Kirkby Branch Line

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Kirkby Branch Line
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale North West England
Termini Wigan Wallgate
Stations Pemberton, Orrell,
Upholland, Rainford
Opening 20 November 1848[1]
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Northern Rail
Line length 12.25 miles (19.71 km)[2][3]
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Route map

The Kirkby Branch Line is a railway line in England, running from Wigan in Greater Manchester to Kirkby in Merseyside. Now a partly single-track route[3] with an hourly diesel service operated by Northern Rail, the line was once part of a mainline route from Manchester to Liverpool operated by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway,[4] and had several branch lines of its own until the 1960s.


The Liverpool and Bury Railway built the first line into Liverpool from the north. It ran from Bury in Lancashire (now Greater Manchester) via the towns of Bolton and Wigan, and reached the city of Liverpool in 1848. Soon afterwards, the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston Railway's route to Preston was built and shared the L&BR line as far as Walton.[1] Mergers meant that the Bury route was built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, which had taken over the Liverpool and Bury Railway company.[1][4] The opening ceremony took place on 20 November 1848.[1]

With the creation of Merseyrail and the closure of the route's former terminus at Liverpool Exchange in 1977 through trains to Liverpool from the Wigan direction ceased. It had originally been intended that the line be electrified all the way from Liverpool to Wigan. The section between Liverpool and Kirkby was electrified in that year, and Kirkby station was reconstructed in a way which severed the line.[3] Services between Wigan and Kirkby are provided by diesel-powered stock; passengers continuing beyond Kirkby change there and join a Merseyrail-operated electric train.[3] It is a long term aspiration of Merseyrail to complete the electrification of the line.[5]

Proposals to extend Merseyrail's electric network to a new station at Headbolt Lane, between Kirkby and Rainford, were announced in 2007.[6]

Route description[edit]

The former main line is now "something of a backwater",[4] with the appearance of a rural branch line in places.[3] After leaving Wigan Wallgate station, trains pass under the West Coast Main Line almost immediately, after which the Southport-bound Manchester to Southport Line diverges to the west. Bridges take the branch line over the River Douglas and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal before Pemberton station, where a now removed loop line came in on the east side.[3] This rejoined the line to Bolton east of Wigan, avoiding the latter town.[7] The line then passes under the M6 motorway and the 959-yard (877 m) Upholland Tunnel, between which is Orrell station. The tunnel is situated at the highest point of the line, and is the only major structural work on the route.[3] Upholland station is next, followed by Rainford—until the 1950s, a junction for two passenger lines. One, the Skelmersdale Branch, ran northwestwards towards Skelmersdale and Ormskirk; the other ran to St Helens via Crank.[3] The lines were both opened in 1858, although not at the same time, and were usually operated as a through route. The Ormskirk line was built by the East Lancashire Railway, while the St Helens Railway was responsible for the line to that town.[8] Both survived until the 1960s for freight traffic.[3] The line becomes single-track after Rainford, and continues for 5.25 miles (8.45 km) to the single platform terminus at Kirkby.[2][3]


Trains start from and terminate at Manchester Victoria and join the Kirkby branch at Wigan Wallgate, having travelled via Atherton and Hindley, and change direction at Kirkby. Services are scheduled to take between 69 and 75 minutes end-to-end.[9] There is no weekday evening (after 19.30) or Sunday service.[10]

As of 2015, the standard service on the Kirkby branch is hourly, with trains starting back at Stalybridge but still terminating at Victoria on the return journey. These service frequencies have been unchanged since the 1980s[4] however the high-level output specification for 2014-2019 envisages the service being cut back to a simple shuttle between Kirkby and Wigan Wallgate. Services are operated by Northern Rail.[11] Network Rail has considered the effects of electrification.[12]



  1. ^ a b c d Wright, Paul (1998–2008). "Liverpool Exchange". Disused Stations/Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Electronic National Rail Timetable (eNRT): Winter 2010/2011" (Zipped PDF). Network Rail. 12 December 2010. p. 1541. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Macfarlane 1987, p. 43.
  4. ^ a b c d Macfarlane 1987, p. 42.
  5. ^ Merseytravel Rail Strategy
  6. ^ "Millions to be spent on Mersey rail network". Liverpool Daily Post (Trinity Mirror). 3 April 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  7. ^ Brownbill, J.; Farrer, William (eds.) (1911). "A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4. Townships: Pemberton". Victoria County History of Lancashire. British History Online. pp. 78–83. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  8. ^ Wright, Paul; Price, Bevan (1998–2008). "Crank Halt". Disused Stations/Subterranea Britannica. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "Electronic National Rail Timetable (eNRT): Winter 2010/2011". Network Rail. 12 December 2010. p. 1544. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  10. ^ "Electronic National Rail Timetable (eNRT): Winter 2010/2011". Network Rail. 12 December 2010. p. 1589. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  11. ^ "Network Map". Northern Rail. 2010. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  12. ^ "Network RUS Electrification" (PDF). October 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 


  • Macfarlane, Andrew (January 1987). Young, Tim, ed. Lancashire and Cumbria by Rail. Britain By Rail (Railway Development Society). Norwich: Jarrold and Sons. ISBN 0-7117-0297-7.