The East Lancashire Railway (ELR) was created by an Act of Parliament in 1846, as an amalgamation of two railway schemes.
However, the Leeds directors played them along, while pressing ahead with their own plans. Fortunately, the Bury Provisional Committee saw through this trickery, and came to an agreement with the Manchester and Bolton Railway, reaching Victoria Station by means of a junction at Clifton. (All the land between there and Bury was owned by the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Wilton, who were both prepared to give immediate possession.)
The Manchester, Bury, and Rossendale Railway was thus incorporated in 1844. Public interest was aroused by the scheme, and pressure was exerted to extend the line further, but it was too late to incorporate this in the Parliamentary Bill. Consequently, a separate Bill was promoted, incorporating the Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington and Colne Extension Railway in 1845, though clauses enabled subsequent amalgamation with the original company.
The united line (known as the East Lancashire Railway from 1846) was opened in stages:
The ELR was now guided by Cornelius Nicholson, something of a Victorian polymath - he was an ex-mayor of Kendal, a promoter of the Caledonian Railway, and a correspondent of Wordsworth. Nicholson modelled himself upon George Hudson, the Railway King, and proposed a railway empire based upon Bury. His wilder schemes (which included promoting a line to Scotland) came to nothing, but the ELR certainly expanded.
A separate approach to Preston was constructed, to avoid paying tolls to the North Union Railway; the original line was extended from Rawtenstall to Bacup in 1852; and branches constructed to Southport and Skelmersdale.
The East Lancashire Railway built the Skelmersdale Branch from Ormskirk to Skelmersdale and Rainford Junction, which opened on 1 March 1858. Passenger services ended on 5 November 1956, goods to Rainford finished on 16 November 1961 and Skelmersdale on 4 November 1963.
This curious episode began when L&Y inspectors stopped a Manchester-bound ELR train and demanded to see the tickets. The ELR guard said that they had all been collected at the previous station. The train was forbidden to proceed. To make sure, a large baulk of wood had been placed upon the track, and an empty L&Y train stood beyond it. (The L&Y were intending to convey the ELR passengers to Manchester after their point had been made). But the ELR had hidden a gang of navvies on their train. While the two sides argued, they removed the baulk. The order was given to proceed. Alas, there was still the train on the line in front of them! The ELR train tried to push it, but the L&Y train was put into reverse. While these two trains grappled, the ELR remembered that they had a ballast (stone) train in the vicinity. They reversed it down the opposite line directly on to the Bolton line, effectively blockading it. The contest continued for several hours until both sides gave up.