North Warwickshire Line

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North Warwickshire Line
(Shakespeare Line)
Birmingham-Stratford Line.png
Diagram of the North Warwickshire Line in green.
Type Suburban rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Birmingham
West Midlands
West Midlands (region)
Opening 1908
Owner Network Rail
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
North Warwickshire Line
Birmingham-Worcester Line
Midland Metro
Birmingham Snow Hill Midland Metro
Snow Hill Tunnel
Stafford Line
Birmingham Moor Street
A4540 road
Grand Union Canal
Camp Hill Line
Small Heath
Grand Union Canal
Tyseley TMD
Tyseley Junction
Chiltern Main Line
Spring Road
Hall Green
Yardley Wood
Stratford Canal
Whitlocks End
Limit of Centro area
The Lakes
M42 motorway
Wood End
to Chiltern Main Line
Wootton Wawen
River Alne
Alcester to Hatton
Branch Line
Edstone Aqueduct
Bearley Junction
Leamington to Stratford Line
Stratford Canal
Stratford-upon-Avon and
Midland Junction Railway
Honeybourne Line

The North Warwickshire Line (also known as the Shakespeare Line[1]) is a suburban railway line in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom. It runs from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, now the southern terminus of the line, although the line originally continued to Cheltenham as part of the Great Western Railway route from Birmingham to Bristol. Services on the line are currently operated by London Midland.

The line is not electrified and is operated by Class 172 diesel multiple units.

The line is one of the Snow Hill Lines.


Early history[edit]

The North Warwickshire Line was opened in 1908, it originated as the Birmingham, North Warwickshire and Stratford Railway. This was promoted as an independent railway company under the auspices of the Great Western Railway. Stratford-upon-Avon had already been linked to the railway network from 1860, by a mostly single track branch from Hatton; the NWL connected to this branch (which was doubled as part of the work) at Bearley, and ran north to the main line at Tyseley, providing a more direct link between Birmingham and Stratford, connecting Henley-in-Arden and Shirley en route.[1]

The line does not pass through the area commonly known as North Warwickshire, instead, the name of the line was believed to be derived from that of the local hunt.[1]

Along with the Honeybourne Line south of Stratford to Cheltenham, it formed part of a main line route towards Bristol and the South-West of England. it provided a much shorter link between the company's West Midlands heartlands and the South West of England and South Wales than existing routes via Oxford and Hereford. It thus place.d the Great Western in a position to compete with the Birmingham to Bristol route of the Midland Railway.[1]

The opening of the NWL made redundant the existing branch line to Henley-in-Arden from Lapworth. This branch line was closed as a wartime economy measure in 1915.[1]

Moor Street station in Birmingham, was opened soon after the opening of the North Warwickshire Line, and served as the Birmingham terminus of most local services on the line, as well local services from Leamington Spa. Moor Street was opened to take these local services and so, relieve congestion at Birmingham Snow Hill.[1]

Local services were operated initially by railmotors; which were self-propelled steam carriages. These were later superseded by autotrains; a form of push-pull train.[1]

From the start, the line carried long-distance services from the West Midlands to Bristol, South Wales, and the South West of England. These were suspended during the First World War, then developed in the 1920s and '30s, were suspended again in the Second World War, finally reaching their peak in the 1950s, at which time three or four such trains traversed the line each weekday. The doyen of these services was always the daily train from Wolverhampton to Penzance, latterly named "The Cornishman".[2]

A pioneering diesel railcar service with buffet commenced running in 1934 between Birmingham and Cardiff, running non-stop through Stratford. This was so successful that it had to be expanded to a three car train consisting of a standard carriage sandwiched between two railcars. Even this was insufficient for demand, and led rapidly to replacement by a normal locomotive hauled composition. However, during the wartime suspension, the railcar service was reinstated at times before the steam hauled service finally took over after the Second World War. At that time, two such trains ran to and from Cardiff daily, and a stop at Stratford was introduced.[3][4]

The line passed into the ownership of British Railways in 1948, following nationalisation.

Cutbacks and closure attempts[edit]

The North Warwickshire Line has survived two attempts at closure. The line between Tyseley and Bearley junctions was listed for closure as part of the Beeching Axe closures in the 1960s. This would have left Stratford connected to the rail network only by the branch to Hatton, reverting to the pre-1908 situation. The closure proposals provoked a strong local campaign to save the line, which eventually went to the High Court. The line was given a reprieve from closure in 1969. However British Rail made another attempt at closure in 1985. This time the proposal was to close the line between Henley-in-Arden and Bearley junction, and to divert Stratford trains via Solihull. This again provoked a strong local response, and the line was reprieved in 1987.[1]

However many cutbacks were made. Long distance services were cut back from 1962, and passenger services south of Stratford ceased altogether in 1969. The line south of Stratford remained open for freight until 1976, when a freight train derailment led to complete closure, ending the North Warwickshire Line's role as a through main line.[2]

Recent developments[edit]

Since the 1990s, the line has been marketed as the 'Shakespeare Line'.[1][5]

The line was resignalled by Network Rail in 2009/2011, replacing the semaphore signals in place, and improving platform access at Stratford. This resignalling also saw terminating services from Birmingham extended from Shirley to the next station, Whitlocks End, by the addition of a new turnback facility. Park and ride facilities were also added at Whitlocks End to encourage commuters to drive there, in order to reduce traffic congestion at Shirley station. The resignalling also saw the removal of the three remaining signal boxes at Shirley, Henley-in-Arden and Bearley Junction.[6][7]

In 2011 a new fleet of Class 172 diesel multiple units was introduced to operate the line (along with the other Snow Hill Lines) replacing the older Class 150's which had operated the line since 1990.[8][1]

In May 2013 Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway station was opened north of Stratford. This allows commuters to use the train without driving into Stratford.

Current services[edit]

Current daytime service levels between Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham are one train per hour, and a further 2 trains per hour between Whitlocks End and Birmingham, meaning a 3 trains per hour service exists between Whitlocks End and Birmingham. From January 2014, an extra hourly train was introduced between Birmingham and Stratford, however this service runs via Solihull. It was introduced as part of improvements to the service in conjunction with the new Stratford Parkway station.

On summer Sundays, a steam service, the "Shakespeare Express" is operated by Vintage Trains between Birmingham and Stratford.

Possible future development[edit]

The Shakespeare Line Promotion Group is promoting a scheme to reopen the 9 miles (14 km) of line south of Stratford to Honeybourne where it would link to the Cotswold Line. Called the "Avon Rail Link", the scheme (supported as a freight diversionary route by DB Schenker[9]) would make Stratford-upon-Avon station a through station once again with improved connections to the South, and would open up the possibility of direct services to Oxford and Worcester via Evesham.[10] The scheme faces local opposition.[11] However, there is a good business case for Stratford-Cotswolds link.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bevan, Alan. The Story of The North Warwickshire Line 1908 - 2008. Alard Print & Reprographics Limited. 
  2. ^ a b "RE REGIONAL URBAN MARKET STUDY" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "About The Shakespeare Line & Supporters". Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Links to Stratford-upon-Avon growing". GLOBALRAILNEWS. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  7. ^ "NEW RAILWAY SIGNALLING SYSTEM IS SWITCHED ON". Network Rail. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "A new era for the Snow Hill lines". London Midland. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  9. ^ DB Schenker Rail (UK) Limited (November 2009). "Response to Network Rail’s Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation (Published September 2009)" (PDF). Doncaster. pp. 14, 29. Retrieved 23 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Wilson, Matt (25 June 2013). "Campaigners' new report on Stratford to Honeybourne rail link". Stratford Herald. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Rail restore talks on track". Stratford Observer. 1 October 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Railnews (22 October 2012). "Good business case for Stratford-Cotswolds link". Railnews. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 

External links[edit]