Askern branch line

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Askern branch line

Yorkshire and the Humber
South Yorkshire

North Yorkshire
West Yorkshire
Termini Shaftholme
Stations 3
Opened 1848 - Present
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Freightliner
Grand Central
East Coast
Rolling stock Class 66
Class 180
Class 43
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed 20mph - 50mph

The Askern branch line is a railway line which runs in North, South and West Yorkshire in England. The stretch of track runs from Shaftholme Junction north of Doncaster (on the East Coast Main Line between Doncaster and York), via Askern, Norton and Womersley to Knottingley, where it joins the Pontefract Line.


It was opened by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway on 6 June 1848 and running powers were granted to the Great Northern Railway (with which it made an end-on junction at Askern) giving the latter company its initial access to Leeds (using part of the current Pontefract Line) and the former to Doncaster. The line subsequently became part of the newly established East Coast Main Line with the opening of a branch from Knottingley to Burton Salmon in 1850, which gave access to the York & North Midland Railway's line from Normanton to York. The opening of a direct line from Shaftholme Junction to York via Selby in January 1871 saw the end of regular express trains using the route, but it remained busy with goods traffic, mainly coal from various collieries along its length and continued to carry a local stopping service from Wakefield to Doncaster until closure to passengers on 27 September 1948.[1] Today it remains open to carry coal traffic destined for the power stations at Ferrybridge, Drax and Eggborough and passenger trains diverted when either the ECML or Doncaster - Leeds line is closed for engineering work. It also carries a scheduled service operated by Grand Central (as noted).

Askern Branch Line
Pontefract Line
Hull and Barnsley Railway
East Coast Main Line
to West Riding and Grimsby Railway
West Riding and Grimsby Railway
East Coast Main Line

The line today[edit]

The line now sees regular scheduled passenger services for the first time in more than seventy years, run by open-access operator Grand Central. These trains run between London Kings Cross and Bradford Interchange via Doncaster, Knottingley, then on via Pontefract Monkhill, Wakefield Kirkgate, Mirfield, Brighouse and Halifax. The necessary track access rights (for an initial three trains per day each way) were awarded to Grand Central by the ORR in January 2009.[2] Grand Central commence services in the May 2010 timetable change, with the first services running as planned on 23 May 2010.[3] The company subsequently announced that it wished to remove the stops at Pontefract at the next timetable change (December 2011) and divert its remaining services via Adwick to significantly reduce journey times. Permission for this from the ORR has not been forthcoming to date (Autumn 2013) and so the present routing remains. Since December 2013 Grand Central services have added new stop at Mirfield. They have also added a fourth return service via this route.[4]

Infrastructure operator Network Rail are also carrying out upgrade works at the southern end of the line – a new flyover is being constructed that will permit freight services from the ex-West Riding and Grimsby Railway route between Hatfield and Stainforth and Adwick to bridge the ECML and join the line just north of Askern Junction.[5][6] This will allow coal trains from the deep water import terminal at Immingham to run directly to the power stations at Drax, Ferrybridge & Eggbrough without needing to join the ECML at Joan Croft Junction and use a 15-mile section from there towards York, thus freeing up capacity on a busy section of the route.


Askern level crossing[edit]

On Monday 3 December 1849, a rear collision with a vehicle resulted in a derailment. Four people were injured.

Haywood level crossing[edit]

This level crossing is a CCTV level crossing controlled by Norton Signal Box. On Thursday 26 February 2009, at around 1pm, an HGV lorry smashed into the barriers, causing delays to freight services.

Norton level crossing[edit]

Norton level crossing is right next to Norton signal box which controls most of the level crossings on the Askern branch line. On Thursday 21 June 2012, a Land Rover smashed through the barriers after fleeing from a burglary, and smashed into two waiting cars at the other side of the crossing. This resulting in a full road closure, major delays to the freight services and to the London Kings Cross to Bradford Interchange Service. Four barriers were totally wrecked, so Network Rail replaced them. Further investigation of the level crossing crash is still underway.


  1. ^ Body, p154
  2. ^ ORR Track Access Applications Decision for the ECML 28 January 2009 ORR Website; Retrieved 2009-01-29
  3. ^ West Riding Timetable Grand Central Rail website; Retrieved 2010-05-24
  4. ^ Grand Central on Track to Deliver Extra Service in YorkshireGrand Central Press Release; Retrieved 2013-10-14
  5. ^ Updated plans to improve journeys for thousands of passengers to go on display in Askern, Doncaster; Retrieved 2013-10-14
  6. ^ North Doncaster Rail ChordNational Infrastructure Planning website; Retrieved 2013-10-14


  • Body, G. (1988), PSL Field Guides – Railways of the Eastern Region Volume 2, Patrick Stephens Ltd, Wellingborough, ISBN 1-85260-072-1