71000 Duke of Gloucester visits Gloucester on 30 June 1990


The unique Class 8 pacific 71000 "Duke of Gloucester" was not only the last steam express passenger locomotive built for British Railways but the final such machine to bear a "Gloucester" name from new. However, it was originally to be called "Prince Charles"! Instead the yet-untitled Riddles-designed three-cylinder locomotive was displayed at the Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer (UIC) Conference at Willesden in 1954 and named there after the UIC President – The Duke of Gloucester.

The father of the current title-holder would, of course, have reviewed all the exhibits paraded for the delegate's inspection. But while the shiny Caprotti valve gear of 71000 would have turned many heads, how many of the visitors would have crowded round an apparently unremarkable "box on wheels" from an obscure secondary line in Lancashire?

Dramatic though main line steam was – and is! – the practical way of the future was to be electric. The Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company Limited had been producing electric trains since 1894 with customers including the London Underground, South Indian Railway (which ordered a three car set of the first all-steel welded coaches to be built in Britain), Victoria Railways in Australia and the Toronto Subway.

The three-car set - with above-solebar electric components located behind one driving cab - from the Lancaster-Morecambe line however, was different. Although having less than a year of revenue earning service behind it, the potential of 50 Hertz alternating current that it represented was so immense that it was to shape strategic railway electrification planning for decades afterward.

Map of the railways approaching Lancaster from Skipton


26 June 1846 saw the incorporation of the North Western Railway, always known as the "Little North Western" to avoid confusion with the London & North Western Railway Company - which ran trains from London Euston station to Liverpool and Manchester.

The Little North Western aimed to link Leeds and Bradford - in the prosperous West Riding of Yorkshire – with Carlisle and the West Coast of Scotland. Built west from Skipton – on the Leeds & Bradford Extension Railway – the Little North Western route included the towns of Settle, Clapham and Ingleton before turning northwards to a junction with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway at Low Gill north of Oxenholme.

However, work toward Low Gill beyond Ingleton was soon halted by lack of money and the Board of the Little North Western instead concentrated their efforts on a branch from Clapham via Wennington to the established port of Lancaster on the River Lune. Here the new line would meet another iron road - reaching along the north bank of the Lune and across the river on Greyhound Bridge - from an obscure fishing port - called Poulton Le Sands until 1889, when it was renamed Morecambe.

The lines towards Poulton Le Sands and Leeds from Lancaster Green Ayre station (near to the River Lune) opened for passenger traffic on the 12 June 1848. The first train - consisting of two locomotives and seven carriages - departed east at 1 p.m. decked in flags and accompanied of bells, trumpets and drums. It arrived back in Lancaster at 3 p.m. On October 31 1849 the line extended to Tatham Bridge, a temporary station near Wennington.

The line finally went through to Wennington on November 17 1849 and had a service of three trains a day which connected to horse bus service operating between Wennington and Clapham where passengers boarded the trains to Leeds and Bradford. On 1 May 1850 the line was passed for passenger traffic between Wennington and Bentham and the next day the first train ran direct from Lancaster Green Ayre to High Bentham. The same day saw the closure of the temporary station at Tatham Bridge. The final link between Bentham and Clapham was passed by the Board of Trade Inspector on 28 May 1850, and the first train ran from Poulton Le Sands and Lancaster to the West Riding of Leeds and Bradford on 1 June.

Whilst the route east was opening in sections, the line joining Lancaster Green Ayre with the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway main line at Castle station opened on 19 December 1849. By 1859 this steeply graded, curving single line branch – along with the whole Skipton to Poulton Le Sands route – had been leased by the Midland Railway, which would eventually become its owner.

Midland and London & North Western Railway lines in Morecambe


However, despite the original wooden jetty being replaced by a more substantial stone structure in 1853 and a new railway hotel and passenger station being opened at Northumberland Road, Poulton Le Sands proved to be far from ideal as a practical port due to its extreme tidal range. During the 1860s the Midland transferred its Northern Ireland passenger sailings to Piel on the Cumbrian coast - served by the Furness Railway - and in 1867 opened a new line from Wennington to the Furness Railway junction with the Lancaster & Carlisle ( later L&NWR) at Carnforth just to take the Ulster traffic direct from Leeds and Bradford.

Despite the initial success of this partnership however, the Midland went on to develop its own port south of Morecambe at Heysham where deep-water access was more reliable. The final link of the double track Midland line from Morecambe to Heysham Harbour was opened for passengers on 1 September 1904 although the first recorded sailing the Isle of Man took place from Heysham on 13 August 1904. The new Heysham line formed a triangular junction with the existing Midland Morecambe-Lancaster line, collectively known as the Torrisholme Triangle. Of this, North Curve took trains from Morecambe to Heysham while Edmondson Curve allowed trains from Heysham to travel directly to Lancaster Green Ayre and beyond.

In 1907 Northumberland Road station (ironically the site of the latest two-platform Morecambe station) was replaced by the altogether more splendid Promenade. By this time, too, another junction had been made – on the northern flank of the Torrisholme Triangle – to the L&NWRs own longer route into Morecambe from Lancaster Castle via Bare Lane. Yet another curve off this allowed trains to run from Carlisle direct to Morecambe via Hest Bank while the LNWR established its own Morecambe station on a short branch at Euston Road.

The Art Deco Midland Hotel, Morecambe

The Art Deco Midland Hotel was built opposite Promenade Station in 1933


The Belfast Boat Express started from Leeds and travelled non-stop between Hellifield and Heysham Harbour along with a business train running in express timings to and from the West Riding. Each weekday the express - locally called the "Residential Rail" - took the businessmen who lived in and around Morecambe and Lancaster to their work in the cities of Bradford and Leeds. The train left Morecambe Promenade at 0737 and departed from Lancaster Green Ayre at 0745. At Skipton the Residential split into two portions, the engine and first four coaches to Leeds then the rear coaches and new locomotives took this portion to Bradford. Races along the four-track system were common place as the Green Ayre and Bradford men took their customers to the workplace.


Around 1900, a small number of other British railway companies were experimenting with electrifying short stretches of their most intensively used lines. The ever-expansionist Midland Railway, with Richard Mountford Deeley as its Locomotive Superintendent, decided to exploit the potential of electrification both in moving holidaymakers as well as ensuring workers at the then state-of-the-art Heysham port could get to work quickly and easily. Electrification plans were announced in July 1906, and an intensive service was provided for the next half century. In fact the Midland's experiment in electric traction was so successful that the three towns were soon linked by one of the fastest suburban rail networks in the world, even outperforming what became the London Underground.

The Heysham to Morecambe line was electrified on 13 April 1908, extended to Lancaster Green Ayre on 8 June 1908 and to Lancaster Castle on 14 September 1908. The Midland Railway’s own generating station at Heysham – already providing power for cranes and other dockside equipment - proved an obvious source of railway electricity, supplying 6 600 volts alternating at 25 Hertz through overhead power cables which resembled miniature running rails in section. The area around Morecambe Promenade station west of Westend Road bridge – and the Lancaster Castle Station end of the branch from Green Ayre – used elegant steel lattice gantries to support the overhead line equipment while the rest of the line relied on "portal" structures. These comprised of paired creosoted Norwegian Fir telegraph poles supporting simple steel spans. Portals were normally spaced 40 yards apart and 24 were replaced each year.

At Lancaster Castle station the LNWR insisted not only on elegant gantries for the branch to Green Ayre but also on the right to turn off the "juice" if it saw fit! The key to the cupboard with the "off" switch was kept at the 144 lever signalbox near the gas holder at the north end of Castle Station.


To tackle sharp curves, gradients of up to 1 in 70 and the prevailing salt laden air of the new electrified railway, three 60’ long motor coaches were built at Derby. These featured a cab at each end and could be run either as single units or with one or two driving trailers. Four of the six driving trailer carriages required to make up three three-car sets were of brand new construction while two were constructed from existing compartment stock.

Two of the motor coaches were equipped by the German company of Siemens - while the third had electrical components from Westinghouse in America. Although handsome vehicles, their interiors were spartan with hard perforated sycamore seats. These were longitudinal at the ends to allow access to the trap doors covering under floor equipment – and could be very uncomfortable during rapid acceleration and braking!

In the first 15 months of operation the new units only lost 212 miles, representing an availability of 99.63%, but in 1951 they were all withdrawn and scrapped.

Morecambe Promenade Station in 1933

Morecambe Promenade Station in 1933. The electrified platform lines ( centre ), goods sidings ( left) and carriage sidings ( right ) run east from the impressive terminus and form a throat under Westend Road Bridge. Beyond Westend Road Bridge, the former London & North Western routes to Carnforth via Bare Lane and Hest Bank diverge to the top left of the picture while the ex Midland lines to Lancaster Green Ayre diverge to the top right. North Curve - linking Morecambe with Heysham - is also defined by electrification portals.

The former Morecambe Promenade station in 2005

The former Morecambe Promenade station in 2005, viewed from the South


During 1950 Lancaster Green Ayre Locomotive depot received 5 Stanier designed 0-4-4T push and pull locomotives numbered 41900 – 41904. These locomotives powered three coach trains commencing on 12 February 1951, when the original electric trains were withdrawn from service.


While the push and pulls ran, the entire electric system was converted to 6600 volts at 50 Hertz so that fresh discoveries could be made about the behaviour of alternating current electrification – not least because the full wiring of the West Coast Main Line was being considered. Although much of the original 1908 overhead infrastructure remained in place a 2/3 mile section between Ovangle Bridge and Carlisle Bridge – carrying the former LNWR route over both the Lancaster-Morecambe line and the River Lune – was used to evaluate various new types of mast. These included fixed and variable geometry lattice and RSJ units made of steel, alloy and concrete, all insulated to withstand 25 000 volts and equipped by British Insulated Callender’s Cables (BICC) at the firm’s own expense. BICC was later to have an important role in the electrification of the West Coast Main Line. The Ovangle Bridge to Carlisle Bridge section was known locally as the "Golden Mile" and each mast – including the three holding the catenary at low level to simulate a tunnel environment – carried an identifying "X" plate.

A concrete mast base south of the line near the site of Scale Hall Station

A concrete mast base south of the line near the site of Scale Hall Station

In contrast the other portals and gantries between Green Ayre carried "M" plates (M178A and B standing at the western end of Morecambe Promenade) while the "C" series applied to the Castle Branch and "T" to the two southbound curves of the Torresholme Triangle. A new substation was also built at Green Ayre to take electricity from the North West Electricity Board, thus making the Heysham power station surplus to requirements.

Train trials began in November 1952 with the newly re-electrified service starting to earn its keep on 17 August 1953.


EMU with diamond type pantograph leaving Green Ayre Station in 1965

EMU with diamond type pantograph leaving Green Ayre Station in 1965

For the new service British Railways converted 3 three car sets built in 1914 by the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company and used by the LNWR and LMS on the four-rail Willesden Junction – Earls Court route until they were stored in 1940. These comprised a cab-fitted 57-ton Motor Open Brake Second (MOBS) intermediate Trailer Open Second (TOS) and Driving Trailer Open Second (DTOS), all of which measured 57’ x 8’11" x 9’6" and were fitted with bus type seats. As former LMS vehicles allocated to London Midland Region, all these vehicles carried "M" prefixes and suffixes. The 26 ton TOS – numbered M29721M – M29724M – offered 62 seats while the DTOS – numbered M29021M – M29024M had 56.

28 seat MOBS M28219M –M28221M were also upgraded with pantographs and English Electric equipment at Wolverton Carriage Works. Each motor driving car featured four 215 bhp nose suspended traction motors, wound for 75 mph running and yielding an acceleration of 1.3mph per second. Each pair of traction motors was wired permanently in series and supplied with 750v dc by a mercury arc rectifier, which in turn was supplied with alternating current through an oil cooled air blown transformer. Speed control was achieved by varying the traction motor voltage and all auxilliary motors were supplied at 230v single phase except for the compressor, which was fed with direct current from the same supply through a dry plate rectifier. The lighting circuits worked at 24 volts and the heating at 460 volts.

All received experimental modifications in 1955 and a fourth set – M28222 with 38 seats, four 215 bhp traction motors and other equipment by Metropolitan Vickers – joined the fleet in 1957. At busy times the normal half hourly pattern of services was abandoned and four three-car sets could form two six car trains worked in multiple unit with a driver at each end to speed up arrival and departure at Promenade and Green Ayre. By withdrawal in early 1966 these were the oldest complete train sets on British Railways and received an annual overhaul at Meol Cop near Southport. This involved the traction motor brushes being isolated to prevent stray currents affecting colour light signals when the units were hauled away from their usual haunts – which remained semaphore signalled right to the end. Out of loading gauge driver’s mirrors and running boards also had to be removed during these journeys.

By 1965 all four train sets on the line were known by the last two digits of their MOBS numbers and boasted the following unique features:

M28219M Excitron type mercury arc rectifiers, Southern Region EMU type electro-pneumatic controls, English Electric lightweight diamond type pantograph and plain green livery.

M28220M The first Germanium semiconductor type rectifiers on BR and one of the first applications of electronics to railway traction. These needed no separate excitation and were particularly reliable in cold weather. English Electric lightweight diamond type pantograph and plain green livery with yellow ends.

M28221M Original 1952 equipment apart from yellow ends and a single arm pantograph designed by Faiveley – a French company later heavily involved with the Paris Metro.

M28222M Ignitron mercury arc rectifiers – as developed by Westinghouse of America– but difficult to excite in cold weather. Engineers at Morecambe overcame this problem by setting fire to a bucket of oil soaked sawdust and holding it near the air intakes for two minutes. "22" was also fitted with a standard Metropolitan Vickers pantograph like those on the Manchester-Sheffield-Wath 1500v dc electrics.


Looking East under Westend Road Bridge

Looking East under Westend Road Bridge

Platforms 3 and 4 ( equipped with a maintenance pit) of Morecambe Promenade Station were dedicated to electric services, which ran east under Westend Road Bridge after negotiating a complex array of double slips. Beyond Westend Road Bridge the ex LNWR line to Hest Bank and Bare Lane ( still in use in 2005 ) diverged north while the so called North Curve ( also still in use in 2005 ) curved away south towards Heysham.

Looking West from Schola Green Crossing.

Looking West from Schola Green Crossing.

White rectangle by lamp post ( centre) is a warning sign for the Heysham Branch just behind it.

Looking East from Schola Green Crossing toward Trimpell's Crossing

Looking East from Schola Green Crossing toward Trimpell's Crossing

Beyond these junctions the double electrified track encountered a foot crossing at Schola Green Lane (which also crossed North Curve) and a second foot crossing known as Trimpell’s Crossing and leading to the Trimpell’s Refinery Staff Social Club.

Looking East over Trimpell's Crossing

Looking East over Trimpell's Crossing

Former signal post at Trimpell's Social Club

Obscured by a tree in the previous picture is this unusual design of reinforced concrete signal post, now used to support security lighting for Trimpell's Social Club.

Further east the lines ran south of Benson and Christie Avenues and Cartmel Place and north of Winthorpe Avenue to the site where Torrisholme Number 1 signalbox guarded the junction with Edmondson’s Curve, which led south towards Heysham.

Looking East under Westgate Bridge

Looking East under the arched portal of Westgate Bridge

Looking West under Westgate Bridge

Looking West under the square portal of Westend Bridge

Westgate Bridge presented an unusual site to eastbound EMU drivers as its western side had an arch while the eastern side had a square portal as the result of later upgrading. East of Westgate Bridge to the south of the tracks was – by the mid 1960s - a car breaking business: one of the first firms on what was to become the Whitend Industrial Estate. East again was the site of a World War I aerodrome which from 1960 had become the new home of Lancaster Gasworks, the latter having left its original position at St George’s Quay near both the Castle Branch and the River Lune. The post 1960 gasworks had its own coal sidings, accessed from the Down ( southern) Line only.

Looking East under Ovangle Bridge

Looking East under Ovangle Bridge

Looking West under Ovangle Bridge

Looking West under Ovangle Bridge

Note the overhead catenary supporting ironwork still in place

West to East, the three main features between Ovangle and Carlisle Bridges were the bridge carrying the electrified line over Salt Ayre Lane, Scale Hall Station and, just beyond, the simulated tunnel masts. Scale Hall opened on June 8 1957 and closed on 3 January 1966, possibly one of the shortest lived stations on record. However, although its capital costs were projected to be recovered over 7 years it actually paid for itself in 3 . Among the tickets available in 1957 was a Pram Special Return to Lancaster, made attractive to mothers of young children by the price of 4d.

Carlisle Bridge carries the West Coast Main Line over the Lune at Lancaster

Carlisle Bridge carries the West Coast Main Line over the Lune at Lancaster

Beyond the 1963 version of Carlisle Bridge, the line ran south of Our Lady’s High School and across the 10 chain radius curves of Greyhound Bridge into Green Ayre Station, beyond which lay the line’s substation and Skerton Bridge, carrying road traffic over both the line and the Lune. At this point the 6 600v catenary ended although east of Skerton Bridge lay two marshalling yards at Ladies Walk and New Zealand sidings. Both of these were situated on either side of the main Leeds line and were operated by steam locomotives from Green Ayre (24J in 1962)

Memorial on the site of Lancaster Green Ayre station

The site of Green Ayre station - with Skerton Bridge in the background - is now marked by a hand crane and a memorial slab which reads:

"This riverside park which was opened on April 12 1978 by the Right Worshipful The Mayor of Lancaster Councillor H. Holgate occupies the site of the former Green Ayre Station on the North Western Railway between Morecambe and Yorkshire which was opened in 1849. Purchased by the Midland Railway Company in 1874 and closed to passengers in 1966"

A view eastward from Green Ayre under Skerton Bridge

A tree-cutting pick up truck stands where trains once ran east from Green Ayre to Yorkshire. The part of Skerton Bridge which spans the former railway lines still has concrete brackets to support and protect the overhead catenary. As such it makes an interesting comparison with Ovangle Bridge further West.

Skerton Bridge

When opened in 1788, Skerton Bridge provided a modern, safe and dramatic alternative upstream of the mediaeval bridge. Designed by Thomas Harrison, it was modelled on the Roman bridge in Rimini, Italy. It formed a new boundary to Lancaster and gave rise to plans for elegant new streets of Georgian houses to complement the bridge. However, only a few houses in Cable Street were built to these plans.


The view along the Castle Branch to the site of Green Ayre station

The view east along the Castle Branch to the site of Green Ayre station

Departing from Green Ayre Station, the branch ran alongside Green Ayre Shed at Cable Street. This had covered accommodation that could only be accessed via turntable and is now a branch of Sainsburys.

View of former Castle Branch St George's Quay section

View of St George's Quay section of the former Castle Branch taken from Greyhound Bridge. The Millennium Bridge now dominates the railway viaduct and to the right of the cable stay anchorage are the arches leading to a slipway.

View along St George's Quay viaduct to Castle Station

A view taken from adjacent to the orange temporary buildings in the picture above shows the narrow route of the Castle Branch toward Lancaster Castle station.

View North from Lancaster ( Castle ) Station

Lancaster (Castle) Station looking North toward Carlisle Bridge. The Castle Branch from Green Ayre would have entered the station near the brick building on the right. Trees on the left now hide the site of the gasometer and former signalbox .

The single line – protected by a pioneering use of tokenless block signalling – then passed between Green Ayre Goods Shed (Damside Street) and the Lune before crossing one of its tributaries and St George’s Quay. Long Marsh Lane then passed under the track before the dedicated electric platforms – 5 and 6 –of Castle Station were reached. Some evidence of 6 600v overhead line equipment is still visible on buildings extant in the 21st Century.

View South along Lancaster Station

Looking south from the Northern end of Lancaster (Castle) Station, the former Castle Branch platforms are on the left. In the centre of the picture - between the rusting bridge supports - is the zero milepost for the former Lancaster & Carlisle Railway.

View South over Castle Branch platforms from over bridge

Another view south along former Platforms 5 and 6 from the over line bridge in the previous picture. Pay close attention to the area on the left between the creeper covered wall and the purple flowered buddlia

The last evidence of Castle Branch electrification

Protruding from the wall is the last remains of the Castle Branch electrification : a rusting piece of I section steel girder that used to carry the wires across the tracks.

Ex LMS Black Five 45435 heads a Heysham to Manchester train at Lancaster Castle

Ex LMS Black Five 45435 heads a Heysham to Manchester train at Lancaster Castle on 22 July 1967. Notice that the smokebox shedplate is missing.


Electric trains would have taken the double tracked North Curve to Torrisholme Number 2 Signal Box -which guarded the junction with Edmondsons Curve – before passing under the occupation bridge at the end of Needham Rise, Regent Road and Oxcliffe Road Bridges. Beyond this on the eastern side of the line lay Heysham Moss Sidings Signalbox and the short branch to the Trimpell Refinery. The word "Trimpell" was an amalgam of Trinidad Leasing, Imperial Chemical Industries and Shell, and after making aviation fuel for the Air Ministry the refinery was to produce explosives, nitric acid and fertiliser.

EMUs would next pas under Moss Gate Farm and Money Close Bridges before the siding to Heysham Nuclear Power Station diverged to the east while the main line diverged into port sidings and Heysham Station.


Sadly the line between Morecambe, Lancaster Green Ayre and Wennington was destined to close following the Beeching report issued in 1962. This accounted for one third of the rail network and was a short-sighted attempt to save money without looking at the long-term future of transport in general. Most of the lines that were closed have disappeared into history, having been swallowed up by new roads, supermarkets, farmland and new housing estates. Luckily the "Little North Western" continues albeit not with rails but with cycle and walking facilities from Morecambe through to Bull Beck and East Caton some 8 miles in length. Most of this route runs beside the River Lune. Joining the route at the quayside in Lancaster is the bike and walking route taking in the rail route to Conder Green and Glasson Dock.

As well as the train services operating on this line, Boat trains to/from Manchester, Birmingham and London and " The Ulster Express" were daily visitors to Heysham Harbour. On the 3rd January 1966 the passenger traffic ceased on the line, four months later the locomotive and goods depots closed. The main yards at New Zealand and Ladies Walks followed, which left a service to the power station on Caton Road as the last movement along the line. This survived until 1976 and the final withdrawal of this traffic rendered the line redundant and Lancaster Green Ayre station was demolished. The remaining track was lifted and the site left as a car park, although since then the area has been landscaped with lawns and a railway hand crane installed as a memorial to those who worked on the line.

Greyhound Bridge with Milennium Bridge beyond it

Greyhound Bridge with Milennium Bridge beyond it

No sense was made of the need to close the line except that the requirement was to use Greyhound Bridge for a road bridge to access Morecambe more easily. From the closure of the line, Morecambe's importance as a seaside resort diminished and the decline surprised everybody except the rail staff who knew that by truncating the line, Morecambe was effectively severed from the Yorkshire people who had made Morecambe the tourist attraction of the north.

East of Lancaster the line is still virtually complete. Except for a portion of line approaching Hornby and the bridge missing at Wray the trackbed is still there.


Schematic map Heysham-Morecambe - Saltaire Lane Bridge

Schematic map Saltaire Lane - Greyhound Bridges and Castle Branch

. Schematic map of Lancaster Green Ayre

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