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.


 

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.