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Styal Line
Airport Line
OwnerNetwork Rail
LocaleGreater Manchester
North West England
TerminiManchester Piccadilly
SystemNational Rail
Rolling stockPrimarily:
Class 319
Class 323
Ridership7.4 million per year
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
Electrification25 kV AC overhead
Operating speed70 mph speed restriction
Route map
Manchester Piccadilly Manchester Metrolink
Mauldeth Road
East Didsbury
Heald Green
Manchester Airport Manchester Metrolink

The Styal Line is a suburban commuter railway line in the United Kingdom which runs through south Manchester and north-east Cheshire. It commences at Slade Lane Junction, about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) south of Manchester Piccadilly, and runs 19 kilometres (12 mi) south to Wilmslow.

It was opened in 1909 by the London and North Western Railway company[1] and takes its name from the Cheshire station of Styal, which is the last stop before the junction at Wilmslow. A branch line to Manchester Airport was built in 1993, accessed via a triangular junction between Heald Green and Styal. Consequently, it is also referred to as the Airport Line.[2]

Patronage into Manchester on the eight commuter stations has risen sharply since the 1990s and the opening of the Manchester Airport railway station in 1993 fuelled an increase in express services from around Northern England and beyond. As a result, it is now one of the most congested lines on the National Rail network with services frequently susceptible to delays and cancellations.[3]

The line is perceived as a suburban commuter line and until 2018 all stations were served by a half-hourly service which stopped at all stations on the line. However, since May 2018 it has operated on a skip-stop basis with each station having a dedicated 'express' service to Liverpool, Preston, Blackpool North and Windermere. This change was the result of congestion on this line and implemented to maximise the number of train slots (paths) between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.


When operated by British Rail, the line was served by Class 304 trains
When operated by British Rail, the line was served by Class 304 trains

In the early twentieth century the line between Manchester London Road (now called Piccadilly station) and Stockport became unable to cope with the increasing traffic. To solve the problem, a new route avoiding Stockport was constructed by the London and North Western Railway. It ran from Slade Lane Junction (located in Longsight, Manchester) to Wilmslow through what was then mainly a rural area. The primary purpose was to provide a bypass for express trains, but a few wooden stations were built on the line to encourage suburban development. In practice, very few expresses latterly used the line, as it was necessary for most trains to serve the important station at Stockport. The line opened in 1909, and from 1923 was operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway.

In the 1950s, as part of British Rail's Modernisation Plan, the British Transport Commission identified the Styal Line as a suitable test track to prove its new electrification scheme, and in 1959 the line was electrified. Following the Styal Line tests, it was decided to adopt the 25 kV system across the whole Great Britain rail network outside the Southern Region.[4] There was half-hourly electric service (Monday - Saturday) between Manchester Oxford Road and Alderley Edge operated by Class 304 EMUs.[5] Services were extended to Altrincham when the MSJAR was re-electrified at 25 kV AC in 1971, and operated in this way until the line between Altrincham and Manchester was transferred to Manchester Metrolink in 1990.

In the 1970s, the Styal Line was included in a proposal to create an underground railway across Manchester City Centre. The Picc-Vic tunnel was planned to connect the two major mainline railway termini, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria and would have enabled Styal Line trains to run directly across the city to Bolton and Bury. The Picc-Vic scheme was abandoned in 1977 due to funding difficulties.[6]

In 1993, a short spur line to Manchester Airport was opened, leaving the Styal line between Heald Green and Styal. Initially, services ran via Heald Green only, until a triangular junction was added a few years later, providing a link towards Styal.[7] Many services were then diesel powered until 2014. The introduction of Class 350s by First TransPennine Express on the Edinburgh-Manchester Airport line in December 2013 and introduction of Class 319s by Northern Rail in early 2015 curtailed the use of diesel trains on the line allowing for a 100 mph service compared with 75 mph limit for many diesel trains, such as the Class 156 and the now retired Class 142 Pacer trains.[citation needed]

In 2006, the platforms at Mauldeth Road, Burnage, East Didsbury and Gatley stations were all reconstructed, as well as access improvements at Heald Green. Patronage on the line increased after this investment. At the time most platforms were future-proofed and extended to allow six carriage operation, however it was not until 2019 with the arrival of the Class 195 and Class 331 units that this platform capacity was fully utilised on Northern routes to Liverpool (Mauldeth Road) and Blackpool North (Burnage and East Didsbury) which operate with six coaches.[citation needed]

In recent years, usage of the line has surged with growing commuter patronage along with non-stopping services which use the line between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. Nowadays most services on the line operate via the airport, however there are a couple of services each day (mainly long-distance trains) which take the direct route from Styal to Heald Green, that is to say from Heald Green South Junction to Heald Green North Junction, for traincrew route knowledge retention purposes northbound. However, the only services on the junction southbound are either freight or a Transport for Wales service which doesn't stop at either stations and only operates on Sundays. This route can also be used for diversions if the Stockport route is closed for engineering work or is blocked due to an operational incident.[citation needed]


Styal Line stations (with 5 year patronage statistics)
Station Image Location National services Annual





Mauldeth Road
Ladybarn Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
87,054 Decrease 82,723 Increase 118,566 Increase 239,796 Increase 321,878 Decrease 305,762
Burnage Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
71,774 Decrease 70,803 Increase 92,908 Increase 158,674 Increase 186,778 Increase 213,780
East Didsbury
Didsbury Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
Transport for Wales
87,893 Decrease 86,832 Increase 124,511 Increase 272,656 Decrease 254,256 Increase 296,966
Gatley Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
121,459 Increase 130,086 Increase 151,681 Increase 238,096 Increase 309,926 Decrease 338,506
Heald Green
Heald Green Northern Trains 191,537 Increase 204,190 Increase 245,950 Increase 379,956 Increase 497,988 Decrease 482,318
Manchester Airport
Ringway Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
Transport for Wales
1,132,740 Increase 1,259,513 Increase 1,576,260 Increase 2,620,252 Increase 3,460,854 Increase 5,747,000
Styal Northern Trains 679 Increase 1,332 Increase 3,719 Decrease 2,206 Increase 5,668 Decrease 21,670
Total 1,693,136 Increase 1,835,479 Increase 2,313,595 Increase 3,911,609 Increase 5,037,348 Increase 7,406,002


Stopping services

As the line is shared between commuter stopping services and express trains the Styal Line operates on a skip-stopping basis to maximise capacity on the line. All stations have an hourly 'stopping service' which forms part of the Crewe to Liverpool Lime Street service and is usually operated by a Class 319 or Class 323. Each station is allocated an hourly semi-fast or fast service to maximise capacity on the line. Peak time trains in the morning and evening do operate making additional calls at certain station which they would not otherwise do during off-peak services - for instance the Northern service to Blackpool North calls at Gatley at 05:49, 06:48, 22:40 and 23:54.[9]

Styal Line off-peak services (as of December 2021)
Station tph Stopping service Northern service(s)
Additional service (third train per hour)
Mauldeth Road 2 Hourly 'stopping' service from
Crewe to Liverpool Lime Street
calling at all stations on the Styal Line
Manchester Airport to Liverpool Lime Street
via Warrington Central
Burnage 2 Manchester Airport to Barrow-in-Furness/Windermere
East Didsbury 3 Manchester Airport to Liverpool Lime Street
via Warrington Central
Manchester Airport to Llandudno
(Transport for Wales)
Gatley 3 Manchester Airport to Blackpool North Manchester Airport to Redcar Central
(TransPennine Express)
Heald Green 3 Manchester Airport to Blackpool North Manchester Airport to Barrow-in-Furness/Windermere
Manchester Airport 7 to Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool North and Liverpool Lime Street to Redcar Central, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central and Llandudno
Styal 1

Express services

TransPennine Express, which run trains on this line through Manchester Piccadilly. Their services are through services from across the north of England including Newcastle upon Tyne or Middlesbrough via York and Leeds (2 per hour) and from Cleethorpes via Sheffield (hourly). Their trains also operate from Glasgow Central/Edinburgh Waverley (both 2-hourly) via Preston and Manchester Piccadilly.[citation needed] These were operated by Class 185 DMUs until December 2013 when they were replaced with electric Class 350 EMUs.[citation needed] These are currently being transferred to London Northwestern Railway following replacement by Class 397 EMUs. Transport for Wales run a limited weekday service from the Airport to Chester as an extension of their route between North Wales and Manchester Piccadilly, using Class 175 units.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Haywood 2009, p. 237.
  2. ^ "Commons Transport Select Committee - Memorandum by the Greater Manchester Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (REN 40)". HM Government. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 9 December 2018. increased TransPennine services to Manchester Airport—these presently reverse out of bay platforms on the eastern side of Piccadilly, with consequent waiting delays for through passengers from the west, and then cross West Coast Main Line and local tracks to reach the Styal (Airport) line approach to Slade Lane junction, on the extreme west of the layout
  3. ^ "Timetable recast: too much, too quickly". Railway Gazette. 4 June 2018. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  4. ^ Gourvish, T. R.; Blake, N. (1986). British Railways 1948-73: A Business History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 625–6. ISBN 9780521264808. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  5. ^ Haywood 2009, p. 261.
  6. ^ Brook, Richard; Dodge, Martin (2012). Infra_MANC (PDF). CUBE Gallery. p. 131. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  7. ^ Haywood 2009, p. 210.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Station usage". Office of Rail Regulation. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  9. ^ "Northern Train Timetables" (PDF). Northern Trains. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 November 2021. Retrieved 3 January 2022.