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.


 

 
 
 
 

Mexico City’s new airport is an environmental disaster. But it could become a huge national park

Mexico City’s new Norman Foster-designed airport, seen here in a computer rendering, is visually striking but environmentally problematic. Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/creative commons.

Mexico City long ago outgrew the two-terminal Benito Juárez International Airport, which is notorious for delays, overcrowding and canceled flights. Construction is now underway on a striking new international airport east of this metropolis of 20m. When it opens in late 2020, the LEED-certified new airport – whose terminal building was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster in collaboration with the well-known Mexican architect Fernando Romero – is expected to eventually serve 125m passengers. That’s more than Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles’ LAX.

But after three years of construction and $1.3bn, costs are ballooning and corruption allegations have dogged both the funding and contracting process.

Environmentalists are also concerned. The new airport is located on a semi-dry lake bed that provides water for Mexico City and prevents flooding. It also hosts migrating flocks and is home to rare native species like the Mexican duck and Kentish plover.

According to the federal government’s environmental impact assessment, 12 threatened species and 1 endangered species live in the area.

The airport project is now so divisive that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist winner of the country’s 2018 presidential campaign, has suggested scrapping it entirely.

An environmental disaster

Mexico’s new airport sits in a federal reserve. Image: Yavidaxiu/The Conversation.

I’m an expert in landscape architecture who studies the ecological adaption of urban environments. I think there’s a way to save Mexico’s new airport and make it better in the process: create a nature reserve around it.

Five hundred years ago, lakes covered roughly 20 percent of the Valle de Mexico, a 3,500-square-mile valley in the country’s south-central region. Slowly, over centuries, local residents – first the Aztecs, then the Spanish colonisers and then the Mexican government – built cities, irrigation systems and plumbing systems that sucked the region dry.

By the mid-20th century, the lakes had been almost entirely drained. In 1971, President Luís Echeverría decreed the area a federal reserve, citing the region’s critical ecological role for Mexico City. The smattering of small lakes and reforested land there now catch and store runoff rainwater and prevent dust storms.

The new airport will occupy 17 square miles of the 46-square-mile former Lake Texcoco. To ensure effective water management for Mexico City, the airport master plan proposes creating new permanent water bodies to offset the lakes lost to the airport and cleaning up and restoring nine rivers east of the airport. It also proposes planting some 250,000 trees.

The government’s environmental assessment determined that the impacts of the new airport, while significant, are acceptable because Lake Texcoco is already “an altered ecosystem that lost the majority of its original environmental importance due to desiccation and urban expansion.” Today, the report continues, “it is now only a desolate and abandoned area.”

Environmentalists loudly disagree.

Make Mexico’s airport great again

I see this environmental controversy as an opportunity to give Mexico City something way more transformative than a shiny new airport.

Nobody can entirely turn back the clock on Lake Texcoco. But the 27 square miles of lake bed not occupied by the airport could be regenerated, its original habitat partially revitalised and environmental functions recovered in a process known as restoration ecology.

I envision a huge natural park consisting of sports fields, forests, green glades and a diverse array of water bodies – both permanent and seasonal – punctuated by bike paths, walking trails and access roads.

The airport will come equipped with new ground transportation to Mexico City, making the park easily accessible to residents. Extensions from the surrounding neighborhood streets and highways could connect people in poor neighbourhoods abutting the airport – dense concrete jungles like Ecatepec, Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl and Chimalhuacan – to green space for the first time.

The nine rivers that empty into Lake Texcoco from the east could be turned into greenways to connect people from further out in Mexico State to what would become the area’s largest public park.

Space could also be reserved for cultural attractions such as museums, open and accessible to passengers in transit.


New master plan

This idea is not as crazy as it sounds.

As early as 1998, Mexican architects Alberto Kalach and the late Teodoro González de León proposed rehabilitating the lakes of the Valley of Mexico. Their book, “The City and its Lakes,” even envisaged a revenue-generating island airport as part of this environmentally revitalized Lake Texcoco.

Under President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Water Commission also proposed building an ecological park in Lake Texcoco, which was to include an island museum and restore long-degraded nearby agricultural land. But the project never gained traction.

Granted, turning a large, half-constructed airport into a national park would require an ambitious new master plan and a budget reallocation.

But in my opinion, evolution and change should be part of ambitious public designs. And this one is already expected to cost an additional $7.7bn to complete anyway.

Toronto’s Downsview Park – a 291-acre former air force base turned green space – has transformed so much since its conception in 1995 that its declared mission is now to “constantly develop, change and mature to reflect the surrounding community with each generation.”

Local communities neighboring Mexico City’s new airport were not adequately consulted about their needs, environmental concerns and their current stakes in the Lake Texcoco area. A revamped park plan could be truly inclusive, designed to provide recreation and urban infrastructure – and maybe even permanent jobs – for these underserved populations.

Presidential race

Three of the four candidates in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election wanted to finish Mexico City’s new international airport. But eventual winner López Obrador was not so sure.

Early in his campaign, he said he would cancel it if elected. Instead, López Obrador suggested, a former air force base could become the new international terminal. It would be connected to Benito Juárez airport, 22 miles south, by train.

López Obrador has since said he would support completing construction of the new international airport if the remaining financing came from the private sector, not the Mexican government. Currently, some two-thirds of the project is funded by future airport taxes.

The ConversationLópez Obrador’s promise to review and likely upend the airport plan could open the door to its wholesale transformation, putting people and nature are at the core of a plan ostensibly designed for the public good.

Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.