The Liverpool Overhead Railway

The Liverpool Overhead Railway, or the 'Dockers Umbrella' as it was commonly known,  was officially opened on 4th February 1893 by the Marquis of Salisbury.  It had arrived at a time when the Liverpool docks were dealing with so much cargo that transport in and around the dock area became almost impossible.  Buses, carts, horse-drawn carriages and dockland trains were cluttering up the roads to such an extent that it became clear that an overhead railway was the only answer to alleviate the congestion.

An overhead railway system had already been proposed and dismissed in 1852 when in 1877, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board put forward plans for an overhead system utilising a single line whereby trains would pass each other at stations where loop lines were to be installed.  This plan too was also rejected by city officials, but in 1882 the city council finally accepted an improved system.    However, the MD&HB had changed their priorities by this time and decided not to go ahead with building the railway.

It wasn't until 1888 that talk of a new railway system for Liverpool resurfaced.  A group of local businessmen formed the Liverpool Overhead Railway Company, and after obtaining power from the Dock Board, they comissioned two of the leading engineers of the time, Sir Douglas Fox and James Henry Greathead to design the railway.  Building work actually commenced in October 1889.

The work was finished in January 1893.  It was the first electrically powered overhead railway in the world.  The original line stretched from Seaforth Carriage Shed to Herculaneum Dock.  The most northerly station on the line was just south of the Seaforth Carriage Shed at Alexandra Dock.  There were thirteen stations in all - Alexandra, Brocklebank, Canada, Sandon, Clarence, Princes, Pier Head, James Street, Custom House, Wapping, Brunswick, Toxteth, and Herculaneum.

Soon after opening, decisions were made to extend the line.  A short extension to the northern terminus of the line saw a new station built at Seaforth Sands and this was opened on April 30th 1894.  The southern extension was far more adventurous however.  A decision was taken to extend the line south to Dingle and in order to do this, a half mile tunnel had to be bored high in the sandstone rock near Herculaneum station.  Underneath this tunnel was a goods yard serving the Cheshire Lines railway system whose railway tunnel was next to and beneath the new L.O.R. excavation.  The goods yard had to be spanned with a magnificent 200 foot long lattice girder bridge.  A new Herculaneum station had to be built to serve the extension, the old one becoming a carriage shed for the line.  The southern extension was officially opened on 21st December 1896.

A further extension was later built to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway's station at Seaforth and Litherland.  This station served the main Liverpool to Southport line and it was therefore possible for travellers to travel all the way from Dingle in the south right up to Southport with just one change of train.  This extension was opened on 2nd July 1905.  For a time, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway ran a through train from Southport to Dingle.

Another extension in 1906 near Seaforth joined the LOR to the Lancashire and Yorkshire's North Mersey branch line which served Linacre Road, Ford and Aintree Sefton Arms stations.  However two years later this service was withdrawn and was only used to ferry passengers to the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse every year.

A new station was opened at Langton Dock in 1896, but closed ten years later.  The first station to close on the line however was Sandon.  It was replaced by two stations though - Huskisson and Nelson.  Another station was built at Gladstone Dock and was opened on 16th June 1930.  This was to be the last addition to the LOR.  The last closure came on 13th March 1941 when extensive German bombing destroyed Princes Dock station and it never reopened.    The original Custom House building, which the station was named after was also destroyed by bombing and the station was renamed Canning in 1945.

The LOR began an extensive modernisation programme after the war and the actual carriages themselves were amongst the first items to be modernised.  The curved metal plates that supported the track were also in a state of decay and needed urgent repair.  However, it was estimated that two million pounds would be needed to repair these and this was beyond the financial resources of the company.  They approached Liverpool City Council and also the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for assistance, but to no avail.  The railway was unable to continue without these repairs and as a result the Liverpool Overhead Railway closed down on 30th December 1956.  Several rescue attempts followed and there were public protests, but no adequate solution could be found and on 23rd September 1957, George Cohen Dismantlers moved in .  By January 1959 all traces of the LOR had disappeared forever and with it another Liverpool institution had disappeared.

The only traces of the railway that remain today are the supporting columns set into the dock wall between Nelson and Princes Docks and the most obvious and impressive sight is the tunnel at the southern extension near Herculaneum dock.


Liverpool Overhead Railway Images