City region transport leaders are thanking people for their support and good spirits ahead of the full re-opening of the Wirral loop line, as scheduled, on Monday 19 June, following six months of work.
From then, trains will once again be able to cross the river and all stations affected by the improvement programme will be in use.
The track in the underground loop, forming the one-way section of the Wirral line under the centre of Liverpool, was built in the 1970s and needed to be replaced. To minimise disruption, Network Rail took the opportunity to replace the track under the riverbed between James Street and Hamilton Square, as well.
Doing all this work in one go means that passengers are less likely to be inconvenienced in future. The new track is expected to last up to 60 years and enhance the safety of the network. The work also supports the introduction of the new Merseyrail fleet in 2020.
Part of £340m investment in the Liverpool City Region’s railways, it was carried out in three phases. During the first and the third, six weeks and three weeks respectively, there were no trains between Liverpool city-centre and Birkenhead. In the middle phase, lasting 15 weeks, Wirral line trains went only as far as James Street.
In a poll conducted by consumer watchdog, Transport Focus, just before it started, awareness of the work was at 84% (compared with a similar project affecting Bath Spa, which scored 67%).
According to a survey carried out by Merseytravel after the completion of phase 1, 80% agreed that the information provided enabled them to make informed journey choices, and 73% of people questioned rated the replacement buses good or very good.
Jan Chaudhry van-der Velde, Merseyrail’s managing director, commented: "During big engineering projects such as this one, our main aim is ensuring that there are viable travel alternatives in place so that disruption is kept to a minimum. We know that journey times for Wirral line passengers were longer over the last six months, but research tells us that customers were aware of the work and understood that it needed to be done. We thank not just Merseyrail passengers, but everyone in the city region affected by the work, for their patience and understanding throughout."
Martin Frobisher, route managing director of Network Rail, said: "I would like to say a big thank you to passengers for bearing with us while we completed this part of the £340m investment to provide more frequent and reliable trains in the region. It is a sign of the great things to come for Liverpool City Region and the Great North Rail project as a whole."
Frank Rogers, chief executive of Merseytravel, added: "The aim was to keep the Liverpool City Region moving by taking a holistic approach to the work, not just focusing on rail but the impacts on the whole transport network. We’re pleased with how it’s gone and people’s patience while we undertook this essential work. Travellers heeded the advice, adapting well to other transport, taking to the Mersey Ferries and existing cross-river bus services as well as replacement buses. This scheme has been invaluable in shaping our approach for future major infrastructure schemes."
Paula Basnett, chief executive of the Wirral Chamber of Commerce, concluded: "We are very excited at the prospect of the full re-opening of the rail network. Businesses and the community as a whole have been supportive and understanding of the need to carry out the work. We now look forward to greater connectivity between Wirral and Liverpool, and in particular with our new Pacific Road enterprise hub, which is perfectly positioned for Hamilton Square."