Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne, and Manchester Railway

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester Railway (SA&MR) — more commonly referred to as the Woodhead Line — was a line that opened in stages from 1841 and 1845 between Manchester and Sheffield, via Woodhead and Penistone. At the time it was completed, the Woodhead Tunnel was the longest in England at just over 3 miles.

A branch line from Ashton-under-Lyne to Stalybridge opened in 1845.

The company's stations at Stalybridge and Penistone were subsequently used as junctions for lines through to Huddersfield — namely the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway and the Huddersfield & Sheffield Junction Railway (H&SJR) respectively.

Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway

Together with the Sheffield & Lincolnshire Junction Railway (S&LJR) and the Great Grimsby & Sheffield Junction Railway (GG&SJR), it became the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR) on 1 January 1847. It seems likely that the Huddersfield & Manchester Railway & Canal Company would have been the fourth company in the merger had they not decided against it at a meeting held on 28 February 1846.[1]

The single line through the Woodhead Tunnel proved to be a bottleneck and a second tunnel was constructed between 1847 and 1852, opening on 2 February 1852.[2]

Penistone Station was relocated in 1874 from its original location to the north of the town to the junction with the Huddersfield line. Prior to that, passengers with connections had to walk about half a mile.

Barnsley Branch Line

The 7½ mile Barnsley Branch (also referred to as the Barnsley & Penistone Branch) of the MS&LR was formally opened to passenger traffic on 12 February 1857.[3] The branch line ran from a junction (Barnsley Junction) situated to the east of Penistone and passed through:

  • Oxspring Tunnel
  • West Silkstone Junction with the MS&LR Worsborough Branch
  • Silkstone Station
  • Dodworth Station
  • Barnsley Court House Station

Following the closure of the Woodhead Line in the 1970s, the Barnsley Branch eventually became part of the modern Penistone Line, providing a replacement — although more circuitous — route through to Sheffield via Barnsley.

Great Central Railway

The MS&LR became the Great Central Railway (GCR) on 1 August 1897, with a service from Manchester London Road Station (later renamed to Piccadilly Station) to Marylebone Station in London commencing in March 1899.[2]

From 1900, an express service (later known as the "South Yorkshireman") ran from Bradford to London Marylebone, via Huddersfield and Sheffield. The journey took around 5½ hours.

During the 1923 regrouping, the GCR became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).

Later History and Closure

The electrification of the line necessitated the construction of a third Woodhead Tunnel, which was constructed between February 1949 and June 1954. Unfortunately there were six fatalities during the building of the double-line tunnel.[2] Once opened, the two Victorian tunnels were closed off.

British Rail's desire to run more freight along the Woodhead Line led to the withdrawal of passengers services in January 1970. However, the subsequent decline in freight — particularly coal and steel — led to the line's closure in 1981.[2]

Of the two Victorian tunnels, one subsequently suffered from roof collapses and the other was used by National Grid PLC to carry a 400 kV electricity link under the Peak District National Park. Despite hopes that the newer tunnel might remain available for re-use in the future, National Grid took the decision in 2008 to use it for the electricity link. In 2013, the Government announced that the Victorian tunnels would be sealed off.

Principal Features

From Manchester to Sheffield, the principal features[4] of the Woodhead Line were:

  • Manchester London Road Station
  • Ardwick Junction with the L&YR Ardwick Branch
  • Ashbury's Station
  • Ashbury's Junction East with the Sheffield & Midland Joint Railway
  • Gorton Station
  • Fairfield Station — originally situated to the west
  • Fairfield Junction with the MS&LR Manchester Central Station Line
  • Audenshaw Junction connecting through to the L&NWR Guide Bridge Junction Line
  • Guide Bridge Station with a junction to the MS&LR Ashton & Stalybridge Branch
  • Hyde Junction with the Sheffield & Midland Joint Railway
  • Newton Station
  • Godley Junction with the Cheshire Lines Railway
  • Mottram & Broadbottom Station
  • Dinting Station with a junction to the Glossop Branch
  • Hadfield Station
  • Crowden Station
  • Woodhead Station
  • Woodhead Tunnel
  • Dunford Bridge Station
  • Hazlehead Bridge Station
  • Penistone Station with a junction to the L&YR Huddersfield & Sheffield Junction Railway
  • Barnlsey Junction with the MS&LR Barnsley Branch
  • Thurgoland Tunnel
  • Wortley Station
  • Deepcar Station
  • Oughtibridge Station
  • Wadsley Bridge Station
  • Neepsend Station
  • Sheffield Victoria Station


The Woodhead Line route[5] from London Road Station in Manchester as far as Sheffield is shown below, along with the Stalybridge branch (which joined the main line at a junction at Guide Bridge) and the Barnsley Branch (which branched off near Penistone):


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Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. "Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal" in Railway Times (07/Mar/1846).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 The Sheffield, Ashton Under Lyne & Manchester Railway: The Woodhead Line (1986) by Martin Bairstow.
  3. Manchester Times (14/Feb/1857).
  4. As marked on the 1890s O.S> map.
  5. As marked on the 1890s 6" O.S. map.