Thursday 19 February 2009

Time Tunnel

If you lean your head against the glass of your train window as you leave Lime Street, so the tunnel walls whizz past you at speed, it's almost exactly like being in the title sequence of 1970s Doctor Who. Though without the big scary Tom Baker face, obviously.

Just thought I'd share that amazing revelation.

Thursday 5 February 2009


Is Twitter passe yet? I suppose it is, since it's been on telly now, and the Guardian is regularly going on about how cool it is. The minute anything is described as "cool" by the Guardian or the Observer it immediately gets tagged as repulsive (example: this list, or as it's also known, "50 people you really don't want to be stuck in a lift with"). I'm a Johnny-come-lately to it, but I'm finding it surprisingly addictive. It's a lovely little way to just get some random thoughts out there, and is a lot less bother than Facebook. My new fondness for Twitter should also come as a relief to regular readers, because it provides an outlet for my inane whitterings, and leaves this blog unsullied.

In the spirit of the 21st Century, I combined Twittering with Merseytarting (Twittarting? Merseyter?) as I assaulted the City Line. My primary reason for today's tarting was to avoid the Bf, or rather, to avoid the Bf's Double Header of Doom i.e. two football matches in a row, therefore putting him out of the equation all afternoon. I started at Lime Street with the following Tweet:

At lime street, getting ready to hit the city line. frommobile web

Do I have to call them Tweets? I much prefer Twits. Anyway, this was the start of my day trip, and so I boarded an utterly rancid train. Extensive internet searches (i.e. Wikipedia) have led me to the conclusion that it was a "Pacer", a locomotive which takes all the charm and romance of the railways, bins it, and turns it into a rickety bus journey.

We shook, rattled and rolled our way out to Huyton. This is the point where the line breaks, with services to Manchester continuing, while others veer off to head for St Helens. The station here is a yellow Victorian building, but it was on the other side of the tracks and was surrounded by violent looking scallies (Huyton has become sadly notorious lately for the number of people murdered by knifed up youths) so I wandered out to find the station sign. It was lunchtime, so the sun was at its height, which is nothing in February. As a result I had a heck of a time getting a snap in front of the name plate. The result was therefore a bit disappointing.

To make up for it, Huyton offered up an ALF for me, my first one in absolute ages. It's not a bad one, all told.

Since I was in Huyton, it was only polite that I nip round and see my friend Barry. Also, I wanted a cup of tea and a wee. It turned into two cups of tea, actually, largely because of the sporadic City Line services (honest). You'd make a move to go, he'd say something utterly ridiculous like "Quantum of Solace was pathetic," I'd spend ten minutes explaining exactly why he was wrong, point by point, and then I'd realise that I'd missed the next train so I may as well stay a little bit longer.

Net result was it was three hours before I dragged my arse out of the house and headed for Roby. However, I did something very stupid on my way out the door.

Barry: "You do know the way to Roby station, don't you?"

Me: "Yes. It's up there, turn left, and then it's there on the right."

Barry: "No, no, no. This is the way you go." And he told me. And, like a fool, I followed his instructions. Which lead to this Twit:

[Merseytart] is in search of roby.from mobile web

I was wandering round suburban streets, aware of my tight timescale for the next train, and equally aware just how far away from the railway line I was. I should have known better, as I have witnessed Barry's complete lack of direction on many occasions before. This is why I should absolutely never listen to anyone, ever. It's not because I'm arrogant; I'm just always right.

I should also say that the streets of Huyton were without a doubt some of the filthiest I have seen in my life. I have never seen so much dog mess. It was like the canine residents of the town had banded together for a dirty protest. It was bad enough having to rush to catch my train, without having to do a quickstep every twenty yards to avoid another heap of faeces. Sort it out, please, Knowsley council.

I arrived at Roby station (which was exactly where I thought it was, and which I could have got to a lot quicker via a much more interesting route if I'd gone my way), hesitated at the entrance for a snap, and then marched onto the platform for my train. Too late. I'd missed it by a matter of only a minute. If I'd sniffed hard I could probably have caught a whiff of diesel. As it was, I now had a half an hour wait. So I Tweeted:

missed the roby train and will now be snowed on for half an hour.from mobile web

because yes, by now it was starting to snow. Thick, white, dancing flakes, the type you want to catch with your tongue. I hid under the wooden awning and watched it flutter down. Roby wasn't a bad station to be stuck in. It was pretty, and there were plenty of seats to rest my fat behind on. I wrapped myself up and had a quick internet surf on my mobile.

I notice, incidentally, that the station signs have been replaced on this bit, so that Northern get to plaster their logo over them too. I don't mind this, too much, but I do mind that they've changed the font. Merseytravel are very inconsistent with their designs, and it's getting worse now. As a corporate identity, all they seem to believe in is that there should be yellow and grey everywhere - apart from that, anything goes. So fonts are altered at the drop of a hat (note that the Merseytravel is now written in - shudder - Comic Sans). It might not sound like much, but like the blighted Merseyrail map, these are the public faces of the PTE. Keeping a tight hold on the style makes you look stronger, and stops your station from descending into a mess.

I almost missed them, but, at the very last minute, I suddenly realised that the platform wall had been tiled with a mosaic. It was quite charming, and I was especially taken with the scattered dandelion clocks. It turned out there was something similar at Broad Green, my next stop:

and I realised to my annoyance that I must have missed some at Huyton as well. A plaque recorded that these were designed by a local school, to celebrate the nearby National Wildflower Centre, and they're a lovely touch. My next Twit was quite brutal, however:

Broad green - rubbish alf.from mobile web

Look familiar? If you're going to copy someone else's ALF, Broad Green, at least copy one of the good ones. And get a damp cloth while you're at it - that sign is filthy.

It was a miserable little 1970s station building, too, wedged beneath the motorway, and not even the golden sunlight of the afternoon could pretty it up. I wasn't impressed, but I suspect this was partly because my head was filled with what could have been.

Broad Green is where Liverpool's transport ambitions go to die. Above my head, roaring away, was the start of the M62 - a motorway that begins at Junction 4, because the scheme to take it closer to the city had withered and collapsed a long time ago. And behind me, the railway line was a Victorian hangover that could have been a modern, exciting metro, if things had gone to plan.

Back in the 70s, the plans for the Link (connecting the Southport lines with the Garston lines) and the Loop (the Wirral line extension under the city centre) were in full swing, and thoughts turned to where to go next. The idea came to resurrect the Outer Loop Line, and connect it into an electrified City Line, through a burrowed underground junction at Broad Green. Basically, the line running from the north through Knotty Ash and from the south through Childwall would disappear under the earth and turn into a massive, six platform underground station at Broad Green, where the three lines would merge into a single electrified line to the city centre. It would then have disappeared underground again at Edge Hill, and used the existing Victoria and Wapping tunnels (with a new University underground station behind the student union on Mount Pleasant) to get into Liverpool Central. It was a brilliant, impressive scheme.

It got remarkably close to being built. Powers were obtained, plans were drawn up. The Rocket pub (above) was being rebuilt at the time, and agreements were made to use its car park for a park and ride, while beneath the pub to this day are (apparently) skeletal remains of an access passageway to the underground station.

Then... the Loop and the Link went over budget. The local residents, already dismayed at the disruption caused by the M62 construction, kicked off about this new, busy, railway line coming so close to their homes, and got their MP to lobby against it (even though he believed it was a good idea). Outside, the British economy was collapsing, and belts were being tightened everywhere. The scheme got less and less likely, until it finally disappeared sometime in the 80s. Now the Outer Loop line's been pulled up to make a pathway. There's nothing left.

I wish it had been built, but even more, I wish we still had the ambition and the vision to come up with this sort of idea. Reusing existing infrastructure, constructing something brave and forward thinking, opening up new markets - isn't this a good idea? Isn't this what we should be thinking about all the time? Clean, efficient railways taking you into the heart of the city centre are not a bad thing. Can't we resurrect this idea, somehow? Except, sadly, there'd probably be objections from ramblers that this thrusting new railway is taking away their walk.

I pushed on under the Rocket flyover and along Edge Lane Drive. It's another area which has seen money thrown at it recently to get it looking good in time for 2008, and it's certainly a vast improvement. It's still a traffic choked dual carriageway, but on a glowing Sunday afternoon, it seemed clean and modern and appealing. Also, Knowsley, take note: Liverpool city council is taking action to try and curb its problems with dog fouling. Either that or Banksy is getting a lot less ambitious these days.

I take back my earlier criticisms of Barry and his sense of direction, because I managed to take a wrong turn all of my own. I knew that a left hand exit would take me directly to Wavertree Technology Park, my final stop (Edge Hill has no Sunday service), but I took the turn too early. I lay the blame for this firmly with the Highways Department for not putting up street signs on Mill Lane. I was merrily wandering along when I suddenly realised there was a railway bridge up ahead, and no sign of a station. I peered through the fence and I could see the platforms under the next bridge.

Damn! I took the next right hand turn, assuming this would take me towards the station, but instead it plunged me into a Brookside clone. My Tweet pretty much sums up my position:

[Merseytart] is in a cul de sac nightmare.from mobile web

I thought there had to be just one pathway to the station: these red brick Barratt Homes looked like prime commuter material, and I assumed they'd want access. But no. After wandering round the dead ends, I realised I'd have to turn back and retrace my steps, which would mean I would miss my train, which would mean I would have another half hour wait.

Frustrated, irritated, and with the light fading around me, I returned to Mill Lane. Instead of going back up to Edge Lane, though, I decided I would make a diversion, turn right, and go along an unfamiliar route to the station.

I'm very glad I did. Wavertree, the district that waited for me at the bottom of the hill, was wonderful. I knew I'd like it the minute I saw an 18th century lock up on the village green. Opposite it was a Victorian clock tower, and from then on, I walked into town past great, old fashioned 19th century buildings. In the side streets, I could see little cottages, while overlooking the main road were busy, interesting looking pubs, preserved bow-fronted shops, and even a 1930s mansion block. I loved it. It was a great, fascinating district. Even the local Somerfield was housed in a converted cinema. I felt the urge to Twit:

[Merseytart] has fallen for Wavertree.from mobile web

And so to Wavertree Technology Park station. I absolutely hate that name. It's clunky, it's restrictive (there's more to the area than just the Technology Park), and it's basically a PR exercise rather than a valid station name. (It is, however, better than the suggestion laid out when the station was first mooted in the 1970 - Pighue Lane).

I'd like to point out that the Merseytart does not endorse Village Cars in any way, despite appearances. The station only opened in 2000, and it's very much from the Merseytravel corporate design school - a grey station building on the bridge over the platforms (see also: Kirkdale). It gets the job done, but I wish there could have been a bit more ambition to it.

The snow started coming down heavily as I waited for the train - not heavily enough to settle, but it was still wet and cold on my face. There's no shelter at Wavertree TP, so I hunkered under the station building for some shielding. The train that arrived, fortunately, wasn't a Pacer, so I was able to sit on a comfortable seat on the ride back to Lime Street, without numbing my buttocks in the process.

It had been a good day. I'd discovered new crannies of Liverpool I didn't know existed, caught up with a friend, got up close to one of the great "might have beens" of the city's transport network. But my final Tweet pretty much sums up the best bit:

[Merseytart] is home and dry and toasty warm again. from web