Liverpool and Manchester Railway


Duration:6 years

Cost:£280,000 (£86m today)

Country: Liverpool, UK

What did this project achieve?

Design, engineer and build the first public steam railway between two major cities

The 31 mile Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) had to go through some very difficult terrain. Constructing the line presented huge challenges which saw many major engineering achievements.

The L&MR passed over 63 bridges and viaducts, including the large span stone arch over the River Irwell near Manchester. The Irwell Bridge spans are still among the longest in the UK.

The line also cut through a peat bog at Chat Moss in Salford, near Manchester – previously thought impossible to cross.

Other major works included the 2,250 yard (2,057m) Wapping Tunnel from Liverpool Docks to Edge Hill – the first tunnel in the world dug under a city.

Difference the railway has made

The L&MR was the first fare-paying passenger train line between two cities. It also created a low cost transport route for raw materials between these two growing industrial centres. Raw textiles arriving at the port of Liverpool could now be moved cheaply to the cloth mills of Manchester.

The railway was a financial success, earning backers an average return of 9.5% on their investment. The promise of this kind of profit encouraged a massive increase in railway construction across Britain.

How the work was done

Constructing the railway meant overcoming many engineering challenges.

Having bored more than a mile under Liverpool for the Wapping Tunnel, engineers had to cut through 2 miles of rock at Olive Mount, between what is now Waverley Technology Park and Broad Green railway stations. The vertical sandstone sides of the cutting are up to 70ft high.

Following this came a 9 arch viaduct (each arch with a 50ft (15.2m) span) over the Sankey Brook valley. The bridge was around 70ft (21.3m) high.

Crossing the 4.75 miles (7.6km) of peat bog at Chat Moss in Salford caused problems as it proved impossible to drain the swamp.

One of the onsite team Robert Stannard suggested laying down timber in a herring bone pattern to support tracks. Workers constructed and sank wooden hurdles into the bog using stones and earth until they provided a solid foundation. The work went on for weeks.

The track across Chat Moss still floats on these hurdles today, supporting engines 25 times the weight of the steam-driven Rocket, the first train over the Moss in January 1830.

The railway's bridges and viaducts were all made of brick or masonry except for the Water Street bridge in Manchester.

Water Street bridge was made from cast iron beam girders supplied by a factory in nearby Ancoats. Cast iron girders became an important structural material for the growing rail network.


It must be regarded ... as opening the epoch of railways which has revolutionised the social and commercial intercourse of the civilized world.

John B. Jervis

American railway pioneer

Fascinating facts

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first public transport system on land that did not use animals as a main or partial source of power - only steam trains ran on the line.

The railway was the first to carry mail, the first to have a signaling system and the first to be fully timetabled.

It was also the first railway to be double-tracked for its entire length.

People who made it happen

  • Original idea: Liverpool corn merchant Joseph Sandars and Manchester mill owner John Kennedy.
  • Engineers included Robert Stephenson, George Stephenson, Joseph Locke, George Rennie, John Rennie and bridge designer Jesse Hartley.
  • Robert Stephenson and Joseph Locke both became presidents of ICE.

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