Manchester Ship Canal Railway

Trafford Park was linked to the canal’s docks by the standard gauge Manchester Ship Canal Railway, built to service freight to and from the canal’s docks and nearby industrial estates, and which connected to the various railway companies that had track near the canal. Unlike most other railway companies in the UK it was not nationalised in 1948, and grew to become the largest private railway system in the country; at its peak it had 790 employees, 75 locomotives, 2,700 wagons and more than 200 miles (320 km) of track.
The MSC Railway was able to receive and despatch goods trains to and from all the UK’s main line railway systems, using connecting junctions at three points in the terminal docks. Two were to the north of the canal, operated by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the London and North Western Railway, and one was to the south, operated by the Cheshire Lines Committee.
The MSC’s steam locomotives were designed to negotiate the tight-radius curves of the tracks on which they ran; the middle wheels of the 0-6-0 arrangement were flangeless, and the coupling rods had a hinged central section that permitted several inches of lateral play. A fleet of diesel locomotives was purchased between 1959 and 1966, but it was eventually run down and the remaining engines stationed at Ellesmere Port and Stanlow. The last operational section of the MSC Railway, at Trafford Park, was closed on 30 April 2009.
The Canal railway was originally formed from the contractors’ railway, following the completion of the canal. The contractor: Thomas A Walker; suddenly died on the 24th November 1889, leaving his executors with the job of negotiating with the canal directors. After nearly a year of wrangling, the directors took charge of the contract, and in so doing, acquired for the MSC company all the plant and equipment, including the temporary railway assets. During construction some two hundred and twenty-eight miles of track were laid, both in the canal bottom and along the banks. The contractor had owned one hundred and seventy-three locos and six thousand three hundred wagons. The construction railway originally had a connection to the CLC main line, east of Irlam station, to bring in construction materials. At its peak, some ten
thousand tons of coal and eight thousand tons of cement a month were delivered by rail to the various construction sites along the canal excavations.
Using remnants of the contractors’ railway, the MSC slowly developed a canal-side railway of over thirty-three miles of the canal, at its peak it had two hundred and thirty miles of track, seventy-five locos, two thousand seven hundred wagons and employed seven hundred and ninety staff. The largest concentrations of rail and equipment were at Salford Docks and Trafford Park, but there were extensive facilities at Partington North Coaling Basin and Glazebrook sidings. Partington Basin, described below, was split between the north and south of the canal. The north side operations were the largest, managing both traffic for the Coaling Basin and the Steel Works sidings.
The MSC railway originally followed the line of the old River Irwell, through what became the CWS Soap Works site and under the rail bridge, across the now dry river bed, but, with the construction of the Soap Works and the Steel Works, it was realigned along the canal banking under the Irlam viaduct. Irlam and Cadishead figure often in the history of the canal railway. The MSC track ran on the north bank of the Canal and entered Irlam from Barton in the east as a single line. The MSC railway was single track from Weaste Junction, all the way through to Latchford. The line between Weaste Junction through Barton, Irlam, to Partington North Basin was the busiest on the network. There was a small marshalling yard just east of Irlam Locks, now lost under the A57 by-pass, but the main operations were at Partington North and Glazebrook sidings. Major sidings were added and expanded during the war years, near Sandy Lane Bridge, to manage the huge increase in traffic.
The third connection to the CLC main line was to be over the canal at Partington (South), this connection also used the redundant truncated low level line to feed the Partington (South Side) Coaling basin. The south coaling basin closed on the 30/12/1966. The canal railways had connections to most of the major companies in Irlam and Cadishead. The MSC railways converted from steam working to diesel on the 6/7/1966, but, as freight moved to the roads the MSC railway slowly contracted and closed as traditional heavy industries declined. Maintenance on the line trough Irlam from Weaste to Partington North was halted in 1977 and all traffic except engineering trains stopped on the 21/12/1977. The line was finally closed to all traffic in 1978.