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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Podcast: Global Britain and local Liverpool

Liverpool. Image: Getty.

This week, two disparate segments linked by the idea of trading with the world. Well, vaguely. It’s there, but you have to squint.

First up: I make my regular visit to the Centre for Cities office for the Ask the Experts slot with head of policy Paul Swinney. This week, he teaches me why cities need businesses that export internationally to truly thrive.

After that, we’re off to Liverpool, with New Statesman politics correspondent Patrick Maguire. He tells me why the local Labour party tried to oust mayor Joe Anderson; how the city became the party’s heartlands; and how it ended up with quite so many mayors.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Skylines is produced by Nick Hilton.

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