Northampton Loop Line

Northampton Loop Line

A London Midland Class 350 local train calls at Long Buckby.
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Northamptonshire
East Midlands
West Midlands (region)
Termini Roade (West Coast Main Line)
Rugby (West Coast Main Line)
Stations Two
Opened 1881
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) London Midland
Virgin Trains
Rolling stock Class 321
Class 350 "Desiro"
Class 390 "Pendolino"
Line length Approx 23+34 miles (38 km)
No. of tracks Two
Track gauge Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrification 25 kV 50hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 75 mph (120 km/h)
[v · d · e]Northampton Loop Line
Continuation backward
West Coast Main Line
Station on track
Track turning from left Junction to right
Hillmorton Junction
Abbreviated in this map Unknown BSicon "eHST"
Kilsby and Crick
Abbreviated in this map Junction from left Non-passenger terminus from right
Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT)
Abbreviated in this map Stop on track
Long Buckby
Abbreviated in this map Unknown BSicon "eHST"
Althorp Park
Abbreviated in this map Unknown BSicon "eHST"
Church Brampton
Abbreviated in this map Unknown BSicon "eABZrg" Unknown BSicon "exCONTl"
Northampton to Market Harborough line
Abbreviated in this map Station on track
Abbreviated in this map Junction to left Track turning from right
Northampton to Peterborough Line
Unknown BSicon "eABZrg" Unknown BSicon "eKRZo" Unknown BSicon "xABZqlxr" Continuation to right
Bedford to Northampton Line
Unknown BSicon "eHST" Straight track
Straight track Enter and exit tunnel
Hunsbury Hill Tunnel
Straight track Unknown BSicon "eHST"
Track turning left Junction from right
Hanslope Junction
Unknown BSicon "eHST"
Stop on track
Continuation forward
West Coast Main Line

The Northampton loop is a railway line serving the town of Northampton. It is a branch of the West Coast Main Line, deviating from the faster direct main line which runs to the west.

The Northampton loop leaves the direct London-Birmingham line at Hanslope Junction, just north of Milton Keynes but continues to run alongside it until the two lines separate north of Roade at the northern end of Roade cutting, it then runs north east for several miles until it reaches Northampton station. After Northampton, the line verges to the north-west for around twenty miles, until it re-joins the direct London-Birmingham line at Hillmorton Junction at Rugby, just east of Rugby station. The line is a total of 23+34 miles (38 km) long.


Services and operations

The majority of passenger services on the line are provided by London Midland using Class 350 electric multiple units. As of 2011, the service consists of three 'semi fast' trains per hour between London Euston and Northampton, one of which continues as a through service to Birmingham New Street and one continues to Crewe. There is also an hourly local service from Northampton to Birmingham.

Virgin Trains provide a small number of fast Pendolino services to Northampton at the extremes of the day. But nearly all Virgin trains use the direct main line. Line speeds on the loop line are currently limited to 75 mph (120 km/h)[1] compared to 125 mph (200 km/h) on the fast line, making the line unattractive to the routing of fast services. As of 2011, line speeds are expected to increase to 90mph once signalling improvements are in place north of Northampton up to Rugby.[1]

Long Buckby; the one other station on the line, is served half hourly in each direction by the London-Birmingham/Northampton-Birmingham services. However the Crewe service does not call there except on Sundays.

The Daventry International Railfreight Terminal (DIRFT) is located between Northampton and Rugby on the loop line, and so the line sees heavy freight traffic. Mostly container trains.


The only stations that are currently operational on the route are Northampton and Long Buckby. Previously there were six stations between Hanslope Junction and Rugby, but only these two survive. The four stations that have closed were:


Southbound train emerging into Roade cutting having climbed the incline on the loop line from Northampton to join the main line. The bridge in the distance is on Blisworth to Courteenhall Road

When the London and Birmingham Railway (L&BR) was constructed in the 1830s, Northampton was by-passed, with the line running on high ground to the west via Kilsby Tunnel. Traditionally this was said to have been because Northampton landowners objected to having a railway run to the town.[2] However, more recently, railway historians have argued that Northampton was by-passed because the gradients would have been too steep for early locomotives to easily cope with. Robert Stephenson the engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway was determined to avoid gradients steeper than 1:330. As Northampton is located in the Nene Valley, 120 feet (37 metres) lower than Blisworth, the closest point the L&BR came, connecting the town would have required gradients steeper than this.[3][4]

This meant however that Northampton, despite being a large town, did not have direct rail links to London. A branch from the main line was built to Northampton in the early 1840s, the Northampton and Peterborough Railway, from Blisworth, which gave the town indirect rail links to London and Birmingham.

The loop line was constructed in the late 1870s by the London and North Western Railway and was opened in 1881 (by this stage locomotives had become far more powerful). It was constructed to improve rail services to Northampton and give the town a direct link to London. It also had the advantage of doubling capacity on the line from Roade to Rugby without the expense of widening the tunnel at Kilsby.

The line was electrified along with the rest of the WCML during the 1960s in the wake of the BR 1955 Modernisation Plan.


Two very similar railway accidents occurred on the Northampton loop in 1967 and 1969. The 1967 incident was near the village of Milton Malsor between Roade and Hunsbury Hill tunnel and the other in 1969 near the nortern end of Roade cutting.


  1. ^ a b Northampton Rail Users Group
  2. ^ Kilsby Tunnel
  3. ^ Kingscott, Geoffrey, Lost Railways Of Northamptonshire (2008), Countryside Books, ISBN 978-1-84674-108-1
  4. ^ Peter H Elliot, Rugby's Railway Heritage,(1985) ISBN 0-907917-06-2


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