The Branch Line Society


Wirral Wire Wanderer
Saturday 6th February 2016

This was a prelude to our second Merseyrail Tracker the following day. After very welcome hot drinks and biscuits, 35 members, all live wires, boarded the Merseyside Tram Preservation Society's Tram 69 'George Francis Train' on the right-hand road of the Wirral Transport Museum & Taylor Street Depot. Along with sister tram 70, of which more later, this was built in Hong Kong in 1992 to a 1947 design but uniquely to UK standard gauge. They were shipped to Birkenhead by Port Line for the Museum project, arriving in 1995. The tram proceeded out of the Museum on the single track, past the normal pick-up stop to cover the next section of rare track quickly, reversing into 'Old Colonial' siding to slightly short of the 'buffers' just visible through the earth covering the end of line.

Tram No.70 'Thomas Brassey' in 'Old Colonial' siding and behind is green and cream Liverpool Corporation tramways 'Baby Grand' No.245; No.69 'George Francis Train' (right) is on the line from the depot. Tram '245' in action leaving Woodside.
[© Howard Everitt 2016]

On the right was derelict land, once sidings of the surprisingly close Mersey Docks & Harbour Board Railway (closed) through route between Rock Ferry and Canning Street towards Bidston. Then the tram ran via Pacific Road loop (right-hand running) for a reversal to the doors of the Pacific Road Arts Centre. This single track branch is no longer in passenger use, so was very well received. The Arts Centre has now closed and is partly occupied by a Guitar Workshop. Unfortunately they made a song and dance about any entry into the building so coverage of the track inside will have to be a string to someone else's bow.

No.69 at the doors of the former Pacific Road depot
[© Howard Everitt 2016]

After a damp photo opportunity, '69' set off to Woodside Ferry terminus, covering the ordinary passenger stub and the 'non-preferred' road, to the blocks, following encouragement from the organisers. This was near the former mainline Birkenhead Woodside station site (CP 5 Nov 1967). Return was via the other Pacific Road loop, to swap to the 1938 built Liverpool Corporation 'Baby Grand' 245, voted Tramcar of the Year (Traditional) 2015, for more main running line trips and coverage of the other Museum road. Members had eyed 69's sister Tram 70 'Thomas Brassey' throughout, wondering whether a ride on that would also be possible. Initial soundings were not very promising beacuse the marker light had failed on the end towards Woodside, so it could not carry passengers in that direction. Your organisers had quiet words with the Museum staff and arranged a trip in the other direction, from alongside Old Colonial into the Museum, further in on our starting road now it was vacant! This was thorough tram and track coverage thanks to Howard and Jill Everitt's organisation and careful prompting on the day as well as all the friendly, enthusiastic and accommodating Museum staff. The tickets entitled the group to travel on services for the rest of the day and most members sampled at least one extra trip.

Postscript: George Francis Train was an 1860s pioneer of horse tramways in Birkenhead, Cork, Darlington and London. Unfortunately these suffered from a design defect in that the rails were laid on the road rather than in it. Thomas Brassey had built about a third of Britain's railways by 1847; his local relevance was designing ways of transporting building materials from his brickworks and stone quarry to the port by gravity train, returning the wagons back uphill horse-drawn (Ffestiniog Railway style).

15 participants met up again later for a fascinating private visit to the Queensway Mersey Road Tunnel. Ventilation shafts and fans were explored (operating) but the guides explained these were hardly necessary nowadays as the air quality in the Tunnel is generally better than in most city centres, with improvements in car emissions and traffic kept on the move. A chance to stand alongside the moving traffic (safely on a raised walkway) confirmed this; some were surprised by passing double-deck buses. Then the highlight for many, the tunnel directly under the road tunnel. Actually built for a double-deck tram route, opposition from the local railway companies prevented its development. Now there are emergency escape refuges throughout this lower tunnel, ideal as any fire that might arise in the road tunnel above would be confined to that level with its separate ventilation. The Mont Blanc tunnel fire demonstrated that safety refuges at road level, whilst easier to access, are inherently at risk from fire. The tunnel is well worth exploring see for details of public visits etc.