The Liverpool Overhead Railway was legendary – but is it worth rebuilding?

A Liverpool Overhead Railway carriage, on display in the Museum of Liverpool. Image: Mike Peel/Wikimedia Commons.

The historic Liverpool Overhead Railway (LOR) has legendary status – well, round here it does, anyway. So what was it?

Opened in 1893, the LOR was the world's first elevated electric railway, and operated for 11km along the Liverpool docks. It was the first system in the world to use automatic signalling, electric colour light signals, and lightweight electric multiple units. It boasted one of the first passenger escalators at a railway station, too.

It was also one of the first electric metros in the world. At its peak, almost 20m people used the railway every year. Being a local railway, it was not nationalised in 1948. 

Here is a picture of Seaforth Sands railway station, back in the day:

Image: Dr Neil Clifton/Geograph.co.uk.

And here's a view of the Dingle tunnel entrance, beyond Herculaneum Dock station:

Image: subbrit.org.uk.

And here is a map showing how extensive the line was:

Image: Eric Peissel/UrbanRail.net.

In 1955, a report into the structure of the many viaducts showed major repairs were needed, which the company could not afford. The railway closed in 1956; demolition took place from 1957 to 1959. You can at least still see a full scale model of an LOR train and track in the excellent Museum of Liverpool at the Pier Head in Liverpool city centre: that’s the picture at the top of this page.

In recent times some people around here have been asking whether we could recreate the legendary Liverpool Overhead Railway along Liverpool's iconic waterfront, with a futuristic looking twist, using a Monorail. But how much would such a thing cost?

Helpfully, a Scottish pressure group called Clyde Monorail Ltd has fairly recently done research into costs of providing Monorails and calculated an average cost, including contingency, of £27m per kilometre. Taking these numbers as a starting point, it would be reasonable, at this stage, to estimate a cost of about £160m for a useful Liverpool Monorail which would maximise connectivity, shown in pink on the map below. This would run just under 6km from Sandhills station in the north to Brunswick station in the south, and would include interchanges with the Liverpool Underground at Sandhills, James Street and finally Brunswick.

Image: Google/Dave Mail.

There would also be non-interchange stations at: Bramley Moore Dock/Stanley Dock, where Everton Football Club's new stadium is proposed to be built; Central Docks; Princes Dock; Liverpool One/Albert Dock; ACC ECL (the arena, conference centre and exhibition centre complex). That is eight stations in all, shown by pink "M"s on the map. In 2000, the Monorail Society even claimed that, surprisingly, monorails may be less expensive to operate than light rail.

However, a much better alternative in my opinion, would be to just open two more stations on the existing Northern Line on the Liverpool Underground, shown in yellow on the above map, at a fraction of the cost. One would be a re-opening of an extant station at St James Street, in the south of the city centre; the other would be a new station in Vauxhall, at the junction of Love Lane and Whitley Street, in the north of the city centre. 

You see, the £5bn Liverpool Waters development (which is Liverpool's Canary Wharf, if you like, or, better still, #GovernmentCityLPL), would be within only half a mile, or a maximum 10 minutes walk at the average human walking speed, of Vauxhall station, not to mention the adjacent 'Ten Streets' area.

St James station is within a half mile of the Baltic Triangle, China Town and the Georgian Quarter. Oh, and there are already 12 trains per hour in each direction on the Liverpool Underground at the prospective Vauxhall station location. There will be the same at St James station after the planned train turnback facility is introduced at Liverpool South Parkway station further to the south.

Image: Google/Dave Mail.

On this map, I’ve drawn circles with radius of half a mile around each currently operational city centre Liverpool Underground station, to represent a maximum 10 minutes walk from each station, at the average human walking speed. It shows clearly the very comprehensive coverage that the city centre already enjoys

Image: Google/Dave Mail.

But by adding just two stations, this would be enhanced further, to include almost the entire city centre. The following map has added half mile radius circles for St James station and Vauxhall station too. Bramley Moore dock is shown by the letters 'BM' and would be equidistant between Sandhills and Vauxhall stations. A Mersey ferry stop here on Everton match days would create an excellent and varied high capacity public transport access system.

So, lots of bang for your buck! Oh, and while we're at it, let's progress the Circle Line too.

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’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.


 

 
 
 
 

How spurious imperial science affected the layout of African cities

Freetown, Sierra Leone. Image: David Hond/Freetown From The Air/Wikimedia Commons.

As the European powers spread across the world, systematically colonising it as they went, one of the deadliest enemies they faced was disease. In 1850s India, one in twenty British soldiers were dying from such diseases – on a par with British Empire casualty rates during World War II.

When Europeans started dropping dead the minute they got off the boat, the scientists of the day rushed to provide their own, at times fairly dodgy, solutions. This era coincided with a key period of city planning in the African colonies – meaning that there is still visible evidence of this shoddy science in the cityscape of many modern African cities.
For a long time altitude was considered a protection against disease, on the grounds that it was far from the lowland heat associated with putrefaction. British officials in India retreated to the ‘hill stations’ during the warm season; this practice continued in the African colonies established by all sorts of European powers in the late 19th century.

So it was that one bunch of imperialists established the capital of German Kamerun at Buea, high on the side of Mount Cameroon. The city still has a population of 90,000 today. Evidence of this height fetish can still be found in the ‘Plateau’ districts of Brazzaville, Dakar and Abidjan as well as the ‘Ridge’ district of Accra.


Malaria, particularly, was an ever present fear in the colonies, and it did much to shape the colonial cities. It’s a sign of the extent to which 19th century medical science misunderstood how the disease was spread that its name comes from the French for ‘bad air’. By the late 19th century, knowledge had managed to progress far enough to identify mosquitoes as the culprits – but views still wildly diverged about the appropriate response.

One solution popular in many empires was segregation. The Europeans had incorrectly identified Africans as the main carriers of the disease; African children under five were believed to be the main source of malaria so they were to be kept far away from the colonists at all times.

And so, many powers decided that the European settlers should be housed in their own separate areas. (Of course, this wrong headed but at least rational response wasn’t the whole explanation: often, sanitary concerns were used to veil simple racial chauvinism.)

The affluent Hill Station – a name reminiscent of the Indian colonies – in Freetown, Sierra Leone was built as a segregated suburb so Europeans could keep well clear of the local children. Today, it’s where the home of the president can be found. Yet despite all this expensive shuffling of Freetown’s urban landscape, inhabitants of Hill Station came down with malaria at about the same as those who lived elsewhere.

 

The Uganda Golf Course, Kampala. Image: Google Maps.

In Kampala, Uganga, a golf course now occupies the land designated by the British powers to protect the European neighbourhood from the African. A similar appropriation can be seen in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of The Congo, where a zoo, botanical garden and another golf course can be found the land earmarked for protecting colonial officials and their families.

All this urban juggling was the privilege of immensely powerful colonial officials, backed up by the military might of the imperial powers. The indigenous peoples could do little but watch as their cities were bulldozed and rebuilt based on the whims of the day. Yet the scars are still visible in the fabric of many modern African cities today.