Ribble Valley Line

Ribble Valley Line
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Lancashire
Greater Manchester
North West England
Owner Network Rail
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

Ribble Valley Line

Up arrow
Settle–Carlisle Line
to Carlisle
Right arrow
Leeds to Morecambe Line
to Skipton
Stock Beck Viaduct
Gisburn Tunnel
Swanside Viaduct
Primrose Viaduct
Whalley Viaduct
Wilpshire Tunnel
Wilpshirefor Ribchester
Ramsgreave and Wilpshire
Cob Wall Viaduct
Right arrow
East Lancashire Line
to Colne
Blackburn Tunnel
Blackburn Bolton Road
LowerLeft arrow
East Lancashire Line
to Preston
Lower Darwen
M65 motorway
Spring Vale
Sough Tunnel
Walton's Siding
Bradshaw Brook Viaduct
Turton and Edgworth
King William
Bromley Cross
The Oaks
Astley Bridge
Hall i' th' Wood


Tonge Viaduct

Craddock Lane
Croal Viaduct
Bradshawgate Tunnel
UpperLeft arrow
Manchester to Preston Line
to Preston
non stop section
Salford Crescent
Salford Central
Manchester Victoria

The Ribble Valley Line is a railway line that runs from Manchester Victoria through Blackburn to the small market town of Clitheroe in Lancashire. Regular passenger services normally only run as far as Clitheroe, but occasional passenger services run along the line through north Lancashire towards the Yorkshire town of Hellifield, where it joins the Settle-Carlisle Railway. The line passes over the distinctive 48 span Whalley Viaduct.

Early history

The Ribble Valley Line was built by several different railway companies, all of which later became part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and so following the 1923 Grouping the whole line was part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

The southernmost portion of the Ribble Valley Line, between Salford and Bolton, was built by the Manchester and Bolton Railway, and opened in 1838;[1] it amalgamated with the Manchester and Leeds Railway (M&LR) in August 1846;[2] a connecting line between Salford and Manchester Victoria was opened in October 1846[3] and the M&LR amalgamated with other railways in 1847 to form the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR).[4] The route connecting Salford with Manchester Victoria was improved in 1865.[5]

The portion between Bolton and Blackburn Bolton Road was built by the Blackburn, Darwen and Bolton Railway (BD&BR). This company was formed on 27 September 1844,[6] and was authorised on 30 June 1845 to build a line to Blackburn that would connect with the M&BR at Burnden, to the south of Bolton; on 3 August 1846 the route was amended so that the BD&BR could use Bolton station.[7] Construction commenced at Darwen on 27 September 1845, and the line was opened between Blackburn and Sough on 3 August 1847.[8] Difficulties were experienced in the construction of Sough Tunnel, and also of the Tonge Viaduct, which collapsed during construction, due to timber centrings being moved before the mortar had thoroughly set.[9] On 12 June 1848 the remainder of the line between Sough and Bolton was opened.[10] To accommodate the Blackburn trains, Bolton station was enlarged in 1871; and in 1888 a curve at the north end of Bolton station allowed trains to run between the Preston and Blackburn lines without needing to reverse in the station.[11]

The route from Blackburn to Hellifield was also opened in two sections. The Blackburn, Clitheroe and North Western Junction Railway (BC&NWJR) was authorised on 27 July 1846 for a line from a junction with the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) at Daisyfield, east of Blackburn, to a junction with the North Western Railway (NWR) near Long Preston.[12] Construction commenced at Clitheroe on 30 December 1846[8] but was delayed due to the partial collapse of the Whalley viaduct.[13] The line was opened between Blackburn and Chatburn on 21 June 1850,[13] and on the same day, a short branch to the Old Banks lime works at Horrocksford was opened.[14] Trains used the BD&BR station at Blackburn (Bolton Road), running through the ELR station in order to reach it.[15] Initially single track, the line between Daisyfield Junction and Chatburn was doubled in 1872–74.[5]

In March 1847, the BD&BR and the BC&NWJR agreed to amalgamate, becoming the Bolton, Blackburn, Clitheroe and West Yorkshire Railway; the necessary Act received Royal Assent on 9 July 1847. The name was shortened to the Blackburn Railway by a further Act of 24 July 1851.[8] In the meantime, the LYR and ELR entered into a working agreement in April 1850, and they began to operate in ways that whilst mutually beneficial, were to the detriment of the Blackburn Railway; for example, the ELR charged the Blackburn Railway a toll equivalent to six miles for the use of three-quarters of a mile of the ELR's line through Blackburn;[15] and later, LYR services from Manchester to Blackburn were routed via Accrington instead of Bolton.[16] During 1856, two extensions to the Blackburn Railway were proposed: one was to continue the line north from Chatburn to the NWR near Giggleswick (at that time known as Settle); the other would have been from a point to the north of Bolton, between the Croal and Tonge viaducts, to Manchester by way of Radcliffe, Whitefield and Cheetham Hill, and so would have created a line between Bolton and Manchester independent of the LYR. Both of these proposals failed.[17]

On 1 January 1858, the Blackburn Railway became the joint property of the LYR and ELR (this was not authorised by Parliament until 12 July 1858).[17] In 1859, the LYR and ELR themselves amalgamated, the LYR retaining its identity, and so the Blackburn Railway became wholly absorbed by the LYR.[18] From this time, the trains along the former Blackburn Railway lines used the former ELR station at Blackburn.[19]

The NWR was absorbed by the Midland Railway (MR) in 1871, and once the MR began work on its Settle and Carlisle Railway, the LYR decided to resume work on the line north of Chatburn. This was authorised on 24 July 1871, and the 11 12 miles (18.5 km) were estimated to cost £220,000.[19] Construction north of Chatburn was resumed by the LYR in 1873, and was opened as far as Gisburn on 2 June 1879 although it was complete as far as Newsholme; the last section, between Gisburn and Hellifield, opened on 1 June 1880.[20]

Later history

The line between Blackburn and Hellifield was closed to passengers on 10 September 1962 but continued to be used for diversions and for freight, and until 15 August 1964 there was a Saturdays-only train from Manchester to Glasgow which used this route.[21] The line between Blackburn & Bolton remained open, but was reduced to single track operation in two stages as part of major resignalling projects on the East Lancashire Line (1973) and Bolton area (1985). After a public campaign, the line between Blackburn and Clitheroe was reopened to regular passenger services in 1994, and a Sunday only service was later reintroduced between Clitheroe and Hellifield.

The towns and villages on the route are the following:

Passenger services from Clitheroe to Manchester via Blackburn are operated by Northern. On summer Sundays, Northern Rail also operates the DalesRail service, which starts at Blackpool and continues beyond Clitheroe to the Settle – Carlisle line, where it calls at all the stations en route to Carlisle. This service was extended, from mid-September, 2013, to cover Sundays throughout the remainder of the year.

The service from Manchester to Clitheroe was designated by the Department for Transport as a community rail service in March 2007. It was announced in March 2007 that major improvements to the line were being proposed[22] by Blackburn with Darwen Council, who unveiled an £8 million bid to the Department for Transport and Network Rail. Improvements may include installing double tracks where presently the route is single line, improved signalling giving increased track capacity, enhanced line speed, longer trains at peak times and ultimately putting on more frequent trains to and from Manchester throughout the day.[22] However, the funding for the scheme was eventually rejected in March 2008.[23]

The line between Blackburn and Clitheroe was temporarily closed in November 2008 due to a major refurbishment. The £5 million scheme included 11,651 yards of continuous welded rail, 16,000 new concrete or steel sleepers and 40,000 tonnes of ballast.[24] Replacement bus services ran between Clitheroe and Blackburn. The line re-opened on 28 November 2008.

In 2009, a scheme called "Pennine Lancashire" proposed new housing, tourist attractions and improved transport links, supported by the Labour Government and Prime Minister of that time. The scheme included enhancements to the Ribble Valley Line including

The scheme was welcomed by the Ribble Valley Rail group, who have campaigned to re-open the line and were very excited at the proposals.[25][26]

Though the above enhancements have yet to come to fruition, Network Rail has carried out £14 million of improvements to track & signalling either side of Darwen station in July & August 2015. A six-week engineering blockade saw the existing passing loop there extended by 1 mile (1.6 km) at each end and signalling improvements made to add capacity on the line and allow for service frequencies between Bolton & Blackburn to be doubled to two trains per hour each way throughout the day from December 2017.[27][28] The work was completed on schedule and the line reopened on 24 August 2015.


  1. Marshall 1969, p. 30.
  2. Marshall 1969, p. 33.
  3. Marshall 1969, p. 58.
  4. Marshall 1969, p. 65.
  5. 1 2 Marshall 1969, p. 188.
  6. Marshall 1969, p. 175.
  7. Marshall 1969, p. 176.
  8. 1 2 3 Marshall 1969, p. 178.
  9. Marshall 1969, pp. 178, 181.
  10. Marshall 1969, p. 181.
  11. Marshall 1969, pp. 188–9.
  12. Marshall 1969, p. 177.
  13. 1 2 Marshall 1969, p. 183.
  14. Marshall 1969, pp. 177, 187.
  15. 1 2 Marshall 1969, pp. 183–4.
  16. Marshall 1969, p. 184.
  17. 1 2 Marshall 1969, p. 185.
  18. Marshall 1969, p. 123.
  19. 1 2 Marshall 1969, p. 187.
  20. Marshall 1969, p. 190.
  21. Marshall 1969, p. 200.
  22. 1 2 Bartlett, David (26 March 2007). "£8m train service upgrade on track". Lancashire Telegraph. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  23. "£8m Bolton-Blackburn rail revamp derailed". The Bolton News. 2008-03-20. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  24. Rail issue 602
  25. Clitheroe Advertiser and Times Thursday, 15 January 2009 (No 6389)
  26. Clitheroe Advertiser article on the proposed changes
  27. "More rail misery — no trains between Bolton and Blackburn for six weeks over summer as £14 million improvement works start" Thorp, Liam, Bolton News article 23 June 2015; Retrieved 15 September 2015
  28. "Blackburn to Bolton railway reopens after £14m upgrade" The Shuttle news article 25 August 2015; Retrieved 15 September 2015

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