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City Line (Merseyrail)

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City Line
A yellow "M" over a grey circle.The words "City Line" in white over a Red background.
TypeCommuter Rail/Regional rail
SystemNational Rail
North West England
TerminiLiverpool Lime Street
OwnerNetwork Rail
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification25 kV AC overhead line (partial)

The City Line is the name given to local and regional stopping rail services out of the main line platforms of Liverpool Lime Street railway station. It appears on some maps of the Merseyrail network as red, and covers the Liverpool–Wigan line, the two routes of the Liverpool–Manchester lines, the Liverpool-Crewe Line, Liverpool-Chester line via Runcorn and the Liverpool-Blackpool line.[1][2][3][4]

Branded under the Merseyrail name, the routes are operated by Northern on behalf of Merseytravel. Unlike the Merseyrail network, which is a partially underground rapid transit/commuter rail system with largely isolated infrastructure, the City Line serves a larger area using main line routes shared with regional, national, and high-speed services.

City Line
Euxton Balshaw Lane
Wigan North Western
Limited service between Newton and Wigan
St Helens Central
Thatto Heath
Eccleston Park
Limited service between Newton and Wigan
Limited service to Ellesmere Port
Warrington Bank Quay
St Helens Junction
Lea Green
Broad Green
Wavertree Technology Park
Warrington Central
Hough Green
Hunts Cross
Acton Bridge
Liverpool South Parkway
West Allerton
Mossley Hill
Edge Hill
Liverpool Lime Street


The City Line can trace its origins back to the dawn of the railway era, as it incorporates most of the route of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830 and including Broad Green Station, the oldest operating station in the world. Other early railway companies whose lines are now part of the City Line include the Cheshire Lines Committee and the London and North Western Railway.

These disparate local railway services were not marketed under a common name until 1972, when Merseyside PTE introduced the Merseyrail brand for services which were operated by British Rail on its behalf. The PTE applied the City Line name to local services out of Liverpool's main station at Lime Street.

Around this time, ambitious plans were floated to electrify parts of the City Line and incorporate it into the Northern line, via the Wapping Tunnel from Edge Hill to Liverpool Central. However, after work started, they were abandoned, and to this day the suburbs of eastern Liverpool have no direct route to other suburbs of the city without changing to the underground network at Lime Street.

In the 1990s, as part of the Government's rail privatisation, the City Line services became part of the North Western Trains franchise (later taken over by FirstGroup and renamed First North Western).

In 2004, the First North Western franchise was merged with that of neighbouring train company Arriva Trains Northern to create a new franchise covering the north of England. The new franchise was won by Northern Rail, owned by the Serco-Abellio consortium (who, coincidentally, had been named as the operators of the Merseyrail Electrics franchise a year earlier).


Merseyrail lines shown in Merseyside
  Primary route
  Secondary route
  Rural route
  Goods line
  Disused line

The City Line differs from the Northern and Wirral lines of the Merseyrail Network in that many of the routes are shared with inter-city express services. The lines which make up the City Line are:

Some City Line services continue beyond the confines of the above routes. For example, many Preston services continue to Blackpool or Lancaster, while Manchester Victoria services go on to Stalybridge.

The Crewe–Liverpool line actually forms part of the West Coast Main Line route for services between Lime Street and London Euston. These services are operated by Avanti West Coast and London Northwestern Railway.

Whilst services from Liverpool on the West Coast Main Line may not officially be part of the City Line, sometimes the distinction is unclear. For example, Merseytravel publicity for Liverpool South Parkway referred to the Central Trains service from Liverpool to Crewe and Birmingham New Street as if it were part of the City Line. The City Line timetable booklets also show other services where they share tracks with City Line trains (for example, the Chester–Manchester services via Newton-le-Willows and Warrington Bank Quay).


Monday to Saturday daytimes, most stations are served by a train every half-hour on core sections of route. Some smaller stations are served only by one train per hour. Services are less frequent in the evenings.

Long-distance express services provided by other operators provide additional trains to some City Line stations.

On Sundays Edge Hill station is closed.


Thatto Heath station on the electrified Liverpool to Wigan City Line. The station is branded Merseyrail with trains operated by Northern.

Due to the division between local transport operator Merseytravel and regional franchise operator Northern, the City Line is inconsistently branded. Timetables published by Merseytravel displayed at stations use the City Line branding referring to several operators, whilst Northern (and other operators using parts of the same routes) do not refer to the line in their own publicity or onboard trains.[5] Additionally, main line stations operated by Merseytravel carry Merseyrail branding, despite being separate from the electric rapid transit/commuter network and being absent from some official Merseyrail maps.[6] This is also true of some stations of the Transport for Wales operated Borderlands line, which is not branded as a Merseyrail service on any maps published by Merseytravel, yet stations inside Merseyside are branded Merseyrail.


Transfer to the Northern Line is possible at Liverpool South Parkway or Hunts Cross, for services to Southport. No direct connections to the branches to Kirkby and Ormskirk are available; passengers must board Southport-bound trains and alight at Sandhills.

Interchange with the Wirral Line is possible at Liverpool Lime Street. Passengers wishing to transfer to the Northern Line can take a Wirral line service to Liverpool Central (although given the short distance between the two stations, many prefer to walk).

Connections to long distance services is possible at Wigan North Western, Earlestown or Manchester Oxford Road.

Rolling stock[edit]

There were 17 Class 142 diesel powered Pacer units painted in the PTE's yellow livery, ostensibly for use on City Line services. However, they are not dedicated to Merseyside operations and can often be seen working on other Northern Rail services outside the Merseyside area. Conversely, Class 142s in other liveries could previously be frequently seen working Lime Street City Line services.

Some longer-distance City Line services are diagrammed for Class 150 or Class 156 Sprinter units.

On 28 February 2007 Merseytravel announced a new deal with Northern Rail and Angel Trains, which would see four Pacers taken out of service and replaced by six Class 156 units. The higher capacity of the 156s will assist in tackling overcrowding. This new arrangement is expected to begin with the May 2007 timetable.[7]


Electrification of the City Line[edit]

Partially erected catenary at Eccleston Park, in December 2013.

Formerly the only section of City Line route electrified was between Lime Street and Liverpool South Parkway, which is used by Virgin and London Midland Electric Multiple Units. The line from Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows, the Chat Moss route, was electrified, along with the Liverpool–Wigan line, opening in early 2015.[8]

Four electrified tracks are operative from Broad Green Station to Huyton Station. This is to allow a fast uninterrupted service from Liverpool to Manchester and slower electric urban trains to operate on segregated tracks from Liverpool to Wigan.[9] Merseyrail City Line trains run on this section of track. Northern Rail operate the trains on this electrified section of tracks.[10]

Bootle branch line[edit]

The Canada Dock Branch line, also known as the Bootle branch line,[11] is a line running from Edge Hill Junction in the east of the city in a long curve to Canada Dock in the north of the city. The line meets Merseyrail's Northern Line at a junction between Bank Hall and Bootle Oriel Road stations. The line's last remaining passenger services were withdrawn in 1977, however the line remains busy with freight to Seaforth Dock and its container terminal and Liverpool2 container terminal.

If the line was reopened to passengers, it would allow the reopening of stations along its length: Spellow, Walton & Anfield, Breck Road, Tuebrook, Stanley and Edge Lane. The line from Edge Lane would continue through to Edge Hill station and terminate at Lime Street.

Network Rail have investigated options for the Canada Dock Branch in their Route Utilisation Strategy for Merseyside[12] and have concluded that the expected benefits do not justify the investment in new infrastructure. It had been suggested that Liverpool F.C. could assist in funding the reopening of this line to provide a direct link to their proposed extension of the Anfield stadium.[13]

The Department for Transport's Rail electrification document of July 2009, states that the route to Liverpool Docks will be electrified. The Canada Dock Branch Line is the only line into the docks.[14] From the document:

70. Electrification of this route will offer electric haulage options for freight.
There will be an alternative route to Liverpool docks for electrically-operated freight trains, and better opportunities of electrified access to the proposed freight terminal at Parkside near Newton-le-Willows.

The electrification of this line would greatly assist in recommissioning passenger trains, as costs would be reduced.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Merseyrail City Line". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  6. ^ "Merseyrail Network Map". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  7. ^ Merseytravel (28 February 2007). "Boost for City Line rail services". Archived from the original on 19 August 2007. Retrieved 21 March 2007.
  8. ^ "Britain's Transport Infrastructure: Rail Electrification" (PDF). Department for Transport. 23 July 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2009.
  9. ^ Electrification of the Liverpool–Wigan Line
  10. ^ "Northern Hub Plan" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
  11. ^ Canada Dock station on Disused Stations
  12. ^ "Merseyside RUS" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 April 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2010.
  13. ^ Liverpool Daily Post
  14. ^ Rail Electrification Document

External links[edit]