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The East Lancashire Railway is preserved steam railway running just over twelve miles through the Lancashire Countryside following the River Irwell, between Heywood and Rawtenstall.


It owns an impressive range of steam locomotives as well as historic diesels and DMUs. Ian Riley’s railway engineering works are based at Heywood and are the major workshops for the restoration and maintenance of steam locomotives. They completed the restoration work on the Flying Scotsman, who is a regular visit to the line.

The original line from Clifton junction (just north of Manchester) through Bury to Rawtenstall, opened in 1846 as part of the East Lancashire Railway Company. It provided a transport link for goods and people living in the Irwell Valley with the rapidly growing industrial towns.

Passengers and revenue fell in the 1950s and diesels began to replace steam. By 1969, the line was reduced to single track with station buildings and footbridges demolished in an attempt to cut maintenance costs. Passenger services between Bury and Rawtenstall were withdrawn by British Rail 1972 and freight services (mainly coal) ended in 1980. Formal closure of the line followed in 1982.

Anticipating the closure, the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society, (ELRPS) was formed in 1970 to manage and preserve the line. In 1972, they acquired the old Bury Good’s Shed and turned it into the Bury Transport Museum to raise funds towards reopening the line.

Following the official closure of the line, the East Lancashire Railway Trust was established in 1984 with the support of the local authorities to gain ownership of the line and remaining buildings.

The line reopened in 1987 between Bury and Ramsbottom and had reached Rawtenstall by 1991 with rebuilt station buildings, painted in the chocolate and maroon colours of the London Midland Railway. By 2003 the line had been extended east to Heywood with connections to the national network. New bridges had to be built, including one over the Manchester Metrolink line to Bury. With its with steeply graded approaches of 1 in 36 and 1 in 41 it was been nicknamed The Ski Jump.

A new station for Burrs Country Park station was opened in 2016.

Rawtenstall is the practical northern limit of the line, as the formation on towards Bacup has been lost immediately north of the station.


I did the trip from Rawtenstall to Bury on a very wet day in late May.

RAWTENSTALL STATION with its characteristic clock tower, is the northern terminus of the East Lancashire railway. The original station buildings were demolished after closure and have been rebuilt over the former route to Baccup.


The ticket office and waiting room are accurate replicas of those found on stations along the line and there are good wagons on display. There is also a small wooden waiting shelter further down the platform and, at the far end, is a water tower and signal box.




Rapidly leaving Rawtenstall behind, the railway line follows the River Irwell south and beneath the A56 bridge.


The line is lined with trees which in summer, restrict views.


The unmanned station of IRWELL VALE is soon reached with its small shelter. This originally served the small mill village.


Leaving Irwell Vale, the line passes through rich pasture land with sheep grazing and crosses the river.


RAMSBOTTOM STATION is the largest intermediary station serving the large settlement of Ramsbottom.


Tokens are exchanged and trains can also pass here. It had been a busy station with an extensive goods yard and sidings on the site of the present car park. It saw a lot of coal traffic as well serving the Trinity Paper Works and Square Print Works.

The station still has two platforms with rebuilt station buildings and station canopy. The footbridge came from Dinting in Derbyshire. The level crossing and signal box at the north end of the station still remain in something like their original condition.



SUMMERSEAT STATION is a tiny unmanned halt with a simple wooden shelter, which served a former millworker’s village. Surrounded by trees, it very much has the feel of an isolated rural station and is a popular with walkers.



At the south end is the remains of a small stone built engine or goods shed.


The line now passes through unspoilt countryside with fields and trees before arriving at Burrs Country Park Station.



BURRS COUNTRY PARK STATION was opened in 2016 to give access to the country park and caravan site. This is an unmanned halt with a simple wooden shelter.


The line now runs into the outskirts of Bury reaching BURY BOLTON STREET STATION. Approaching the station before the road bridge were the sidings still with a small rather ramshackled building.



This was the main station serving Bury and still retains the original station canopy from the 1880s along with three platforms.




Across the road is the Bury Transport Museum in the old goods warehouse.

The line continues to its terminus at HEYWOOD, a former textile and heavy engineering town.

It is a pleasant run although much of it is through wooded countryside, with trees restricting views in mid summer. This is probably a line best travelled in spring before the leaves come out, or in autumn for the autumn colours.


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