Looking at the history of the Ribble Steam Railway as it reopens for business

Posted on - 29th May, 2021 - 10:39am | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, History, Kid's stuff, Preston Docks, Riversway, What's On in Preston
Steam train at the station Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

The Ribble Steam Railway reopens this weekend (Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 May). New attractions include murals of famous locomotives.


Images are by the author and were shot prior to the pandemic, in June 2019. Lest we forget what the world used to look like!

Steam train at platform Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

The Ribble Steam Railway and Preston Docks, a long history.

The Ribble has been used by humans since neolithic times and Preston was first used as a port in the 12th century. Additionally, the river has always been prone to silting. It was first dredged in the 16th

Preston began to grow in the 18th century and the original docks known as Preston anchorage, began to struggle with the increasing number of ships. Importantly, larger ships could not berth in the shallow river.

Various improvements, from 1825 onwards, added new wharves, warehouses and shipyards. Furthermore, they dredged a larger channel. However by the 1880s even larger ships were needed and a permanent deep water basin was constructed using locks to keep the level constant.

Preston Docks opened in 1892 and was in full use until 1981, when it was closed and redeveloped. A new marina was constructed. The image below, shows how the river was diverted to accommodate the proposed basin.

The railway first to came to Preston Docks in 1846 with a branch line from Preston Station.

The Preston Docks rail network

There was once an extensive network of standard gauge track, at Preston Docks. Over 27 miles of line were operated by eight steam locomotives. After 1889 the fleet was owned and operated by Preston Corporation. Steam was phased out in 1968, consequently, eight Sentinel diesel shunters were bought and some still remain in operation today, hauling bitumen trains.

Lancashire Tar distillers have an operational plant on the former dock site. Here they receive raw bitumen in tankers carried along the remaining line. The line is also the home of the Ribble Steam Railway. The tankers can be seen near the new station used by it.

History of the Ribble Steam Railway

Redevelopment in the 1980s had cut off the link from Preston Station to the remaining dock lines. Therefore, in 1985, a new line was built that crossed a swing bridge, close to the present marina. The bridge opens to allow boats access to the lock system. The Ribble Steam Railway runs from Strand Road to Riverside and is 1.5 miles long. Additionally there is a museum that opened in 2005, when trips began running on the line.

The route of the line

There are some great photography locations including road crossings and a swing bridge. The crossing below is fairly close to the station.

Steam train Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

There is also a rather fascinating swing bridge where the track runs along the middle of the road. The bridge opens to allow boats access to the marina. Below, it has just started to rotate.

Swing bridge Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

You can walk from Preston Station along the river, viewing the ex-Docks site. Paths also follow the line.

Path by the railway line Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

Landscaping makes this area look rural. The location here once rang to the sound of ships being unloaded and the clank of shunting engines.

Path along the Ribble Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

Support the line by visiting over the coming months.

For more information visit

Read moreSee the latest Preston news and headlines

Will you be visiting the Ribble Steam Railway? Let us know in the comments.

Preston in pictures Keep the Pavement DryLily in full bloomStreetSessions HouseThe old & the restoredEmpty buildingThe BluebellHistorical building View more Advertisement Subscribe to the newsletter

Sign up below to receive Blog Preston's weekly newsletter. It wings its way into inboxes every Sunday rounding up our best content from the last week and a look ahead to what's happening.

Advertisement News by location

Find news by location, select an area of your choice to be kept up to date with the latest goings on.

Advertisement Categories

Find news by category, select an category of your choice to be kept up to date with the latest goings on.