| Liverpool The Past and the Future by Gareth Prior
This page was last updated 15 December 2002
Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, this week gave the go ahead for the MerseyTram project which is scheduled to open in 2006/7 almost 50 years since the first generation of tramways in the city closed. |
The first tram system in the city opened over 140 years ago with the Old Swan Tramway, inspired by George Francis Train's original street tramway over the River Mersey at Birkenhead. This tramway ran for around 1½ miles along the Liverpool-Prescott road and it is believed there was only one double-deck horse drawn tram used. This tramway was not a particular success as reports state that it lasted less than a year between the mid summer of 1861 and late summer 1862.
The next step in tramway development in Liverpool was a second, this time far more successful, horse drawn system. This tramway had extensive routes that opened over an extended period with a circular route and a line to Dingle being the first to open on 1 November 1869. In the 2 years following this initial opening a line was opened to Walton and an extension to the Dingle route was constructed. By 1879 the tramway had extended considerably and included routes to Bootle, West Derby, Wavertree and the Pier Head. The system was purchased by the Corporation in 1880 due to concerns they had about the condition of the tramway although at this time they had no interest in operating the trams and it was swiftly leased back to the original company, Liverpool United Tramways and Omnibus Company. Over the years as well as using horse trams the company experimented with various other methods of power including steam and cable but these proved to be unsuccessful. It is known how many trams were used by the Company but it is believed they were all double deckers and that when in 1896 the Corporation purchased the remainder of the system for £567,375 there were 281 in service.
When the Corporation took complete control of the tram network there were 17 routes encompassing 75¾ miles of track and they quickly set about electrifying the system with the first electric route opening to Dingle on 16 November 1898 with all the others following quickly with the final route succumbing being on 25 August 1903 for the ¾ of a mile in Litherland which had been operating as the last horse route on the system for nearly 2 years. In 1902 the Liverpool system linked with the St Helens system which gave a connection to the entire South Lancashire Tramways network. Further extensions continued right up to the outbreak of the Second World War with the system going as far a field as Bootle, Aintree and Kirkby amongst others. The final extension was opened as late as 12 April 1944, going to Kirkby. After the electrification of the system the Corporation had to introduce brand new tramcars and over the following 59 years of electric tram operation there were 45 single deck and 1260 double deck trams of many different designs and makes, including some made in the Corporations own workshops. The end of the war was the beginning of the end for the tramways with a decision made to introduce buses in place of the trams, with the trams cause not helped by a fire at Green Lane Depot in 1947 which destroyed 47 trams. The first routes closed in early Summer 1948 and the final routes to close on 14 September 1957 were Pier Head-Bowring Park and Castle Street-Page Moss Avenue, bringing to an end 96 years of tramcar operation in Liverpool, including a break of 7 years.
And now after a 45 year break we come to the modern day where trams are to return to the streets almost 50 years since the last first generation tram entered the depot for one final time. The Merseyside PTE have been investigating introducing a rapid transit system in Liverpool for some time and the first proposal was for a guided trolleybus system, but this was rejected after a public inquiry around 3 years ago. However despite this setback the PTE still saw the need for a project on similar lines and they hastily added the idea of the MerseyTram into their Local Transport Plan for 2000/1 to 2005/6. The proposal was for a high quality Light Rail Transit network with a 3 line network complementing the current bus and rail services. The plan listed many advantages of the Light Rail system being part of an integrated transport system, including:
§ They produce environmental benefits (noise and air pollution)
§ Easy access for all (trams are level with the platform)
§ Other systems have proven that people do dump their cars in favour of the tram
§ Light Rail has a larger capacity than buses
The plan listed three possible routes:
§ Waterfront and City Centre-Croxteth and Kirkby
§ City Centre-Old Swan and Page Moss (possible later extension to Prescott)
§ Serving South Liverpool
The Government have now given £170 million of the required £225 million for the planning and construction of Line One, which will stretch from the City Centre to Croxteth and Kirkby and is 19km in length, with the rest expected to come from the private sector. Of the three routes put forward this is seen as the most important as a staggering 65% of the local population do not have access to cars and it passes through 6 of the worst hit areas in the country for poverty. Now that the funding is in place the next step for the project will begin next month with a 6 week public consultation, followed in April by an application for the Transport and Works Act Order which will give the power to build the line. It is then envisaged that after a public enquiry (almost inevitable according to icLiverpool.co.uk) tenders will be invited at the start of 2004 with Line One opening for passengers in 2006/7 (almost 50 years since the original network closed - in fact it would be a nice touch if the system opened on 14 September 2007). The other two lines are expected to both be open by 2010.
For Line One there are expected to be around 30 stops on the route including the Empire Theatre, the Royal Liverpool Hospital and Kirkby Town Centre with a City Centre loop including Liverpool Lime Street Station, Albert Dock and the Queen Square Bus Terminal. It is currently envisaged that there will be a fleet of 21 low-floor trams of the Citadis design currently seeing success in Montpellier, Southern France. The capacity of these trams is approximately 200 and are seen as ideal during peak periods, when it is envisaged that trams will run every 5 minutes. So lets all welcome Liverpool into the Tram and Light Rail family!
Mersey PTE Local Transport Plan, 2000/1 to 2005/6
The Directory of British Tramways by Keith Turner (for history of the old tramway routes)