The Grand Junction Railway

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The Grand Junction gained its Act on the same day in 1833 as its southern neighbour, the London & Birmingham Railway, but because of a comparative lack of heavy engineering works, it attracted far less attention, even though it was opened first, in 1837, thus becoming Europe's first trunk line. Its share capital was 1,040,000.

Running from a station alongside the LBR's at Curzon Street, Birmingham to the Liverpool & Manchester Railway at Newton (later called Earlestown), Lancashire, it passed close to Wolverhampton and through Stafford and Warrington. The last 4 miles were built by the Warrington & Newton Railway, opened in 1831, which the GJR had absorbed in 1834. With the LBR and LMR, it formed a continuous railway from London to Liverpool and Manchester.

The Grand Junction was also notable for being built on time and within its financial estimate. Initially the engineer was George Stephenson, with Joseph Locke as his deputy, although the latter did most of the work, thereby gaining the greater confidence of the directors who, tiring of Stephenson's apparent loss of interest, placed the entire work in his hands in 1834. Locke's efficient attention to detail made his reputation. The 78 miles to Warrington contained some modest viaducts and two major ones, both over the River Weaver in Cheshire: Vale Royal and Dutton, the latter at the time the largest then attempted.

Liverpool finance and a number of common directors ensured a close relationship with the LMR from the outset, including the running of through trains from Liverpool and Manchester to Birmingham, and the location of the GJR's works alongside the LMR at Edge Hill, Liverpool, before they were moved to Crewe in 1840. In that year the GJR absorbed the Chester & Crewe Railway, shortly before it opened.

Seeing itself as part of a grand design for a railway from London to Scotland, the GJR supported the North Union Railway, which took the line onto Preston, and invested in the Lancaster & Carlisle and Caledonian Railways. In 1845 it amalgamated with the LMR and absorbed two small lines to Bolton, consolidating its position in Lancashire by acquiring the NUR jointly with the Manchester & Leeds company in 1846.

Despite complementary geographical locations, inherent jealousy between Liverpool and London financial interests or the respective boards created mutual acrimony with the LBR, particularly concerning the Manchester & Birmingham Railway which sought a shorter route to the LBR through the Potteries. After the Grand Junction reneged on an agreement by which it had persuaded the MBR to take its line to Crewe instead, the MBR found a ready supporter in the LBR.

In 1844 the antagonists made a 'non-poaching' territorial agreement, only to resume warfare a year later over the MBR's renewed efforts, which included a direct line from Stafford to Rugby: the Trent Valley Railway. The scheme failed, but not before the GJR uncovered a provisional agreement by the LBR to acquire the MBR.

The GJR retaliated with a brief flirtation with the Great Western, ambitious to take the broad gauge north-west, which sufficiently alarmed the LBR into agreeing to absorb a second, independent and successful Trent Valley Railway jointly with the GJR and MBR in 1846, followed immediately by the amalgamation of all three to form the London & North Western Railway.

The GJR was very profitable. Since opening, its dividends were at least 10%, and its final capital value reached 5,788,560. Its general manager, Mark Huish, took the same position in the new company.