The Branch Line Society


Third Rail Centenary Tracker
Sunday 7th February 2016

The name for this charity tour marked the 100th anniversary of third rail electrification on the London & South Western Railway (LSWR)! To explain, Class 508 EMUs started their working life at Strawberry Hill Depot arriving 9th August 1979. The route complemented our 18 Jan 2015 Merseyrail 750V Tracker tour, was mostly in daylight, sunshine even and not a frozen third rail in sight! Most of the 156 participants joined at Hooton where the tour began in the rare bay P1 with EMU 508112 at the Liverpool end and 508111 at the Chester end. An 'on the day bonus' was that participants were able to buy provisions at the 'Mtogo' Merseyrail outlets at staff rates (a substantial discount). Strangely, the station loo was popular for some reason!


Leaving on time at 09.47 the Down Helsby line was taken for the first of numerous reversals of the day to cover the Chester-end trailing crossover at Hooton into P3. At Rock Ferry South Jn trees were noted growing out of the disused line to the Docks before calling at P2; the OOU Birkenhead Central station carriage sidings and shed were seen on the right (facing the direction of travel). A photo stop and reversal was made in the atmospheric James Street P2, with its period features, now used occasionally for engineering work and during service disruptions. The latest 'Branch Line Society' nameboard was revealed and photographed, incredibly, and despite appearances, made of wood! It is pictured on the first page of e-BLN 1251 and in BLN Pictorial 1251, which has 22 full sized pictures of the tour.

The tour awaits departure from bay platform 1 at Hooton in rather warmer conditions than our previous Merseyside venture.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

The EMU proceeded over James Street's first Wirral-end crossover and to Birkenhead North, reversing there in Down P3 to cover the trailing crossover, then again, on the Up line into the rare Up Passenger Loop (P1). This gave access to the Depot Arrival & Departure Line and the Up & Down Through Siding. Reversal there was just short of the point for the former 'Bidston Dock Through Siding' and Depot Roads 'B' & 'C' were taken in turn before returning via P1 back to James Street. There it was through P2 to the 'Stock Interchange & Holding Line', Paradise Jn and the reversible 'Northern Line' Liverpool Central P2 then the crossover just south of the platform for a run to Hunts Cross.

For many on the tour the Hunts Cross Connection of Strategic Importance between the reversible Down & Up Electric into P3 was the 'pièce de resistance' of the day (Bill Bryson would have been very impressed!). P3 is the preserve of the Warrington Central line DMUs and, despite the 22.28 EMU from Southport (and ECS return) being booked to use this platform seven days a week, we were assured it never does and runs into P3, exactly the same as all the other EMUs. A couple of 'rusty rail' workings had run the week before to check the move would work - thank you Merseyrail! At Liverpool Central P2 a loo stop was made during a 'convenient' gap in the northbound Sunday trains (the tour would have been quite impossible to run with the more intense service any other day of the week).

Then the fun really started! Our Tracker took the facing crossover at Liverpool Central North Jn to follow the Up Southport in the Down direction to Leeds Street Jn trailing crossover where the Down was regained. At Sandhills it was a reversal in P2 into the Reversing Siding for, guess what - yes, yet another reversal (there were plenty of reversals but no setbacks at all on this superb tour). Setting off north again it was through Sandhills P1 in the unusual direction (to the puzzlement of some 'normal' passengers on the platform) then beyond the island platform at Bank Hall, Bootle Jn crossover was used to join the Down line, which was just as well as the reversible signalling ends there! Years ago, Grand National specials used to take it from the Bootle Branch to the North Mersey Branch to reach Aintree excursion platform. An on time Southport P1 arrival gave our tour participants 34 minutes for (in no particular order) a leg stretch, convenience stop, complimentary hot drinks kindly provided by Merseyrail and a chance to catch up with acquaintances and friends in the 'other' unit.

Restarting, 'The only way is Up' as the song goes, at least as far as Southport South Jn for a reversal to cover Birkdale Carriage Siding No2 to within a few inches of the buffer beam. [Left: © Mark Haggas 2016]This gave an interesting view of the station from the end of the train (BLN 1251 Pictorial), how about the (non-electrified) link to the Wigan line from P3 sometime please Mr Adlam? Next on the itinerary another very clever section, two very rare trailing crossovers on a busy double track line without any wrong line running! Therefore, it was Up to reverse in Formby P1 for the crossover at 11m 25ch and Down back to reverse again in Hillside P2 for the second one - very impressive. This was so efficient that by the next reversal in Sandhills Reversing Siding, the tour was 30 minutes early.

Reversing on the Up Southport, just south of Formby; the route is set to cross to the Down and return to Hillside.
There reversal brought the tour back here gaining two rare crossovers.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

Another highlight then was Kirkdale Depot, reached via the reversible Up Ormskirk line in the unusual direction to give Kirkdale South Jn trailing crossover for a run through the carriage washer and, as is traditional, in operational mode. Hopefully the next Merseyrail stock will be specified with waterproof (or at least wash proof) doors! A reversal on the North Run Round Line (an interesting concept for an EMU Depot) led to full coverage of Roads 19 & 20, all so efficient that we were even earlier still on the schedule. Very kindly, Merseyrail arranged for a bonus run to the end of Carriage Shed Road 22 where we waited time.

Leaving Kirkdale Depot Road 20, looking north; the station is in the distance.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

Departure, on time, was round the back of Kirkdale P2. When this used to be a main line there were four tracks here. The tour left the Depot heading northwards via, unsurprisingly, Kirkdale North Jn to Walton Jn for a crafty reversal on the Down line, clear of the junction, to traverse the unusual trailing crossover south of the junction. Taking the Up line to Leeds Street Jn, the facing crossover was used to the Down line with return to the Up at Liverpool Central North Jn, through P2 and into the middle road Reversing Siding. On restarting the tour ran back to P2 (setting down) for the one crossover in this area not yet covered on this Centenary Tracker to the Up Southport which enabled the Stock Interchange/Holding Line to be followed at Paradise Jn.

Departing Kirkdale depot round the back of Kirkdale P2. With the station on the right, looking towards Kirkdale North Jn;
note the line on the right (disconnected at the north end) is no longer electrified.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

The excitement was not yet over, for at Rock Ferry North Jn the facing crossover was taken to run into bay P3 (to complement bay P4 used on our 2015 tour). After setting down, the tour returned north to clear the points for a further change of direction. It then ran south through reversible P2 to rejoin the Down Chester by taking Rock Ferry South trailing crossover. Arrival back at Hooton P2 was three minutes early after covering over 95 miles in just under 9 hours! Our ever resourceful FS had arranged an encore though and those who wished (most) stayed on for a run back via the Hooton north trailing crossover to Eastham Rake where the tour terminated. Merseyrail kindly allowed return travel to Hooton on either of the next two service trains (the driver of the first EMU to Chester must have been quite surprised to see Eastham Rake thronged with passengers at 18.40 on a Sunday evening).

The dramatic contrast between refurbished James Street P3 (left) and more original P1 (right);
approaching from the 'Stock Interchange/Holding Line' returning back to The Wirral.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

Many thanks to the numerous people involved for a meticulously planned and executed precision railtour. The abiding message of the day was just how friendly everyone is at Merseyrail - like one big happy family. It was particularly noticeable how much time staff had (when not on duty) to explain things and chat to participants in a very genuine way. Nothing was too much trouble. Thanks to the mastermind of the tour, Kev Adlam, who also managed to sell everything on the train (that was not nailed down) to participants. In turn our 165 passengers were most generous with their donations and purchases. Over £1,000 was taken on the day and, with fares, a total of £11,537.67 was raised for the two Merseyrail charities, shared equally by Claire House Children's Hospice and The Community Link Foundation. A very enjoyable and interesting day in great company and with lovely sunshine.

A rather quizzical look from the driver of the 14.28 Southport to Hunts Cross train on seeing
a train full of passengers in the normally empty Birkdale Carriage Siding No2.
[© Mark Haggas 2016]

For another 22 captioned pictures of the tour, see BLN Pictorial 1251 (members only).

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