Passenger train services are operated by Arriva Trains Wales between Wrexham Central and Bidston. Bidston is an interchange station for Merseyrail services to Liverpool and the Wirral. Trains run every hour Monday to Saturday daytime, every two hours after 18:45 and on Sundays. Connections with other National Rail services are at Bidston (changing for Merseyrail services to West Kirby, Birkenhead and Liverpool Lime Street for London and long haul national routes), Shotton (change for Chester and London trains and the North Wales Coast line) and Wrexham General (for the Shrewsbury–Chester line).
The line is also referred to as the Mid Wirral line, as most of the line runs north-south through the middle of the Wirral peninsula. The Wirral's other railway routes are provided with frequent Merseyrail electric trains. The Borderlands line has a relatively infrequent diesel operated service.
Holders of the Concessionary Travel Pass resident in Wrexham and Flintshire can travel free along part of the line, from Wrexham Central Station to Hawarden Bridge Station. Holders of the Merseytravel Concessionary Travel Pass can travel free along the section of the line that runs through Merseyside, from Heswall Station to Bidston Station.
The train service is normally operated with Class 150s. It was formerly operated by Class 153s, Class 101s, and Class 142s. In October 2006, the operator moved to using Class 150s or paired Class 153 units. The latter disappeared in favour of the Class 150s in December 2006.
Upon privatisation, passenger services were transferred from Regional Railways to North West Trains, later known as First North Western. In 2003, a review led to the creation of the All-Wales Franchise, meaning services were transferred to Wales & Borders Trains. Arriva Trains Wales succeeded Wales & Borders on 8 December 2003, and has operated all passenger services on the line since. Future electrification plans could see the line transfer to Merseyrail.
The southern part of the line was built by the Wrexham, Mold and Connah's Quay Railway (WMCQR) in 1864 and the northern part by the North Wales and Liverpool Railway, a joint committee of the WMCQR and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1896. The North Wales and Liverpool Railway northern terminus was at Bidston with the southern terminus at Hawarden Bridge Both railways were acquired by the Great Central Railway on 1 January 1905.
Two Wirral stations on the line closed in the 1950s; Storeton in 1951 and Burton Point in 1955. No trace of the station at Storeton remains, yet Burton Point station is still almost entirely intact, the station buildings currently forming part of a garden centre. Further south, the high level platforms of Hope Exchange closed in 1958.
Development and electrification
- "New stations at Beechwood and Woodchurch in Birkenhead (the latter "would be around junction 3 of the M53, the Prenton/Oxton side") and Deeside Industrial Park. These changes would "Incorporate the line into the Merseyrail Wirral line to provide direct connectivity with Liverpool city centre."
The draft of the Network Rail Welsh Route Study in March 2015 contained several suggestions for improving services on the line, including:.
- Replacing the High and Low levels at Shotton station with a dedicated interchange station, improving connectivity between the North Wales Coast Main Line & the Borderlands line
- The removal of level crossings to improve line speed.
The doubling of the journey frequency on the line is one of the aims of the Growth Track 360 group, a consortium of business, politicians and public sector leaders. The group aims to improve transport and create jobs in the North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire area over the next 20 years.
Proposals exist to electrify a section or all of the line with incorporation into the Wirral line of the Merseyrail network, allowing through services to the underground sections of Birkenhead and Liverpool and onwards to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. A study conducted by Network Rail in 2008, investigated the costs of extending the Merseyrail network third-rail electrification to Wrexham. However, when the cost was estimated at £207 million, Merseytravel stated that cheaper overhead-wire electrification would also be considered announcing a lower estimated figure of £66 million. This scheme would require dual-voltage trains with third-rail and overhead-wire capability.
Network Rail's conclusion was that full line electrification is only feasible if it could be delivered for less than £100,000 for each km per single track. The twin track line would be £200,000 per line km, giving a total figure of £8.7 million, which is far below the estimate of full line electrification of £66 million. Another consideration is whether a new pattern of service delivers significant net benefits.
Political pressure to electrify the line has been ongoing. The Welsh government is pressing for improved rail connections between North Wales and Liverpool which may accelerate the electrification of the line.
Merseytravel Committee Chairman, Councillor Liam Robinson, revealed that a working group had been set up to examine improving the line. It is believed that by increasing the frequency of trains will increase the number of users and make the case for electrification stronger. Merseytravel expect that frequency improvements on the line will be delivered as part of CP6, which has a potential delivery timescale of up to 2024.
Proposed battery trains
The operation of battery trains that receive energy from batteries and an electric pick-up has been proposed for operation on unelectrified and electrified sections of the track. Adoption of these types of trains would reduce the need for full line electrification.
A trial of a converted Electrostar train using energy from overhead wires and batteries when on non-electrified sections of track was undertaken in January and February 2015 on the Mayflower line. The train can travel up to 60 miles on energy stored in the batteries also recharging the batteries via the overhead-wires when on electrified track, at stations and via brake regeneration. A month later in March 2015, the introduction of battery powered trains was proposed for the Borderlands line by Network Rail.
The document suggested that consideration had been given to electrification and to running services further into Birkenhead ceasing termination at Bidston for greater connectivity. However these options were expressed as offering low value for money. They proposed that using battery powered rolling stock precluding full electrification of the line, providing a cheaper method of increasing connectivity into the electrified Birkenhead and Liverpool sections of the Wirral line. From the document:
- "In the longer term, potential deployment of rolling stock with the ability to operate on battery power for part of their journey may provide the ability in an affordable manner to improve the service offering between the Wrexham – Bidston route and Liverpool."
- "Borderlands Line Route" (PDF). Borderlands Line.
- "Borderlands Homepage".
- "ACORP Summary map" (PDF). Association of Community Rail Partnerships. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- "The Wrexham to Bidston railway (The Borderlands line): Electrification plans". Retrieved 17 February 2007.
- Mitchell & Smith 2013, map XXXIII
- "Station Name: BURTON POINT". Disused Stations. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- "Station Name: Hope High Level Station". Disused Stations. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
- "Merseytravel's plans to carry out further studies into the electrification of the railway track". Wirral Globe. 29 September 1999. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
- Shennan, Paddy (28 August 2014). "Merseytravel plan to open or reopen host of new stations". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
- "Welsh Route Study – Draft for Consultation". Network Rail. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- "About Growth Track 360". www.growthtrack360.com. Growth Track 360. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
- "The Wrexham to Bidston railway (The Borderlands line): Electrification plans". Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- "Merseytravel fury over £207m price tag for Bidston-Wrexham rail link". Wirral News. Liverpool. 5 November 2008. Archived from the original on 8 January 2009.
- "The Wrexham to Bidston railway (The Borderlands line): Electrification plans". Penmorfa. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- "The Wrexham to Bidston railway (The Borderlands line): Electrification plans". Penmorfa. Retrieved 17 February 2007.
- "Network RUS Electrification" (PDF). October 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Hughes, Owen (29 January 2013). "Plea for £2bn windfall for Wales after high speed rail announcement". Daily Post. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- "Progress on Liverpool-North Wales rail link". North Wales Weekly News. Conwy. 25 October 2012.
- "Loop line renewal is 'short-term pain worth long-term gain of rail boost' writes MerseyTravel chief". Wirral Globe. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
- "Agenda item – Rail Schemes Development and Delivery". Merseytravel. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
- Clinnick, Richard (13 January 2015). "Battery-powered Electrostar enters traffic". RAIL. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
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