The Docker’s Umbrella - A History of Liverpool Overhead Railway

Resource Type: Image | Posted on 4th November 2011 by Liam Physick

This is the front cover of a book called The Docker’s Umbrella - A History of Liverpool Overhead Railway. The Liverpool Overhead Railway was built to alleviate congestion from road traffic and numerous railway crossings on the Dock Road: passenger traffic needed to be isolated from cargo routes. The Liverpool Overhead Railway Company was formed in 1888, construction began in October 1889, the line was opened on 4th February 1893, and public transport began on 6th March. It ran close to the Mersey and followed the line of the docks. It used electric traction, as had steam locomotives been used, burning coal would have risked setting fire to cargoes on the docks: also, the Company could not afford to build a structure strong enough to hold heavy steam engines. It was the world’s first urban railway to be designed for electric traction from the outset, though it was not the first to use this kind of traction: the City and South London Railway, opened in 1890, did so, but it had originally intended to use cable traction, only for the cable contractor to go into liquidation while the Railway was being constructed. The Liverpool Overhead was also the world’s first electric overhead railway, and the first to use automatic signalling and electrical signal lights. Most significantly of all, it used specially-built lightweight electric railcars (such as the one seen in this image), which formed the world’s first light-rail trains, and the first electric multiple units, which were very similar to their present-day counterparts. Additionally, the Railway’s southern terminus at Dingle was underground, the first underground station to be used by electric multiple units. Initially, the units consisted of two coaches, but later a trailer coach (for first-class passengers) was added between two power coaches (for third-class passengers). It was nicknamed the “Dockers’ Umbrella”, because dockers walked beneath it as they went about their business, and it could protect from the rain. It began to fall on hard times in the 1920s and 1930s, as a result of the development of the telephone negated the need for “messengers” to travel from dock to dock; the decline of shipping; the rise of air travel; competition from the tram service, which was more flexible and (due to subsidies from the Corporation of Liverpool) cheaper; and higher operating costs than other railways due to its overhead location. As a local railway, it was not nationalised in 1948. Its demise came about because it was carried mainly on iron viaducts with the tracks laid on corrugated iron decking. Therefore, it was vulnerable to corrosion, especially as part of it passed over the steam-operated Dock Railway. The curved deck plates supporting the track needed to be refurbished at a cost of £2 million. The Company could not afford this, and neither Liverpool City Council nor the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was forthcoming, so the Company had to go into voluntary liquidation. The Railway closed on 30th December 1956: the last two trains started from either end of the line, and made a loud bang as they passed each other. Subsequently, the structure was demolished: all that now remains are a few upright columns in the walls of Wapping Dock and the tunnel portal and underground station at Dingle. The Overhead Railway was replaced by the slower Liverpool Corporation bus service, which was hindered by the congestion which had led to the Railway’s construction in the first place. There is currently a documentary in production, Gone But Not Forgotten - Memories of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which will relate people’s memories of it, while on 2nd December 2011 the Museum of Liverpool opened a Liverpool Overhead Railway gallery, which among other things displays the only surviving coach used on the Railway, into which visitors are able to climb

The Docker’s Umbrella - A History of Liverpool Overhead Railway

Tagged under: steam locomotives, coaches, carriages, passengers, docks, buses, railway signals, liverpool overhead railway, trams, electric multiple units

Categorised under: Landmarks, Landscapes & Locomotives

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