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Railway chaos in Preston, a station too far?

Posted on - 27th June, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Nostalgia, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Transport
Preston Station in 1967
Preston Station in 1967 – the end of steam

Early railway activity in Preston involved a plethora of companies, stations and lines, none of which cooperated with each other!

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Railway company feuds and a tale of two (or more) stations

Punch cartoon from 1867
Punch cartoon from 1867

The railway history of Preston is one of feuding companies and duplicate routes. Preston was an early adopter of railways with the first station opening in 1838. This was built by the North Union Railway. Notably, other local towns did not get on the network until the late 1840s. Importantly, the new line from Wigan firmly placed Preston on the main line to London.

Subsequently, a number of other lines were built, by different companies. Constant feuding meant that most had their own stations! Passengers had to negotiate a complicated mess of booking halls and lines.

Over the years no less than nine lines converged on Preston. Below we look at one of the most interesting additions.

The East Lancashire Railway

In 1846 the East Lancashire Railway built a line from Blackburn to Preston, this joined the main line at Farington. Unfortunately the ELR had to use the North Union’s tracks to get into Preston.

Due to the feud between the East Lancashire Railway and the North Union, who particularly hated each other, a duplicate line and station were built by 1850. This became the Butler Street station, on the same site as the North Union station. The East Lancashire platforms were closed in the 1960s.

Preston Corporation were initially reluctant to have another railway bridge crossing the River Ribble, so close to the existing bridge. However, they were eventually “persuaded”.

Railway bridges over the Ribble Pic: Geoff Whittaker
Railway bridges over the Ribble Pic: Geoff Whittaker

This bridge is still there and is used as a footpath. Additionally, the bridge has some great views of the restored Park “Railway” Hotel. Now happily free of the hideous tower block!

The Park Hotel in 2021 Pic: Geoff Whittaker
The Park Hotel in 2021 Pic: Geoff Whittaker

By the 1920s Preston Station was a large and complicated establishment, and it was featured in The Railway Magazine.

In 1923 the Railway Magazine produced a comprehensive article on Preston Station. At the time, the station was much larger than it is now. Consequently, it was considered important enough to be in the Notable Stations series for the magazine.

The Park Hotel

By the 1880s Preston Station had grown, and the need for somewhere for visitors to stay was gaining momentum. Consequently, a new hotel was built close to the old North Union station. By this time the station was operated jointly by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the London and North Western. These two companies also built the hotel. The building was still used as offices until recently. It is now being restored as a hotel with a new more sympathetic block being built for more offices and hotel space.

On the map, note the covered way to the Park Hotel. The East Lancashire platforms are at the bottom.

These were still referred to as such, in the 1960s – 100 years after the East Lancashire Railway ceased to exist.

Map of Preston Station in The Railway magazine in 1923
Preston Station in 1962 Pic: Cedric Greenwood
A glorious and evocative shot of the East Lancs bay platforms in 1962. The Victorian
wooden “call” box is still present Pic: Cedric Greenwood

Preston Station nowadays is a shadow of its former self. The large car parks cover what was once all railway territory. Additionally, the platform at the top is out of use to passengers. Also, note the line curving away past the Royal Mail depot. This is the branch line to the docks, still used by tanker trains.

Preston Station Pic: Google
Preston Station Pic: Google

The station still sees trains to London, Blackpool, East Lancashire, the Lake district and Scotland. Avanti West Coast are the current main line operators, with their services reaching London in 2 hours and 13 minutes.


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Do you have any memories of Preston Station from years gone by? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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