Goodbye to Midland electrics

Railway Clearing House map showing pre-Grouping ownership in the Lancaster/Morecambe area.
Published Mon, 2016-01-11 12:11

Early January marked the 50th anniversary of the withdrawal of the pioneering electric services from Lancaster to Morecambe and Heysham and the closure of much of the former Midland Railway network in north-west Lancashire.


Railway Clearing House map showing pre-Grouping ownership in the Lancaster/Morecambe area.

The origin of the Midland Railway’s presence in the Lancaster area can be dated to the 1840s and the promotion of two railway companies. The North Western Railway was authorised on 26 June 1846 to construct a line from Skipton, the terminus of the Leeds & Bradford Extension Railway, to Low Gill where it would form a junction with the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway. A second line, from Clapham to Lancaster, was also authorised.

A month later, on 16 July 1846, the Morecambe Harbour & Railway Co was empowered to construct a line from Morecambe Bay, where a new harbour was to be built, and Lancaster. The three-mile long single-track railway to Lancaster Green Ayre was quickly built and opened on 12 June 1848. A connection linking Green Ayre with the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway’s Lancaster Castle station was opened on 18 December 1849.

Progress on the North Western Railway was, however, slightly slower. The line from Skipton to Ingleton opened on 31 July 1849; however, due to financial problems, construction north of Ingleton to Low Gill was suspended. The line from Lancaster to Clapham in three stages: from Lancaster to Wennington on 17 November 1849; then to Bentham on 2 May 1850; and, finally, Bentham to Clapham on 1 June 1850. The opening of the Bentham-Clapham section resulted in the closure of the Clapham to Ingleton section on the same day as, at this stage, the onward connection to Low Gill was unlikely to be completed.

Although originally built as single track, the line from Skipton through to Morecambe was eventually doubled. The section from Hornby, to the west of Wennington, to Hellifield was doubled by 1850 and extended to Skipton in 1853. Lancaster to Morecambe was doubled in 1877 and Hornby to Lancaster 12 years later. The link between the two stations in Lancaster remained single track through until closure.

The Midland Railway took over the operation of the North Western Railway on 1 June 1852. On 1 January 1859 the MR took on the lease of both the North Western and the Morecambe Harbour & Railway Co; the latter was formally absorbed on 1 June 1871 and the former on 30 July 1874.

The question of the moribund section from Ingleton to Low Gill was settled in 1857 when the London & North Western Railway obtained powers to complete the route. The line was finally completed and opened on 16 September 1861 at which stage the line from Clapham to Ingleton reopened. The tortuous history of the route resulted in two passenger stations in Ingleton and the frosty relationship between the MR and LNWR, particularly when the former proposed to use the line for express services to Scotland, was a factor in the MR’s decision to construct the Settle & Carlisle line in the 1870s. The construction of the S&C effectively relegated the Clapham-Low Gill route to a secondary service and passenger services over the route ceased on 1 February 1954. The line closed completely on 19 June 1966.

The harbour at Morecambe never proved wholly satisfactory and, in order to capitalise on the traffic to and from the Isle of Man or Ireland, the MR promoted the construction of a new harbour at Heysham. Passenger services over the line between Lancaster/Morecambe and Heysham started on 1 September 1904.

In the early 20th century the MR decided to experiment with electric traction; in doing so it became the first British railway to use AC rather than DC for power. It selected the lines between Lancaster and Morecambe/Heysham for the 6.6kV overhead system as the railway already owned a power station at Heysham to supply electricity to the dock.

Electric services were introduced in stages: from Morecambe to Heysham on 13 April 1908; Morecambe to Lancaster Green Ayre (plus the Morecambe avoiding line) on 1 July 1908; and, Lancaster Green Ayre to Lancaster Castle on 14 September 1908.

In order to operate the service, three driving-motor cars were constructed at Derby as were four of the six driving-trailer cars; a further two driving-trailer cars were converted from existing passenger stock. The configuration meant that it was possible to operate one-, two- or three-car sets as required. These units were to remain in service until February 1951 when the electric service was temporarily withdrawn to permit an upgrade to the system.

Electric services were restored on 17 August 1953 using four Class AM1 three-car EMUs; this stock had been converted from LNWR stock built by the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co in 1914 for use on the four-rail DC electrification of the West London line but were store during World War 2 as a result of bomb damage to the West London line that had led to cessation of passenger services over the route. The units were numbered: DMBSO Nos M28219M to M28222M; TSO Nos M29721M to M29724M; and, DTSO Nos M29021M to M29024M. Experience with these units converted to work at 6.6kV was important in determining BR’s decision ultimately to pursue main-line electrification at 25kV.

Although a new station at Scale Hall opened on 8 June 1957, the electrified sections plus the non-electrified line from Wennington to Lancaster Green Eyre were slated for closure in the Beeching report. The complex operation of the line, which included two reversals to get from Lancaster Castle to Heysham via Morecambe, allied to the existence of the parallel ex-LNWR line to Morecambe from Hest Bank made the route vulnerable and all passenger services on the lines from Wennington via Lancaster to Morecambe ceased on 3 January 1966. The line from Wennington to Torrisholme Junction, near Heysham, closed completely on 5 June 1967.

The line from Morecambe to Heysham, however, remained open for passenger traffic, being relocated slightly on 4 May 1970. Passenger services were withdrawn on 6 October 1975 except for occasional use. Reopened fully on 11 May 1987 the station has been operational since then, apart from a brief closure during 1994. Of the line from Wennington to Lancaster, much is now a public footpath and cycleway.