Metro Mayor moves to take full control of Merseyrail network

A new devolution agreement that would give Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram full control over the Merseyrail network offers access to land for new housing and commercial development. Tony McDonough reports 

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram with one of the new Merseyrail trains


Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is in talks with senior Government officials about taking full control of the Merseyrail network, including the physical infrastructure,

Full devolution of the network would give Mr Rotheram and the Combined Authority direct control over significant areas of land, opening up the opportunity for new development including the acceleration of its housebuilding programme.

Currently the CA has control over the running of the network via Merseytravel and the current franchise holder Merseyrail Electrics (a joint venture between transport group Abellio and services giant Serco). The franchise is for 25 years and expires in 2028.

All of the infrastructure, which includes the track, stations, signalling and all the land around the network, on both sides of the River Mersey, is owned and operated by Network Rail, a Government-owned entity which controls most of the UK’s physical rail network.

Pre-pandemic Merseyrail carried around 110,000 passenger on a typical weekday and around 34m passengers a year. It operates on 75 miles of tracks with 72 stations. Six of its stations and 6.5 miles of track are underground. This is as well as all the signalling and other infrastructure. 

Mr Rotheram is keen to extend the network to places such as Skelmersdale, Wrexham, Warrington and Runcorn. The CA has acquired a £500m, 52-strong new fleet of trains to replace the current ageing rolling stock. A successful trial using batteries has been concluded which means the network could be extended without electrification.

Owning the physical network would make expansion more straightforward and it would also give the CA access to significant parcels of land. Mr Rotheram says these could be utilised for new property development, particularly the building of new homes which the city region is in need of.

The strategy is similar to that of the Manchester-based Peel Group, which in 2005 paid more than £1bn for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. As well as giving Peel ownership of the port operations, the deal also included significant areas of land and has led to the multi-billion pound Liverpool and Wirral Waters property schemes.

A new devolution deal would see the Combined Authority take control of track, stations and signalling


LBN understands there would be some logistical issues to overcome. The Merseyrail network overlaps with the national rail network, particularly on the City Line out of Lime Street station. Transforming Merseyrail into a properly vertically integrated network with its own signalling would require extensive resignalling.

However, Mr Rotheram made devolution of transport infrastructure one of his key manifesto pledges in his re-election campaign earlier this year. And, at an event organised by the Liverpool branch of the Institute of Directors in the city, he said talks with the Department for Transport were already well under way.

He said: “We want to develop the Merseyrail network. It will mean we get control of the stations, the signals and the land – the whole infrastructure. There will be areas of land where we can build housing. We have been talking to the Government about this for about 18 months.”

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