The Wrexham to Bidston railway
'The Borderlands line'

A Brief History of the line

The railway line which today links Wrexham, the largest town in North Wales,  with Deeside and Merseyside has a long and intricate history.  Its origins lie in the growth of the North Wales coalfield, the Buckley brick and tile industry, John Summers & Sons and the expansion of the Great Central Railway.  Its function nowadays is to provide a local passenger service to the towns and villages of North East Wales and the Wirral and to supply the heavy industry of Deeside with raw materials.

An 'O' gauge model of Wrexham, Mold & Connahs Quay Railway 0-6-2 tank No. 17, owned by Alan Cliff.

The Buckley area had a long history of using narrow gauge tramways to connect the various brick and tile works with adjacent collieries.  Some of these early lines were extended as far as the River Dee to export the finished product.  The first standard gauge railway in the area was the Buckley Railway which was opened in 1862.  This ran steeply down from Buckley to Connahs Quay.  There it ran onto the docks and to a connection with the London and North Western Railway.

A Bidston service at Penyffordd station.  This train is in Wessex Trains livery but has now been repainted into Arriva Trains Wales livery.  On the left of the photo can be seen the kiln of Padeswood Cement Works.

At about this time, industrialists in the Wrexham area were seeking to build a line northwards as an alternative to the GWR.  The Wrexham Mold and Connahs Quay Railway was duly authorised to build a line from Wrexham to a connection with the Buckley Railway.  In due course they agreed to take over the working of the Buckley Railway.   The WM&CQ main line duly opened in 1866 as a single track.  Its original terminus at Wrexham was adjacent to the GWR station (later to become Wrexham Exchange).  A passenger service commenced between Wrexham and Buckley but the section beyond, down to Connahs Quay, remained freight only until closure.  A period of steady expansion and consolidation followed although at no time could the WM&CQ be described as prosperous.

In the 1880's matters elsewhere were about to have a decisive impact on the future of the railway.  The expansionist Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, later to become the Great Central, was keen to tap the traffic of the area.  Accordingly it obtained an Act to build a railway from Chester Northgate to Shotton including the bridge over the Dee.   To link with this line, the WM&CQ commenced construction of a new line from near Buckley to Shotton.  At the same time it doubled its existing line.  The result was a double tracked line from Wrexham to Shotton and beyond which today forms the basis of the present service.  The Hawarden loop as it was known was opened in 1890.

37607 leads a Network Rail test train at Hawarden on the 5th September 2006, 37611 was on the rear.

On the other side of the Dee, a 15 mile line was built from Dee Marsh to Bidston and opened to passenger and freight traffic in 1896.  This was built by the North Wales & Liverpool Railway. The section from Bidston to Seacombe Ferry, used by the line's passenger trains was part of the Wirral Railway. In 1897 the WM&CQ railway ceased to exist and was merged into the Great Central Railway.  The GCR was amalgamated into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 and the line to Wrexham became its only outpost in Wales.  British Railways took over in 1948 and nowadays under privatisation the service is currently operated by Arriva Trains Wales.

66201 at Hawarden Bridge with empty MEA Coal Wagons after working 6Z37 New Cumnock - Penyffordd.  The train is going to Dee Marsh yard to run round, 8 March 2012.  Photo by Mark Edwards.

The passenger service on the completed system was operated on a triangular basis.  Services ran from Wrexham to Chester Northgate and Seacombe; Seacombe to Wrexham and Chester; and Chester to Seacombe and Wrexham.  This pattern continued over many years using a succession of small tank locomotives.  Dieselisation of passenger services, using Class 108 units, occurred in the late fifties and Seacombe ferry station was closed, services being diverted to run to New Brighton.

Following closure of Chester Northgate in 1969, the train service was reduced to the Wrexham - Bidston service which exists unchanged today, although for a brief period in the 1970's services were extended to Birkenhead North.

The new station buildings at Shotton, completed in November 2010.

The line was always busy with freight traffic.  Coal was a staple traffic along with brick and tile products from the  Buckley Railway.  During LNER days a considerable trade developed in exports and imports via Birkenhead Docks, served by a marshalling yard at Bidston, most of this traffic originating from Manchester and Yorkshire.  From the 1920's steel making at Shotton came to dominate freight movements.  Trainloads of iron ore, coal and limestone were balanced by a healthy trade outwards of finished steel products.   The busiest days were in the 1950's when new docks were built at Bidston specifically to supply iron ore to the works.  Following the ending of steel making, the works were reduced to a shadow of their former self and concentrated on the coating of steel coils, in the process becoming the largest works of its kind in Europe.

This bus service meets certain trains at Buckley station.

Freight traffic has now settled into a pattern of up to two block trains a day from South Wales of steel coils and a weekly trainload of coal to Castle Cement at Penyffordd.

To research the full story of the Buckley Railway, the early tramways and the WM&CQR, an excellent reference work is The Wrexham Mold and Connahs Quay Railway by James Boyd.


Tickets sold in BR days were often of pre nationalisation stock, photos by John Hooson.

County Magistrates Court, Sept. 4th 1893

Two little girls, aged eleven, named Hannah Nash and Ada Baker, were charged with stealing wooden "keys" from the main  line of the Wrexham, Mold, and Connah's Quay Railway Company.  Mr. Ll. Hugh-Jones, who appeared for the company, stated that the keys which the defendants were charged with stealing were used in tightening the rails to the chairs of the main line.

They were seen knocking them out with a collier's pick, and putting them in their aprons. It was a most dangerous thing to do, and very serious consequences might have ensued if their action had not been observed.- Evan Goodwin, foreman platelayer, in the employ of the company, stated that keys had been missing from the rails for some time past, and a watch was kept. On August 18th, about half-past eleven o'clock in the forenoon, he saw the two defendants knocking out the keys from the rails of the up main line, with a collier's pick. When they saw him they ran away, but he caught Hannah Nash, who had been using the pick, and she gave him the name of the other girl. Eighteen or twenty keys had been knocked out together.

James Tomlinson, a signalman in the employ of the Company, corroborated. and added that he signalled a train to slacken speed as he was afraid it would go off the rails at the spot where the defendants had removed the keys, if it went on at the usual rate of speed.- The Bench considered the defendants had been guilty of a most serious offence, and they were very sorry to see such young children brought there on such a charge. They could not think that their parents were wholly blameless in the matter, and instead of punishing the children now they should order the parents to be bound over to bring up their children for judgment when called upon, and to pay the costs, 4 shillings each.

Next page: The passengers view from the line

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