Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

23rd April 2012

Bare E-Central-s
Posted by at 11.59pm | No responses | Liverpool, Trains

Extract from Merseyrail map showing Central station crossed outSince moving to Aigburth, with its attendant Merseyrail station, in 2003, I’ve become quite accustomed to being whisked off into the centre of town in just 9 minutes. A total of 15 minutes door-to-door commute time? That’ll do nicely.

I think it’s the hallmark of a good service that you only notice when its not there. Over the nine years that I’ve been using the service, the problems have been rare but disruptive: a strike, a blizzard, a misbehaving sewer and, most significantly, a six week shutdown to work on the tunnel. By and large however, Merseyrail get on with it with quiet efficiency, taking me to work, the shops, days and nights out, or just delivering me to Lime Street to start a longer journey.

It’s fair to say that Merseyrail is almost as essential to me as oxygen or photos of Gareth Bale with no shirt. Now Liverpool Central has closed for six months, I feel like one of my legs has been chopped off – sure, I can still get about, but it’s not as easy as it was. I mean, come on: Moorfields is at least a five minute walk from Liverpool ONE!

At least Central went out in a blaze of glory at the weekend, with more people passing through its doors than it has ever had to cope with at any time in its existence.

Crowds at Liverpool Central station

In fact, the above picture neatly sums up why the renovation is needed. With its narrow platforms and cramped passageways, Liverpool Central was increasingly unable to cope with the number of people passing through its barriers. The Sea Odyssey weekend was an extreme situation, but even on a more typical weekend the station sometimes struggled to cope with the hordes of shoppers. Meanwhile, comical situations arose in the morning rush hour, when a train from Hunts Cross would often arrive at the same time as one from Ormskirk, creating an almighty scrum as two trainloads of passengers jostled to get onto the escalators.

The photos below were taken on Sunday morning as I headed to Ormskirk for a Friends of the 502 Group shindig. I just missed the Sea Odyssey rush so the station was crowded. On my return journey the station was so busy I refrained from taking many pictures, lest I be accused of getting in the way.

Liverpool Central station nameboard Liverpool Central escalator

Liverpool Central platform

Even on rare quiet days (as seen below one day last Christmas, when engineering work closed much of the Northern Line), it wasn’t the nicest of places to be. Squeaky escalators, brown formica panelling and floors ingrained with four decades of Scouse muck all conspired to make Liverpool Central a grim place to wait for a train. And don’t get me started on the horrible narrow catwalk that wheelchair users had to navigate to reach the lift.

Photo of near-empty Liverpool Central station
We are promised that all this will be swept away, replaced with a new-look station befitting of a 21st century city. It’s a big upheaval – probably the biggest disruption for local rail passengers since the last time Liverpool Central closed for refurbishment, back in 1975.

How are we coping? Judging by the first day of the new regime – quite well actually. I boarded my train this morning as normal. I was pleased to note that the on board auto-announcer has been updated to correctly omit Central from the list of calling points (it’s the small things that please me). We glided through Liverpool Central, where I wanted to see hundreds of people in high-vis vests beavering away, but realistically the station had only been closed for 8 hours by this point, so all I saw was some metal fencing piled up and marks on the walls where the CBS Outdoor posters have been removed.

My commute has been extended slightly by the need to walk to and from Moorfields, but Merseyrail staff were in abundance at the station to direct disoriented passengers to their destinations. It all seemed to work very smoothly and if it goes like this for the next six months, only perennial moaners (in Liverpool? Surely not?) will have cause to speak up.

At lunchtime today, I explored the area around Central station, including the attached shopping centre, which will remain open throughout the station’s refurb. A big friendly banner declares that the shops are open as usual, while the digital departures board is perhaps a bit more stark in its message (and seems to be in need of an extra text line).

Liverpool Central shopping centre banner Departure board at Liverpool Central, showing no trains

But will Central Shopping Centre still be able to get by without the passing trade from passengers heading to and from the station? Look at the picture below and judge for yourself.

Interior of Liverpool Central shopping centre

I bought a newspaper from the WHSmith. I don’t normally get it from there but I decided to make a pity purchase. The sole staff member in the shop seemed genuinely surprised to see me. The chain stores will, I’m sure, tough it out until the station reopens, but there are a couple of independent shops which might be in trouble. Merseyrail are helping out by advertising a load of special offers on the Love Liverpool Central web site. I hope it works.

For those who don’t feel up to walking between stations, Merseyrail have organised a shuttle bus linking Moorfields with Lime Street and Central stations for the duration of the closure. This is operated not by any of the local bus companies but by Abellio, who have brought their own buses in from the South East. Merseytravel got a bit too excited in their press release and described these vehicles as “iconic Routemaster Red buses”, which they are plainly not. Note the branding on the side of the bus – the temptation to go for yet another Beatles reference was apparently too much to resist.

Abellio bus on Merseyrail rail replacement duty

The buses seemed quite lightly used when I first saw them, but became a lot more popular when a sudden hailstorm started hurling marble-sized chunks of ice into the streets. Funny that.

Will all these works be worth the wait? I hope so. I feel a very strong sense of ownership with regard to Central. I’ve spent more time loitering there than I care to think about. It will be great to march in there, six months from now, and go, “ooh, isn’t it shiny!”

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