Northern Lines Preston to Lancaster West Coast Main Line

Roy Davies

Review by Malcolm Chattwood

A Pendolino covers the 21 miles (34km) between Preston and Lancaster in around 14 minutes with little time to take in the pastoral landscape which borders the line and the Bowland fells rising to the east. However, there won’t be many who have an affinity to railways who don’t feel a slight glow of satisfaction as they speed past traffic on the adjacent M6 at points along the route.

Is there sufficient material to produce a book to cover such a short distance of railway? The answer is a resounding yes. Although the pages aren't numbered, the contents list omits the first couple of chapters but then lists the stations on the line in alphabetical order alongside the first numbered photograph in that particular section. That's perhaps a touch unconventional but it's likely that most readers will simply start at the beginning and just work through the stations from south to north as laid out in the book. Usefully there are copies of the 1947 RCH map of the area and the gradient profile which help to set the scene for the first section which describes the geographical setting.

The next section describes the historical setting starting with the arrival of the North Union Railway arriving in Preston from the south in 1838 followed by the Lancaster and Preston Joint Railway from the north two years later. To refer to Preston as the Crewe of Lancashire would not be an exaggeration and the development of Preston as a route hub with its early conflicts, mergers and rationalisation of railway infrastructure is well described. Following a period of relative organisational stability under the LMS and BR the latter part of the section describes the post privatisation activities of a multitude of operators which appears more complex than the early days albeit without the burden to actually construct the infrastructure.

The remainder of the book follows a gazetteer format starting at Preston in the south and then working north through the various closed stations on the line and finishing naturally at Lancaster. Given the complexity of its history and importance in the wider railway network, Preston is rightly afforded a good proportion of the space available. All stations are covered by photographs both historic and contemporary with captions which are detailed and informative and helpfully note how some significant railway properties have been subjected to different uses today. Historic maps have been used to good effect and the inclusion of an oblique aerial photograph of Preston to support the mapping is a particular favourite.

The cover photograph of two EE Type 4s sitting at the head of trains destined for Blackpool is the only colour shot in the book. Whilst colour photography is the preferred format of many similar books these days, I think the depiction of modern and historic rolling stock in the same setting perhaps gives a better “then and now” perspective. This is particularly the case with Preston station which, although diminished since the loss of the East Lancashire platforms, still has a wonderful big station feel about it. Sprinkled throughout the book are facsimile images of old tickets and advertisements. Such is the fascination of the photographs and informative captions it is easy to pass over them which would be a pity as they certainly add further interest to an already excellent book.