During November the approval was given for a tram test track to be operated in Preston. The plan to operate trams on the former Preston to Longridge branch has prompted renewed interest in the history and origins of the line. Track is still in place from the West Coast main line at Maudlands to Deepdale. The satellite image below shows the track bed as a green band going from left to right, the tram route is also shown.Advertisement
The tram test route proposed extends from the old coal depot at Deepdale road to the back of St Chads road. Tram Power have developed their own vehicle and electrical systems that are thought to lower the cost of light rail projects, hence the test track. At present the track is very overgrown and there is a road crossing on the level across Deepdale Mill Street.
The rest of track bed for the Longridge branch is more or less intact to the outskirts of Longridge where it has been built on, the original station in Longridge still exists as a café and exhibition centre.
The origins of the Longridge branch can be found in the stone quarries at the South west end of Longridge fell. From 1830 the stone was quarried and used in a number of large buildings in Lancashire including the Liverpool docks. Although Preston is mostly a brick built city the Harris museum is built of Longridge stone as is the main station on Fishergate. To aid in the transport of stone a railway to Preston was proposed. The promoters expected a profit of 15 per cent that was never realised.
The Preston and Longridge Railway Company was formed in 1835, Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, the then MP for Preston was chairman. Authorized in 1836 the line was to run from St Pauls Square in Preston to Longridge with a station at Grimsargh. At Longridge an inclined plane ran up the quarries at Tootal Heights. The contractor, a Mr Wilkie, took a rather leisurely three years to build the line and it was completed in March 1839.
Read more: Pictures of a walk on the old Grimsargh to Preston railway line
A clause in the authorization stated that two justices of the peace had to give consent for steam power to be used. Consequently, from, 1840, the 6 1/2-mile line was operated by horses. Trains were pulled up the gradient to Longridge while on the way back gravity was used with the horses riding in a wagon! Passenger traffic consisted of two trains each day on Wednesdays and Saturdays serving a population of 2000, in Longridge. The passenger terminus for Preston was in Deepdale Street.
As was common in the early days of small railway companies, the Preston and Longridge railway was not originally joined to the network or the main line at Preston. Horse working ended in 1848 and the line was joined to the Preston and Wyre railway via a 1 1\2-mile extension two years later. The extension, rather lethally, crossed the West Coast main line on the level. It was of double track and ran from Deepdale via Miley tunnel to Maudlands station, this tunnel and track are still in place.
The connection to the Preston and Wyre railway was part of a scheme to build a line into West Yorkshire beyond Longridge and via Clitheroe. The line was never build although a cutting was made at Hurst Green that never saw rails.
In 1866 the Preston and Longridge railway was amalgamated with the L&YR and the LNWR railways. The line became busier with other traffic being provided by stubs to Red scar works and Holme Slack brick works.
Read more: The haunted Miley Tunnel
There was still no connection to Preston’s main station. In 1885 a goods station was opened at Maudland bridge, the site is now used for some of UCLan’s student accommodation buildings. The original Preston and Wyre railway station was also named Maudland Bridge! This was demolished when the link to Preston’s main station for the Longridge branch was finally put in, also in 1885.
In 1889 the Longridge branch got a traffic boost when a private line was built to serve a large mental hospital at Whittingham. The line ran from Grimsargh for a distance of two miles. Coal and stores were transported as well as passengers. This busy service ended in 1957.
Passenger services ended in 1930 except for the Whittingham branch. Goods continued to be transported to the Courtauld’s works near Grimsargh until 1967. In 1980 the line was cut back to Deepdale. The coal depot at Deepdale still received trains until the mid 90’s, the track is still in place from the main line to Deepdale.
The prospect of a tram route across Preston is exciting, rebuilding the line would not disrupt traffic flow. Good publicity should result from the test track and may lead to an expansion of light rail projects in smaller cities.
Geoff is a freelance writer, photographer and video producer he specialises in transport, environmental and historical subjects. He graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in 2016 with a degree in media production. Currently studying for an MA in photography he is producing a local guide to sculpture parks and panopticans as well as a book on the history of transport in the Preston area.
What do you think about the ghost railway line? Heard about the Miley Tunnel being haunted? Should the line be reopened? Let us know your views in the comments below