Panorama of Liverpool Pier Head, with the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, collectively the known as The Three Graces

A song and dance for Liverpool and Merseyrail upgrade

Liverpool Pier Head, with the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, collectively the known as The Three Graces (WikiCommons) WikiCommons

No more rock and roll for commuters who choose the tunnel rather than a ferry cross the Mersey. For only the third time in its history, the metro system centred around the port city of Liverpool is receiving a brand new fleet. Commuters are already hailing the new trains as less of a magical mystery tour and more of a long and winding road to trains fit for the twenty-first century.

Merseyrail, as the system around Liverpool is branded, is being refurbished across the entire 75 miles (120.7 kilometres) network, including the 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometres) of underground tunnels. Most visibly, the trains of yesterday are being replaced. For not a second time, but for a third time since the system was conceived in 1977, a unique version of a dependable urban metro train design will grace the rails beneath Liverpool’s famous Three Graces – the trio of iconic quayside buildings on the city’s docks.

World’s first electrified network

Bringing fresh trains to the greater Merseyside region is nothing new, but this latest renewal is more pertinent than the preceding fleets. The network may have seen some neglect in the middle of the twentieth century, but that is all about to change for the ground-breaking railway. This year (2023) is the 120th anniversary of what is regarded as the world’s first electrified network.

Exterior picture of the new class 777 metro train in Liverpool
All set for a magical mystery tour. The new Stadler class 777 Metro units will soon be a fab fifty-three units across the network which reaches out of the city to three English counties and into Wales. Image: Merseyrail

Merseyrail began its branded life with trains that owed their heritage to the London Midland Scottish Railway. Better known as the LMS, the operator was one of the so-called “Big Four” railway companies, created in 1923 to unify the British railway industry. That company inherited the operations of five predecessors, and operated local services prior to the period of nationalisation under British Railways from 1948. As a pathfinder for other, now better known systems, Merseyrail’s grey and yellow livery has become familiar to metro planners at home and abroad. Although aspects of the city’s network have been lost, such as the celebrated dockside elevated railway, Liverpool and Merseyside has retained an effective suburban metro in the face of declining economic fortunes for the city, and a period of rail contraction. The outlook in both these regards is now in welcome revival.

Ticket to ride the revamped rails

Liverpudlians who have been in a wait for the new trains say the end of the long and winding road to delivery has come not a moment too soon. To address the popularity of the network, the new class 777 trains will be, according to the operators, more accessible and have more space for passengers and luggage. Enough for all of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and all their instruments. The local authority, who are partners in the operation, have welcomed the introductory trains, and say it won’t be long now for a ticket to ride the revamped rails here, there and everywhere in the Merseyrail region.

Image through the open doors of Liverpool’s new Stadler built Class 777 metro trains
Step inside, Love. As Liverpool’s Cilla Black may have said. The new Stadler built Class 777 metro trains are ready for deployment on Merseyrail. Image: Merseyrail

In addition to the fleet of Stadler-built rolling stock, there is a whole programme of network upgrades. Around one hundred platforms are being improved to accommodate the fab four-car new trains. For the first time, in addition to the 750-volt DC power supply, some of the new units will have some units capable of independent battery running. Depot upgrades will also pave the way for future extensions. Proposals have been tabled for metro services to Skelmersdale and Warrington, and over the Welsh border to Wrexham.

The brightly coloured new fleet will continue to run through the tunnels under the River Mersey. That has already prompted local music fans to claim that we may not live in one, but we all now get to ride in a yellow submarine.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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