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Not worth the wait! (updated)
Member Name: i_p_jones
Date: 13/10/00, updated on 05/09/01 (376 review reads)
Advantages: , gets you from A to B, reasonable prices
Disadvantages: The trains!, poor punctuality
*** Important update at the bottom... ***
Merseyrail Electrics are part of the Arriva Northwest group, owning Merseyside's rail network. This involves 150 miles of track and 91 stations, split across three sections : the Wirral Line (covering the Wirral and Chester, linking to North Wales), the Northern Line (Merseyside's coast, from the south end of Liverpool to Southport), and the City Line (from Liverpool out towards Preston and Warrington, linking to the main line).
Arriva Northwest, I hear you say - I take it you've read the opinions in the Arriva category. Yes, the buses are terrible, so you expect the trains to be just as bad. Well, not quite. Merseyrail has its disadvantages, but unlike their partners on the roads, they have advantages as well.
The first point I'd like to make is their punctuality. Some people criticise their punctuality, but the times I've travelled by train they've been on time almost always. The one time there's been a delay was because of a signal failure, so on the way out in the morning, we were sticking to 20mph for quite a while. On the way back in the evening, they'd closed that section so the last part was done by bus - which obviously took longer than the train.
As for the frequency of the trains, most trains are every half hour, some every 20 minutes. Each train stops at every station along the way. Fine, they all deserve a regular train service. But the long journey from Liverpool Central to Chester, stopping at all 14 stations on the way, all no more than 2 miles apart, gets very tedious. It barely gets accelerating before it slows down for the next stop. What I'd like to see is a more direct service, maybe once an hour, which only stops at one or two major stations on the way.
I think Merseyrail's prices are quite reasonable, not all that high (again, compared to Arriva's bus f
ares). The most recent journey I made was from Liverpool to Bangor on a Sunday. A distance of 80 miles, taking 2 1/2 hours, cost £16.60 for a return ticket. That was without a Railcard.
Other journeys I've made are :
Liverpool to Sandhills : 2 miles, 10 minutes : £1 return
Liverpool to St Helens : 13 miles, 30 minutes : £3.60 return
Liverpool to Sheffield : 84 miles, 3 hours : £11.50 return (with a Student Railcard)
The only problem I've seen is on their side of things - they never check your tickets! On the journeys which are entirely on Merseyrail, such as Liverpool to St Helens or Liverpool to Chester, you could get away without a ticket. Some of the stations like Liverpool Central and Lime Street check your tickets as you leave the station, but the rest don't bother.
Of course, I always buy a ticket - I'm an honest law-abiding citizen...!
The only clean and tidy station I know of on Merseyrail is Lime Street in Liverpool, probably because it's the terminus on the main line from Crewe. The work on it has recently been finished and the scaffolding and cladding has finally come down. A huge forecourt, clean, big fancy information boards, cafés, shops... generally a good station.
And then we come to the rest. The next down the list are those on the Northern Line - most of them are respectable, with clean and unsmashed (!) shelters, information boards, clean ticket offices, and well-lit. They also have electronic information boards, showing the next three trains due, how many minutes until they arrive, and how many carriages it will have. I assume these are controlled automatically as the train passes stations further back, because they're quite accurate. Except for when they're not working.
Some of the stations have announcements, but it's the usual case of it's so muffled and spoken so fast that it's useless. To
be fair, I've yet to find a station in Britain where you can make out what's being said.
The rest of the stations on the City and Wirral lines aren't quite as posh, but again they're adequate. Clean, not too much graffiti, some information boards. The lighting isn't very good though - going through when it's dark, it's a task to see where you are. Do you strain your eyes looking out of the window, or risk losing your train by diving out of the doors to have a look?
Then, at the bottom of the list, sits the Liverpool Underground stations : Liverpool Central, James Street and Moorfields. Where do I start.
The stations themselves aren't too bad, reasonably clean. These also have the electronic boards that the Northern Line stations have.
The big problem is that they're underground. The escalators up and down frequently go out of order, leaving the steps at positions making it very difficult to get up or down in a rush. And the tunnel sides and roofs look in need of repair and a coating of paint.
And waiting on the platform of James Street, the last station before the train goes under the River Mersey, I was sure I could hear running water...
Now come the disadvantages. To put it simply, the trains themselves on Merseyrail are terrible.
Each train has three carriages, each with 64 seats and space for wheelchairs/push-chairs/bikes. I very rarely travel on the train at peak times, so most of the time, the trains are virtually empty. But then the odd time I've been on the train at peak time, it's been shoulder-to-shoulder.
The carriages are done out in a yellow and white colour scheme. Not brilliant on its own, and even worse when the grime builds up. I've yet to see a square metre of one of these trains without filth and/or graffiti. The floors are the worst - it looks like they've been, erm, used as a toilet numerous ti
mes and never cleaned, especially by the doors.
OK, the floor, I can put up with that. The seats, on the other hand, I can't. They're quite drab, a yellow/grey/black tartan pattern, along with the grime, they look horrible. There still is some padding left in the seats, so you're not left sat on a solid surface unlike most Arriva Northwest buses. The thing is, the fabric is so old it's stretched and sagged and looks awful, and on a few seats it's started coming away completely.
The windows are just as bad as those on the buses. They leak, they rattle loudly, they're draughty. I'd hate to be on a Merseyrail train when it's pouring with rain and the wind's howling.
Some of the doors don't work either - "press the button to open the door when the red light is illuminated". Either the red light doesn't illuminate, or it does but nothing happens when you press it. So then you have to drag your baggage to the other end of the train, against the people coming the other way who don't know yet that the door doesn't work.
And finally, they're noisy. Travelling along, the wheels continually bang, there is a constant rattling, the links between the carriages squeak endlessly, and there is often an unnerving "bang" from somewhere. And when the train's coming into a station, the brakes let out an ear-piercing squeal. Just like the buses.
Each carriage has all sorts of signs telling us that "for your added security, some trains now have CCTV". As far as I know, it stops any violence, but it doesn't do much about graffiti and vandalism. And notice the wording "some of our trains" - how about "all of our trains"?
Just as a comparison, on my most recent journey to Bangor from Liverpool, the first stretch was from Liverpool to Chester on Merseyrail, then from Chester to Bangor on First North Western. The Merseyra
il section was just as I'd described it. Then the clean First North Western train, with seats in one piece and no graffiti, glided along almost silently with hardly any bumps or bangs, and definately no squeals. And the doors all worked.
I don't like Merseyrail. Their trains may be on time, but is it worth waiting for them? They might get you from A to B, but it's not exactly a pleasant ride.
I think one of the problems is the ticket collection, or a lack of. Maybe if they had a guard on each train collecting the tickets, then they'd have more money to renovate their trains and stations.
And if they had better trains and stations, maybe the passengers would respect them more and vandalise them less. All it takes is for someone to go through the train with a mop and bucket at the end of each day, and repair the seats (and please, get a new colour scheme - the yellow/grey tartan is drab) when they need it.
## Update : 5th September 2001 ##
All I can do now is apologise for telling lies in this opinion. Merseyrail's last saving grace, punctuality, died this week. I was waiting at the station for the 12:35 train, and it turned up 20 minutes late. Same thing the next day, and the day after. Since then, they've all been late.
It would probably be quicker to walk than it would be to wait for a train in Merseyside. The trains are definitely not worth the wait, or the money.
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