Merseyrail - A

Merseyrail - A
Merseyrail is a commuter rail network serving the Liverpool City Region and adjacent areas of Cheshire and Lancashire. Merseyrail operates 66 railway stations across two lines – the Northern Line and the Wirral Line, which are dedicated 750 V DC third rail electrified lines converging into rapid transit-style underground sections in the centres of Liverpool and Birkenhead.
Merseyrail branding is also applied to stations and ticketing on the City Line, which are within the Liverpool City Region but operated by other train operating companies, predominantly Northern Trains. The City Line services operate on the Liverpool to Manchester Lines and the Liverpool to Wigan Line using a mix of AC electric and diesel trains.
The Merseyrail third rail network has 68 stations, 66 of which are managed by the company, and 120.7 km (75.0 miles) of routes, of which 6.5 miles (10.5 km) are underground. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the network carried 31 million passengers per year.
The first part of the urban network was opened in 1977 by merging separate rail lines by constructing new tunnels under Liverpool city centre and Birkenhead. The full 1970s plans for the network were not realised, but the network has been extended on its peripheries with additional peripheral extensions proposed. The extensions were created by electrifying existing lines and then transferring the electrified sections into Merseyrail.
Merseyrail is operated for Merseytravel by 50:50 joint venture Serco-Abellio, who superseded Arriva Trains Merseyside in 2003. The 25-year contract expires in 2028, with the aspiration of the Liverpool City Region government being to bring the network and its infrastructure under local public ownership. As of 2015, Serco-Abellio operates a fleet of 59 trains and employs 1,148 people.
The first units of Class 777 rolling stock entered service on the Merseyrail network on 23 January 2023.
Merseyrail Network
The self-contained network is operated by the Merseyrail train operating company, formally known as Merseyrail Electrics 2002, a 50:50 Serco-Abellio joint venture. Two lines known as the Northern Line and the Wirral Line compose the electric third-rail part of the network, which has service frequencies of 15 minutes in outlying areas converging to rapid transit frequencies in central sections.
The lines are electrified throughout using a 750 V DC third rail system. The City Line (marked red on the map) is operated primarily by Northern with funding from Merseytravel. The line is mainly electrified with one branch, the Liverpool to Manchester line via Warrington, operated by diesel trains.
Trains on the Northern Line and Wirral Line cover the Liverpool City Region. The total route length of the two lines is 120.7 km (75.0 miles), accommodating 66 stations. The lines connect Liverpool city centre with cities and towns on the outer reaches of the city region, such as Southport, Chester and Ormskirk. Frequent intermediate stops serve other sections of the urban area.
Unlike similar networks in the UK, Merseyrail infrastructure is owned and maintained at a national level by Network Rail. As a self-contained system serving a single City Region, the Northern and Wirral Lines are exempt from the national rail franchising structure, which is instead the responsibility of local government. The City Line, which shares infrastructure with regional and high-speed services and trains with neighbouring mainline commuter services (particularly that of Manchester), is not part of this exemption.
The three lines interchange as follows:
  • Northern and City Line services interchange at Liverpool South Parkway and Hunts Cross in the south of the city.
  • Wirral and City Lines interchange at Lime Street in the city centre.
  • Northern and Wirral Lines interchange at Liverpool Central and Moorfields in the city centre.
Northern Line (Merseyrail)
The Northern Line is shown in blue on the Merseyrail and Merseytravel maps and denoted by the above wordmark on underground stations. Services operate on three main routes: from Hunts Cross in the south of Liverpool to Southport via the Link tunnel from Brunswick station through central Liverpool, from Liverpool Central to Ormskirk, and from Liverpool Central to Kirkby. Each route operates a train every 15 minutes from Monday to Saturday, giving a frequent interval between trains on the central section. Some additional trains run at peak hours on the Southport line.
On matchdays at Everton F.C.'s Goodison Park and Liverpool F.C.'s Anfield, Northern Line services connect with the SoccerBus service at Sandhills station to transport fans to the stadia. Bus departure is at frequent intervals from Sandhills station with ticketing to combine both modes of travel. Kirkdale station is within walking distance of Goodison Park.
Connections to non-Merseyrail services are available at:
  • Southport to Wigan Wallgate and Manchester Airport.
  • Liverpool South Parkway for services operated by London.
  • Northwestern Railway, East Midlands Railway, TransPennine Express and Northern serving Birmingham New Street, Manchester Oxford Road, Blackpool North and various destinations within Yorkshire and the West Midlands.
  • Hunts Cross to Warrington Central and Manchester Oxford Road;
  • Ormskirk to Preston.
  • Kirkby to Wigan Wallgate and Manchester Victoria.
Merseyrail Wirral Line
The Wirral Line is shown in green on the Merseyrail and Merseytravel maps and denoted by the above wordmark on underground stations. Services operate from the four terminus stations of: Chester, Ellesmere Port, New Brighton and West Kirby.
Each service from one of these the terminus stations runs through Hamilton Square underground station in Birkenhead, then through the Mersey Railway Tunnel, continuing around the single track underground loop tunnel under Liverpool's city centre. Trains head back into the Mersey Railway Tunnel to return to one of the four terminus stations.
Monday-Saturday services are every 15 minutes to/from Liverpool to Chester, New Brighton and West Kirby, and every 30 minutes to/from Ellesmere Port (Monday–Sunday). These combine to give a service at least every five minutes from Birkenhead Hamilton Square and around the loop under Liverpool's city centre.
Connections to non-Merseyrail services are available at:
  • Bidston on the West Kirby branch for the Borderlands Line to Wrexham, operated by Transport for Wales.
  • Chester to Crewe and London Euston, Wrexham and Shrewsbury, the North Wales Coast line to Llandudno and Holyhead, and to Manchester either via Warrington or via Northwich and Knutsford.
  • Ellesmere Port for an infrequent service to and from Warrington.
  • Liverpool Lime Street for intercity and regional trains to London Euston, Manchester, Birmingham, Wigan, Scotland, the Midlands and Wales.
Merseyrail City Line
The City Line is the brand name used by Merseytravel on suburban rail services in the Liverpool City Region, starting eastwards from the mainline platforms of Liverpool Lime Street railway station. The line is depicted on Merseytravel signage and maps using the colour red and the above word mark.
Unlike the other two lines, the City Line is not operated by the train operating company Merseyrail, however most of the line's stations within the Liverpool City Region use Merseytravel's Merseyrail yellow branding, signage and ticketing.
The term covers most of the Liverpool City Region sections of the Crewe–Liverpool line, the two Liverpool–Manchester lines, and the Liverpool–Wigan line, with services continuing to Warrington, Chester via Runcorn and Blackpool and Preston via Wigan. Two services are not electrified, the Manchester via Warrington Central and Chester via Runcorn.
It is mainly operated by Northern Trains, with additional long-distance services operated by TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast, East Midlands Railway, Transport for Wales, and West Midlands Trains.
Merseyrail Services
Point-to-point or return tickets are purchased from staffed offices or ticket machines, but the system is tightly integrated with Merseytravel's City Region-wide pass system, which also encompasses the Mersey Ferries and city and regional bus networks. Merseytravel's smart ticketing is via the local MetroCard smartcard system, including Merseyrail travel.
Typical weekday off-peak service on the Merseyrail-run Northern and Wirral Lines, as of May 2023, is as follows:
Merseyrail Northern Line
  • Hunts Cross to Southport   4 tph
Liverpool South Parkway, Cressington, Aigburth, St Michaels, Brunswick, Liverpool Central, Moorfields, Sandhills, Bank Hall, Bootle Oriel Road, Bootle New Strand, Seaforth & Litherland, Waterloo, Blundellsands & Crosby, Hall Road, Hightown, Formby, Freshfield, Ainsdale, Hillside, Birkdale
  • Liverpool Central to Ormskirk   4 tph
Moorfields, Sandhills, Kirkdale, Walton, Orrell Park, Aintree, Old Roan, Maghull, Maghull North, Town Green, Aughton Park
  • Liverpool Central to Kirkby   4 tph
Moorfields, Sandhills, Kirkdale, Rice Lane, Fazakerley
This route will extend past Kirkby to a Northern interchange at Headbolt Lane, when the station opens in 2023.
Merseyrail Wirral Line
  • Liverpool Lime Street (Underground) to New Brighton   4 tph
Moorfields (eastbound-only) / Liverpool Central (westbound-only), Liverpool James Street, Birkenhead Hamilton Square, Conway Park, Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead North, Wallasey Village, Wallasey Grove Road
  • Liverpool Lime Street (Underground) to West Kirby 4 tph
Moorfields (eastbound-only) / Liverpool Central (westbound-only), Liverpool James Street, Birkenhead Hamilton Square, Conway Park, Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead North, Bidston, Leasowe, Moreton, Meols, Manor Road, Hoylake
  • Liverpool Lime Street (Underground) to Chester 4 tph
Moorfields (eastbound-only) / Liverpool Central (westbound-only), Liverpool James Street, Birkenhead Hamilton Square, Birkenhead Central, Green Lane (2tph), Rock Ferry, Bebington, Port Sunlight, Spital, Bromborough Rake (2tph), Bromborough, Eastham Rake, Hooton, Capenhurst (2tph), Bache
Trains serve either Green Lane or Bromborough Rake
  • Liverpool Lime Street (Underground) to Ellesmere Port   2 tph
Moorfields (eastbound-only) / Liverpool Central (westbound-only), Liverpool James Street, Birkenhead Hamilton Square, Birkenhead Central, Green Lane, Rock Ferry, Bebington, Port Sunlight, Spital, Bromborough Rake, Bromborough, Eastham Rake, Hooton, Little Sutton, Overpool
Merseyrail Fleet
Merseyrail Current Fleet
Services on the electrified Merseyrail network are operated by British Rail Class 507 and Class 508 electric multiple unit trains (EMUs). These replaced pre-war Class 502 (originally constructed by the LMS) and similar Class 503 EMUs. There are 57 trains in service on the network.
The fleet was refurbished between 2002 and 2005 by Alstom at a cost of £32 million, involving trainsets being transported to and from Eastleigh works behind Class 67 locomotives. Improvements to the trains included new high-backed seating, interior panel replacement, new lighting, the installation of a Passenger Information System and a new external livery.
On 28 January 2020, Swiss rolling-stock manufacturer Stadler Rail provided the first of a new fleet of 53 new train sets, designated Class 777, built at Stadler's factory in Bussnang, Switzerland. The final units were due to enter service in 2021.
The trains are based on the METRO platform, Stadler's product family for underground trains also used on the Berlin U-Bahn and the Minsk Metro. The new trains are a custom-built, bespoke design specifically for the Merseyrail network, with driver only and guard capability.This differs from the previous fleet, which was built to a standard British Rail design for commuter services.
The new trains have an articulated four-car design, compared to the previous three-car units, with a significantly increased overall capacity and faster acceleration and deceleration, which gives reduced journey times. A combination of reduced weight of 99 tonnes, representing a 5.5 tonne weight reduction, and more efficient electrical systems will give a 20% reduction in energy use.
The trains are flexible, being capable of operating on a combination of any of 750 V DC third rail, 25 kV 50 Hz AC overhead wires, or full battery operation using a five-tonne battery, provided they have the correct equipment installed, giving operation beyond the current network. As of April 2021, all trains are only equipped for 750 V DC third rail operation, along with a smaller battery for depot shunting.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers opposed driver-only operation on the new fleet, which they said would put passenger safety and security at risk. Following a period of strike action, an agreement was reached to guarantee a guard on every train.
Merseytravel has an option for a further 60 Class 777 units as part of the contract, which if exercised would see a total of 113 trains built if services are extended to new destinations such as Helsby, Skelmersdale or Wrexham.
The deal also involves the transfer of 155 of Merseyrail's maintenance workers and the operation of its maintenance depot at Kirkdale to Stadler Rail Service. The transfer of Kirkdale depot and Merseyrail engineering personnel took place in October 2017, as construction work to modernise the depot, which is the planned maintenance hub for the Class 777s, commenced.
The first Class 777 unit entered into service on the Northern Line on 23 January 2023. Initially they are being used on the Kirkby route, followed by the Ormskirk route. The remaining units will be deployed to the rest of the Northern Line and the Wirral Line later in 2023.
  • 507   EMU
All Northern Line services
All Wirral Line services   1978–present
  • 508   EMU
All Northern Line services
All Wirral Line services   1979–present
  • 777 METRO   EMU   BEMU
Liverpool Central to Kirkby
Liverpool Central to Ormskirk
All Northern Line services (TBA)
All Wirral Line services (TBA)   2023–present
Merseyrail Future Fleet
Merseyrail Battery Trains
The Class 777 trains are capable of being propelled via onboard battery sets. The battery set per car can be up to 5 tonnes in weight. The batteries can be charged via a rail terminal charger and while operating on electrified tracks.
When the Headbolt Lane extension was unveiled to the public, it was also announced that the original order of 52 units was increased to 53 to allow for some units to undergo battery trials.
Following on from the trial, it was announced in July 2021 that the units tested had been able to travel up to 20 miles (32 km) without the need for recharging.
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority stated that the battery-powered trains will run to the new Headbolt Lane station at Kirkby which is due to open in 2023. The technology opens up the possibility of the trains being able to serve on routes to destinations such as Wrexham, Preston, Wigan and Warrington.
Merseyrail Past Fleet
The original service on the Merseyrail lines was provided by Class 502s on the Northern Line and Class 503s on the Wirral Line. The former was withdrawn by 1980 and the latter by 1985.
Introduced from 1978 and 1979 respectively were 33 Class 507 and 43 Class 508 trains. Since the 1990s, fifteen Class 508s have been withdrawn as surplus and have later transferred to other operators, with three Class 507 and 508 units, including unit 507006 after a crash at Kirkby in March 2021, written off following accidents. In 2022, further withdrawals of the trains began, having been replaced by Class 777.
The following table shows trains withdrawn since 2022.
  • 507   EMU
All Northern Line services
All Wirral Line services   2022-2023
  • 508/1   EMU
All Northern Line services
All Wirral Line services   2022-2023
Merseyrail Depots
The electric fleet is maintained and stabled at Stadler's maintenance depot and United Kingdom headquarters at Kirkdale and Birkenhead North TMD.
Minor repair work and train cleaning is undertaken at Kirkdale, while overhauls are completed at Birkenhead. The roles will be reversed once the Class 777 trains fully replace the existing fleet.
Other depots at Hall Road and Birkenhead Central were closed in 1997, and the former was demolished in April 2009. The Birkenhead Central depot is proposed for reopening.
There are also two depots near Southport station: Southport Wall Sidings and Southport Carriage Holding Sidings.
Merseyrail Franchise and Concession History
  • As a result of the privatisation of British Rail, the Northern Line and Wirral Line were brought together as the Mersey Rail Electrics passenger franchise, being sold on 19 January 1997. 
  • Although franchises are awarded and administered on a national level (initially through various independent bodies, and later the Department of Transport directly), under the original privatisation legislation of 1993, passenger transport executives (PTEs) were co-signatories of franchise agreements covering their areas – this role being later modified by the Railways Act 2005.
The first train operating company awarded the Mersey Rail Electrics franchise contract was MTL. MTL was originally the operating arm of Merseytravel but had been privatised in 1985. The brand name Merseyrail Electrics was adopted by MTL.
The Merseyrail name became the official brand for the network in the days of British Rail, surviving several franchise holders, although the name was not used by Arriva when holding the franchise. Despite this, Merseytravel continued the Merseyrail branding at stations, allowing the name to be adopted colloquially.
With acquisition by Arriva, the train operating company was rebranded Arriva Trains Merseyside from 27 April 2001. Merseyrail is referred to as "Merseyrail Electrics" by National Rail Enquiries, and as "Serco/Abellio Merseyrail" by Merseytravel.
The City Line was also privatised under the 1993 Act, but as part of a different, much larger North West Regional Railways (NWRR) franchise. Upon sale on 2 March 1997, the first train operating company awarded the NWRR franchise contract was North Western Trains (owned by Great Western Holdings). The train operating company was later bought by FirstGroup and rebranded First North Western.
The third-rail electric Northern and Wirral Lines were largely isolated from the rest of the National Rail network with no through passenger services to or from outside the third-rail Merseyrail network.
A decision was to transfer the network into exclusive Merseytravel control, being removed from the national franchising system. The Secretary of State exempted the two lines from being designated as a national railway franchise under the 1993 Act.
When the Mersey Rail Electrics franchise was due for renewal, coming into force on 20 July 2003, Merseytravel contracted the operation of the two lines with a concession extending for up to 25 years. The first successful bidder was Merseyrail Electrics (2002) Ltd, a joint venture between Serco and NedRailways (renamed Abellio in 2009).
  • The City Line, which was largely diesel-operated at the time, was not included in 2003 franchise, continuing as a part of the nationally administered rail franchise system. From 11 December 2004, the NWRR franchise was merged into a new Northern franchise. 
  • The first train operating company awarded this franchise contract was Northern Rail, also owned by a Serco-NedRail (Abellio) joint venture. This franchise passed to Arriva Rail North on 1 April 2016 and then to Northern Trains on 1 March 2020.
Due to the isolation of the Northern and Wirral Lines, Merseyrail Electrics (2002) Ltd are keen to adopt vertical integration – taking responsibility for maintenance of the track from Network Rail. The current managing director of Merseyrail is Andy Heath.
Merseyrail Performance
Operating as a self-contained network means there are relatively few problems because there is little conflict with other train operating companies. Merseyrail has publicly committed to aiming to be the best train operating company in the United Kingdom.
In February 2010, Merseyrail was named the most reliable operator of trains in the United Kingdom, with a reliability average of 96.33% during 2009–2010, the highest ever achieved by any United Kingdom train operator.
Merseyrail Enforcement of By-laws
Merseyrail employs a team of officers who enforce railway by-laws relating to placing feet on seats, travelling without tickets, and other kinds of anti-social behaviour. The enforcement of the 'feet on seat' by-law by Merseyrail was judged to be "draconian" in September 2007 by local magistrates.
However, Merseyrail stated that it did not want to take offenders to court, but was not allowed to fine offenders otherwise (unlike people who smoke on trains or station platforms). Merseyrail claimed its stance was based on customer feedback and would reduce anti-social behaviour on the system.
Merseyrail History
Merseyrail Collection of Separate Railways
The present Merseyrail system was merged from the lines of five former pre-Grouping rail systems:
  • The Mersey Railway (Liverpool Central to Rock Ferry, Birkenhead Park)
  • The Cheshire Lines Committee railway (Liverpool Central to Hunts Cross section)
  • The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (Liverpool Exchange to Kirkby, Ormskirk and Southport sections)
  • The Wirral Railway (Birkenhead Park to New Brighton and West Kirby)
  • The Birkenhead Joint Railway (Rock Ferry to Hooton and Chester section and the Ellesmere Port branch).
The nucleus of the system was the Mersey Railway, which opened from Liverpool James Street to Green Lane, Birkenhead running through the 1886 Mersey Railway Tunnel, one of the world's first underwater railway tunnels.
The tunnelled route was extended to Liverpool Central in 1890. A tunnelled branch to Birkenhead Park was added in 1888 to connect with the Wirral Railway and the original line was extended to Rock Ferry to connect with the Birkenhead Woodside to Chester line in 1891.
The Mersey Railway was electrified in 1903 being the world's first full electrification of a steam railway. This was followed by the separate Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line from Liverpool Exchange to Southport, which was electrified in 1906. The electrification of the former Wirral Railway lines to New Brighton and West Kirby took place in 1937 and allowed through running into Liverpool via the Mersey Railway tunnel.
Merseyrail Overview
Owner: Merseytravel, Network Rail
Area Served: Liverpool City Region and surrounding areas
Liverpool City Region (Merseyside and Halton)
Transit Type: Commuter rail
Number of Lines: 2 (plus main line commuter services)
Number of Stations: 68 (66 managed)
Annual Ridership:
2019: 30.6 million
2020: 9.0 million
2021: 20.0 million
Chief Executive: Neil Grabham
Headquarters: Rail House, Liverpool
Merseyrail Operation
Began Operation: 1977 - 46 years ago
Operator(s): Serco-Abellio
Infrastructure Manager(s): Network Rail
Character: Commuter rail, National Rail franchise
Number of Vehicles: 57
Train Length: 3 cars, 6 cars during peak times
Headway: 15 minutes (general), 5 minutes (central sections), 30 minutes (Ellesmere Port branch, general in evenings and on Sundays)
Technical Track Gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification: 750 V DC third rail
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