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The Wirral Railway was a suburban railway in Birkenhead, England. It was incorporated in 1863 as the Hoylake Railway, becoming the Wirral Railway in 1882. It ran from a terminus at Birkenhead Park to West Kirby, New Brighton and Seacombe. In the 1923 grouping it became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. It electrified its routes in 1938, allowing services to be run through the Mersey Railway tunnel to Liverpool. The Railway was nationalised, along with most other British rail services, in 1948. The railway is still in use today as part of the Wirral Line of the Merseyrail commuter rail network.
The Hoylake Railway was incorporated in 1863 with powers to build lines from Birkenhead to New Brighton, and to Parkgate on the western side of the Wirral Peninsula; the latter line was not built. Between 1872 and 1882 the Railway was renamed twice, and extensions of the line from Hoylake to West Kirby and to Seacombe in Wallasey were authorised. The line became the Wirral Railway in 1882. The lines ran from Birkenhead Park to West Kirby, with branches to New Brighton and Seacombe. The Railway's services were mainly passenger, as they were suburban lines that also carried daytrippers to seaside resorts. Birkenhead Park station had a cross-platform connection with the Mersey Railway's trains under the River Mersey. All the stations on the line were very close together, in order to serve the population of the north Wirral. The total length of line was thirteen and a half miles.
The normal pattern of trains in steam railway days was from West Kirby to Birkenhead Park or to Seacombe, from both of which direct connections, which the bulk of the passengers used, were available to Liverpool, by the Mersey Railway electric trains from Birkenhead Park, and by Wallasey Corporation ferryboat from Seacombe. In addition trains from the New Brighton branch also ran to Birkenhead Park. The Wirral Railway locomotive depot and operating base was to the west of Birkenhead North station, on the site still used today for the Merseyrail electric service. In addition, the Great Central railway trains on the route from Wrexham to Bidston continued over the Wirral Railway route to Seacombe, as there were no effective terminal arrangements for their trains at Bidston, and also to provide a direct connection by ferryboat to Liverpool.
The Wirral Railway became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) at the Railways Act 1921 Grouping. After being absorbed by the LMS in 1923 operations continued much as before for the next 15 years, although the steam locomotives were slowly changed over to LMS standard types. In addition, a once-daily through train was introduced from New Brighton to London Euston. This ran along the former Wirral Railway lines via Bidston and West Kirby, where the Hooton line station was used rather than the former Wirral station, and then via Hooton (reverse) and Chester, where it was attached to a through train via Crewe to London. Thet train left New Brighton after breakfast and returned there in the evening. It was withdrawn in 1939 and never reinstated.
Steam locomotives continued operation to West Kirby until 1965, on a once-daily freight train which served the coal depots at Moreton, Hoylake and West Kirby, the Cadbury chocolate factory at Moreton, and the gas works at Hoylake.
In 1938 the LMS introduced new lightweight multiple units, three car trains powered by four 135 horsepower (101 kW) motors and weighing 77 long tons (78 t). Later, under British Rail, these were classified Class 503. The electric trains running to both New Brighton and West Kirby and through the Mersey Railway Tunnel to Liverpool, and now form part of Merseyrail's Wirral Line.
The branch to Seacombe (which was never electrified) then became used only by the LNER (ex-Great Central) trains from Wrexham, until these were changed over to diesel trains in 1960 when they were diverted to New Brighton, and the Seacombe branch was closed to passengers, and after the coal depot at Seacombe was closed in 1963 the branch was closed and the track lifted. Some years later its route was used for the approach road to the Kingsway Tunnel that opened in 1971.
- Parkin 1965, p. 47.
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