The 8D Association

The Folly Lane Branch - Runcorn

ICI loco P R Allen photographed at Castner Kellner works. These locos were withdrawn en mass with the dieselisation of the ICI fleet in 1960. 11th April 1959. Photo by Jim Peden. (Reproduced with permission from the Industrial Railway Society).
The Folly Lane branch was opened in 1868 by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR). It connected the Runcorn Docks to the LNWR Ditton Junction and Weaver Junction line which provided a short cut for trains travelling between London and Liverpool by bridging the River Mersey at Runcorn. Prior to the line opening trains had to travel via Warrington. 

Taken in 1970, a twin axle Chlorine tank wagon standing in the sidings at Folly Lane. With over 300 twin axle tanks allocated to Folly Lane these tanks were a familiar sight up until the 1980's. Photo by Les Fifoot.

Runcorn Docks can trace their origin back to 1776 when the Bridgewater Canal opened at Runcorn. Runcorn was the western terminus of the canal which had a direct connection to the River Mersey via a set of locks at the town which allowed for the onward movement of goods to Liverpool. A dock system developed at the point where the river and the canal had their juncture. Early railway developments bypassed Runcorn but when the Ditton Junction and Weaver Junction line was proposed the opportunity was taken to also obtain an act to build a branch to the Runcorn docks.

Even though the initial LNWR branch was to serve the docks at Runcorn or Weston Point docks the vast amount of traffic was from the ICI works. The docks became too small for the larger vessels which were being developed and the final workings were exports of Salt to Russia. A view taken in 1970. Photo by Les Fifoot.
Taken in 1970, one of the Yorkshire Engine company fleet between duties outside the engine shed. The Caustic Soda tanks in the background were a familiar sight running in block load trains from Folly Lane.
Photo by John Callaghan.

Three of the fleet line up in 1987 at the shed all the shunters were named they are left to right, R A Lawday, Richard Borrett and Danby Dale. Photo by John Callaghan.

With the engine shed and wagon repair shop visible in the background R A Lawdry awaits its next turn of duty. Taken in 1987. Photo by John Callaghan.

The Castner-Kellner Alkali Company opened a factory at the end of the branch at Weston Point in 1897 which was served by its own sidings. The company was absorbed by Brunner Mond in 1920 before the amalgamation of several chemical companies formed Imperial Chemical Industries in 1926. Salt Union at Weston Point also became part of ICI in 1940.

Shunting movements throughout the ICI works were completed with their own fleet of locos. Including this trip taken in 1987, from Weston Point Salt works to the exchange sidings with a rake of loaded salt hoppers. Photo by John Callaghan.

 Over the years the Brunner Mond works expanded and in 1922 the company opened its own railway which was known as the Weston Point Light Railway. It connected directly to the Folly Lane branch. Brunner Mond (and later ICI) had their own locomotives for the system with dedicated engine shed and repair facilties for both engines and wagons. Steam locos eventually gave way to diesel shunters in 1960 with ICI puchasing several Yorkshire Engine company 0-6-0 shunters. The company operated an extensive tank wagon fleet and had around 300 twin axle wagons allocated to Folly Lane. In the late 1980's ICI decided to withdraw its own fleet of shunters, the final one to be withdrawn was donated to the Llangollen railway for use on infrastructure trains. B.R. assumed responsibility for shunting movements within the sidings and a Class 08 could often be seen at rest by the train crew cabin.

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of ICI, the company hired former BR Pannier Tank, No 7754 from the Llangollen Railway as part of the celebrations and seen here at Weston Point sidings with a number of wagons including a restored ICI four wheel tank wagon, along with 3 salt wagons. 28th June 1997. Copyright: Doug Birmingham

In a 1988 view,  the B.R. train crew depot at the exchange sidings at Folly Lane complete with signal box style nameboard partially obscured by the gentleman in the frame. The Class 08 shunter which was stationed there to draw wagons onto B.R. metals for onward distribution. The branch was still electrified at this point. Photo by Tom Burnham.

Shunting wagons down to Castner Kellner works.

The return trip of chlorine tanks from Castner Kellner works.

Delivering the salt hoppers to the exchange sidings.

A selection of pictures taken in 1991, showing B.R. 08 703 allocated to shunting duties when ICI had disposed of its own fleet of locomotives. The downturn in heavy chemicals is apparent with the lack of wagons in the sidings and the fact that a single shunter could now handle the traffic that five used to. Photos all by Les Fifoot.

During the 1960's the company expanded their road haulage fleet and their railbourne  operation contracted as a result. At this time in conjunction with the electrification of the Weaver Junction to Liverpool section of the West Coast Main Line the branch from Runcorn station to the exchange sidings was electrified. Block trains mostly became the norm and even in the 1980's there was around 20 block trains per week despatched. The Speedlink network also played a part taking many smaller consignments which included the despatch of 60 to 70 wagons of Caustic Soda each week and smaller flows of Chloro Fluoro Carbons (refrigerant gasses), chlorine, salt and other chemicals and solvents. Incoming flows to the plants included heavy oil and methanol which were brought in by block load. ICI not only supplied its own customers via rail but its other U.K. plants as well. 

With the loss of the shunter as traffic decreased the train engines were now responsible for their own shunting duties. The weekly trip working from Arpley would run round its train on arrival at Folly Lane and then propel its wagons down into the Salt Union works for loading. No 31154 is seen departing from the works with the trip working to Arpley Sidings via Ditton Junction and the Low Level line. 28th May 1994. Photo by Doug Birmingham.

With the demand for heavy chemicals in decline it was the traffic from ICI Salt which increased in the 1970's with a twice weekly flow to BP Chemicals chlorine plant at Baglan Bay, traffic which was shared with British Salt at Middlewich. This traffic ended with the closure of the Baglan Bay plant in 1983. A new salt flow started almost immediately to Roche Pharmaceuticals at Dalry Strathclyde. This too was shared with British Salt and was initially operated via the Speedlink Network with around 10 hoppers despatched weekly. By the end of the 1980's the traffic flows had virtually ceased from Folly Lane and the end of the Speedlink network in 1991 meant most traffic was now being despatched by road. The only traffic to survive was the Roche salt flow with the portion from Folly Lane tripped to Arpley on a Monday to meet up with the portion from Middlewich which was then being delivered by the Enterprise network. This flow ceased in January 1999 and there was then only a sporadic DRS flow to and from the sidings. 

Direct Rail Services No 37069 and 37238 delivering tanks to the now depleted sidings at Folly Lane. This was a twice weekly Sellafield, Folly Lane, Sandbach, Selleafield working which only ran as required. 21st December 2004. Photo by Paul Wright.

EWS operated a twice weekly Enterprise service to the branch in early 2000 and a Railfreight liveried Class 60 complete with coal sub sector markings delivers a healthy rake of tank wagons. 23rd December 2004. Photo by Paul Wright.

A weekly EWS service conveying tanktainers of acid started in mid 2000. The service is seen here on the branch with 66 008 in charge en route to Runcorn. The service reversed at Runcorn and again at Ditton and again at Latchford. 7th July 2005. Photo by Paul Wright.

At this time the future was looking bleak for rail traffic until the new owners of ICI heavy chemicals, Ineos Chlor, installed a new Caustic Soda loading gantry and a container lift at Picow Farm Road. With three trains per week operating from it the future for the branch looked a little brighter. The construction of a new power station on the site of the former ICI Weston Workshops which is designed to produce electricity by burning household waste is expected to generate three trainloads per week initially. With the construction of the new power station there has also been improvements made to the permenent way with new track and points laid and a large unloading crane for the containers of household refuse. 

A Freightliner Class 66, No 66585 awaits to depart the branch with 6H33 Folly Lane to Northenden empty binliner. Runcorn Station dominates the background. 28th August 2014. Photo by Doug Birmingham.

By the time this shot was taken the branch resembled a closed railway with only the rails visible. 2nd June 2011. Photo by Paul Wright.

The new trackbed and run round loop for delivery of household waste to the power station can be seen branching off to the right. 2nd June 2011. Photo by Paul Wright.

Freightliner Class 66, No 66518 has just detach from its loaded train from Northenden and prepares to run round to await eventual departure with empty containers.  Runcorn Inciderator Plant is in the background. 16th June 2015. Photo by Doug Birmingham.

With the new power station dominating the skyline the weekly EWS service arrives with a train of tank containers. 19th April 2013. Photo by Paul Wright.

The sidings have also been visited by various railtours over the past few years, and with the new facilities there will be more visits to come.

DRS Class 20's No 20306 and 20312 head the Folly Forester Railtour down the branch. With the improvements made to the track and points along the line hopefully more tours will be seen along it in the near future. 8th February 2003. Photo by Les Fifoot.

 A view point from the Up platform at Runcorn Station with the Expressway below, EWS Class 66, No 66083 just arrived on the branch with 6F60, 06.28hrs Arpley Sidings to Folly Lane tanks. 10th June 2014. Copyright: Doug Birmingham  

With the development of the power station and investment in loading facilities by Ineos Chlor the future of the Folly Lane branch is at last looking bright. The short branch has gone from a run down stretch of railway to a working branch once more. It is anticipated that there will be three trains of household refuse to the power station and with the caustic soda and tanktainers the branch will be seeing more trains than it has seen for many years. At the start of May 2013 Freightliner undertook gauging tests on the unloading facility at the new power station. Whilst their loco was on site the DBS Caustic Soda train arrived meaning two trains on the branch something that happened decades ago. Since the power station came fully on line, in late 2013, there are a number of four inbound and outbound paths are in the system for trains serving the power station. In reality there are usually three workings in and out during a 24 hour period. In 2017, DB Schenker were operating two trips per week from Arpley sidings with the Caustic Soda Tanks / Containers but they lost the contract to Freightliner who now operate the train to and from Crewe Basford Hall, once / twice per work. 

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