Five years after my only previous visit (June 2017) it is time to take a return trip to charmingly quiet Rainford Junction, mid-way along the Northern Trains route heading south-west from Wigan Wallgate to its end-on connection with Merseyrail at Kirkby.
This one-time junction for routes north and south towards Ormskirk and St. Helens is a pleasant spot, where a well-fortified Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway signal box dating from 1874 has four semaphores and will give drivers coming off the double track route from Wigan a token for the single line leading to the buffer stops at Kirkby.
Picking the day (Monday, 20 June 2022) before a planned trio of disastrous national rail strikes, my trip to Rainford, hopefully in time to see one of the elusive freight workings from Knowsley, meant taking the 07.30 Euston to Glasgow service to Wigan North Western then a leisurely wait at nearby Wallgate station for the 10.11 departure to Rainford.
Alas, shortly before the freight train’s scheduled appearance at 11.17 I learned from the Rainford Junction signaller that it had been cancelled, and would run in an evening path, while the Knowsley-bound working that might have passed at around 14.40 was also cancelled on the day of my visit.
Services passing Rainford comprise hourly Blackburn-Kirkby workings, formed of Class 150/156 units (running in pairs), along with these occasional freight workings to and from Knowsley Freight Terminal, which stands south of the line near Kirkby and has a trailing (Kirkby-facing) connection with the passenger route.
Looking west from the station footbridge, Kirkby-bound section signal RJ8 stands on a bracket immediately behind the signal box, with up (eastbound) home signal RJ2 standing at the end of the single track. Turning in the Wigan direction, up section signal RJ3 stands alongside the westbound home signal RJ9, both modern-looking and on white circular posts some distance to the east, as seen below.
There are good and easy views of the signals from the station platforms and its footbridge, along with views to the east from the News Lane over-bridge of RJ3 and RJ9. Another good view is from a foot crossing of the line west of the station, which you reach by taking a footpath, partly along the route of the former railway to St. Helens south of Rainford station.
Changes are afoot at Rainford in connection with the construction of a new station in Kirkby called Headbolt Lane. This is due to open in mid-2023 as a new interchange between Northern and Merseyrail trains, as well as local buses, and work on it will see trains from Wigan terminating at Rainford from 18 July until 29 August 2022.
Drowning my sorrows at the lack of freight action, I paid a visit to an award-winning pub, appropriately called The Junction, which stands opposite the station, where I can highly recommend a very satisfying dark ale (3.6%) called Thoroughly Modern Mild from the Wily Fox Brewery in Wigan (£3.50 a pint).