Here’s why the Liverpool Underground needs a circle line

A Merseyrail train at Liverpool Central. Image: Chris McKenna/Wikimedia Commons.

In a previous column on these pages, I argued that a priority for the Liverpool City Region metro mayor should be the completion of the “Circle Line”, which uses part of the original Liverpool Outer Loop Line, on the Liverpool Underground.

The work to extend, electrify and modernise this part of the network was originally commenced in the 1970s – the full project was never completed. For the train enthusiasts out there, here is a fuller explanation of what the Circle Line is.

Image: Dave Mail.

The red line on this excellent map are the yet to be restored section of the Circle Line; the green line is the already completed section. For example, here’s a picture of (mothballed) West Derby station: 

Image: Sue Adair/Wikimedia Commons.

And here’s the Grade II listed (and, operational) Hunts Cross: 

Image: El Pollock/Wikimedia Commons.

There are many tens of thousands of people living along the mothballed Liverpool Outer Loop Line. These would be, almost exclusively, new customers for the Liverpool Underground, bringing an enormous amount of new income to the network. The Circle Line, which would use only part of the Liverpool Outer Loop Line, would connect anyone who lives near it easily and conveniently with everywhere on the Liverpool Underground network.

For example, a young, non-car owning person could easily and conveniently commute from Norris Green to anywhere within Greater Liverpool for work, just as how someone from West Kirby or Formby can do at the moment. This would open up greatly increased work opportunities available to such a person.


The initial incarnation of the Circle Line should connect Hunts Cross station to Rice Lane station eight miles away, and include the six extant stations, to conclude the already two-thirds completed project. 

The journey time from Norris Green Broadway to Central station, in the city centre, would be 15 minutes using the current train fleet (that’s based on the next station along, Rice Lane’s journey time to Central station currently being 12 minutes).

The Norris Green resident would also benefit from interchanges at: Rice Lane station for Kirkby and Skelmersdale; Kirkdale station for the Ormskirk Line; Sandhills station for the Southport Line; Central/Moorfields stations for the Wirral Line; Broad Green station for Lime Street and St Helens; Hunts Cross station for Warrington; Liverpool South Parkway for Chester, North Wales and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Extrapolating from current journey times, the longest journey to Central station going north would be from Knotty Ash station and would likely take 21 minutes; going south, the longest journey would be from Childwall station, and would likely take 23 minutes. Customers could also interchange at Broad Green, to take the existing City Line straight into the city, if they preferred.

I would suggest that the realistic walking catchment area for each station would be a half mile radius from the station – a maximum 10 minute walk – although many more commuters might get a lift to their nearest station, to commute the rest of the way by train.

The benefits of the Circle Line would also go far beyond only accessing the city centre. Broad Green station is less than 10 minutes walk from Broadgreen Hospital; Knotty Ash station would be next door to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (one of the largest children’s hospitals in the country), and may be better renamed to Alder Hey station.

Norris Green Broadway station would be 20 minutes walk from Liverpool Football Club via ‘96 Avenue’; Kirkdale station is 15 minutes walk from Everton Football Club; Vauxhall station would be less than 10 minutes walk from EFC’s potentially transformational new multi-purpose stadium, and all of the many facilities that would be likely to develop around that area; and so on.

The Outer Loop, as proposed in the 1970s. Image: Merseytravel, via John Burns.

So what would the estimated cost be? To provide a 20 minute frequency service around the Circle Line would require four trains at £9m per train, i.e. £36m. (The frequency could be increased on match/event days.)

Given that most of the expensive infrastructure is already in place, using an estimate of £15m per mile for the build gives a total of £120m. However, it is worth bearing in mind here that the imminent new train fleet will also be capable of being battery powered on non-electrified sections of track, thus potentially reducing this cost significantly.

So an – admittedly rough estimate – of the cost at this stage would therefore be £150m, including trains. Of course this doesn’t include everything – stations would need to be renovated, and so forth. Nonetheless, this initial estimate is probably more accurate than the initial estimates for both the Edinburgh tram scheme and the London Olympics.

A very rough idea of where the new line would fit into the current network. Image: David Arthur/Wikimedia, vandalised by CityMetric.

If one mile was built every five years the Circle Line would be fully complete in 40 years time. Or, to put it another way, if this approach had been chosen in the 1970s, when the work to extend, electrify and modernise the network started, the full Circle Line project would be completing soon.

Broadway, adjacent to the Liverpool Outer Loop Line in Norris Green, is a densely populated area and has always been a social and economic hub attracting people from miles around. Re-opening the station there would place a large population within a 15 minute train journey of Central station.

However, Broadway station would also be close to the start of “96 Avenue” and would be LFC’s main station. On this basis it would probably be most beneficial to start with the section from Rice Lane to Norris Green Broadway.

New trains. Image: Merseytravel.

The Circle Line, from Rice Lane station to Rice Lane station via part of the Liverpool Outer Loop Line, Hunts Cross station and the city centre, would be 19 miles long. This means that a full loop of the Circle Line – using the faster, brand new, recently ordered train fleet, which will be rolled out across the network in 2020 (pictured above) – would take 39 minutes. The longest journey time to Central station on it would therefore be less than 20 minutes. These are very acceptable journey times.

We’ve waited long enough. It’s time Liverpool got its circle line.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’.

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You’ve heard of trainspotters and planespotters. Now meet Britain’s growing army of busspotters

Some busspotters in action. Image: Damian Potter.

In the summer of 2014, with too much time on my hands and too little to do, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly active, 200+ person Facebook group. How I ended up here (record scratch, freeze frame) is a little too convoluted and stupid to explain – but what I found was a world that I a) could not have imagined nor b) had any clue even existed.

The group I tumbled into was what I now understand to be a very, very small example of a “busspotting” group – that is, a Facebook group full of dedicated bus enthusiasts which exists to share pictures of buses they see on the road. This group had members from all over the country, with a concentration on northern buses, and was predominantly filled with young, white men.

What I expected to see was a range over relatively interesting buses, holding some significance or another, that were tough to find in your average day-to-day life. This was, largely, not the case. What fascinated me was that the vast majority of the group was not focused on unique buses, new buses, historically significant buses, and so on – but simply on the average bus and or bus route you might take just to get around your city.

What was even more bizarre to me was that people from across the country were meeting up in small towns (Morpeth, Livingston, Stevenage) to take seemingly mundane bus rides to other equally small places (Washington, Gloucester, Grimsby). The busspotters would travel hours on end to meet at these locations simply to ride this bus, often for three or four hours, and experience a bus route they’d never been on before or one that they just particularly enjoyed.

Ooooh. Image: Damian Potter.

After a couple of weeks of silently watching and one semi-ironic post, I left the group. And, for the next three years, I gave barely a thought to bus enthusiasm, as no busspotter group/page/person crossed my path. Unlike similar enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, it didn’t seem to me that busspotting had any significant following.

But, as is the way of these things, a weird thread on Twitter three summers later sparked my memory of my short time in this group. I wanted to see what busspotting was actually and about and if, in fact, it was still a thing.

So I spoke to Damian Potter, an admin on several popular busspotting groups, about what it’s like to be deep into the busspotting scene.

“I used to sit upstairs on double decker buses and 'drive' them, including the pedal movements!” Damian announced right off the bat, speaking of his childhood. “I've been driving coaches at home and abroad since I passed my PCV test in 1994. I've been driving for Transdev Harrogate and District Travel since 1998.”

Damian, as you might have gathered, has been a busspotter since his early youth. Now, at the age of 50, he manages four different busspotting Facebook groupsm, mostly based around the Harrogate area (Transdev Enthusiasts, The Harrogate Bus Company, iTransport Worldwide and Spotting Bus and Coach Spotters). Some of them have over a thousand members.

He also participates in busspotting IRL, travelling around the country participating in busspotting meet-ups and events and co-organising trips along different bus routes. When I asked him what busspotting was to him, he explained that it can manifest in different ways: some people focus on makes of bus and routes, other focus on particular bus companies (National Express is particularly popular). Of course, bus enthusiasm is not solely a British phenomenon, but busspotters can certainly be found in practically every corner of the UK.

“People tend to think that spotters hang around bus stations furtively, with a camera and some curly cheese sandwiches, but this isn't really the case,” Damian continued. That said, he also mentioned some particularly hardcore bus nuts who have been known to trespass on company premises to be the first to snap a picture of a new bus.

“They really do produce some brilliant pictures, though,” he added.


Although much of busspotting culture happens online, predominantly on Facebook, groups often have what are called ‘running days’ which involve meet ups having to do with particular routes. Damian mentioned one particularly popular day following the London Routemaster buses that happen periodically. Not only do these routes draw in enthusiasts, he noted, but also draw huge numbers of tourists who want to claim they’ve ridden on the original London buses.

“I reckon the general public miss the old Routemaster buses. There is only one 'heritage' route in London which still uses Routemaster buses and that's the 15 service between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill.”

Despite this widespread interest in buses and bus history, though, busspotters often find themselves treated as the lesser of the motor enthusiasts. This became clear to me almost immediately when speaking to Damian, and continued to strike me throughout our conversation; without my saying anything sarcastic, malicious, or snarky, he became instantly defensive of his fellow enthusiasts and of his hobby.

When I asked him why he felt this immediate need to defend busspotting, he explained that people often ridicule busspotters and bus enthusiasm generally, arguing that bus drivers are the most common attackers. “However,” he noted, “if I bring a load of pictures into the canteen they're the first to crowd around to see bus pictures...”

Aaah. Image: Damian Potter.

Despite being perceived as an often-mocked hobby, bus enthusiasm is expanding rapidly, Damien claims. “The bus enthusiast culture is growing, with younger generations getting more involved.” Drawing in new, younger enthusiasts has become easier thanks to social media, as has creating real personal connections. Social media has made it easier for bus enthusiasm to not just stay afloat, but actually thrive over the last several years.

It’s so widespread, in fact, that a national competition is held every year in Blackpool to mark Bus Driver of the Year (Damian himself came in 34th out of 155 back in 2002). This event draws in everyone from the bus world – drivers, manufacturers, tour companies, and enthusiasts alike. Here is one of the many places where great friendships are forged and busspotters who’ve only known each other online can finally meet face-to-face. “Personally I have made some great friends through Facebook,” Damian told me. “I have even stayed over at a friend's house in London a couple of times.”

Busspotting may be less well-known than motor enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, but that very well could change. Thanks to active social media groups and regular in-person meet-ups, people have been able to use busspotting forums as not only a way to find lifelong friends, but also spend more of their free time exploring their hobby with the people they’ve met through these groups and pages who share their enthusiasm. For all the flack it may receive, the future of busspotting looks bright.

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