The 15 mile route through Walkden runs on a west-north-westerly alignment from Salford Crescent to Hindley (near Wigan) passing through the towns of Swinton, Walkden and Atherton.
This page gives an illustrated commentary on the notable sights along the line, starting from Salford Crescent and running west to Hindley.
Salford Crescent is a modern interchange station built in 1987 and already said to lack sufficient capacity to handle the number of passengers changing there. At the south end of the station lines diverge at Windsor Bridge South Junction to Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road/Piccadilly. At the north end of the station the routes to Bolton and Wigan split at Windsor Bridge North Junction. GMPTE have aspirations to enlarge the station, possibly involving relocation a few hundred yards north or south, but the failure of Manchester's TIF bid and the Office of Rail Regulation's 2008 decision to cut Network Rail's budget for 2009-14 have thrown doubt over funding for the project.
Windsor Bridge North Junction marks the start of the Walkden line proper, with its twin tracks veering off west while the route to Bolton via Farnworth continues north.
The cutting that the line runs through from Windsor Bridge Junction will be of particular interest to students of modern urban life as its grass banks and disused trackbeds host one of the country's richest collections of discarded household items. Keen-eyed observers should normally be able to spot bicycles, kitchen appliances and shopping trolleys among other colourful curios.
Almost immediately after Windsor Bridge Junction the train passes the site of the disused Pendleton station.
The station, originally known as Pendleton Broad Street, was one of the largest on the line with two island platforms and many services starting or ending there.
Pendleton was the last station on the line to close in 1998, having been disused for four years after an arson attack in 1994. The platforms can still be seen but are regularly strewn with litter tossed from the roads aligning the brick embankment.
Heading west from Pendleton the line crosses a long viaduct of brick arches and iron spans that carry the former four-track railway at rooftop-height through the distressed post-industrial landscape of Brindle Heath.
At the end of the vaduct the train passes the site of Brindle Heath Junction where the so called "Agecroft connecting line" split off to join the Salford to Bolton line at Agecroft. The line of the route, which allowed trains to run directly from Pendleton Broad Street to Bolton, can still be made out amongst the birch trees which have encroached along the trackside.
After the site of the junction the industrial scenery gives way to thick beech woods as the line begins the steep climb towards Irlams O' Th' Height and Swinton.
As the train rises above the roof line and tree tops the view northwards opens out over the wide Irwell valley. Until 1994 this scene was dominated by the cooling towers and buildings of Agecroft Colliery and Power Station, but since their closure and demolition nature has reclaimed patches of the valley amongst the new business park, homes and Forest Bank prison.
Along this stretch evidence of Salford's sometimes surprising claim to be one of England's greenest cities becomes clear, with large areas of trees filling the valley and lining its opposite bank.
The climb from Pendleton up to Pendlebury is the steepest section of the line with a gradient of 1 in 84, steep enough to cause any Wigan-bound trains with a failed carriage really struggle.
About halfway up the climb to Swinton a parting of the twin tracks indicates the site of the former Irlam O' Th' Heights station.
The station was added to the route in 1902 and featured platforms built by E. Taylor & Co. on wooden struts, quite different to the brick built platforms of the existing stations on the line. Although it was apparently situated in the middle of nowhere, the station was accessed from Bank Lane, served a number of nearby factories, and was handy for railwaymen travelling to or from the nearby shed at Agecroft.
Old photographs show the station was a picturesque building with its elevated position presumably offering expansive views over the Irwell valley.
Too far from the town to compete with the buses and tramways, the station closed in 1956 and no trace of its wooden structure remains.
After a couple of miles the climb levels out at Pendlebury where the line enters a cutting and another gap opening up between the tracks indicates the site of Pendlebury station. Hardly any trace remains of the station buildings today, with just a small length of the wall on Bolton Road, noticable for its sand-coloured brick, showing where they once stood.
Across Bolton Road from the former station is St. Augustine's church. Bodley's magnificent Victoria red-brick creation is a Grade 1 listed building that was lavishly praised by Pevsner and is known as the Miners' Cathedral. A memorial stone commemorates the 178 victims of the 1885 Clifton Hall Colliery explosion, 64 of whom are buried in the church's graveyard.
Immediately after the site of Pendlebury station the tracks reconverge and the line enters the northern bore of Pendlebury Tunnel. Although only shallow and just 201 yards in length, is the still the longest tunnel on the Walkden line.
The tunnel was built using the "cut and cover" technique whereby the tunnel is originally dug out as an open-air cutting and the roof covered over afterwards. Its southern bore has been disused since the fast tracks were lifted in 1959.
Emerging from the tunnel trains run through a 1/2 mile cutting alongside the site of Swinton Rugby League's former home Station Road on the north (right) side of the track. With a maximum capacity of 60,000 fans the ground was an impressive sight until it was sold in 1992 to make way for the housing estate which occupies the site today.
For about a year until the L&Y extended the line out to Atherton in 1888, trains from Victoria terminated at Swinton station.
The station's original awning and cast iron pillars remain in-situ today, although the station has very basic facilities. It is located a few minutes walk north of the town centre, and access to the street is via two flights of steps.
The short distance from Swinton to Moorside is entirely below street level and accomplished within a couple of minutes.
Moorside station was originally called Wardley and Moorside, reflecting more accurately the neighbourhoods served. Like Swinton the station is below street level and only accessible by two flights of steps, but unlike Swinton there is no elaborate canopy on the platform with just bus-stop style shelter available to passengers. The remarkable length of this quiet station's island platform is witness to the size of trains that used to call here in its heyday.
West of Moorside the line strikes out into the countryside, covering the mile and half to Walkden in just a few minutes. The line runs west from Moorside through a birch-lined cutting until passing under no less than four concrete bridges which carry the M60 Manchester Orbital motorway overhead.
After the motorway bridges the line begins to rise slowly above the surrounding landscape. In fact it is the surrounding landscape that falls away as the line is dead level along this stretch - part of the reason that the famous "Walkden Troughs" were located here in the days of steam. The troughs ran in the centre of the tracks allowing steam trains equipped with water "scoops" to replenish their tanks whilst running along the line - and what a spectacular sight it must have been as steam engines sent great clouds of water flying as they passed !
Approaching the town of Walkden it is possible to make out the remains of loading platforms and sidings amongst the trees along the north (right) side of the tracks. These are the remains of Walkden's Goods Yard, opened a year after the station on the land now occupied by houses on Holyoake Road and a small industrial yard on Mullineux Road.
When Walkden station is reached the tracks lie well above the level of the surrounding land and views start to open out to the south and north.
The line's designers presumably felt that the line needed to be carried on a high embankment through the town to avoid the existing tracks belonging to the London And North Western Railway's Eccles-Bolton line and the numerous colliery railways in the area. Although only the high-flying L&Y line remains today, the scale of the engineering can be grasped from the fact 11 bridges are crossed in the first mile west from Walkden station.
The bridges at Walkden, as elsewhere along the line, are all built of wrought iron rather than brick in order to withstand any subsidence caused by the mines which honeycomb the area.
The history of Walkden station, and the original L&Y signal box passed on the approach to the station, are the subject of separate pages here on the the FOWS website.
After crossing Hilton Lane the line heads west and gently downhill across a landscape of open farmland and man-made mountains of spoil from the area's former coal mines.
Due to recent rises in the cost of coal, UK Fuels have recommenced open-cast mining at Cutacre and their large, rapidly growing excavations can clearly been seen on the north side of the tracks. In addition to this highly visible modern industry, the number of buttresses from vanished bridges that crossed under and over the railway give a good idea of the number of colliery roads and railway tracks there used to be in this area.
Atherton, a former coal and cotton town whose skyline is still dominated by churches and massive brick mills is reached 3.5 miles after Walkden.
For more pictures and information about the industrial and folk history of Atherton - and many more interesting aspects of the town's culture besides - visit Dave Dutton's excellent Atherton Online website.
Atherton station - like Swinton and Walkden - still offers passengers the shelter of its original L&Y platform canopy. Atherton station is manned all day and is the nearest station to Walkden that provides disabled access (a lift from street level to the platform). Electronic train information displays were installed here in January 2009.
On departure from Atherton the line passes a modern signal box built to control the demolished Atherton Goods Yard, and runs on an embankment past Crilly Park, the home of Atherton Laburnum Rovers football club - one of the town's two representatives in the North West Counties league (Atherton Collieries are the other).
Hag Fold station is less than 1 mile from Atherton and is the most recently built station on the line, opening in May 1987. Its platforms are built on wooden stilts and, in contrast to the original stations along the line, are on opposite sides of the tracks. The station is on a high embankment with views over the large Hag Fold housing estate it was built to serve.
After clearing the Hag Fold estate the line runs through a shallow cutting for half a mile over gently undulating farmland to Daisy Hill station.
Daisy Hill station is reached a mile after Hag Fold. The station is on the south-west edge of Westhoughton and sits in a shallow wooded valley with a small brook running through.
A large, purpose-built car park was added in 2008 making the station an attractive starting point for commuting into Manchester from Westhoughton and areas down towards Leigh (3 miles south). After Atherton, Daisy Hill enjoys the longest staffing hours of any station along the Walkden line with the Booking Office open from the first train until early evening.
West of Daisy Hill the line runs through a shallow cutting taking it past Daisy Hill village. A mile after Daisy Hill station the site of Dobbs Brow Junction can still be made out, the starting point of a 1.25 mile long cutting that ran north to meet the Bolton to Chorley line north of today's Horwich Parkway station. This line gave the L&Y - and later British Railways - the option to run trains from Manchester to Preston, Blackpool and the north that by-passed Bolton completely. The route of this line can still be clearly seen on Google Map's aerial photographs of the area.
After another mile Crow Nest Junction - the end of the Atherton line - is reached. During this final section of the journey the train emerges from the Daisy Hill cuttings and crosses the more rural landscape of Hart Common.
The Walkden line ends at the curiously-named Crow Nest Junction, half a mile east of Hindley station. The junction is named for a nearby farm and is the point where the Walkden line peels away from the L&Y's original line to Bolton.
In its original form Crow Nest Junction was far more impressive than what we see today, with 4 lines diverging in each direction and a large signal box controlling the junction located right in its vertex. A signal box still guards the junction, but it is a more modern (1972) and modest building, situated where the long-gone fast lines used to run.
For an amazing picture showing the scale (and geometric beauty !) of Crow Nest Junction when all the tracks were still in situ, see Dr. J W F Scrimgeour's picture of the junction in 1956.