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Manchester to Altrincham Railway

30th August 2020 @ 6:06am – by Geoff Smethurst
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History Shorts 22 by Geoff Smethurst

The Manchester to Altrincham railway (MSJ&AR) and the growth of suburbia

My introduction to this railway was over 60 years ago when my grandfather, a retired stationmaster on the MSJ&AR, used to take my brothers and me into Manchester on the train. Once there we were taken to a news cinema which, in addition to newsreels, showed Laurel and Hardy and Tom and Jerry films.

The early days
In the 19th century the area between Altrincham and Manchester was mainly used for farming and market gardening and Altrincham was just a market town, with a population of 4000, a tenth of what it is today.

The first steam trains operated on this railway in May 1849 and the line was opened for traffic between Manchester Oxford Road and Altrincham on 20th July 1849, only operating on an hourly basis.

history short 22

Author: Ian Threlfall. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
After the opening of the line the value of land and property near the railway increased in value. In March 1855, 45 residents signed a petition to the MSJ&AR requesting the opening of a new station, but the railway company did not think there would be enough traffic. However, they were then approached by a local landowner, Samuel Brooks, who laid out an extensive estate of large houses along a new road: Brooklands Road. After much negotiation, he agreed to guarantee the takings from the station for the first five years if they were less than £100. He never had to pay the guarantee and of course the new station was named Brooklands!

brooklands station

Grade 2 listed Brooklands station, now a stop on the Manchester Metrolink system

In the early part of the 20th century the railway came under increasing pressure from electric trams which had reached Sale in 1906 and Altrincham in 1907. So, it was decided to electrify the railway, though work only started in 1929. A 1500V DC overhead scheme was adopted which, at the time, was being considered as the standard for main line electrification.

The line was opened on 11th May 1931 and, despite an extra three stations, the journey time was cut from 27 minutes to 24 minutes and eventually to 22 minutes. The new express trains reduced the journey time to 15 minutes. The 68 trains a day were increased to 92 and patronage increased by 89% in the first five years. The trains were now the fastest electric trains in the country, 'reaching even higher speeds than the London Underground'.

history short  22

My grandfather, the stationmaster at Stretford station and Mr Fearns. 10th May 1931.

The advertising literature in the Manchester Evening News of 11th May 1931 said: "there should be no longer any excuse for living in the town when the family can live in the fresh air and sunshine of the country". In fact, the railway's publicists then dubbed the initials MSJ & AR to mean "Many Short Journeys and Absolute Reliability".

Full Circle
In 1971 the line was upgraded to bring it into line with the 'new' British Rail 25KV AC standard for main line electrification.

Finally, in 1992, the line was converted to be part of the new Metrolink tram network which, paradoxically, used a very similar electrical standard (750V DC) to the 1930's design and of course, depended heavily on suburban commuting traffic, which was where we started!

history short 22

Stretford Metrolink stop, 29 August 2013. Very basic compared to the station in my grandfather's day! CC-BY-SA-3.0.jpg

Editor's postscript

For readers who want more of the MSJ&AR, a YouTube video 'Saving electric trains to Manchester' has footage of the line from the first electric trains in the 1930s to the present day. Click Here

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