Runcorn grew as a result of its situation at the lowest crossing point on the River Mersey. A rail bridge and vehicle ferry were the only means of crossing until 1898, when the Transporter Bridge was opened. In the 1960s the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge was built, at around the same time Runcorn was designated a "New Town" and grew to its present population of 70,000 as an overspill for Liverpool. Therefore the residents of the new town/overspill area have a 'Liverpool' heritage which is in contrast to those in the original town. It was designed primarily on the assumption that residents would own cars, but a system of busways was also provided, on which only buses are permitted to run. It has never been a tourist destination but has a number of interesting features including the medieval Halton Castle, an arts centre called The Brindley and Norton Priory.
The town is suitably placed between the North West's two main international airports, Manchester International Airport and Liverpool John Lennon Airport - the closest being the latter. Both are easily accessible via the road and rail networks. Halton Transport operate a bus service from Runcorn Shopping City to and from John Lennon Airport - check with them for times.
Runcorn has two railway stations.
Runcorn benefits considerably from a highly developed transportation network. To the south of the town runs the M56, the M6 runs to the east and the M62 runs to the north across the banks of the River Mersey and neighbouring town of Widnes.
The town also benefits from a high-speed, efficient dual carriageway system of road networks which function very much as a mini-motorway system, separated from the main road system by a series of slip roads and junctions. Each suburb/estate of the town has its own junction. The town can be easily passed through in minutes thanks to the road network. The Mersey Gateway is a tolled bridge which connects Runcorn to adjacent Widnes and has severly reduced congestion from the (temporarily closed) Runcorn-Widnes Bridge.
Runcorn, as a new town, was designed with a purpose in mind. Although uniquely Runcorn served as the hotbed for many experiments, one of the main ones was focused on the creation and maintainence of a distinct network of roads separate from those available for use by the general motoring public and sanctioned exclusively for the use of public transport (excluding both public and private hire taxis) and the emergency services. Every suburb/estate is served by at least one stop on the network. Although the network is less prominent in the older sections of Runcorn that existed prior to the construction of the new town, they are still served.
On the main ring section of the network to the east of the town, encompassing the main area of new town redevelopment there is a frequent service run by Arriva North West & Wales on Routes 1 & 2, a circular service. Other services that frequently use the eastern section of the network include the 110 (Arriva) to Widnes and Warrington, the X1 (Arriva) to Liverpool, the X30 (Arriva) to Chester and the 62 (Halton Transport) to Widnes and Warrington.
The two main bus operators in Halton are Halton Transport and Arriva North West & Wales. Halton Transport is one of the last few Municipal transport corporations that are owned by the local council and continue to make money. There are also a variety of smaller operators who run usually one or two minor routes that would otherwise be uneconomical for the larger companies to run. The town is also home to two of the country's largest coach companies, Selwyns and Anthony's Travel. They are both national carriers but are based in Runcorn.
Halton Transport tends to serve the older areas of Runcorn to the west better than Arriva while Arriva tends to serve the eastern sections more comprehensively than Halton Transport. The town is unique as it has two main bus stations. Runcorn Old Town primarily serves the outgoing traffic whilst Runcorn Shopping City mainly serves internal traffic, although it also plays a large role in transporting some of the population to the outgoing services.
The town has two canal systems. The Manchester Ship Canal runs between the town and the River Mersey and is not open to non-commercial traffic. The Bridgewater Canal, a much smaller canal, is open to public use and is used by many canal boats. There are two canal boat docks in Runcorn. Waterloo Junction is the main dock and is situated at the western end of the Bridgewater Canal where the canal system was filled in during the construction of the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge. The second dock is a privately owned ship yard located further west upstream and can be accessed by road via Halton Road.
By Bus - Halton Buses run most of the bus services in Runcorn, many using the "busway", a network of bus-only roads crossing the town. Most buses call at Runcorn Shopping City.
Runcorn has numerous attractions although they are not always immediately obvious. The main attractions the town offers are Norton Priory and the ruins of the civil war scarred Halton Castle.
Norton Priory has a visitor centre based around the ruined priory, and a Victorian walled garden.
Alternative attractions also include Runcorn Shopping City, the first American-style mall to open anywhere in the UK; the many buildings and locations used in popular TV series such as Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Merseybeat. For those interested in town planning, the whole town is a treasure trove of Radburn design, 1960's architecture and social mis-construction.
The Runcorn-Widnes Bridge, which is the largest steel arch bridge in Europe, is also an attraction.
The town also plays host to the largest free fireworks show in the North West, and boasts a successful arts centre, the Brindley, in the middle of the Old Town opposite the bus station.
Runcorn's shopping facilities are average at best, consisting of the usual chain stores, sportswear outlets and charity shops. Runcorn plays host to Halton's only multiplex cinema, Cineworld, in Runcorn Shopping City. Trident Park, which neighbours Runcorn Shopping City, boasts some major retailers such as ASDA, McDonald's and Aldi.
Runcorn has a number of bars and pubs but nightlife can be precarious, due to fairly frequent violent incidents. The town is gradually improving here, with higher class bars and pubs opening over the next few years but until a nightclub opens unfettered, Runcorn will continue to have a poor nightlife.
The Brindley Theatre, opened in 2005, is an excellent venue for musicals, plays, pantos, concerts and comedy.
Runcorn has several education facilities across all education types. The town also has a large share of Catholic run schools, far higher than the national average.
The town has four high schools. The Grange Academy, The Heath High School, Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy (formerly Halton High) and the Roman Catholic St Chad's Catholic High School. St Chad's and The Heath are specialist schools, Language and Technology respectively. They are also, respectively, the best-achieving schools in Runcorn.
The town also had a Riverside College campus in the early 2000s, but this closed down after only a few years.
Although the town's heritage was based on industry, the majority of Runcorn's residents now work in the service sector. There is still a strong influence from industry although it is severely diminished from several decades ago.
The town is host to several multinationals and PLCs, such as Ineos Chlor whose factory uses over 1% of the total electricity produced in the UK per year; MFI, ASDA, Tesco and several others.
The town also has a large contingent of local and national government workers. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was based in Runcorn when it was the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE).
Runcorn is generally safe during the day, though you should avoid back alleys and side streets in the Old Town. At night, the Old Town is risky. The Windmill Hill and Palacefields estates have bad reputations, Also the Castlefields estate is a very troubled area, and not great in some parts to walk through at night, very unadvisable even, although the housing has improved. More affluent and safe areas include Weston Village, Halton Village, the Norton area and Sandymoor. The Murdishaw, Brookvale and Grangeway estates used to have bad reputations, but they have become much safer in the last decade or so and are generally trouble-free.