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The sound of steam trains can still be heard across south Manchester and Stockport

The area around South Manchester and Stockport is criss-crossed by miles and miles of disused railway lines, now overgrown and inhabited by birds and foxes, or turned into footpaths for joggers. They are indistinct lines on the landscape, silent scars left over after the removal of much of what was once a great railway network

from the collection of Eddie Johnson

Most people walking or driving near these disused lines will hear only the twittering of the birds or the sound of the wind in the trees, but I can hear trains, steam trains, from long ago, still there in my mind today, every day.

I remember seeing steam trains as a child near my house in Cheadle Heath. They left an indelible impression. I cannot forget them, and I keep imagining them back into the landscape I live in today.

Sooner or later the age of steam had to fade, but I don't accept that so many lines had to close. If this were Japan, they would be still be in use, echoing to the sound of neatly painted electric commuter trains, or maybe even sleek white bullet style trains of the type that speed from Tokyo towards Hiroshima or Sapporo.

Tonight, in Heaton Mersey, driving by the partially demolished railway viaduct, I heard the clatter clatter of wagons passing over the bridge by the railway sidings. The train would continue on and over a magnificent metal railway bridge over the River Mersey, a bridge that has long since been taken down and forgotten about, but not by me.

Over by B&Q, near Stockport town centre, I saw a plume of white steam as a Liverpool-bound express train passed under Wellington Rd North, gathering speed as it heads out west towards Warrington. The line has gone, but elements of the bridges and pillars remain. They seem to ring to long forgotten sounds. I can still hear them.

Old postcard of Stockport Railway Viaduct

Along the South Manchester Loop Line, which passes through Fallowfield and Levenhulme, I don't see a tarmac footpath for dog walkers. I see a fully functional railway line with neat and shiny tracks, and emerging from under the Levenshulme Station bridge is a coal train from the South Yorkshire coalfield on its way to Liverpool. The huffing and puffing as it passes under Kingsway can be heard quite some distance, before it fades into the night.

On the old line through Chorlton and Didsbury, I can see a Midland Pullman on its way to London. This has a different sound, it's a diesel, lights blazing, as it passes under successive bridges at Wilbraham Rd, Palatine Rd, Wilmslow Rd, Parrs Wood Road and the bottom end of Kingsway. The sound of the passing train, especially a steam-hauled train, is reassuring, like steady heartbeat.

On the embankment near the bottom of Cheadle Old Road is the reinstated line linking Stockport and Altrincham. But I don't see the hourly passenger train to Chester. instead, I see a big black oily engine moving along slowly, the driver in his peaked leather cap waving at me from the footplate. It's like a giant sized toy train I'd love to take home.

from the collection of Eddie Johnson

At night, after Morrisons supermarket has closed, I stop in the car park and switch off the engine. After a while I can hear the noise of wagons being shunted into wagons, the crash of steel chains being thrown onto hooks, the slow rhythmic chuffing, sometimes speeding up like heart palpitations, of engines being fired up for an early morning departure. Then the slow steady din of a long freight train as it passes under the bridge on its way to Derby.

Freight trains still operate from time to time on that route, but they don't sound quite as nice as the old trains.

The noise of steam engines hasn't been heard on a regular basis in this part of Manchester and Stockport since 1969.

But on my way to and from B&Q Stockport - built next to the Tiviot Dale line - or doing some late night shopping at Tesco Didsbury, which backs onto the old Midland line to Derby, or passing by Morrisons, built on sidings of the former Cheadle Heath Station, I still see them, hear them smell them, every day.

For me, the magic of steam in south Manchester and Stockport just won't go away.

To ride on a real steam train in Greater Manchester, go to the East Lancashire Railway, based in Bury.

To discover the rich history of railways around Manchester, read the books of my friend and colleague Eddie Johnson, leading local railway historian. Some interesting titles by him and other authors are on the Foxline publishing pages of the britishrailwaybooks.co.uk website

I currently support campaigns against the further closure of lines, and advocate a Japan-style approach to rail transport.


This article scribbled on a piece of paper in Heaton Mersey. Writing time took 20 minutes, and 10 minutes to copy. This is a familiar theme of mine, memories of different times sparked off by elements in the contemporary landscape. Much more on this topic to follow.

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