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Windermere branch line

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Windermere branch line
A Class 195 passing Burneside with a Windermere service
OwnerNetwork Rail
North West England
Connecting linesWest Coast Main Line
SystemNational Rail
Operator(s)Northern Trains
Rolling stockClass 195
Line length10 mi 15 ch (16.40 km)
Number of tracks1
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
Loading gaugeW6
Operating speed60 mph (97 km/h) maximum
Route map

(Click to expand)
Branch Line
Oxenholme Lake District
Platform 3 at Oxenholme, with view north of the line to Windermere

The Windermere branch line, also called the Lakes line, is a branch railway line which runs from Oxenholme on the West Coast Main Line to Windermere via Kendal in the county of Cumbria, North West England.

The line has a loading gauge of W6.[1]


The 10 mile (16 km) long line, which opened on 20 April 1847,[2] was originally built as the Kendal and Windermere Railway and at its southern end connected into the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway. In 1859 it became part of the London and North Western Railway, then the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at the 1923 Grouping. Upon nationalisation in 1948, it was managed by the London Midland Region of British Railways. On privatisation in 1994, it was initially operated by First North Western, then First TransPennine Express from 2005 and since April 2016 by Northern.

Originally built as a double-track main line, with through links to destinations including Morecambe Euston Road, Preston, Manchester Exchange and London Euston, it was reduced to a single line branch in May 1973 when the West Coast Main Line (which it joins at Oxenholme) was re-signalled & electrified.[3] Freight traffic to the last active depot at Kendal had previously ceased in 1972.

There are no passing loops or sidings on the route, which is operated under "One Train Working with Train Staff" regulations, with only one train allowed on the line at any time. Entry to and exit from the branch is controlled by the signalling centre at Carlisle and before a service can proceed beyond the branch platform at Oxenholme, the driver must collect the train staff from a cabinet on the platform, which is electrically released by the Carlisle signaller. Once the train has made its journey to the terminus and back again, the staff must be returned to the cabinet before the train can either leave for the south or make another return trip along the single line.

Due to the lack of a run round loop at the Windermere terminus all services need to be operated by Diesel Multiple Units, or locomotive-hauled trains operating in top and tail mode. In BR days, the service was operated as a self-contained shuttle and passengers were required to change at Oxenholme but since privatisation, some through trains to Lancaster, Preston and Manchester Airport have been operated.

Train services[edit]

Passenger services are operated by Northern using Class 195s and more recently by Class 153 and Class 156 diesel multiple units. Previously Class 175 "Coradias" operated the services provided by First North Western and TPE until 2006. Class 158s can also occasionally be seen on the route as a replacement for booked units.

Services over the line are operated by the new Northern franchise, having taken over from First TransPennine Express in April 2016, however, four service a day continues past Oxenholme to Manchester Airport.

On 4 June 2018 Arriva Rail North announced that all trains on the line would be suspended and replaced by a bus service to allow for driver training. The service suspension was initially to be for 2 weeks until 18 June 2018 but this was later extended until 2 July 2018.[4] However, on 17 June 2018 charter train operator West Coast Railways introduced its own services on the line, which attracted substantially more passengers than the regular Arriva Rail North services.[5][6] The reason for this may be that no fares were charged to passengers. The £5,500 per day reported cost (total approx £80,000 over two weeks of operation) is said to have been paid for by the Department for Transport.[7]

Electrification proposal[edit]

In August 2013, the Department for Transport announced that the line was to be electrified as part of the wider scheme to wire many other routes in the North West of England such as the Manchester–Preston line.[8][9] The £16 million scheme would have allowed through trains from Lancaster and points south to use electric stock (such as the Class 350 "Desiro" units) rather than the current DMUs and also improve capacity on the route to allow new direct services to London Euston. Funding was approved in 2014 and electrification was planned to be undertaken in CP6, which covers 2019–2024.[10][9]

However, on 20 July 2017 it was announced that electrification of the Windermere branch had been cancelled.[11] As an alternative, Northern originally planned to utilise Class 769 multiple units on the route; these are Class 319 electric multiple units converted to function as bi-mode units, which would operate under electric power between Manchester and Oxenholme and then under diesel power on the Windermere branch.[12] However, it was later announced that new Class 331 'Civity' units would be installed with batteries with trials starting from 2021. Platform 3 at Oxenholme Lake District was electrified in 2018 despite the cancelled branch line electrification.

The line in fiction[edit]

The branch line appears in fiction in Arthur Ransome's children's novel Pigeon Post; with two of the children releasing a pigeon at Strickland Junction before they go up the little branch line that led into the hills (and to the Lake).


  1. ^ "Network Specification 2015 - London North Western" (PDF). www.networkrail.co.uk. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Opening of the Kendal and Windermere Railway". Westmorland Gazette. England. 24 April 1847. Retrieved 10 April 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  3. ^ Lakes Line Rail User Group – Line History Retrieved 12 March 2014 Archived 15 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Lakes Line trains suspension extended by two weeks". BBC News. 8 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Train services return to the Lake District thanks to Tim Farron and West Coast Railways". 17 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Passengers back on track as Lakes Line replacement booms". News & Star. CN Group. 25 June 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  7. ^ Perraudin, Frances (18 June 2018). "Vintage train company steps in to reopen Lake District line". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "DfT Unveils Lakes Electrification Plans" Railnews news article 9 August 2013; Retrieved 13 March 2014
  9. ^ a b article in the Railway Gazette
  10. ^ "Place North West | Hendy review hits North West projects". 15 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Sheffield, Swansea and Windermere electrification cancelled".
  12. ^ "Bi-mode Class 319s for Lakes Line". RailStaff. 21 July 2017. Retrieved 2 August 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hunt, John (2–15 July 1997). "The Windermere branch challenge: Railways - 1, Wordsworth - 0". RAIL. No. 308. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 20–25. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.