and will call at Moorfields and Liverpool Central as normal.
Merseyrail, working with Merseytravel and Network Rail will do everything possible to ensure Wirral line passengers can continue to travel into Liverpool city centre while the work takes place. This will involve passengers using alternative transport such as replacement bus services. Full details on the alternative travel arrangements will be available in the autumn when passengers should check before they travel.