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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What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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