New era for Merseyrail as first new train departs

As the first of the new £500m Merseyrail train fleet departs Liverpool Central for Kirkby Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram tells LBN ‘we want to buy more trains and extend the network’. Tony McDonough reports

First new 777 class Merseyrail train at Sandhills bound for Kirkby. Picture by Tony McDonough


At 10.50am on Monday, January 23, the first of the new Merseyrail train fleet left Liverpool Central station bound for Kirkby.

“This has been long in the making,” said city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. The Combined Authority first agreed to purchase 52 custom-built trains from Swiss manufacturer Stadler back in 2016. The cost was £500m.

Since then the project has suffered delays on several fronts. Chief among them was the COVID pandemic. But a flood at a Stadler factory and disputes and negotiations with trade unions also combined to push back the timetable.

Last week, the final obstacle was overcome when Merseyrail agreed a terms and conditions deal with train drivers’ union ASLEF whose members will be driving the new trains.

Initial services using the new units will operate on the Northern Line between Liverpool Central and Kirkby. They will call along the way at Kirkdale, Walton, Rice Lane and Fazakerley.

Rationale for this being the first line is the location of the Stadler depot at Kirkdale which will allow any teething problems to be addressed quickly.

In an interview with LBN just prior to the departure of the first train, Mr Rotheram said: “The Ormskirk line will be next. We are hoping to have some of those trains in service for the Grand National meeting (April 13 to April 15).”

Over the next 12 to 15 months the new trains will be rolled out across the rest of the Merseyrail network which includes Hunts Cross to Southport on the Northern Line and Liverpool to Chester and Ellesmere Port on the Wirral Line.

However, Mr Rotheram’s ambitions go much further. In December LBN revealed that a test run of one of the new class 777 trains saw it travel 135km using just a battery.

This opens up the possibility of extending the network to other parts of the region currently not served by Merseyrail. That will mean the Combined Authority would have to buy more trains from Stadler.

Mr Rotheram explained: “Because these trains will have battery technology it means we can go further. Our trains work off a live third rail. We won’t need that and we need to look at Merseyrail for all. That is reaching places we currently don’t get to because there is no third rail.


First new 777 class Merseyrail train at Central Station bound for Kirkby
First new 777 class Merseyrail train at Moorfields bound for Kirkby. Picture by Tony McDonough
First new 777 class Merseyrail train at Sandhills bound for Kirkby. Picture by Tony McDonough
Interior of the new 777 class trains on the Merseyrail network
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram at Liverpool Central on Monday morning. Picture by Tony McDonough
Steve Rotheram
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram next to a new 777 class Merseyrail train


“We still have to secure funding to extend the network. We would have to buy extra units. What we have at this moment in time is enough trains to service the system we have. So if we want to extend the network we would have to buy new trains.

“There is a contingency with Stadler so we can go back to them and get some more. But they are not cheap. And the battery technology isn’t cheap, either.

“Can we find the money? I am confident we can and then we need to work with the agencies. Network Rail are part of this, Merseyrail and other rail operators because we will want to go to some of the places they currently run to.”

The Metro Mayor added that services to Widnes would be high on the list, adding: “I would like to get to Widnes and there are other things we can do using the lines we have already got.”

Battery-powered trains will run to the new Headbolt Lane station at Kirkby which is due to open in 2023. The technology also offers the possibility of Merseyrail services as far afield as Skelmersdale, Wrexham, Warrington and Runcorn without the need for expensive electrification.

For the moment Merseyrail’s existing passengers will just be happy to see the new trains finally coming into service. 

They will offer free Wi-Fi, wider seats and space for up to 50% more passengers. They will also feature sliding step technology which will allow unassisted access for wheelchair users and those with bikes or buggies – a UK first.

Similar to trains in other areas, passengers will need to press a button to open the doors when boarding and leaving the train.

“I am really expired and it is a momentous day in the city region and it has been a long time in the making,” said Mr Rotheram.

“These will be running into the future. Probably for the next 40 years. And it is a great day for the city region because people will start to see the things that I have been talking about – to upgrade the transport system.

“This train will be the first of a new fleet that will roll out across the whole system. We want to make it a London style transport system where buses connect with trains and ferries and active travel.”

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