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The M6 motorway runs from junction 19 of the M1 in Catthorpemarker, near Rugbymarker via Birminghammarker then heading north passing Manchestermarker, Prestonmarker, Carlislemarker terminating at Gretnamarker, where it joins the A74 at the Scottish border which continues to Glasgowmarker.

It is the longest motorway in England, incorporates the first length of motorway opened in the UK and is also one of the busiest. The M6 forms part of a motorway based north-south "Backbone of Britain" between Londonmarker and Glasgowmarker via the industrial North of England and also part of the east-west route between the midlands and the east coast ports. The section from the M1 to the M6 Toll split near Birminghammarker and forms part of the unsigned E-road and the section from the M6 Toll and the M42 forms part of .


The M6 motorway is the longest motorway in the United Kingdom. It runs from junction 19 of the M1 in Catthorpemarker near Rugbymarker in central England, passes between Coventrymarker and Nuneatonmarker, through Birminghammarker, Walsallmarker and Staffordmarker and near the major cities of Wolverhamptonmarker and Stoke-on-Trentmarker. The motorway has a major junction onto the M56 and M62 at Warringtonmarker, giving access to Manchestermarker and Liverpoolmarker. The M6 then heads north past Prestonmarker and Lancastermarker. After the latter two cities it passes through Cumbriamarker with some parts very close to the edge of the Lake Districtmarker, and then passes Carlislemarker on its way to Gretnamarker, before the motorway becomes the A74 at the Scottish border.


Planning and construction

The first section of the motorway, and the first motorway in the country, the Prestonmarker by-pass, was built by Tarmac Construction and opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December 1958. In January 1959 “Road Closed” notices at the entrance to the Preston By-pass resulted from rapid surface deterioration over a stretch of where the surface had deteriorated "due to water freezing and then thawing". Motorists were diverted to the old road while the UK road research laboratory at Harmondsworth pondered the importance of surface water drainage. In subsequent years the motorway was extended piecemeal in both directions and is now long.
The M6 in Cheshire, 1969

The second phase of construction was completed in 1960, running to junction 35 to form the Lancastermarker by-pass. Some 100 miles south, in 1962, the Stafford by-pass was completed to form the third phase of what would eventually become one of Britain's most important motorways. By 1965, the remaining section of motorway towards Preston had been completed, but the completion of the whole route was far from over. 1968 saw the completion of the Walsallmarker to Stafford link as well as the Penrith by-pass some 150 miles north in Cumberlandmarker. In 1970, the Lancaster-Penrith link was completed, along with a short section of motorway by-passing the south of Walsall. The most northernly section of the motorway also opened in 1970, running to the designated terminus north of Carlislemarker. By 1971, the full route was completed between the junction with the M1 motorway at Rugbymarker and the A452 road several miles north-east of Birmingham city centre, between the Castle Bromwichmarker and Castle Valemarker districts.

Junction 6 in Birminghammarker is widely known as Spaghetti Junctionmarker because of its complexity.

On the elevated ground between Shapmarker and Tebaymarker, the north and south-bound carriages split apart. At this point a local road (to Scout Greenmarker) runs between the two carriageways without a link to the motorway.

The section of the M6 which runs over Shap Fell in Cumbriamarker is above sea level, one of the highest points on any motorway in the UK (junction 22 of the M62 on Saddleworth Moor is higher). The motorway engineers here chose to follow the route of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway engineered by Joseph Locke (now part of the West Coast Main Line) where the motorway runs in a split-level cutting above the railway in the descent from Shap Fell through the Lune Gorge into southern Cumbria.

The northbound entry slip road at Lancaster (J34) is unusually short, presenting problems for traffic joining the motorway. The M6 crosses the River Lune at this point and unless the bridge had been made wider, there was no space to build a longer slip road. This junction was upgraded from an earlier emergency-vehicles-only access point, which explains the substandard design.

The route was intended to replace the old A6, but a much closer approximation to the actual route of the M6 is provided by following the route: A45, A34, A50, A49, A6.


In July 1972 the UK Minister for Transport Industries announced that 86 miles (138 km) of UK motorway particularly prone to fog would benefit from lighting in a project which "should be" completed by 1973. Sections to be illuminated included the M6 between junctions 10 and 11, and between junctions 20 and 27.

In March 2006, after 15-years of debate, the government authorised the construction of a extension of the M6 from its then northern terminus near Carlislemarker to the Anglo-Scottish border at Gretnamarker (the so-called "Cumberland Gap"), where it links into the existing A74. The road opened on 5 December 2008, the 50th anniversary of the M6 Preston Bypass. The project, which was a mixture of new road and upgrade of the existing A74, crosses the West Coast Main Linemarker and had an estimated costs of £174 million. It completed an uninterrupted motorway from Cumbernauldmarker (via the M73) in the north to Exetermarker (via the M5) and to Londonmarker (via both the M42/M40 and the M1) in the south.

The M6 Toll, Britain's first toll motorway, which bypasses the West Midlands conurbationmarker to the east and north of Birminghammarker and Walsallmarker and was built to alleviate congestion through the West Midlands, and opened in December 2003. Prior to the opening of the toll motorway, this section of the M6 carried 180,000 vehicles per day at its busiest point near Wolverhamptonmarker (between the junctions with the M54 and M5 motorways), compared with a design capacity of only 72,000 vehicles. Usage, at about 50,000 vehicles was lower than expected and traffic levels on the M6 were only slightly reduced as a result. The high toll prices which were set by the operating company and about which the UK government has no influence were blamed for the low usage. Much traffic continues to use the M6 or the continued on the M1 and took the A50 or A52.

A proposed extension to the M6 Toll, known as the 'M6 Expressway' would have continued from the M6 Toll as far as Knutsfordmarker, at which point much of the existing M6 traffic leaves the M6 for Manchestermarker was abandoned in 2006 due to excessive costs, anticipated construction problems and disappointing levels of usage of the M6 Toll.

Proposed developments

Increased capacity between J11a and J19

The government wishes to improve reliability and capacity between Junctions 11 by Cannockmarker and Junction 19 near Knutsfordmarker. In 2004, it favoured a new motorway, 'The Expressway' following a roughly parallel course to the existing M6. In July 2006, the government announced its decision to abandon the Expressway proposal, and favoured widening accompanied by demand-management measures, and have launched a study to consider options for providing additional capacity. The first phase of the widening could be completed by 2014, with the remaining sections following until full completion in 2017.

Hard shoulder running (junction 4-5 and 8 to 10a)

In October 2007, following a successful trial on the M42 in the West Midlands, the UK government have announced that two stretches of the M6 will be upgraded to allow the hard shoulder to be used as a normal running lane during busy conditions under a scheme called Active Traffic Management. The two stretches, between junctions 4 and 5 and between junctions 10a and 8, are two of the busiest sections on the entire motorway . The system could also be extended onto other stretches of the M6 as the government is going to undertake a feasibility study to determine other likely locations where this technology can be used.

Junction with M1 and A14

The Highways Agency is planning a major upgrade to the overloaded interchange between the M6, the M1 motorway and the A14 road at Catthorpemarker.

M6 motorway in culture

The M6 motorway was featured in the lyrics of Wings' 1973 single "Helen Wheels": "M6 south down Liverpoolmarker, where they play the west coast sound". The song was a single only release in the UK (1973) but was added to the US and international album release of Band on the Run.

Reference to the motorway appeared in the 1975 song "Moonlighting" by Leo Sayer via the lyric "Meanwhile the Carlislemarker turnoff of the M6 motorway, drinking cold black coffee, eating hot cup cakes".

A reference to the M6 motorway is made in the song "Family" from the 1989 New Model Army album Thunder and Consolation: "M6 southbound road side cafe on a wild wet windy night."

The song 'Northern', by experimental English group One More Grain describes a journey through Cumbria on the northbound carriageway of the M6 ("driving on the M6, headed north to Penrith"), mentioning many of the sites, towns and landmarks on the way e.g. Sedberghmarker, Howgill Fellsmarker, Metal Bridge, Rockcliffe Marsh and the Solway Firthmarker.


Datafrom driver location signs are used to provide distance and carriageway identifier information.

M6 Motorway
km Northbound exits (A Carriageway) Junction Southbound exits (B Carriageway)
M6 now continues as A74 to Glasgowmarker, Edinburghmarker
England / Scotland border
Gretna (Green) B7076
Longtown A6071
M6 J45 No exit
Todhills rest area Services Todhills rest area
Carlisle (North), Galashielsmarker, Hawickmarker A7 J44

Hexham A689
Workington (A595), Carlisle A7
Carlisle, Hexhammarker, Newcastle upon Tynemarker A69 J43 Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle upon Tyne A69
Carlisle (South) A6 J42 Carlisle (South) A6
Southwaite services Services Southwaite services
Wigtonmarker B5305 J41 Wigton B5305
Penrithmarker, Workingtonmarker, Keswickmarker A66 J40 Penrith, Keswick, Broughmarker, Scotch Cornermarker A66
Shap, Kendalmarker (A6) J39 Shap (A6)
Tebay services Services Tebay services
Brough A685
Applebymarker B6260
J38 Kendal, Brough A685
Kendal, Sedberghmarker A684 J37 Kendal, Sedbergh A684
no access to services Services Killington Lake services
Kirkby Lonsdalemarker, Skiptonmarker A65
Kendalmarker, Barrow-in-Furnessmarker A590
J36 Kirkby Lonsdale, Skipton A65
Barrow-in-Furness A590
Burton-in-Kendal services Services no access to services
Carnforthmarker, Morecambemarker A601 (A6) J35 Carnforth, Morecambe A601(M) (A6)
Lancastermarker, Morecambemarker, Kirkby Lonsdalemarker, Heyshammarker A683 J34 Lancaster, Morecambe A683
Lancaster A6 J33 Garstangmarker, Fleetwoodmarker A6
Lancaster services Services Lancaster (Forton) services
Blackpoolmarker, Fleetwoodmarker, Preston, Garstang M55 J32 Blackpool M55
Preston, Longridgemarker B6242 J31A No exit
Preston, Clitheroemarker A59 J31 Preston, Clitheroe A59
346.6 No exit J30 Manchestermarker, Boltonmarker M61
Leedsmarker (M62)
Blackburnmarker (M65)

344.4 Burnleymarker, Blackburn, Preston M65 J29 Burnley, Blackburn M65
341.2 Leylandmarker (A49) J28 Leyland (A49)
Charnock Richard services Services Charnock Richard services
329.3 Parboldmarker, Standishmarker, Chorleymarker A5209 J27 Parbold, Wigan A5209
322.9 Skelmersdalemarker, Liverpoolmarker, Southportmarker M58 J26 Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58
318.7 Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfieldmarker A49 J25 No exit
316.4 No exit J24 St. Helensmarker, Ashton-in-Makerfield A58
313.8 Haydockmarker, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willowsmarker A580 (East Lancashire Road) J23 Haydock, Manchester, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows A580 (East Lancashire Road)
298.4 Newton-le-Willows A49 Leighmarker A579 J22 Warringtonmarker A49
306.9 Manchester, Leeds M62 J21A Liverpool, Southportmarker M62
Liverpool, Southportmarker M62 Manchester, Leeds M62
302.6 Warrington, Irlammarker A57 J21 Warrington, Irlam A57
Thelwall Viaductmarker

Lymmmarker, Macclesfieldmarker A50
Lymm Services
Lymm, Macclesfield A50
Lymm Services
NORTH WALESmarker, Runcornmarker, Birkenheadmarker M56 NORTH WALES, Chestermarker, Manchester & Airportmarker, Stockportmarker M56
289.9 Manchester & Airport, Stockport A556 (M56 (west)) J19 Northwichmarker, Knutsfordmarker, Macclesfieldmarker A556
Knutsford services
(no HGVs)
Services Knutsford services
(no HGVs)
277.0 Holmes Chapelmarker, Middlewichmarker, Northwich, Chester A54 J18 Holmes Chapel, Middlewich A54
270.9 Congletonmarker, Sandbachmarker A534 J17 Congleton, Sandbach A534
Sandbach services Services Sandbach services
261.9 Stoke-on-Trent, Crewemarker, Nantwichmarker A500 J16 Newcastle-under-Lymemarker, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Nantwich A500
Keele services Services Keele services
246.2 Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme A500 J15 Stoke-on-Trent, Stonemarker, Eccleshallmarker A500

Derbymarker (A50)
Stafford services Services Stafford services
228.2 Staffordmarker, Stone, Eccleshall A34 J14 Stafford (North) A34
220.1 Stafford A449 J13 Stafford (South & Central) A449
211.2 Telfordmarker A5 J12 NORTH WALES, Cannockmarker, Wolverhamptonmarker, Telford A5 (M54)
No exit J11A The SOUTH, Lichfieldmarker M6 Toll
207.3 Cannock A460 J11 Wolverhampton A460
Hilton Park services Services Hilton Park services
NORTH WALES, Wolverhampton, Telford M54 J10A No exit
198.3 Walsallmarker, Wolverhampton A454 J10 Walsall A454
195.6 Wednesburymarker A461 J9 Wednesbury A461
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (West), West Bromwichmarker M5 J8

The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham, West Bromwich M5
190.2 Birmingham (NW), Walsall A34 J7

Birmingham A34
183.5 Birmingham (Central & North) A38
Sutton Coldfieldmarker A5127

Gravelly Hill Interchangemarker

Birmingham A38(M) & A38
178.1 Birmingham (NE), Castle Bromwichmarker A452 J5

No exit westbound
175.5 No exit J4A The NORTH (M1)
The SOUTH (M40) M42
170.5 Lichfield A446 The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (East & Airport), Solihull, NEC M42 (South) J4 Coventrymarker, Birmingham Airportmarker, NECmarker A446
The NORTH WEST, Lichfield M6 Toll (M42) J3A No exit
Corley services Services Corley services
155.3 Bedworthmarker, Coventry, Nuneatonmarker A444 J3 Bedworth, Coventry, Nuneaton A444
149.6 Coventry A46
Leicestermarker M69 (M1)
J2 Coventry A46
Leicester M69
137.4 Rugby A426 J1 Rugby, Lutterworthmarker A426
No exit M1 J19

Felixstowemarker, Corbymarker, Ketteringmarker A14, M1 (North)
Start of motorway London M1

Coordinate list


Each motorway in England requires that a legal document called a Statutory Instrument be published, detailing the route of the road, before it can be built. The dates given on these Statutory Instruments relate to when the document was published, and not when the road was built. Provided below is an incomplete list of the Statutory Instruments relating to the route of the M6.

  • Statutory Instrument 1987 No. 252: County Council of West Midlands (M6 Motorway Junction 10) (Connecting Road) Scheme 1985 Confirmation Instrument 1987
  • Statutory Instrument 1987 No. 2254: M6 Motorway (Catthorpe Interchange) Connecting Roads Scheme 1987
  • Statutory Instrument 1990 No. 2659: M6 Motorway: Widening between Junctions 20 and 21A (Thelwall Viaductmarker) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1990
  • Statutory Instrument 1991 No. 1873: M6 Motorway (Widening and Improvements Between Junctions 30 and 32) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1991
  • Statutory Instrument 1993 No. 1370: Lancashire County Council (Proposed Connecting Roads to M6 Motorway at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1992 Confirmation Instrument 1993
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1292: M6 Birmingham to Carlisle Motorway (At Haighton) Connecting Roads Scheme 1997
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1293: M6 Birmingham To Carlisle Motorway (at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1997 Transfer Order 1997
  • Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 125: The M6 Motorway (Saredon and Packington Diversions) Scheme 1998

See also


External links

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