Merseytram off the rails – for good?

 July 14, 2009         2 Comments

The Merseytram project to build a tram route from Liverpool city centre to Kirkby, of all places, is back in the news with Shadow Home Secretary and ‘Minister for Merseyside’ Chris Grayling apparently ruling out the possibility of a Tory government backing the plans.

Grayling, who once claimed that Gary Neville was a good role model for Liverpool youngsters, says that a tram network in the city would need to be based on a successful initial route – saying a South Liverpool route through the suburbs to John Lennon airport would make more sense.

The persistently-favoured first route is the Line One Kirkby route, which seems to amount to an FDR-style social engineering project.

The Tories have made a big thing under Dave Cameron of pretending to be interested in the environment, and Grayling has spent the last couple of years slamming Labour for not pressing ahead with Liverpool’s tram network, while saying the Tories would build trams, ooh, everywhere.

Grayling has probably had a look at the public finances, and at the rubbish plans for Liverpool’s trams network and decided that not backing the plans was probably a good idea on Alistair Darling’s part.

Merseytravel’s botched planning of the project over the last few years has cost £70m and left the company in some difficulty, though it blamed personal agendas at Liverpool City Council for much of the problems (who’d’ve thunk eh?).

Needless to say, the whole thing devolved into a huge and public slanging match that resulted in then-Transport Minister Alistair Darling refusing to hand over a promised £170m in 2005 after costs spiraled well beyond initial estimates.

The plans initially came to light in 2001, when I was still editing Liverpool’s Student Newspaper, er, Liverpool Student.

Via some Department for Transport squirming over exactly how much it would hand over, Merseyside’s five councils were told to go back and resubmit their plans. When the DfT found Merseytravel’s funding plans wanting, it withdrew its promised cash.

Fast forward nearly four years and Merseytravel has the legal power to build Merseytram only until February 2010. Another white elephant – Everton’s mooted move to Kirkby – has kept the Line One project on the boil, while the government’s public project plans, designed to circulate money around construction industries, have also rekindled interest.

Merseytravel now says it will cost £430m to build the line – around £200m over the initial costs back in 2001.

The Liverpool Echo says Grayling ‘MUST’ go ahead with the Line One plans, which are ‘much-needed’. Are they? Arguably, yes. Are they feasible? I don’t think so.

The thinking behind Line One is that it would provide easier access for Knowsley residents to transport, and therefore jobs. This is laudable social planning, but it’s only workable if it’s heavily subsidised. Can Mersytravel get the required cash? That looked dubious five years. It now looks impossible.

The fact that Capital of Cuture 2008 has already passed by, as has the second wave of EU Objective One money, means the Merseytram project has missed the, er, boat.

Add to that the fact that various other grants from various other funding bodies were initially required, and you have more problems.

Match all of this to a debilitating recession, and the problems involved in Line One become clear.

Even if, by some miracle, Merseytravel were able to actually build the line, its estimates on usage are now based on data years out of date and out-of-kilter with current economic conditions.

Much of the preparatory work is complete, and not all of that £70m would be wasted if Line One went ahead now, but I’d be loathe to throw a wodge of cash at an outfit derided by auditors at making such a mess of initial plans.

So, for me, Line One still looks as far away as it ever did. To Grayling too, no doubt. The likelihood of a Tory government next year pretty much scotches Merseytram for good.

Labour may be tempted to pump cash into such schemes to get people working and money circulating, but the Conservatives won’t.

• Anyway, David Bartlett did much of the running covering this story and unearthing various documents relating to the failed proposals, in-fighting and wasted cash, so goto Dale Street Blues for more information.

• The Inspector’s Report into Line One can be found here:

It is almost overwhelmingly favourable, and I was particularly amused by Mr and Mrs Johnson’s misunderstanding of imperial and metric measures and conditions 17 and 18 of the building of Line One – bat and vole surveys.

• Images of the routes can be found here.


  1. I ‘ates this plan, Willybobs. They should explore whether electrifying the buses would be a good idea instead. And reopen a few of those train stations closed back in the 1960s. And you should look into Merseytravel’s expenses, my precious – they’re all on the city council, those who sit on the board. Making double the money I heard!

  2. As I understand it electrifying buses looks like a good plan, but much as I like the idea of reactivating train lines, from the limited research I did I don’t think it’s economically viable.

    Shame. At least there might finally be a train to Manchester that doesn’t take a flaming hour.

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