Leeds to Morecambe Line

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Leeds to Morecambe Line
Locale West Yorkshire
North West England
Yorkshire and the Humber
Owner Network Rail
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Leeds to Morecambe Line
Leeds City
Bell Busk
Long Preston
Settle Junction
Low Bentham
Hest Bank
Lancaster Green Ayre
Scale Hall
Bare Lane
Morecambe (Poulton Lane)
Morecambe Euston Road
Northumberland Street
Morecambe Harbour
Morecambe Promenade
Middleton Road Bridge Halt
Heysham Power Station
Heysham Port
Railways between Carnforth, Lancaster and Morecambe in 1913

The Leeds to Morecambe Line is a railway line running between Leeds, Skipton, Lancaster and Morecambe in northern England. The service is operated by Northern Rail. The route covered by the service was historically part of the Midland Railway. The line is electrified at 25 kV AC overhead between Leeds City and Skipton, a section known as the Airedale Line.

The route and its history[edit]

Airedale Line (Leeds - Skipton)[edit]

Main article: Airedale Line

The first section, between Leeds City and Shipley was opened by the Leeds and Bradford Railway on 1 July 1846, and extended to Skipton by the Leeds and Bradford Extension Railway.

Skipton - Settle[edit]

The line from here, known as the "Little" North Western Railway, opened as far as Clapham on 30 July 1849 [1] and through to Lancaster on 1 June 1850. Here were junctions for the following lines:

The main line continues:

Settle Junction - Lancaster[edit]

The original main line to Lancaster had the following stations:

Trains now continue via Carnforth, with stations at:

The line today[edit]

The line has only existed in its current form since January 1966 - prior to this the Leeds to Morecambe service used the 'Little ' North Western Railway route via Lancaster, with the Furness & Midland Joint line to Carnforth served mainly by through carriages detached from/attached to main line trains at Wennington (although a small number of local trains operated between there and Carnforth only).

The Beeching Report of 1963 deemed this service pattern unsatisfactory and proposed that services be 'modified', with the original route from Wennington to Lancaster and Morecambe eventually being closed in favour of the F&MJ line on 3 January 1966.[2] From that date all trains ran Carnforth, the WCML, Hest Bank North Junction and the former LNWR Morecambe Branch Line to reach their destination. This routing had one major drawback in that travellers could no longer reach Lancaster directly, instead having to change at Carnforth onto Furness Line services - a situation that would remain unchanged until the early 1980s. The service was by now operated by DMUs as an extension of the Leeds to Skipton commuter route, with a train every two hours for most of the day (the BR timetable of 1975 had seven trains per day running in each direction on weekdays and three or four on Sundays depending on the time of year). The line was also used by several freight trains each day, including train loads of ammonia from Teesside to the ICI plant at Heysham and bitumen from Stanlow to a distribution plant at Skipton. Steam-hauled charter specials also appeared on the line from time to time from the mid-seventies onwards, running to and from the Steamtown museum at Carnforth.

Borwick Station in 1962

From 1982 however the line's timetable was modified, with several services speeded up (by omitting the intermediate station calls north of Skipton) and diverted to run via Lancaster to provide connections into and out of WCML trains to and from Carlisle & Glasgow. This was due to the controversial decision to reroute Nottingham - Glasgow trains away from the Settle-Carlisle Line as part of BR's ongoing plan to close it. Had these plans come to fruition, the route would also have been used by a twice-daily replacement Leeds - Carlisle service via the WCML which would have reversed in the loops immediately south of Carnforth station (details were provided in the 'Heads of Information' document issued by BR to all objectors to the 1983 closure proposals). This new timetable restored the direct link between Lancaster and Leeds for the first time in more than fifteen years and also brought upgraded rolling stock to the route in the shape of Class 123 and Class 124 DMUs formerly used on Hull - Manchester Trans-Pennine services. The benefits though were mainly overlooked due to the circumstances in which they were introduced (most rail users considered the new services to be poor substitutes for the direct Leeds to Glasgow trains they replaced) [3] and also the increase in journey times to and from Morecambe caused by the Lancaster re-routing (and subsequent curtailment there when locomotive-hauled stock took over for a short time in the mid-eighties).

Up freight train near Bell Busk in 1961

Freight services on the route ended in 1986 following the closure of the Heysham chemical plant and the loss of the Stanlow - Skipton bitumen traffic to road, leaving the Leeds to Lancaster/Morecambe passenger service as the only user of the route (apart from occasional steam excursions and empty coaching stock transfers) - a situation that remains unchanged to the present day. The timetable has also undergone further alterations in recent years, including the ending of the semi-fast trains and the routing of all services via Lancaster in May 1987. The biggest change though came in 1990-91, when a DMU shortage led to BR summarily cutting the service frequency almost in half[4] (from seven trains each way per day to just four, of which only one ran beyond Lancaster). This prompted the formation of the Lancaster & Skipton Rail Users Group later the same year [5] to help promote the route and campaign for service improvements. An extra weekday train in each direction was subsequently added in May 1995 (bringing the total to five) and through running to Morecambe restored, but despite the efforts of the user group and the various local authorities along the line (who set up a Community Rail Partnership for the route in 2006 [6]), the current service frequency remains less than ideal with large gaps (of up to four hours) between trains.

Most services on the line are now operated by Class 150 DMUs, although Class 142 & Class 144 "Pacer" units (the regular booked traction for many years) and Class 153 railcars appear regularly. Class 158 units also make occasional appearances on the route.

The future[edit]

A recent report by Modern Railways claimed that a solid hourly service would operate on the line as far as Long Preston, but would serve Carlisle and Lancaster alternately. It may also become a freight artery to improve capacity on the West Coast Main Line. Network Rail's own latest plans involve new signalling (there are currently no intermediate signals anywhere between Settle Junction and Carnforth, the block section of more than 24 miles being the longest in the country and a consequent constraint on capacity) and other improvements for the sections of the line beyond Skipton. Carlisle services will be increased to a basic two hour pattern with extra services to 'fill in the gaps' at peak times during the day to give a 1 train per hour frequency.[7] Lancaster services will also be made more frequent, however it has been suggested they will be terminated at Skipton in future, rather than continuing through to Leeds as at present.[7] This suggestion drew criticism from various bodies during the RUS consultation period however and is unlikely to be proceeded with.

Another development is the extension of the current mid-morning Leeds to Morecambe train (and corresponding return service in the afternoon) to Heysham Harbour from the December 2008 timetable change.[8] This reinstates the direct service between Leeds/Skipton and beyond and Heysham that last ran more than 30 years ago. The Sunday service on the line has also been enhanced at the start of the new May 2011 timetable, with the 2 trains that used to run only during the summer months extended to operate right through until the end of the timetable period in December (see Northern Rail timetable 7 for full details).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Binns, D (1982) The 'Little' North Western Railway, Wyvern Publishing, Skipton. ISBN 0-907941-01-X, p.9
  2. ^ Marshall, J (1981) Forgotten Railways North-West England, David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd, Newton Abbott. ISBN 0-7153-8003-6, p.158
  3. ^ Towler J, (1990) The Battle for The Settle & Carlisle, Platform 5 Publishing, Sheffield, ISBN 1-872524-07-9, p.44
  4. ^ Leeds - Lancaster - Morecambe Railway History www.llmr.co.uk; Retrieved 2009-03-26
  5. ^ LASRUG - About Us Accessed 2008-10-19
  6. ^ LLMR Community Rail Partnership Launched Lancaster City Council press release, accessed 2006-10-19
  7. ^ a b "Lancashire and Cumbria RUS" (PDF). 
  8. ^ Northern Rail Timetable 7 - Leeds to Morecambe & Carlisle December 2008 - May 2009 Northern Rail website. Accessed 2008-11-21

External links[edit]