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The Manchester to Preston Line runs from the city of Manchestermarker to Prestonmarker, Lancashiremarker. It is largely used by commuters entering Manchester from surrounding suburbs and cities, but is also one of the main railway lines in the North West and is utilised by intercity services for Scotlandmarker and the north. Electrification ends just north of . There are however no plans to electrify the line fully, especially now that the Chat Mossmarker route between Manchester and Liverpool is to be electrified in the next few years.

The line is one of the busiest in the North West, with at least seven trains per hour in each direction during the off-peak daytime timetable. The line speed is currently 75 mph, but could be increased to allow faster running for the high speed express services.


The line begins at Manchester Piccadillymarker, which offers rail links to most large cities in the country. Trains using the route will call at the through platforms 13 and 14 on the west side of the station. It then follows the route of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway as far as , where it uses the Windsor Linkmarker to reach and joins the line from Manchester Victoriamarker.

The line then skirts the outer suburbs of Salfordmarker and then passes through the suburbs of Bolton including Kearsleymarker and Farnworthmarker, following the Irwell Valley for much of the route. After Bolton, the line cuts through the western suburbs of Bolton including Lostockmarker and Horwichmarker, before entering Lancashire and passing through the town of Adlingtonmarker and on to Chorleymarker, joining the West Coast Main Line at Euxton Junction.

To its north, the line merges into the West Coast Main Linemarker. To the south, many trains continue on the line to Manchester Airportmarker. Some services also enter it from the Ribble Valley Line at Boltonmarker.


Three operators operate services along the length of the route:

  • Northern Rail operate services from , (Sundays only), , Manchester Victoriamarker, and occasionally and Huddersfieldmarker to , , , , and . They stop at the smaller suburban stations along the line. Northern generally operate stopping services calling at most or all of the stations on the line.

  • TransPennine Express operate express services that only call at selected stations on the route. They are generally services that start at , , , , and occasionally . They follow the line to Manchester Piccadillymarker and continue south to Manchester Airportmarker. TransPennine Express operate four 'portion trains' each day - they all split at Preston. These are:
  • 08:47 Manchester Airport to Blackpool North and Windermere
  • 12:47 Manchester Airport to Blackpool North and Windermere
  • 16:47 Manchester Airport to Glasgow Central and Blackpool North
  • 17:32 Manchester Airport to Barrow-in-Furness and Blackpool North

Freight and diversions

The line is an important diversionary route at weekends, used in conjunction with the Crewe to Manchester Line to divert away from a large section of the West Coast Main Line if required. The convenience is that this only adds 45 minutes to a journey and negates the need for costly bus replacement services. Some freight still uses this line, especially during the peak periods during the day. It is, however, a primary passenger route in the North West of England.


Class 185 trains are now the most frequent units on the line: working for TransPennine Express to Blackpool, Barrow, Windermere, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the other direction, they all usually work to Manchester Piccadilly and onto Manchester Airport although engineering works can mean units working to Manchester Victoria instead.Prior to 2007, Class 175 trains worked the majority of these services before the 185s took over. Between May 2001 and December 2006, they worked all Barrow and Windermere services and the majority of the Blackpool services. However, they never worked to Scotland due to this being a Virgin Cross Country service until December 2007.

Northern operate a variety of rolling stock for their services, with Class 142, Class 150 and Class 156 units all appearing regularly on the line. Class 153 units also use the line - mainly seen on a booked daily service between Stockport and Blackpool North in the evening (usually coupled up with another unit for strengthening purposes).

See also

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