Leeds–Morecambe line

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Leeds–Morecambe line
Locale West Yorkshire
North West England
Yorkshire and the Humber
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Northern
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Leeds–Morecambe line
Keighley and Worth Valley Railway
Bell Busk
Long Preston
Settle Junction
Low Bentham
Lancaster Green Ayre
Hest Bank
Bare Lane
(Poulton Lane)
Scale Hall
Euston Road
Middleton Road
Bridge Halt
Power Station
Northumberland Street
Heysham Port ferry/water interchange
Railways between Carnforth, Lancaster and Morecambe in 1913

The Leeds–Morecambe line, also known as the Bentham line[1], is a railway line running between Leeds, Skipton, Lancaster and Morecambe in northern England. The service is operated by Northern. 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[edit]

Airedale line (Leeds–Skipton)[edit]

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.


The line from here, known as the "Little" North Western Railway, opened as far as Clapham on 30 July 1849[2] 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:

Loss of services[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.[3] 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). All stations between Skipton and Carnforth (except Hellifield) were reduced to unstaffed halt status in October 1970, when 'Pay Train' working was introduced. 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) [4] 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 – from seven trains each way per day to just four, of which only one ran beyond Lancaster.[5] This prompted the formation of the Lancaster & Skipton Rail Users Group later the same year to help promote the route and campaign for service improvements.[6] 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 (which had its own Community Rail partnership set up in 2006 and was formally designated as a Community rail line in October 2012[7]), the current service frequency remains less than ideal with large gaps (of up to four hours) between trains.

Current services[edit]

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.

Network Rail's 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.[8]

The current mid-morning Leeds to Morecambe train (and corresponding return service in the afternoon) was extended to Heysham Harbour from the December 2008 timetable change.[9] 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 was also enhanced at the start of the new May 2011 timetable, with the two trains that used to run only during the summer months extended to operate right through until the end of the timetable period in December.[10]

In the new Northern franchise, won by Arriva Rail North and which started in April 2016, there will be an increase in services between Leeds and Lancaster, up from four trains westbound and five trains eastbound currently to seven in each direction on weekdays/Saturdays and five on Sundays. These trains will stop at all intermediate stations and will include trains at suitable times for commuters working in both Leeds and Lancaster. There will also be a later last train from Leeds on weekdays.[11] The new services will be introduced at the May 2018 timetable change. Northern has also stated its intention to upgrade facilities at various stations on the route over the next few years - these will include the provision of customer information screens, LED lighting, video help points and self-service ticket machines at each location.[12]

Freight artery[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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.communityraillancashire.co.uk/lines/bentham-line/
  2. ^ Binns, D (1982) The 'Little' North Western Railway, Wyvern Publishing, Skipton. ISBN 0-907941-01-X, p.9
  3. ^ Marshall, J (1981) Forgotten Railways North-West England, David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd, Newton Abbott. ISBN 0-7153-8003-6, p.158
  4. ^ Towler J, (1990) The Battle for The Settle & Carlisle, Platform 5 Publishing, Sheffield, ISBN 1-872524-07-9, p.44
  5. ^ GB NRT May 1989 & May 1991 Editions, Table 36
  6. ^ 'A short history of the Bentham Line Community Rail Lancashire Retrieved 1 February 2016
  7. ^ Bentham community rail lineDepartment for Transport; Retrieved 1 February 2016
  8. ^ "Lancashire and Cumbria RUS" (PDF). 
  9. ^ GB National Rail Timetable December 2008-May 2009, Table 36
  10. ^ Northern Rail Timetable 7 – Leeds to Carlisle//Leeds to Morecambe & Heysham PortNorthern Rail; Retrieved 1 February 2016
  11. ^ "Northern franchise improvements – Department For Transport". 
  12. ^ "Official Opening For New Giggleswick Shelter" Community Rail Lancashire news article; Retrieved 15 December 2016

External links[edit]