North West England
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
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. Electrification currently ends just north of Deansgate. It was announced in December 2009 that the line would be electrified, following an announcement in July 2009 that the Chat Moss route between Manchester and Liverpool was to be electrified first. The electrification work for this line commenced in May 2015 and is due for completion in December 2017.
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 75 mph, and will be increased to 100 mph when the electrification project is complete.
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 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, it 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 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 joining the West Coast Main Line at Euxton Junction before continuing via Leyland to Preston.
Two Train Operators serve the length of the route:
- Northern operate services from Buxton, Alderley Edge (Sundays only), Manchester Airport, Manchester Victoria, and occasionally Chester and Huddersfield to Blackpool North, Wigan Wallgate, Wigan North Western, Southport, Blackburn and Clitheroe. They stop at the smaller suburban stations along the line. Northern generally operate stopping services calling at most or all of the stations on the line.
- TransPennine Express operate express services that only call at selected stations on the route. They are generally services that start or terminate at Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool North, Windermere and in the peak hours Preston. They continue south to Manchester Airport. TransPennine Express also operate 'portion trains' - they all split at Preston.
Other TOCs operate along the southern section of the route to Ordsall Lane Jn and go on to Warrington:
- Arriva Trains Wales operate services en route to Llandudno via Warrington Bank Quay and Chester.
- East Midlands Trains 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 are now the most frequent units on the line: working for TransPennine Express to Blackpool, Barrow and Windermere. In the other direction, they all usually work to Manchester Airport although engineering works can mean units 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 and Windermere services and the majority of the Blackpool services. However, they never worked to Scotland due to this being a Virgin Cross Country service until December 2007.
Northern operate a variety of rolling stock for their services, with Class 142, Class 150 and Class 156 units all appearing regularly on the line. Class 153 units also use the line – mainly seen on a booked daily service between Stockport and Blackpool North in the evening (usually coupled up with another unit for strengthening purposes), however they are not permitted on routes using Wigan Wallgate because the body-side steps under the doors foul the platform coping stones at that station.
Work on 25kV OHLE 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 of Farnworth tunnel. 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 December 14, 2015. Electrification is now due for completion, after the Preston–Blackpool North line is electrified, by December 2017.
- "Manchester to Preston improvements - Network Rail". Network Rail. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
- "Hendy report: Enhancements Delivery Plan Update" (PDF).[dead link]
- "Network Rail plans Bolton station expansion". Railway Gazette. 2016-12-27. Retrieved 2017-02-17.
Electrification of the railway through Bolton is due to be completed by December 2017...
- The Great North Rail Project - The Farnworth Flyer, Issue 2. Accessed 1 July 2015
- "Government boost for Northern Powerhouse: Farnsworth Tunnel".
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