It emerges in the stunning scenery of the Hope Valley of Derbyshire, where it passes through the railway stations of Grindleford, Hathersage, Bamford, Hope, and Edale before entering the two-mile-long Cowburn Tunnel.
From the western portal of the tunnel, the line runs through Chinley, then splits. The northern branch runs via New Mills toward Manchester Piccadilly. The southern branch passes through the Disley Tunnel before merging with the Buxton line and then heading to Stockport to join the main line to Manchester.
This section was built by the Sheffield and Midland Railway Companies' Committee as part of the Midland Railway's drive to reach Manchester with its line from London via Ambergate and Millers Dale. Initially, in 1867, it joined the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway at Hyde Junction, running into Manchester London Road, but in 1875 a more direct route was built through Bredbury. When Manchester Central was opened by the Cheshire Lines Committee, a new line was built through Heaton Mersey. This third route was closed along with Manchester Central, apart from the section through Disley Tunnel to Hazel Grove, where it now joins the old LNWR line into Stockport.
In 1872, the Midland Railway's only route from Sheffield to Manchester was via Ambergate. It had originally proposed a line to run from Dore to Hassop meeting its extension from Rowsley to Buxton. However, the "Dore and Chinley Railway" was floated independently in 1872, and unsuccessfully, until the Midland took an interest, since it would provide a more direct route, connecting through Chinley into Manchester. The line was authorised in 1884 and work began in 1888.
The long line took six years to build. The terrain through Hope Valley and Edale was easy enough by Midland standards, but at each end there were formidable obstacles, negotiated by means of the Totley and Cowburn Tunnels.
Nottingham County Council in partnership with the Department for Transport are investigating the possibility of adding a additional service which diverts Sheffield in order to improve the journey time between Nottingham and Manchester, it currently takes 115 minutes but the council believes it could be cut to 90 by 2012. Improvements to allow faster speeds on a 2.5-mile stretch near Stockport could also shave two to three minutes off.