By the mid 1860's the coal fields of Wigan and Blackburn needed a rail link to a port and consideration was given to a number of projected lines to enable this to happen. The Lancashire Union Railways (LUR) proposed a line to run from a point near Wigan (Springs Branch) to connect with the already established St Helens Railway at Gerrads Bridge. This would give the joint London and North Western and Lancashire and Yorkshire company direct access to the port of Garston as the LNWR had absorbed the St Helens Railway during 1864. An Act of Parliament was granted to the LUR on 29th June 1865. Construction would begin in the following year and would take around 3 years with the line running via Garswood. The LNWR and the Lancashire and Yorkshire (L&Y) both had a vested interest in the LUR and when the line was complete the L&Y exercised its running powers along the line for freight only leaving the LNWR to operate the passenger services.
The line was nearing completion by the summer of 1869 and was inspected by Colonel Hutchinson on 21st August 1869. Apparently the colonel found some issues with the construction and the opening had to be delayed until 1st November 1869 for goods and 1st December 1869 for passenger services although he did pass the line fit for the running of passenger trains from 5th November 1869.
Stanier Black 5 4-6-0 Class 45154 Lanarkshire Yeomanry pauses at the water column at the end of the Liverpool bound platform to take on water whilst hauling an RCTS railtour.
24th September 1966
Photo by Keith Holt.
Kindly supplied by Alistair Holt.
To view more of the interesting and extensive Keith Holt archive click here:- KDH Archive on Flickr
Two intermediate stations would be provided at Bryn and Garswood both stations were opened on 15th November 1869, suggesting that passenger services commenced before the official opening date.
Whilst the northern link from St Helens to Wigan was being constructed the LNWR had used the New Works and Additional Powers Act of 5th July 1865 to begin construction of a line linking the station at Shaw Street, St Helens with the now LNWR Liverpool to Manchester line at a point east of Huyton station. Engineering this section of line was difficult, especially around the Thatto Heath area of St Helens where a large sandstone outcrop had to be cut through. The line had to also run along an embankment through the heavily industrialised area of St Helens bisecting the many works to the north of the town.
A Sulzer type 2 later Class 25 hurries through Prescot station with a breakdown train.
The line would open for goods on 18th December 1871 and for passengers on 1st January 1872. There was now a direct route from the West Coast main line through to Liverpool avoiding the heavily congested section between Newton Le Willows and St Helens Junction. Intermediate stations were provided at Thatto Heath and Prescot both opening on 1st January 1872. A station at Eccleston Park would be opened on 1st June 1891. A large goods warehouse and yard were provided at St Helens Shaw Street to handle the many trains which supplied raw materials to this heavily industrialised area. Sidings would also be provided adjacent to Prescot station for the British Insulated Calendar Cables (BICC) works.
Photo by John Pownall.
To view more of John's interesting Flickr photostream click here:- John Pownall on Flickr
The Class 142 Pacer became a staple example of the motive power along the line from the late 80's. Here we see 142056 passing along the embankment which bisected the many works along here during construction. The factory in the background is the Pilkington's Greengate float glass line.
Photo by Terry Callaghan.
Passenger services provided between Liverpool and Wigan were a mixture of stopping trains and express workings. The Bradshaw's of 1895 shows 21 up (Liverpool to Wigan) and 25 down (Wigan to Liverpool) services Monday through Friday. With some interesting workings such as the 01:20 Wigan to Liverpool calling at St Helens and Edge Hill only, the 18:22 Corridor Express from Preston to Liverpool which called at St Helens and Edge Hill but not Wigan. The opposite Corridor Express departed Liverpool at 17:35 and travelled non stop to Preston arriving at 18:30. On Sundays there was a sparse service of only 3 up services and 6 down, 3 of the down services were timed to leave Wigan at 01:20, 02:50 and 03:45 and only called at St Helens and Edge Hill. By 1947 little had changed with the passenger services as the timetable extract below shows.Although there had been a slight improvement with the Sunday service. Note there are one up and down service which conveys Through Carriages and 1st and 3rd Class Sleeping Cars from Liverpool to Glasgow and return which called at St Helens Shaw Street.
Services stayed pretty much static until 1963 when with the publication of the Beeching Report the passenger service was listed for withdrawal along with the closure of all stations along the route. Along with this news the Sunday service was withdrawn and the overnight services to Glasgow were re routed via St Helens Junction. Incidentally the station at Eccleston Park was in the constituency of a certain MP called Harold MacMillan who assured his constituents that the passenger service would remain. Surprisingly the Monday to Saturday service was retained and with the formation of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (MPTE) the service would be developed. It wasn't until 1988 that Sunday services were reintroduced to the line with an hourly Blackpool North to Liverpool Lime Street service which called at all stations along the line except Bryn and Eccleston Park.
The following three pictures are taken from pretty much the same angle and cover the forty years of decline that the goods yard at St Helens has seen.
A Class 40 is busy running around its train on the approaches to St Helens Shaw Street. The goods yards in the background is still thriving and the approaches to the goods shed to the right of the loco are still in place.
From the David Ingham collection.
To view more of David's extensive Flickr photostream click here:-Ingy The Wingy
31465 accelerates away from its station stop at Shaw Street with the 10:37 Liverpool to Blackpool North service. By this point the goods yard to the right has been heavily rationalised and contains only condemned wagons also the goods shed is still standing but the approach lines to it have been lifted.
Photo by Anthony Flusk.
To view more of Anthony's extensive Flickr photostream click here:-AJF 1 on Flickr
Coronation Class 4-6-2 46233 Duchess of Sutherland departs from St Helens Central with the Cumbrian Mountains Express. The goods yard now resembles a forest with only a single length of track visible the goods shed has now been demolished.
Today the line enjoys a high frequency passenger service and is looking forward to electrification and the benefits that will bring. All of the original stations remain open although some have been rationalised and rebuilt over the years. The goods shed at St Helens Shaw Street would close, along with many others around the country as the railways moved away for individual item movements to block trains. The yard at St Helens Shaw Street would also be rationalised over the years along with the contraction of local industry and a general movement towards road haulage. The sidings today resemble a forest with only the signal box and a short length of line as a reference point. BICC at Prescot also dispensed with the services of British Rail in the 1980's although the sidings remained until the works closed and was demolished, flats now occupy the site.
27th July 2013
Photo by John Pownall.
To view more of John's interesting Flickr photostream click here:-John Pownall on Flickr
319362 disgorges a healthy amount of passengers at the re-built St Helens Central station whilst working 2F60 08.00 Liverpool Lime Street to Wigan North Western.
29th June 2015.
Photo by Terry Callaghan.
During the first week of March 2015 the OLE was energised between Huyton and Springs Branch junction. Many of the services between Liverpool and Wigan are now in the hands of Class 319 units extensively refurbished and based at Allerton depot. With the impending electrification of the line from Preston to Blackpool north the future is certainly looking bright for a line which had an uncertain future in the 1960's.
A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain Volume 10 The North West
by Geoffrey O Holt.
Wikipedia - The on-line encyclopaedia.