Heritage railways in Britain – The East Lancashire Railway
The original East Lancashire Railway was centered on the town of Bury. Likewise the preserved line returned here in 1987.
The 1840s were the great years of railway building, with thousands of miles of track added. Consequently, Growth was driven by Quarry, mine & mill owners who wanted faster, cheaper ways of moving raw materials and finished goods.
The North of England was the cradle of the Industrial revolution and links to the key city of Manchester drove the building of a new line to Bury. This opened in 1846.
Another East-West line, built by the Manchester and Leeds railway reached Bury in 1848. This was an extension from Heywood.
In the 1960s Beeching proposed that all services to Manchester from Bury cease, however, some survived. Importantly, the one surviving line was the one converted to tram operation in 1991/2. Nowadays there are frequent services via the Metro-link system, using the old rail lines, to Manchester Victoria.
The original East Lancashire Railway
The original East Lancashire railway was made up of several smaller companies. Eventually, in 1859, it was amalgamated with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.
Two routes passed through the town Of Bury, in a roughly North South and East West direction.
The North South route
The first line reached Bury in 1844. This was The Manchester, Bury and Rossendale Railway. The line left the Manchester to Bolton line at Clifton Junction and passed through Radcliffe. Consequently, this company was absorbed into the ELR by 1845.
The line continued North up the Irwell valley, eventually reaching Rawtenstall. Next, an extension from just North of Ramsbottom to Accrington opened in 1848. Finally, an extension from Rawtenstall to Bacup opened in 1852.
The East West Route
The East-West Route opened in stages. For example, Heywood was reached in 1841. This was a branch from the Manchester & Leeds Railway. Another seven years passed before the line got to Bury. Furthermore, 1848 saw the line reach Bolton.
The Reborn railway
The history of the reborn East Lancashire Railway is one of determination and perseverance, with several changes of location.
Preservation attempts began in 1966 with the Helmshore & District Railway Preservation Society. The plan was to reopen the line from Stubbins junction to Accrington. Interestingly the track was still in place until the early 70’s. However, it was probably in the wind that the Haslingden bypass was to be built on the old track bed. Therefore the society folded.
Eventually, the first four miles of line reopened in 1987. Bury to Ramsbottom remained the only route until 1991 when a further section opened to Rawtenstall. Importantly, three bridges had to be rebuilt, along with a new station and platform.
To the South of Bury, much wrangling occurred before services resumed to Heywood in 2003. Now the stranded ELR tracks were once again connected to the national network.
The Metro tram route
In 1992 the Bury to Manchester route was the first of the new tram lines to open. The old line to Manchester was converted to overhead power. Additionally, a new alignment was built passing under the Heywood line and through the site of Knowsley Street station.