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.


 

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.