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Railways came early to West Cumberland. Coal mining during the 18th century soon created problems in transporting coal for the pithead to the local harbours for shipment to market round the Irish Sea. The solution was found in the construction of waggonways similar to those in Northumberland and Durham, There were even early experiments with steam traction in Whitehaven in 1816, and by the 1820 there were probably at least eight waggonways in operation.

The Maryport & Carlisle (M&CR) was the first public railway to reach the area, completed through from Carlisle in 1845 and providing a base for further railway development. By 1847 the Whitehaven Junction Railway (WJR) had stretched the line of rails south along the coast to Whitehaven, while the Cockermouth & Workington (C&WR) reached inland up the Derwent valley through what was then a highly productive part of the coalfield. Extending the system southwards, the Whitehaven & Furness Junction Railway (W&FJR) made a connection through to the Furness at Broughton in 1850, though the tunnel link through Whitehaven was not completed until 1852.

With coastal route completed the next developments took rails inland, past the existing ironworks at Cleator Moor to Frizington, and to Egremont. By 1866 the Whitehaven Cleator & Egremont Railway (WC&ER) had extended north to join the Cockermouth & Workington at Marron Junction in order to bypass the congestion caused by the single bore tunnel at Whitehaven - and to provide a new route for Scottish-bound iron ore, also travelling over the M&CR Derwent branch. The line was built south from Egremont to Sellafield in 1869.

The traffic carried by this network of small independent railway companies was extremely lucrative, especially after the construction of blast furnaces at Workington after 1857, with the Whitehaven Junction Railway paying a dividend as high as 18% in 1864. After an unsuccessful attempt by the M&CR to create a single local railway company, the giant London & North Western Railways (LNWR), based at Euston, stepped in to take over the WJR and C&WR in 1866, with the Furness Railway absorbing the hard-up W&FJR at the same time.

Soon local traders were openly expressing their dissatisfaction with the LNWR, both as regards its services and its rates for the carriage of minerals. Eventually the iron ore proprietors and ironmasters promoted a new railway from Cleator Moor to Workington to directly connect the iron ore mines with the greatest local concentration of the iron and steel industry. The main line of the Cleator & Workington Junction Railway was opened in 1879 and 1880 with several short branches being built to link up with the various ironworks and other sources of traffic. Most important was the "Northern Extension" which bypassed the LNWR altogether. Originally intended also to bypass the M&CR by making a junction with the Solway Junction Railway at Brayton, it was only built as far as a junction with the Maryport & Carlisle at Linefoot, opening in 1887. The route was particularly notable for its handling of the Northumberland coke traffic which came east over the Newcastle & Carlisle line and the M&CR to the blast furnaces of Workington.

Worried by the competition from its new neighbour, the prosperous little Whitehaven Cleator & Egremont Railway sold out to the LNWR and FR, its system becoming known as the "Joint Lines", and stabilising railway ownership in West Cumberland until the grouping of 1923 when all the local railways became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway.

By 1880 the peak prosperity of West Cumberland was already past; growing depletion of local iron ore supplies meant that the ironmasters were being forced to import ore from Spain; newer methods of steel manufacture allowed iron from other types of ore to be successfully made into steel with consequent investment elsewhere in Britain, especially in Lincolnshire and Teesside.

After a final hectic period during the Great War the industry in West Cumberland collapsed, despite most of the local works, at Maryport, Oldside, Derwent, Moss Bay, Harrington having merged into the Workington Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. in 1909, and, leaving by 1930 only the single integrated "Combine" at Workington based on the site of the former Moss Bay and Derwent companies, plus a handful of surviving ore mines. The last of these mines , near Beckermet, closed in 1982; at the steel works the last Bessemer "blow" at Workington took place in 1975, the blast furnaces were blown down in 1982 and the rolling of rails ceased in 2007. The last coal mine, Haig Pit at Whitehaven had been shut down in March 1986. Much of the network of lines in West Cumberland was to survive into the 1960s, or longer, as it continued to serve the dwindling number of quarries, coal and iron mines, though away from the coast line most passenger services had disappeared in the 1930s.

Today the Cumbrian Coast line is the only survivor of a once dense network of railways serving local industries. The major industrial sites of the past - and extensive railway facilities have all disappeared and only a practiced eye or the use of an old map is needed to enable the traveller to identify their one-time location.

All opening dates are for passenger trains only. Many lines were opened earlier for goods and mineral traffic; some lines which never carried passengers are not shown below. Details of final line closures are not given below.

Whitehaven Junction Railway
Line Opened Closed
Maryport to Workington 19 January 1846 Open
Workington to Harrington 18 May 1846 Open
Harrington to Whitehaven Bransty 19 March 1847 Open
Merged into London & North Western Railway 16 July 1866
Station Opened Closed
Flimby Open
Siddick Junction 1 October 1934
Workington Main Open
Harrington Open
Parton Open
Whitehaven Bransty Open

Cockermouth & Workington Railway
Line Opened Closed
Workington to Cockermouth 28 April 1847
Merged into London & North Western Railway 16 July 1866
Station Opened Closed
Workington Bridge 1 January 1951
Camerton 3 March 1952
Broughton Cross 2 March 1942
Brigham 18 April 1966
Cockermouth 2 January 1865
(replaced by new joint station on the C K & P R

Whitehaven Cleator & Egremont Railway
Line Opened Closed
Whitehaven Mirehouse Junction to Egremont 1 July 1857
Moor Row to Frizington 1 July 1857
Frizington to Rowrah 1 February 1864
Rowrah to Marron Junction 2 April 1866
Egremont to Sellafield 2 August 1869
Taken over jointly by London & North Western and Furness Railways
Station Opened Closed
Moor Row 7 January 1935
Woodend 7 January 1935
Egremont 7 January 1935
Beckermet 7 January 1935
Cleator Moor East 7 January 1935
Frizington 13 April 1931
Yeathouse 13 April 1931
Winder 13 April 1931
Rowrah 13 April 1931
Lamplugh 13 April 1931
Ullock 13 April 1931
Branthwaite 13 April 1931
Bridgefoot 13 April 1931

Cleator & Workington Junction Railway
Line Opened Closed
Moor Row to Workington Central 1 October 1879
Workington to Siddick Junction 1 September 1880
Distington Junction to Arlecdon 3 July 1893
Workington Central to Seaton 4 January 1888
Station Opened Closed
Cleator Moor West 13 April 1931
Keekle Colliers Halt (unadvertised) by June 1952
Moresby Junction (unadvertised) by June 1952
Moresby Parks 13 April 1931
Distington 13 April 1931
Oatlands September 1922
Arlecdon 1 January 1917
High Harrington 13 April 1931
Workington Central 13 April 1931
Seaton February 1922

For further reading see Bibliography