North West England
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||25 kV AC OHLE|
The Manchester–Preston line runs from the city of Manchester to Preston, Lancashire. It is largely used by commuters entering Manchester from surrounding suburbs and cities, but is also one of the main railway lines in the North West and is utilised by TransPennine Express regional services and to Scotland. It was announced in December 2009 that the line would be electrified, following an announcement in July 2009 that the Chat Moss line between Manchester and Liverpool was to be electrified first. The electrification work for this line commenced in May 2015 and was due for completion in May 2018, but was delayed until December 2018.
Electric service commenced on 11 February 2019.
The line is one of the busiest in the North West, with seven trains per hour in each direction during the off-peak daytime timetable. The line speed is currently 100 mph.
The line was opened as far as Bolton in 1838 by the Manchester and Bolton Railway, then extended in 1841 by the Bolton and Preston Railway. These were amalgamated, via the East Lancashire Railway, as part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.
The route now has 2 starting points in Manchester:
- Manchester Piccadilly, which offers rail links to most large cities in the country. Trains using the route will call at the through platforms 13 and 14 on the west side of the station. It then follows the route of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway as far as Deansgate, where it uses the Windsor link to reach Salford Crescent and joins the line from Manchester Victoria.
- Manchester Victoria was the original starting point before the Windsor Link was created. It goes through Salford Central, after which it then joins the line from the Windsor Link and enters Salford Crescent.
The route then continues to Clifton, and then passes through Kearsley, Farnworth and Moses Gate following the Irwell Valley for much of the route. The first major town is Bolton. Just after Bolton station there is a junction to the right where the Ribble Valley line, a single track line, heads off to Blackburn and Clitheroe. The line cuts through the western suburbs of Bolton including Lostock, where trains to Wigan Wallgate via Westhoughton, branch off. Next is Horwich Parkway opened in 1999 and Blackrod (where the former Horwich Branch diverged). It then proceeds through the town of Adlington and on to Chorley, passing through Buckshaw Parkway, which opened in 2011 and finally joins the West Coast Main Line at Euxton Junction before continuing via Leyland to Preston.
Northern operate all timetabled services over the full length of the line since the start of the new Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchises in April 2016. These include limited stop workings from Manchester Airport and Hazel Grove via Manchester Piccadilly to Blackpool North, a limited number of Manchester Airport to Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere trains and stopping trains from Manchester Victoria to Blackpool North. Some of the latter run to or from Huddersfield. Other workings use part of the line only - e.g. Manchester Victoria to Wigan Wallgate and Southport via Walkden (which diverge at Salford Crescent), Manchester Airport to Southport/Manchester Victoria to Wigan Wallgate via Westhoughton (diverge at Lostock Junction) and Manchester Victoria to Blackburn and Clitheroe (diverge at Bolton).
TransPennine Express used to operate the semi-fast Blackpool & Barrow/Windermere prior to the aforementioned 2016 changes - they now only operate the through trains to Glasgow Central and Edinburgh, which currently run via Wigan North Western and Chat Moss rather than via this route (though will change when electrification work is completed in early 2019).
Other TOCs operate along the southern section of the route to Ordsall Lane Jn and go on to Warrington:
- Transport for Wales operate services en route to Llandudno via Warrington Bank Quay and Chester.
- East Midlands Railway also operate services between Norwich and Liverpool Lime Street
Freight and diversions
The line is an important diversionary route at weekends, used in conjunction with the Crewe–Manchester line to divert away from a large section of the West Coast Main Line if required. The convenience is that this only adds 35–40 minutes to a journey and negates the need for costly bus replacement services. Some freight still uses this line (such as stone trains from the Peak District to a distribution terminal at Hope St., Salford and "Bin-liner" refuse trains from Pendleton to Scunthorpe), especially during the peak periods during the day. It is, however, a primary passenger route in the North West of England.
Class 185 trains were the most frequent units on the line: working for First TransPennine Express to Blackpool North, Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere. In the other direction, they all worked to Manchester Airport although engineering works resulted in some services working to Manchester Victoria instead. Prior to 2007, Class 175 trains worked the majority of these services before the 185s took over. Between May 2001 and December 2006, they worked all Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere services and the majority of the Blackpool North services. However, they never worked to Scotland due to this being a Virgin CrossCountry service until December 2007.
Northern Trains operate a variety of rolling stock for their services, with Class 331s, Class 323s and Class 319. Northern also use Class 195s, Class 158s, Class 156s, Class 153s, Class 150s and Class 142s on the line. Most of the diesel services only use the line south of Bolton as these diverge onto the unelectrified lines, notably the Ribble Valley line to Blackburn and Clitheroe and the Manchester–Southport line to Southport.
Since December 2019, services between Hazel Grove/Manchester Airport and Blackpool North have been run using Class 331 units. Some Sunday services between Manchester Victoria and Blackpool North also use Class 331 units.
Work on 25 kV OHL electrification of the line began in May 2015 and has included numerous bridgeworks plus the major undertaking of the re-boring of Farnworth Tunnel. Its high profile resulted in a visit from Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, shortly after work started, and from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in August 2015 during the reboring work. Breakthrough was achieved in late, rather than early October, due to loose sand delaying the work in August; the first trains running through the new twin track bore on Monday 14 December 2015. Electrification of the line was due for completion by December 2016, then delayed until December 2017 and then further delayed until May 2018. In January 2018 yet another delay was announced. This was attributed to difficult ground conditions including hard rock and running sand resulting from old mine workings. Test trains (Virgin Pendolino) finally ran between Preston and Manchester in December 2018. The first scheduled passenger-carrying electric services began on 11 February 2019, running to Blackpool North, Buckshaw Parkway, Manchester Victoria and Manchester Airport using Class 319 EMUs.
- "Manchester to Preston improvements". Network Rail. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
- "Hendy report: Enhancements Delivery Plan Update" (PDF). Network Rail. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 February 2016.
- "Network Rail plans Bolton station expansion". Railway Gazette. 27 December 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
Electrification of the railway through Bolton is due to be completed by December 2017...
- "No electric trains on Bolton line until May 2018". Place North West. 1 December 2017.
- McDonnell, Seamus (14 December 2018). "VIDEO: Watch first successful electric train tests through Bolton". The Bolton News.
- Table 82 National Rail timetable, December 2016
- "The Great North Rail Project - The Farnworth Flyer, Issue 2" (PDF). Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- Department for Transport (11 August 2015). "Government boost for Northern Powerhouse: Farnworth Tunnel". Gov.UK.
- Cox, Charlotte (11 January 2018). "Plans to electrify Manchester to Preston rail route delayed AGAIN". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- "Old mines delay rail electrification". BBC News. 21 October 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
- McDonnell, S. (12 February 2019). "First electric passenger trains finally entering service in Bolton". Bolton News. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
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