The Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) was a joint railway consisting of three partners: the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR), the Midland Railway (MR) and the Great Northern Railway (GNR). On 13 July 1874 the CLC obtained an Act to build the ‘North Liverpool Extension Line’ a double-track railway to connect its main Liverpool to Manchester line to the deep water berths of the rapidly expanding north Liverpool docks. The CLC chose a route that skirted through agricultural land east of Liverpool, running from a junction with the CLC main line at Halewood and passing through small villages at Gateacre, Knotty Ash and West Derby before reaching Walton, where the line turned south-west and ran down to the docks to terminate at Huskisson Dock. The only major civil engineering on the line was required at Walton where three tunnels had to be excavated to carry the line through the sandstone ridge north and east of Liverpool.
The tunnels ran from Walton-on-the-Hill, where a passenger station was provided, to a point on the east side of Kirkdale Station on the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s (L&YR) Liverpool to Bolton line. Starting at Walton-on-the-Hill the first was the 229yd Walton Hill tunnel (later Walton-on-the Hill No.1). The line emerged from No.1 tunnel at its south-western end into a deep cutting. It passed beneath Liston Street bridge and, after 150yd, entered Breeze Hill tunnel, known in later years as Walton-on-the-Hill No. 2. Breeze Hill, at 643yd, was the longest of the three. Breeze Hill tunnel was followed by a deep cutting, 70yd long then the 247yd Hawthorne Road tunnel, later known as Walton-on-the-Hill No.3. After the southern portal of the Hawthorne Road the line continued southwards towards Huskisson in a wide, deep cutting at a falling gradient. Running parallel to it, on the west side, was the L&YR Liverpool to Bolton line.
A contract was let for the construction of the entire line, including the tunnels, to Kirk and Parry, and work started on the tunnels in September 1875. The specification stated that the tunnels should accommodate four tracks, but that only two tracks would be laid initially. The CLC specified this so that, at a future date, they would not have to undertake expensive works widening the route through the tunnels. To facilitate future widening the rock cutting at Selwyn Street was partly excavated to the east of the line from street level to about tunnel-roof height on the east side of the line. At Liston Street space was kept free from development on the east side of the line to facilitate widening to four tracks. At the Kirkdale end Hawthorne Road tunnel was partly built as a double tunnel. The bore at the south-west end was a double bore, but on the east side of the line it did not continue quite as far as the Selwyn Street cutting. It ended at a big slab of sandstone. It was not fully excavated to floor level either - only at the point where the side-walls had to be constructed.
At Walton Hill two sections of parallel tunnel were excavated on the east side of the line, but neither extended into the open at either Liston Street cutting or Walton-on-the-Hill station. It remained in complete darkness, the only access being connecting passages providing access to Walton Hill tunnel-proper. Although the line became very busy, traffic levels never justified widening the route, so the works at Walton-on-the-Hill were in vain.
The primary purpose of the line had been to move goods, but from 17 July 1880 to 1 May1885 passenger trains between Huskisson and Liverpool Central passed through the tunnels. The line became very busy, handling all manner of goods and materials.
The tunnels remained part of the CLC until 1 January 1948 when they were transferred to the nationalised British Railways (London Midland Region).
By 19 June 1966 traffic had declined, and the line through the tunnels was singled. Goods trains continued to pass through the three tunnels until August 1975, by which time only one train per day was running between Edge Hill and Huskisson. The single line remained in situ until spring 1979 when it was lifted by a demolition train - the last train ever to pass through the three tunnels.
The tunnels proved a popular playground for children from the early 1970s, and in the early 1980s the northern portal of No.1 tunnel was bricked up and a metal door was fitted to prevent access: the door was soon broken down. In the late 1990s palisade fencing was erected across the tunnel mouth.
By 2007 the cutting at Liston Street was filled with domestic rubbish thrown down from the street for over three decades: it had been so bad during a visit in August 1995 that it was not possible to pass from Walton Hill tunnel to Breeze Hill tunnel without having to climb through rat-infested rubbish that reached almost tunnel-roof height. High fencing was erected at Liston Street and the cutting was cleared out. By October 2009 vegetation had become established in the Liston Street cutting, but by February 2010 this had been removed.
In 2010 the condition of the tunnels appeared to be quite good, although drainage works have been carried out inside No.1 tunnel. Spoil and other material had also been dumped inside No.1 tunnel, lifting the level of the tunnel floor by a few feet. Tunnels 2 and 3 are relatively clear. Brickwork at the portals was in poor shape at Liston Street cutting and at Selwyn Street cutting. On a return visit in November 2012 this brickwork had been repaired. A more substantial steel door had also been fitted to the north portal of Walton Hill tunnel.
- The Cheshire Lines Committee, by P Bolger, Heyday Publishing Company 1984
- Cheshire Lines Committee Signal Box Register, M J Addison & J D Dixon 1996