- Morecambe Branch Line
Morecambe Branch Line Overview System National Rail Status Operational Locale Lancashire
North West England
Operation Owner Network Rail Technical Track gauge Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) Morecambe Branch LineLegend ( Skipton via NWR ) Lancaster Green Ayre Lancaster ( WCML ) Scale Hall Bare Lane Morecambe (Poulton Lane) Morecambe Euston Road Morecambe Northumberland St Morecambe Harbour Morecambe Promenade Middleton Road Bridge Halt Heysham Power Station Heysham Port
The Morecambe Branch Line is a railway line in Lancashire, England, from Lancaster to Morecambe and Heysham where services connect with the ferry service to Douglas on the Isle of Man. To reach Heysham, trains must reverse at Morecambe.
Almost all passenger services are currently operated by Northern Rail. Most services operate as a shuttle between Lancaster and Morecambe, continuing to Heysham only to connect with ferry services. These services primarily use Class 142, Class 153 or Class 156 diesel multiple units . A few services continue beyond Lancaster to Skipton and Leeds (see Leeds-Morecambe Line), and generally use Class 144 or Class 150 units.
The first train each weekday morning is a Transpennine Express service from Barrow, which diverts from the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to Windermere at Hest Bank South Junction. This service calls at Lancaster, Bare Lane and Morecambe, before reversing, calling at Bare Lane again, then rejoining the WCML via Hest Bank North Junction and continuing onwards to Oxenholme. This is done to provide a token parliamentary service over the Bare Lane to Hest Bank curve. Prior to the December 2008 timetable change however, the service ran in the late evening and in the opposite direction (Windermere - Lancaster - Morecambe - Barrow). A weekday (and summer Sunday) afternoon train from Morecambe to Leeds is also now scheduled to use the curve.
Although there are two tracks between Bare Lane and Morecambe, they have since 1994 been operated as two independent single tracks, with no connection between them beyond Bare Lane. Only the southernmost track is connected to the Heysham branch.
The line also sees freight traffic, operated by Direct Rail Services, which serve Heysham nuclear power station.
The current route is a fusion of lines opened by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and "little" North Western Railway (NWR) companies, although most traces of the infrastructure built by the latter have disappeared (the later branch to Heysham Harbour and the Promenade terminus were both built by the Midland Railway after it took over the NWR in 1874). The first proposals for a branch from Morecambe to join the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway (L&C) at Hest Bank had been put forward by the Morecambe Harbour and Railway Company (a constituent company of the NWR) back in 1846  but these were soon dropped on cost grounds. The L&C subsequently revived the scheme in 1858, with the intention of using the NWR's harbour facilities (suitably expanded) to export coke & iron ore from the North East (brought in via the South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway and the L&C main line). The NWR naturally opposed the plans (as it would lose its monopoly on traffic into the town) but its shaky finances eventually led it to reach an agreement with the L&C that would allow the latter to build its line but not require the associated harbour improvements to be carried out. The three mile branch was duly constructed (including a link to the NWR station at Northumberland Street) and opened in August 1864. The hoped-for mineral traffic did not materialise however and the route remained a modest branch, although the LNWR did have to provide its own station at Poulton Lane because of increasing congestion at Northumberland Street. This was subsequently replaced by a rather more substantial terminus at Euston Road in 1886  as part of an improvement scheme that also saw the construction of a west-to-south curve from Bare Lane to join the WCML at Morecambe South Junction (opened in 1888) that permitted through running to Lancaster Castle without the need for a reversal (and hence gave access for longer distance trains to places such as Manchester, Liverpool and London). The branch was also doubled throughout, apart from the Hest Bank to Bare Lane curve. Despite this, the ex-NWR route continued to carry most of the traffic to and from the town (especially after the Midland route was electrified in 1908 – see below).
The branch did become somewhat more important after the 1923 Grouping, with a London Euston to Heysham boat train service commencing over it in 1928  – this ran to the Promenade station, where it reversed for the final part of its journey to Heysham to meet the Belfast boat. The LNWR station at Euston Road remained much quieter than its Midland neighbour though (although it did come into its own in the summer months) and it was the obvious one to be closed when traffic to the resort began to decline in the 1950s – service trains being diverted to Promenade from 15 September 1958, although it remained in seasonal use until complete closure four years later on 30 September 1962.
The biggest changes to the route though would come much later in the decade, as the Beeching Report recommended that it should be kept open rather the Midland line to Lancaster Green Ayre, even though the latter was electrically operated. These alterations came into effect on 3 January 1966 when the Midland route was closed to passengers  and a replacement DMU shuttle began operating to and from Lancaster Castle. Trains from Leeds and Skipton were diverted via Carnforth, Hest Bank and the original 1864 north curve to reach Morecambe. The only ex-Midland facilities to survive were the terminus at Promenade and the 1904 Heysham branch, which was retained to serve the ferry terminal (although even this lost its passenger trains in October 1975, following the withdrawal of the Belfast sailings earlier that year).
More recent changes have seen services from Leeds diverted to run via Lancaster (with a reversal) rather than directly via Hest Bank and the re-opening of the Heysham branch to passenger traffic in connection with the daily sailing from there to the Isle of Man (both in May 1987). The Promenade terminus has also been replaced by a smaller station located closer to the town centre (in 1994) and the Heysham line reduced to a single track  under the supervision of the signal box at Bare Lane.
The Midland Railway route was used for an early trial of electrification – opened between 13 April 1908 and 14 September 1908 using 6600 V AC at 25 Hz. Following rail nationalisation it was again used, in 1953, as a trial site for electrification at 50 Hz, the voltage remaining at 6600  This experiment led to the introduction of the 25 kV, 50 Hz system as standard for new electrification on British Railways. The branch lost its electrification upon closure of the Lancaster line in 1966.
- ^ TransPennine Express December 2008 timetable - Cumbria & Scottish Services www.tpexpress.co.uk Accessed 2008-11-20
- ^ Northern Rail Leeds to Morecambe timetable May-December 2009 Northern Rail website. Accessed 2009-11-02
- ^ Photo of 16.20 Morecambe to Leeds leaving the curve at Hest Bank Railscot website; retrieved 2009-06-08
- ^ a b Bairstow, p.61
- ^ Binns p.5
- ^ Binns, p.27
- ^ Bairstow, p.53
- ^ Binns, p.41
- ^ Binns, p.42
- ^ Marshall, p.158
- ^ Anon., 1953
- Anon. (1953) Modernisation of North-West Lancashire Electrification, Railway Magazine, 99 (12: December), p. 795–798, & 804
- Bairstow, M. (2000) The 'Little' North Western Railway, Martin Bairstow Publ., ISBN 1-871944-21-X
- Binns, D (1982) The 'Little' North Western Railway, Wyvern Publishing, Skipton. ISBN 0 907941 01 X
- Conolly, W.P. (1967) Pre-Grouping Atlas and Gazeteer, Fifth Ed. Repr. 1997, Ian Allen, ISBN 0-7110-0320-3
- Marshall, J (1981) Forgotten Railways North-West England, David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd, Newton Abbott. ISBN 0 7153 8003 6
- Electrification Pioneers History of the Morecambe & Heysham Electrification
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