The Birkenhead Railway was formed on 1 August 1859 as a result of the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Railway merging with the Chester and Birkenhead Railway. The new company was originally called the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway, but in 1859 shortened its name to The Birkenhead Railway. It was taken over, on 1 January 1860, by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and the Great Western Railway (GWR), becoming a joint railway. It remained a Joint Railway until Nationalisation of the railways in 1948.
The original main routes were those created by the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Railway's Chester Loop and the main line from Chester to a junction with the London and North Western Railway at Walton Junction, near Warrington; and the Chester and Birkenhead Railway's main line from Chester to Birkenhead. Further branches were created:
- A branch from Hooton to Parkgate opened on 1 October 1866. On 19 April 1886 the line was extended to West Kirby, 12 miles from Hooton, where it connected to the Wirral Railway.
The Sutton Tunnel was the scene of a train crash in 1851 on the day of the Chester Cup. An overcrowded train was unable to make progress through the tunnel and had to be pushed by a following train. As both trains were in the tunnel making very slow progress, a third train entered the tunnel at full speed, unaware of the slow progress of the two trains already in the tunnel. More than fifty people were injured, with nine deaths. An inquest was held in the Red Lion pub in Preston Brook, with a verdict of "Accidental Death", though "great blame" was placed on the Executive Committee of the Birkenhead, Lancashire and Cheshire Junction Railway Company, while officers and servants of the company were criticised for "want of prudence and discretion".
The lines between Birkenhead and Chester, and from Hooton to Ellesmere Port (on the Helsby branch) now form part of the Wirral Line of the Merseyrail network. The section of line from Ellesmere Port to Warrington is now run as a parliamentary train operated by Northern Rail. The Chester to Helsby section is operated by Arriva Trains Wales as part of their Llandudno to Manchester Piccadilly service.
The branch from Hooton to West Kirby was closed to passengers in 1956 and to freight traffic in 1962; the track bed of this route is now the Wirral Way, a footpath forming part of the Wirral Country Park.
- Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-8526-0049-7. OCLC 19514063.
- Casserley, H. C. (1968). Britain's Joint Lines. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0024-7.
- Dewick, Tony (2005). Britain's Railways: Rail Atlas 1890 (1st Edition ed.). Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-3031-6.
- Maund T.B., (2001). The Birkenhead Railway: LMS & GW Joint, Railway Correspondence & Travel Society, ISBN 0-901115-87-8
- Merseyside Railway History Group (1982). The Hooton to West Kirby Branch Line and the Wirral Way, Metropolitan Borough of Wirral., ISBN 0-904582-04-3.
- Vinter, Jeff (1990). Railway Walks: LMS, Stroud: Alan Sutton. ISBN 0-86299-734-8.
- Disused Stations: Birkenhead Monks Ferry railway station
- Disused Stations: Hadlow Road railway station
- Cheshire County Council: Wirral Country Park
- Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council: Wirral Country Park