The line was opened in stages between 1840 and 1845 and, after a shaky start, temporarily becoming part of George Hudson's empire at the end of the 1840s. The 1850s, however, saw the company establishing a firm basis for its future prosperity, especially after the arrival of John Addison as secretary in 1858. By 1873 dividends reached 13% as the line realised its true potential, not only as a local coal carrier, but as a vital link between the iron and steel industry of West Cumberland and the rest of the national railway system. Only once in the rest of the company's existence did the annual dividend to shareholders fall below 5%.
The M&C was not without its challengers: several times it discussed possible mergers with other companies, from the N&CR in the early days, through the LNWR to the Cleator & Workington Junction and Furness Railways before the First World War.
Proposals by the Silloth Railway & Dock Company to break the M&C's monopoly in the Aspatria coalfield led to the opening of the Mealsgate branch in 1866 to be followed the next year by the Derwent branch to Brigham, giving a link to Cockermouth and Whitehaven Cleator & Egremont Railway using running powers on the Cockermouth & Workington Railway. During the 1860s the Solway Junction Railway threatened to completely bypass the M&C in the carriage of iron ore to Scotland and the Cleator & Workington repeated this threat in the 1880s.
Although most of its local stations are now closed, the M&C line continues to provide the rail link between West Cumbria and the rest of the rail network, though the heavy freight traffic at one time generated by the steel and chemical industries has been greatly reduced in recent years.
The M&C pursued a very independent locomotive policy. In 1922 it had 33 locomotives of which 21 had been built in the company's own workshops at Maryport. Only three new locomotives were added to stock in the last 22 years, though many others were very substantially rebuilt during the same period. After the 1923 grouping the drive to standardisation on the LMS ensured the small classes and individual locomotives soon disappeared. By end of 1930 only eight remained, and all were gone by the end of 1934.
See also The Maryport & Carlisle Railway in 1921, extracts from The Railway Year Book.
|Maryport to Arkleby||15 July 1840||Open|
|Arkleby to Aspatria||12 April 1841||Open|
|Wigton to Carlisle||10 May 1843||Open|
|Aspatria to Wigton||10 February 1845||Open|
|Aspatria to Mealsgate||26 December 1866||22 September 1930|
|Mealsgate to Aikbank Junction||1 October 1877 *||1 August 1921|
|Bullgill to Brigham||1 June 1867||29 April 1935|
|Maryport (1st station)||4 June 1860|
|Maryport (2nd station)||Open|
|Dearham Bridge||5 June 1950|
|Bullgill||7 March 1960|
|Dearham||29 April 1935|
|Dovenby (private)||29 April 1935|
|Papcastle||1 July 1921|
|Baggrow||22 September 1930|
|Mealsgate||22 September 1930|
|High Blaithwaite||1 August 1921|
|Brayton||5 June 1950|
|Leegate||5 June 1950|
|Crofton (private)||by 1954|
|Curthwaite||12 June 1950|
|Cummersdale||18 June 1951|
|Carlisle (Bogfield)||10 May 1843|
|Carlisle (Crown Street)||17 March 1849|
*some earlier operation between 1866 and 1869