North West England
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The Styal line is a railway line in south Manchester and north-east Cheshire. It runs from Slade Lane Junction, some 2 km south of Manchester Piccadilly, to Wilmslow. There also is a spur to Manchester Airport which was opened in 1993. The branch to the airport leaves the Styal line via a triangular junction between Heald Green and Styal.
The line is an early commuter line running through many suburban stations in south Manchester. In recent years, usage of the line has surged with growing commuter patronage along with non-stopping services which use the line between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.
It was electrified in 1959 as part of the West Coast Main Line electrification scheme. Despite this, the majority of trains using the line were diesel powered until 2014. The introduction of Class 350s by First TransPennine Express on the Edinburgh-Manchester Airport line in December 2013 and introduction of Class 319s by Northern Rail in early 2015 has curtailed the use of diesel trains on the line allowing for a 100 mph service compared with 75 mph limit for many diesel trains.
In early twentieth century the line between Manchester Piccadilly and Stockport became unable to cope with the increasing traffic. To solve the problem, a new route avoiding Stockport was constructed by the London and North Western Railway. It ran from Slade Lane Junction (located in Longsight, Manchester) to Wilmslow through what was then mainly a rural area. The primary purpose was to provide a bypass for express trains, but a few wooden stations were built on the line to encourage suburban development. In practice, very few expresses latterly used the line, as it was necessary for most trains to serve the important station at Stockport. The line opened in 1909, and from 1923 was operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway. The Manchester Airport spur was added in 1993, initially towards Heald Green only (the link towards Styal was added a few years later).
Nowadays the majority of services operate via the airport, however there are a couple of services each day (mainly long distance trains) which take the direct route from Styal to Heald Green, that is to say from Heald Green South Junction to Heald Green North Junction, for traincrew route knowledge retention purposes. This route can also be used for diversions if the Stockport route is closed for engineering work.
Services are currently operated by:
- Northern Rail, whose trains run from Manchester Piccadilly to the Airport via all stations on the line. Services operate on a 30-minute frequency. They consist of an hourly Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe service via Manchester Airport and Wilmslow and an hourly Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport service. Late evening, early morning or rush hour services on the Crewe–Manchester line or Styal line start and terminate at Wilmslow from Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road (only a number of services are extended to Manchester Oxford Road). All services are operated by Class 323 Electric Multiple Units.
- Northern also run hourly DMU services from the Airport to Southport via Bolton and to Liverpool Lime Street via Newton-le-Willows, which mostly run non-stop to Piccadilly. These use a variety of units, including Class 142s, Class 150s and Class 156s. The completion of electrification work on the former Liverpool and Manchester Railway route over Chat Moss in the spring of 2015 has seen several of the Liverpool services move over to electric operation using Class 319 units since March 2015. Since 1 April 2016, they also operate a limited service to Barrow-in-Furness via the Furness line and to Windermere (using Class 185 units subleased from TransPennine Express, who formerly operated the routes) and the hourly express service to Blackpool North.
- TransPennine Express, which run trains on this line through Manchester Piccadilly. Their services are through services from across the north of England including Newcastle upon Tyne or Middlesbrough via York and Leeds (2 per hour) and from Cleethorpes via Sheffield (hourly). Their trains also operate from, Glasgow Central/Edinburgh Waverley (both 2-hourly) via Preston, Bolton and Manchester Piccadilly. These were operated by Class 185 DMUs, but as of December 2013, most Scottish services to Glasgow Central/Edinburgh Waverley were replaced with the new electric Class 350 EMUs and most are hence diverted via the Chat Moss line and Wigan North Western for the time being due to the Bolton and Chorley lines not being electrified until 2018.
- Arriva Trains Wales run a very limited (three trains per day) weekday service from the Airport to Chester as an extension of their route between North Wales and Manchester Piccadilly, using Class 175 units.
- Airport Line (Manchester Metrolink); Metrolink tram line also serving Manchester Airport.
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