Merseyrail’s final phase of track renewal

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

Home » Merseyrail’s final phase of track renewal

Published: 31st October 2016

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


Essential rail renewal work on the Liverpool city centre underground sections of the Wirral line and the Mersey Tunnel will be undertaken by Network Rail during the first half of 2017.

The work, which takes place in three phases over six months, will replace the ageing track on this busy commuter route and ensure its smooth running for the next sixty years.

The concrete that supports the track has been admirably maintained over the last forty years, but now needs to be replaced. This arduous but essential task takes place under demanding conditions, many metres underground and in dark, restricted spaces. This fascinating footage shows how engineers go about replacing the track sections. As you can see, the work is completed in narrow single bore tunnels, measuring just 4.7 metres wide and 4.1 metres high, at depths of up to forty metres beneath the city.

The project involves renewal of the track on Liverpool’s underground ‘loop’, a one-way section of the Wirral Line, taking in the three major stops of Liverpool city centre; James Street, Lime Street and Central. To minimise disruption to travellers, engineers will replace the track under the river between James Street and Hamilton Square (Birkenhead) at the same time.  

Phase one will run from January to February 2017 and see the closure of the Mersey Tunnel for renewal. Trains will terminate at Birkenhead Central and North and a replacement bus service will ferry commuters to and from the city centre.

The project’s second phase runs from February to May 2017 and will see trains running as far as James Street on weekdays (trains will terminate Birkenhead North and Central at weekends) while essential maintenance takes place on the loop under the city centre.

The third phase will take place between May and June 2017 when Wirral line trains will once again terminate at Birkenhead stations.

Network Rail hope to complete the work by mid-June 2017 and, while Merseyrail concede there is no ‘good’ time to undertake work of this scale, they hope the chosen dates – prior to peak summer season – will affect the smallest number of journeys possible.

Managing Director of Merseyrail, Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, said: “The work that Network Rail will undertake next year is essential for maintaining the safe and reliable operation of the infrastructure built in the 1970s. However, we do not underestimate the inconvenience this will cause to our Wirral line passengers in the short term.

“During the next few months, we will work with Merseytravel to finalise the alternative travel arrangements, including the extensive rail replacement bus service that will be required when the riverbed tunnel is closed.”

There has been concern from commuters and businesses about the scale of the disruption but Merseyrail, Network Rail and Merseytravel are confident they have developed a solid alternative transport plan for the duration of the works.

Working closely with Wirral Council and Liverpool City Council, and taking lessons from the recent Olympics and Commonwealth Games, a ‘coordinated’ transport plan incorporating replacement buses and ferry crossings has been drafted in advance of the works starting in the New Year.       

To discourage commuters from using cars and causing congestion in the Mersey Tunnel, a ‘high quality express bus’ service and extra ferry crossings have been scheduled to alleviate stress on the roads.

The express service will run at least every fifteen minutes between Moorfields and St George’s Hall to Birkenhead Central and North stations.  

Commuters will also have the option of taking the ferry; this may be of particular appeal to cyclists who are not permitted to take bikes on the bus. Mersey Ferries will be running three crossings an hour between Seacombe and the Pier Head and with almost 400 parking spaces at Seacombe, Merseyrail ticket holders travelling by car may prefer to travel to work in this way.

Commuters are also being encouraged to travel at different times and consider changing their normal working hours.    

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