Northampton Loop Line

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Northampton loop)
Jump to: navigation, search
Northampton Loop Line
Long Buckby railway station 1.jpg
A London Midland Class 350 local train calls at Long Buckby.
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Northamptonshire
East Midlands
West Midlands (region)
Termini Roade (West Coast Main Line)
Rugby (West Coast Main Line)
Stations Two
Opening 1881
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) London Midland
Virgin Trains
Rolling stock Class 321
Class 350 "Desiro"
Class 390 "Pendolino"
Line length Approx 23 34 miles (38.2 km)
No. of tracks Two
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 25 kV 50hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 75 mph (120 km/h)
Northampton Loop Line
West Coast Main Line
Hillmorton Junction
Kilsby and Crick
Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT)
Long Buckby
Althorp Park
Church Brampton
Northampton to Market Harborough line
Northampton to Peterborough Line
Bedford to Northampton Line
Hunsbury Hill Tunnel
Hanslope Junction
West Coast Main Line

The Northampton loop is a railway line serving the town of Northampton. It is a branch of the West Coast Main Line, deviating from the faster direct main line which runs to the west. The WCML is a four track line up to either end of the Loop: the 'up' and 'down' fast tracks take the direct route while the 'up' and 'down' slow tracks are diverted via Northampton railway station.

The Northampton loop leaves the direct London-Birmingham line at Hanslope Junction, just north of Milton Keynes but continues to run alongside it until the two routes diverge north of Roade at the northern end of Roade cutting, it then runs north east for several miles until it reaches Northampton station. After Northampton, the line heads to the north-west for around twenty miles, until it re-joins the direct London-Birmingham line at Hillmorton Junction at Rugby, just east of Rugby station. The line is a total of 23 34 miles (38.2 km) long.

Services and operations[edit]

The majority of passenger services on the line are provided by London Midland using Class 350 electric multiple units. Class 321 units are used for peak-hour services between Northampton and London Euston.[1][2] The current service pattern consists of two 'semi fast' trains per hour from London Euston and Birmingham New Street. Southbound three trains an hour operate from Birmingham New Street to London Euston. There is also an hourly local service between Northampton and Birmingham. Prior to December 2012 there was also a service to and from Crewe, but now only a few serve the loop line during the morning and evenings and hourly on Sundays.

Virgin Trains provide a small number of semi-fast Pendolino services to London at the extremes of the day. But nearly all Virgin trains use the direct main line. Line speeds on the loop line are currently limited to 75 mph (120 km/h)[3] compared to 125 mph (200 km/h) on the fast line, making the line unattractive to the routing of fast services. As of 2011, line speeds were expected to increase to 90 mph (140 km/h) once signalling improvements are in place north of Northampton up to Rugby.[3]

Long Buckby; the one other station on the line, is served by the London-Birmingham/Northampton-Birmingham services. The London-Crewe service does not stop at Long Buckby except on Sundays.

The Daventry International Railfreight Terminal (DIRFT) is located between Northampton and Rugby on the loop line, and so the line sees heavy freight traffic, mostly container trains.


The only stations that are currently operational on the route are Northampton and Long Buckby. Previously there were six stations between Hanslope Junction and Rugby, but only these two survive. The four stations closed were:


When the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was constructed in the 1830s, Northampton was by-passed, with the line running on high ground to the west via Kilsby Tunnel. Traditionally this was said to have been because Northampton landowners objected to having a railway run to the town.[4] However, more recently, railway historians have argued that Northampton was by-passed because the gradients would have been too steep for early locomotives to easily cope with. Robert Stephenson the engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway was determined to avoid gradients steeper than 1:330. As Northampton is located in the Nene Valley, 120 feet (37 metres) lower than Blisworth, the closest point the L&BR came, connecting the town would have required gradients steeper than this.[5][6]

This meant however that Northampton, despite being a large town, did not have direct rail links to London. A branch from the main line was built to Northampton in the early 1840s, the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, from Blisworth, which gave the town indirect rail links to London and Birmingham.

The loop line was constructed in the late 1870s by the London and North Western Railway and was opened in 1881 (by this stage locomotives had become far more powerful). It was constructed to improve rail services to Northampton and give the town a direct link to London. It also had the advantage of doubling capacity on the line from Roade to Rugby without the expense of widening the tunnel at Kilsby.

The line was electrified along with the rest of the WCML during the 1960s in the wake of the BR 1955 Modernisation Plan.


Two very similar railway accidents occurred on the Northampton loop in 1967 and 1969. The 1967 incident was near the village of Milton Malsor between Roade and Hunsbury Hill tunnel and the other in 1969 near the northern end of Roade cutting.

Southbound train emerging into Roade cutting having climbed the incline on the loop line from Northampton to join the main line. The bridge in the distance is on Blisworth to Courteenhall Road


  1. ^ "London Midland's 321 trains get a fresh coat of paint" (Press release). London Midland. 11 June 2009. 
  2. ^ "London Midland to introduce more seats for London commuters" (Press release). London Midland. 1 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Northampton Rail Users Group
  4. ^ Kilsby Tunnel
  5. ^ Kingscott, Geoffrey, Lost Railways Of Northamptonshire (2008), Countryside Books, ISBN 978-1-84674-108-1
  6. ^ Peter H Elliot, Rugby's Railway Heritage,(1985) ISBN 0-907917-06-2