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Lancaster and
Carlisle Railway
Carlisle Citadel
Clifton Moor
Clifton and Lowther
Shap Summit
914 ft
278.6 m
Low Gill
Low Gill
Burton and Holme
Hest Bank
Glasson Dock Branch
Lancaster Castle
Lancaster (Greaves)

The Lancaster and Carlisle Railway (L&CR) was a British railway company authorised on 6 June 1844 to build a line between Lancaster and Carlisle in North West England. The line survives to the present day as part of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) route between Glasgow and London.



Proposed routesEdit

The directors of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway had several routes to choose between when considering the line in the early 1840s. The Kendal Committee of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway supported a line through Kendal up to Longsleddale, with a 2-mile (3 km) tunnel under the Gatescarth Pass into Mardale and on to Bampton. Engineer Thomas Bouch, of the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway was approached to be an adviser on the Kendal-Longsleddale route. It is probable that Bouch would have been appointed as the civil and railway engineer had it been chosen (he would later gain notoriety for the Tay Railway Bridge disaster). The Longsleddale route "had it ever been built, would have been as dramatic and awe-inspiring as any in Britain".[1] It would also have been less steep than the 1 in 70 gradient up and over Shap Fell and the need for banking engines would have been reduced or even entirely avoided.

An alternative route was proposed by George Stephenson, who had surveyed the route in 1835. His line would go round the Cumberland coast, avoiding Shap and cross Morecambe Bay over a purpose-built a barrage. But after a lengthy Parliamentary inquiry, a longer and steeper route through the Lune Gorge and over Shap Fell was chosen. It had been proposed by Joseph Locke who had been surveying routes between the two cities since 1836. A station would be built at the nearby village of Oxenholme as Kendal would not be on the main line.

On 17 July 1844 the first sod was cut at Shap Summit (the highest point on the planned route at 279 m (915 ft)). The original intention was to build a single line but in January 1845 it was announced that the line would be double track.


The project, which would cost £17,000 per mile,[2] would be the largest single railway contract of its time at 69 mi (111 km). The contractor was Thomas Brassey in partnership with William Mackenzie and John Stephenson.[3] Up to 10,000 men worked on the project at its peak.

The railway, which took two-and-a-half years to complete, included several major engineering such as four substantial viaducts and a high embankment between Grayrigg and Low Gill. The embankment south of Tebay was laid in the bed of the River Lune which had been diverted from its course. The route through Lune Gorge would be reused in 1960s for the construction of the M6 motorway which runs on a split-level cutting above the railway.

Gradients over Shap summitEdit

The southerly approach to Shap from Carnforth is 30 miles (48 km) long and divided into two sections:

  • Carnforth to Grayrigg, 20 miles (32 km), the final 5 miles (8 km) being at gradients varying between 1 in 131 and 1 in 106
  • Grayrigg to Shap Summit: the first 5 miles (8 km) to Tebay relatively level, followed by 5 miles (8 km) at 1 in 75

The northerly approach to Shap from Carlisle is also 30 mi (48 km) long and divided into two sections:

  • Carlisle to beyond Penrith, 20 miles (32 km) at gradients varying between 1 in 131 and 1 in 228
  • Penrith to Shap Summit, 10 miles (16 km) mainly at 1 in 125

The 0.5 mi (0.80 km) cutting at Shap Summit is cut through rock and up to 60 feet (18 m) in depth.


The first section to open was the 20-mile (32 km) stretch of line between Lancaster and Oxenholme on 22 September 1846.[4] A branch line from Oxenholme to Kendal was opened on the same day. It would become part of the Kendal and Windermere Railway (KWR). The line to Windermere would be completed on 21 April 1847. The L&CR connected with the Lancaster and Preston Junction Railway at the new station named Lancaster Castle, which was 1 mi (1.6 km) south of the town.

The final section between Oxenholme and Carlisle was opened 17 December 1846.[2] For nine months, trains from Lancaster would arrive at Carlisle London Road railway station until Carlisle (Citadel) opened on 1 September 1847.

Merger & acquisitionEdit

The independent Lancaster & Carlisle was a very profitable railway that made returns on its shares of up to 10%. In 1859 the L&CR was leased to the London and North Western Railway. It subsequently built the Ingleton Branch Line in 1861 between Low Gill and Ingleton, and a branch between Hest Bank and Morecambe in 1864.

The Lancaster & Carlisle Railway was merged into the LNWR in 1879. In 1923, with the creation of the Big Four railway companies following grouping, the line became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) through to the creation of British Railways in 1948. BR electrified the route in 1974 as part of the West Coast Main Line modernisation scheme of the period.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Joy, David (1968). Main Line Over Shap: the story of the Lancaster-Carlisle Railway. Clapham: Dalesman. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b "Opening of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway". Carlisle Journal. England. 19 December 1846. Retrieved 10 April 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  3. ^ Helps, Arthur (2006). The Life and Works of Mr Brassey. Nonsuch. pp. 106–114. ISBN 1-84588-011-0.
  4. ^ "Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. Opening between Lancaster and Kendal". Carlisle Journal. England. 26 September 1846. Retrieved 10 April 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  • Encyclopedia of British Railway Companies, Christopher Awdry, Guild Publishing, London, 1990, CN 8983
  • The Railway Magazine, August 1951

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit