The L&MR was intended to achieve cheap transport of raw materials and finished goods between the Port of Liverpool, and east Lancashire. Huge tonnages of textile raw material were imported through Liverpool and carried to the textile mills near the Pennines where water and then steam power enabled the production of the finished cloth. The existing means of water transport, the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Bridgewater Canal, dated from the previous century, and were felt to be making excessive profits from the existing trade and throttling the growth of Manchester and other towns. (Similar feelings with regard to the railways led in turn to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1890s). There was support for the railway from the cities at either end, but opposition from the landowners over whose land the railway was proposed to pass.
The original promoters are usually acknowledged to be Joseph Sandars, a rich Liverpool corn merchant, and John Kennedy, then owner of the largest spinning mill in Manchester. They were influenced to do this by William James, now something of a forgotten figure, James was a land surveyor who had made a fortune in property speculation. He advocated a national network of railways, based upon what he had seen of the development of colliery lines and locomotive technology in the north of England.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company was founded on 24 May 1823. It was established by Henry Booth, who became its secretary and treasurer, along with other merchants from Liverpool and Manchester. A bill presented in 1825 to Parliament was rejected, but it passed in May the following year. In Liverpool 172 people took 1979 shares, in London 96 took 844, Manchester 15 with 124, 24 others with 286. The Marquess of Stafford had 1000, giving 308 shareholders with 4233 shares.
The initial survey for the line was carried out by William James and, being done surreptitiously and/or by trespass, was defective. Robert Stephenson departed for South America and William James became bankrupt. Consequently, in 1824 George Stephenson was appointed engineer in their place. By this time, he was taking on too much. As Robert was absent, George (who could not do the calculations required, and had relied on his son for this part of the business) left checking the survey to subordinates. Upon presentation to Parliament in 1825 it was shown to be inaccurate (particularly in relation to the Irwell bridge), and the first Bill was thrown out. A key opposition figure in this had been G. H. Bradshaw, one of the trustees of the Marquess of Stafford's Worsley estate, which included the Bridgewater Canal.
In place of George Stephenson, who was now in disgrace, the railway promoters appointed George and John Rennie as engineers, who chose Charles Blacker Vignoles as their surveyor. They also set out to placate the canal interests and had the good fortune to be able to approach the Marquess directly through the good offices of their counsel, Mr. Adam, who was a relative of one of the trustees, and the support of William Huskisson who knew the Marquess personally. Implacable opposition to the line changed to financial support, a considerable coup.
The second Bill received the Royal Assent in 1826, and was for a railway on a considerably different alignment, avoiding the properties of particularly vociferous or effective opponents of the previous Bill, but as a consequence facing the challenge of crossing Chat Moss bog. It was intended to place the Manchester terminus on the Salford side of the river, but the Mersey and Irwell Navigation withdrew their opposition to a crossing of their river at the last moment, in return for access for their carts to the intended railway bridge. The Manchester station was thus fixed at Liverpool Road in the heart of Castlefield.
The line was a remarkable engineering achievement for its time, beginning with the Wapping Tunnel beneath Liverpool from the docks to Edge Hill. Following this was a -long-cutting, up to deep, through rock at Olive Mount, and a nine arch viaduct (each arch of span), over the Sankey Brook valley, around high. Not least was the famous crossing of Chat Moss.
Having found it impossible to drain the bog, Stephenson began constructing a large number of wooden and heather hurdles, which were sunk into the bog using stones and earth until they could provide a solid foundation - it was reported that at one point tipping went on solidly for weeks until such a foundation had been created. To this day the track across Chat Moss floats on the hurdles that Stephenson's men laid and if one stands near the lineside one can feel the ground move as a train passes. It is worthy of note that the line now supports locomotives 25 times the weight of the Rocket, which hauled the first experimental train over the Moss in January 1830.
The railway needed 64 bridges and viaducts, all of which were built of brick or masonry, with one exception: the Water Street bridge at the Manchester terminus. A cast iron beam girder bridge was used here to save headway in the street below the line. It was designed by William Fairbairn and Eaton Hodgkinson, and cast locally at their factory in Ancoats. It is important because cast iron girders became an important structural material for the growing rail network. Although Fairbairn tested the girders before installation, not all were so well designed, and there were many examples of catastrophic failure in the years to come, culminating in the Dee bridge disaster of 1847.
The gradient profile of the line had been arranged so as to concentrate the steep grades in three places (either side of Rainhill at 1 in 100 and down to the docks at Liverpool at 1 in 50) and make the rest of the line very gently graded, say 1 in 2000. To determine whether and which locomotives would be suitable, the directors organised the Rainhill Trials. When the line opened the final passenger section from Edge Hill to Crown Street railway station was cable hauled as was the section down the Wapping Tunnel.
A decision had to be made about how far apart the rails of the double track should be. It was decided to make the space between the separate tracks the same as the track gauge itself, so that it would be possible to operate over-gauge trains up the middle, something which probably never happened. In later years, it was decided that the tracks were too close together, restricting the width of the trains, so the gap between tracks was widened. The narrowness of this gap contributed to the first fatality - that of William Huskisson, and also makes it dangerous to do maintenance work on one track while trains are operating on the other track.
The line opened on 15 September 1830 with termini at Liverpool Road, Manchester (now part of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester) and Edge Hill, Liverpool. The festivities of the opening day were marred when William Huskisson, the popular Member of Parliament for Liverpool, seized the opportunity of a temporary halt at Parkside near Newton-le-Willows to alight and talk to the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, through the Duke's carriage window. Standing on the permanent way, he misjudged the speed of the approaching Rocket and was run over, becoming the world's first railway passenger fatality. (He was not killed instantly; the locomotive Northumbrian was detached from the Duke's train and rushed him to Eccles, where he died in the vicarage). The somewhat subdued party proceeded to Manchester, where, the Duke being deeply unpopular with the labouring classes, they were given a lively reception (bricks thrown, etc), and returned to Liverpool.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate start to its career, the L&MR was very successful. Within a few weeks of opening it ran its first excursion trains, carried the first railway mails in the world, and was conveying road-rail containers for Pickfords; by the summer of 1831 it was carrying tens of thousands by special trains to Newton Races.
Although the Act had allowed for it to be used by private carriers paying a toll, from the start the company decided to own and operate the trains itself. Although the original intention had been to carry goods, the canal companies reduced their prices, (an indication that, perhaps the railwaymen had been right to suggest their charges were excessive) and the extra transit time was acceptable in most cases. In fact the line did not start carrying goods until December, when the first of some more powerful engines, Planet, was delivered. What was not expected was the line's success in carrying passengers. The experience at Rainhill had shown that unprecedented speed could be achieved. The train was also cheaper and more comfortable than travel by road. So, at first, the company concentrated on this, a decision that had repercussions across the country and triggered the "railway mania".
Initially trains travelled at , due the limitations of the track. Drivers could, and did, travel more quickly, but they would be reprimanded: it was found that excessive speeds could force apart the light rails, which were set onto individual stone blocks without cross-ties. In 1837 work started to replace the original fish-belly rail with parallel rail of 50 pounds per yard (23kg/m), on sleepers.
The tunnel from Lime Street to Edge Hill was fully completed in 1836, and when it opened carriages were separated from their engines and lowered to Lime Street station by gravity, their descent controlled by brakemen, and hauled back up to Edge Hill by rope from a stationary engine. The tunnel is approximately long.
On 30 July 1842 work started to extend the line from Ordsall Lane to the new Manchester Victoria station. The extension was opened on 4 May 1844 and Liverpool Road station was thereafter used for goods traffic for over a century.
On the original route, an hourly fast service is operated by Northern Rail, from Liverpool to Manchester, usually calling at Wavertree Technology Park, St Helens Junction, Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Oxford Road, and continuing via Manchester Piccadilly station to Manchester Airport. Northern Rail also operates an hourly service calling at all stations from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria. This is supplemented by an additional all-stations service between Liverpool and Earlestown, which continues to Warrington Bank Quay.
Between Warrington (Bank Quay), Earlestown and Manchester Piccadilly, there are additional services (at least one per hour) operated by Arriva Trains Wales, which originate from Chester and the North Wales Coast Line.
Services are described in more detail in the Liverpool to Manchester Line article.
(stations still open in bold)