DAVID CLOUGH examines the iconic Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and discovers how the route has changed since opening in 1830
“George Stephenson floated the track on a combination of material that included waste cotton from the mills in Leigh. When heavy trains crossed Chat Moss it was possible to observe the track panels moving.”
When it was built, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) was an engineering marvel. Over time, it became just one part of an ever-changing railway network, although - unlike some of its local contemporaries - it has at least survived.
As the canals were a response to Britain’s inadequate road infrastructure to meet the demands of the Industrial Revolution, so in turn was the L&MR built to address the shortcomings of the waterways linking the two cities.
Enacted in 1826 and opened on September 15 1830, the original route was 31 miles long, linking Wapping Dock on the Liverpool bank of the River Mersey with its goods and passenger facilities at Liverpool Road in Manchester.
Although the route forward from Edge Hill cut virtually due east in a straight line to Manchester, a number of engineering issues had to be tackled that would not have been faced had the original plan been passed by Parliament.
This had proposed leaving Liverpool in a northerly direction, to avoid the high ground behind the docks, and then across the western section of the railway as built. Opposition to the northerly course came from local nobility, whose land had to be crossed when the railway turned east to serve St Helens.
Leaving Wapping, the line was on a steep incline in tunnel. This posed an operating challenge because it was beyond the capability of contemporary steam traction, and called for the use of stationary engines and rope haulage.
As part of the rundown in rail-related dock activity during the 1960s, Wapping Goods closed in 1965. The site remains as derelict land, closed off by high retaining walls - a symbol of the lack of demand for such land close to the city centre.
Crown Street was the original passenger terminus in Liverpool. A short tunnel took the railway from there to meet the one from Wapping at Edge Hill. The station closed to passengers in 1836, when Lime Street opened as a more central alternative. The site continued in use as a goods depot until May 1972 but has been landscaped in recent years, leaving no real trace of its former use. One report says the station building suffered bomb damage during the Second World War.
Edge Hill today bears no relation to the 1830s scene. Chatsworth Drive and Tunnel Road cross the deep cutting where the Wapping and Crown Street tunnels emerged, and it was here that the original station was located. The Moorish Arch at the Tunnel Road end of the site has long gone.
The present Edge Hill station is on the opposite side of Tunnel Road to the one it replaced, but the course of the 1830 railway is quite evident on the southeast side. From here, the 1836 route dives down in tunnel to Lime Street.
Although extended during the 19th century, several original features remain. These include the cobbled driveway from Tunnel Road and some of the buildings. These are claimed to be the oldest buildings in use on an operational railway in the world, although another station on the L&MR stakes a similar claim.
Metal Culture Ltd, a charity, completed a major renovation of the previously empty historic buildings in 2009. The original Engine House, Boiler Room and Accumulator Tower now serve as a cultural and creative hub for artists, the neighbourhood and Merseyside. Tesco has provided grant support to Metal Culture to finance the planting of a flower and herb garden.
Meanwhile, Lime Street remains Liverpool’s principal station. It reopened on July 30, following eight weeks of upgrading that formed part of the Great North Rail Project - a rail industry team effort to transform rail travel for customers through track and train improvements across the North. Network Rail says this is the most extensive upgrading carried out here since the 19th century.
All station platforms have been remodelled, with many lengthened and widened to create space for longer trains and more passengers. Two new platforms, built last year, have also been commissioned. Passengers departing from Platforms 1 and 2 traverse a single-bore tunnel, which dates from construction of the railway from Edge Hill.
Adjacent to the Lime Street tunnel mouth at Edge Hill is another tunnel that led to the river at Waterloo. This gave access to Riverside station, which served those arriving and departing Liverpool by ocean liner. Mersey Docks & Harbour Company (MDHC) built the facility in 1895, and it closed on March 1 1971 (after the last train on February 25).
The land on the north side of Edge Hill was the location of a large marshalling yard, primarily for traffic associated with Liverpool’s north docks, accessed along the Bootle branch from Bootle Branch Junction.
MDHC ended its rail operations on its dock system on August 31 1973, leaving limited traffic to be dealt with at Edge Hill, that eventually disappeared. During the past 18 months, biomass trains from the purpose-built facility adjacent to Gladstone Dock, bound for Drax Power Station, have stabled and staged at Tuebrook Sidings here.
A couple of miles beyond Edge Hill, Olive Mount cutting is 70ft deep and was originally just over 20ft wide. It was widened in 1871, when the route to Huyton Quarry was quadrupled. Spoil from the original excavation was used to build the 45ft-high embankment at Roby, a few miles away. It would have been an impressive sight in 1830, just as much as Olive Mount cutting itself.
Wavertree Technology Park station, located at the west end of the cutting, opened on August 13 2000. It is one of several new stations in the Merseyside region.
Olive Mount Junction is east of the station. The line comes in from Edge Lane Junction on the Bootle branch, and means traffic off the branch can head east towards Manchester as well as west to Edge Hill. A passenger service for stations along the branch to Alexandra Dock ended in 1948.
The Bootle branch is the surviving link across Liverpool. Although used primarily for north docks flows, the connection at Bootle Junction into Network Rail’s lines to Southport, Ormskirk and Kirkby can be used for civil engineering workings.
Taken together with the inclined planes on either side, the two miles of level track through Rainhill provided a good location for the Rainhill Trials, which were conducted over several weeks during October 1829.
Liverpool Lime Street reopened on July 30, following a major refurbishment. On August 3, Northern 319371 and a Transpennine Express Class 185 await their next duty.
Edge Hill Platform 1. The original 1836 building is on the left and the tunnel mouth to Lime Street is just visible, with the tunnel that led to Riverside station to the right.