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.


 

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

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

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