Any Port in a Storm

Heysham Port signI’m baaaack.

Did you miss me? A combination of work, study and shortage of finances has conspired to keep me off the rails since my epic trip to Cornwall in the Spring. However, I was back out on the line today for what will be (I hope) one of several trips between now and the end of the year.

I clattered out of Lime Street aboard a Northern Rail diesel, swapping it at Wigan North Western for a Pendolino with a distractingly cute train manager. He can punch my ticket any day…

Northern Rail network mapAhem. My goal was the Lancashire coast and Heysham Port railway station. This tiny station is at the end of a line from Morecambe, which is itself at the end of a short stub of track from Lancaster. It’s a branch from a branch. Just one train a day makes the short run from Morecambe to Heysham Port and back, to connect with the ferry to the Isle of Man.

The Morecambe line is served by a mixture of services: a self-contained shuttle service to Lancaster, and another service which continues beyond Lancaster, meandering over the Pennines to Skipton and Leeds. It was one of the latter trains which would take me to Heysham. The luxury accommodation for passengers was a Pacer, albeit a later evolution of the design – a class 144 rather than the 142s I’m used to.

Class 144 at LancasterWe arrived at Morecambe, where the train reversed for the trip down the Heysham branch. In order to access the line, the train crew had to get out and operate the points manually. With only one train a day, any more sophisticated signalling system is unnecessary, and the line is effectively a glorified siding.

We set off again, slowly at first, with the 4-wheeled coaches squealing loudly at the tight curves. The horn was sounded as we approached a foot crossing, where a waiting cyclist seemed genuinely surprised to see a train. We meandered around the edge of Morecambe, past semi-detached houses with back gardens in various states of upkeep. The railway seemed to mark the edge of town. On the other side of the train, the flat Lancashire countryside stretched off into the distance.

RESTRICTED AREAThen the houses and fields gave way to concrete and tarmac as we entered the port. Rows of trucks awaiting a slot on the ferry were protected by barbed wire fences. Signs reading “RESTRICTED AREA” in bold white-on-red lettering gave me cause for concern. I wasn’t planning on entering the actual terminal, but I would be just outside it, and I hoped that I could take my photos without being harassed by port security.

I was nervous, but I’d come this far and wasn’t about to waste a two-hour train journey.

Passengers disembark at Heysham PortThe train drew up next to the sole platform at Heysham Port, where I alighted. I realised I was the only passenger not lugging a suitcase, and the only one not heading for the boat. My fellow passengers disappeared into the terminal, and were replaced by another contingent from the inbound ferry. I had about 15 minutes before the train would head back up the branch.

I noticed two port security staff in fluorescent jackets. I tried to avoid attracting their attention while I took my pictures. Luckily, there wasn’t much to actually see, as Heysham is definitely a minimal terminal station.

Robert at Heysham Port

Heysham Port terminal buildingsHeysham Port has had a chequered history. It was opened in 1904 as an extension of the Midland Railway’s line from Leeds to Morecambe (a rival to the Lancaster to Morecambe line operated by the LNWR). For a time, it was at forefront of modern technology, as the Midland Railway chose their Lancaster to Heysham line to be a test bed for electrification in 1908. For the next sixty years, modern electric multiple units provided the service. However, Dr Beeching (remember him?) decreed that Morecambe did not need two railway routes serving it, and most of the Midland Railway’s route closed in 1966, with only the Morecambe to Heysham section surviving. In 1975, Heysham Port station was closed after the ferry service was withdrawn, but was subsequently reopened in 1987 to connect into the new Isle of Man service.

Heysham Port station, with Northern Rail train ready to departPhotos of the station from the 1980s show a grander, but decaying, structure, with two platforms and an overall roof. Most of this has gone now, however, and Heysham survives as a single-track terminus with one platform. Even then, most of it is fenced off, with just enough length left for a 3-car train.

The one-a-day train service is well-used, but that’s all this line is likely to see. Network Rail investigated the possibility of a more frequent service in the Lancashire and Cumbria Route Utilisation Strategy in 2008. They concluded that the station is in the wrong place for commuters, and that the cost of providing a new station, as well as improving the signalling at Morecambe, could not justify the benefits.

Heysham Power StationAlthough this is the only passenger train, there is some freight – nuclear flask traffic, serving the adjacent nuclear power station. The picture to the left shows it. I only realised what it was after getting home and looking it up on Wikipedia.

And really, that was all there was to see at Heysham Port. I got my Station Master photo, then jumped back on board the same train. I avoided eye contact with the guard while he checked my ticket, and headed back up the branch.

Soon enough we were back at Morecambe. I could have just gone home at that point, but it seemed a shame to go all that way just for one station. So I decided to go to the seaside…


5 thoughts on “Any Port in a Storm

  1. Love this! Never imagined anybody outside the local area getting this train. It was this station that sparked my interest in “off the beaten track” railway stations!
    Heysham’s actually a really nice village if you know where to go (away from the station haha!)

  2. I went here in October 2013 and fell foul of the Security Guards. They bellowed at me as I getting ready to video the incoming Train “No filming, no filming”. This was after wandering around the Ferry Terminal filming everything!

    I’m going again tomorrow catching the 9:48 train from Leeds, looking forward to over 2 hours on a Pacer! I will be more circumspect whilst filming this year!

    My video is here –

  3. Enjoyed reading this. Heysham is indeed an interesting place and used to generate a lot of railway traffic. It was a big port for the import of live cattle from Ireland and there were huge areas of pens for loading cattle trains. As to the closure of the Midland Route the main reason for it’s closure was that the county council wanted the bridge over the river at Lancaster as part of a road improvement scheme thus the LNWR route was retained and together with it all the crossings of the west coast main line on the flat that the current service does.

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