[Source:Historical text by Paul Bolger from 'The Dockers Umbrella']

By the 1880's, Liverpool's dock network was virtually complete. So too was the congestion along the Dock Road, as carriages, omnibuses, lorries, carts and drays all plied the route. Numerous railway crossings which connected goods stations and dockside lines only added to the confusion. With increasing trade, it became clear that passenger traffic had to be isolated from the cargo routes in the interest of efficiency.

An elevated railway had been proposed as early as 1852 but came to nothing. It emerged again, in 1877, when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board sought permission for a single line with passing loops at stations.

This was rejected as being insufficient to meet the likely needs of the rapidly growing port but, five years later, an improved scheme did receive sanction. Unfortunately, at that time, the company had reviewed its policy towards transporting the public and again, nothing was done.

Finally, in 1888, a prominent group of businessmen formed the Liverpool Overhead Railway Company and obtained the Dock Board's powers by an Act of Transfer. Two leading engineers, Sir Douglas Fox and James Henry Greathead, were commissioned to design the railway and work commenced in October 1889.

Amongst the many problems encountered was the decision as to motive power. Steam was considered too dangerous to the many flammable cargoes within range of locomotive sparks.

This was one of the reasons electric traction was chosen, in 1891; other advantages being economy, speed, cleanliness and quiet running.

Work was completed in January, 1893 and the line was formally opened on February 4th that year by the Marquis of Salisbury with public transport commenced on the 6th of March.
The Overhead was the world's first electric elevated railway and the first to be protected by electric automatic signals. The line stretched from the Seaforth Carriage Shed to Herculaneum Dock, with public services beginning and terminating at Alexandra Dock in the north.

There were eleven intermediate stations at Brocklebank, Canada, Sandon, Clarence, Princes, Pier Head, James Street, Canning, Wapping, Brunswick and Toxteth. However, it was soon found that receipts outside working hours were poor and a decision was taken to extend the line and to tap residential areas. A short extension to Seaforth sands was opened on April 30th, 1894, followed by another to Dingle on 21st December 1896

Dingle (Park Road) was reached by spanning the Cheshire Lines goods yard with a 200 foot lattice girder bridge and by boring a half-mile tunnel through the sandstone high ground further inland. Thus the Overhead belied its name at the southern terminus, passengers new to Dingle no doubt wondering why they had to descend steps and a subway to gain the platforms of an elevated railway!

Photo:James Street Station in the 1950's
Photo by T J Edgington

Extensive bomb damage was inflicted during the Blitz but it was quickly repaired to maintain the smooth running of the docks. Modernisation of some of the nineteen 3-car sets had begun as the War drew to a close and eight were in operation by 1955. In the same year, the curved deck plates which supported the track were reported as being in need of replacement at an approximate cost of two million pounds. This was beyond the financial resources of the company, who looked to the City Council and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for assistance. No adequate solution could be found and, despite rigorous public protests, the railway closed on December 30th, 1956. Rescue attempts continued until September, 1957, when the dismantlers moved in.

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[Source:Historical text by Paul Bolger from 'The Dockers Umbrella']





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