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M6 motorway
UK motorway M6.PNG

Road of the United Kingdom

Length 226.7 miles (364.8 km)
Direction North - South
Start Catthorpe
Primary destinations Rugby
End Gretna
Construction dates 1958 - 2008
Motorways joined UK-Motorway-M1.svg
M1 motorway
Junction 2.svg UK-Motorway-M69.svg
J2 → M69 motorway
Junction 3a.svg UK-Motorway-M6 Toll.svg
J3a → M6 Toll
Junction 4.svg UK-Motorway-M42.svg
J4 → M42 motorway
Junction 4a.svg UK-Motorway-M42.svg
J4a → M42 motorway
Junction 6.svg UK-Motorway-A38 (M).svg
J6 → A38(M) motorway
Junction 8.svg UK-Motorway-M5.svg
M5 motorway
Junction 10a.svg UK-Motorway-M54.svg
J10a → M54 motorway
Junction 11a.svg UK-Motorway-M6 Toll.svg
J11a → M6 Toll
Junction 20.svg UK-Motorway-M56.svg
J20 → M56 motorway
Junction 21a.svg UK-Motorway-M62.svg
J21a → M62 motorway
Junction 26.svg UK-Motorway-M58.svg
J26 → M58 motorway
Junction 29.svg UK-Motorway-M65.svg
J29 → M65 motorway
Junction 30.svg UK-Motorway-M61.svg
J30 → M61 motorway
Junction 32.svg UK-Motorway-M55.svg
J32 → M55 motorway
Junction 35.svg UK-Motorway-A601 (M).svg
J35 → A601(M) motorway
Junction 45.svg UK-Motorway-A74 (M).svg
J45 → A74(M) motorway
UK motorway map - M6.png

The M6 motorway runs from junction 19 of the M1 in Catthorpe, near Rugby via Birmingham then heading north passing Manchester, Preston, Carlisle terminating at Gretna, where it joins the A74(M) at the Scottish border which continues to Glasgow.

It is the longest motorway in England, incorporates the first length of motorway opened in the UK and is also one of the busiest. The M6 forms part of a motorway based north-south "Backbone of Britain" between London and Glasgow via the industrial North of England and also part of the east-west route between the midlands and the east coast ports. The section from the M1 to the M6 Toll split near Birmingham and forms part of the unsigned E-road E 24 and the section from the M6 Toll and the M42 forms part of E 05.



The M6 motorway is the longest motorway in the United Kingdom. It runs from junction 19 of the M1 in Catthorpe near Rugby in central England, passes between Coventry and Nuneaton, through Birmingham, Walsall and Stafford and near the major cities of Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent. The motorway has a major junction onto the M56 and M62 at Warrington, giving access to Manchester and Liverpool. The M6 then heads north past Preston and Lancaster. After the latter two cities it passes through Cumbria with some parts very close to the edge of the Lake District, and then passes Carlisle on its way to Gretna, before the motorway becomes the A74(M) at the Scottish border.



Planning and construction

The southbound M6 as seen from a bridge just south of junction 29, Preston, 2008

The first section of the motorway, and the first motorway in the country, the Preston by-pass, was built by Tarmac Construction and opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December 1958.[1] In January 1959 “Road Closed” notices at the entrance to the Preston By-pass resulted from rapid surface deterioration over a stretch of 100 yards (91 m) where the surface had deteriorated "due to water freezing and then thawing". Motorists were diverted to the old road while the UK road research laboratory at Harmondsworth pondered the importance of surface water drainage.[2] In subsequent years the motorway was extended piecemeal in both directions and is now 230 miles (370 km) long.

The M6 in Cheshire, 1969

The second phase of construction was completed in 1960, running to junction 35 to form the Lancaster by-pass. Some 100 miles (160 km) south, in 1962, the Stafford by-pass was completed to form the third phase of what would eventually become one of Britain's most important motorways. By 1965, the remaining section of motorway towards Preston had been completed, but the completion of the whole route was far from over. 1968 saw the completion of the Walsall to Stafford link as well as the Penrith by-pass some 150 miles (240 km) north in Cumberland. In 1970, the Lancaster-Penrith link was completed, along with a short section of motorway by-passing the south of Walsall. The most northernly section of the motorway also opened in 1970, running to the designated terminus north of Carlisle. By 1971, the full route was completed between the junction with the M1 motorway at Rugby and the A452 road several miles north-east of Birmingham city centre, between the Castle Bromwich and Castle Vale districts.[3]

Junction 6 in Birmingham is widely known as Spaghetti Junction because of its complexity.

On the elevated ground between Shap and Tebay, the north and south-bound carriages split apart. At this point a local road (to Scout Green) runs between the two carriageways without a link to the motorway.

The section of the M6 which runs over Shap Fell in Cumbria is 1,050 ft (320 m) above sea level, one of the highest points on any motorway in the UK (junction 22 of the M62 on Saddleworth Moor is higher). The motorway engineers here chose to follow the route of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway engineered by Joseph Locke (now part of the West Coast Main Line) where the motorway runs in a split-level cutting above the railway in the descent from Shap Fell through the Lune Gorge into southern Cumbria.

The northbound entry slip road at Lancaster (J34) is unusually short, presenting problems for traffic joining the motorway. The M6 crosses the River Lune at this point and unless the bridge had been made wider, there was no space to build a longer slip road. This junction was upgraded from an earlier emergency-vehicles-only access point, which explains the substandard design.

The route was intended to replace the old A6, but a much closer approximation to the actual route of the M6 is provided by following the route: A45, A34, A50, A49, A6.


In July 1972 the UK Minister for Transport Industries announced that 86 miles (138 km) of UK motorway particularly prone to fog would benefit from lighting in a project which "should be" completed by 1973.[4] Sections to be illuminated included the M6 between junctions 10 and 11, and between junctions 20 and 27.[4]

In March 2006, after 15-years of debate,[5] the government authorised the construction of a 6-mile (9.7 km) extension of the M6 from its then northern terminus near Carlisle to the Anglo-Scottish border at Gretna (the so-called "Cumberland Gap"), where it links into the existing A74(M).[6] The road opened on 5 December 2008, the 50th anniversary of the M6 Preston Bypass.[7] The project, which was a mixture of new road and upgrade of the existing A74, crosses the West Coast Main Line and had an estimated costs of £174 million. It completed an uninterrupted motorway from Cumbernauld (via the M73) in the north to Exeter (via the M5) and to London (via both the M42/M40 and the M1) in the south.

The M6 Toll, Britain's first toll motorway, which bypasses the West Midlands conurbation to the east and north of Birmingham and Walsall and was built to alleviate congestion through the West Midlands, and opened in December 2003. Prior to the opening of the toll motorway, this section of the M6 carried 180,000 vehicles per day at its busiest point near Wolverhampton (between the junctions with the M54 and M5 motorways), compared with a design capacity of only 72,000 vehicles. Usage, at about 50,000 vehicles was lower than expected and traffic levels on the M6 were only slightly reduced as a result. The high toll prices which were set by the operating company and about which the UK government has no influence were blamed for the low usage.[8] Much traffic continues to use the M6 or the continued on the M1 and took the A50 or A52.

A proposed extension to the M6 Toll, known as the 'M6 Expressway' would have continued from the M6 Toll as far as Knutsford, at which point much of the existing M6 traffic leaves the M6 for Manchester was abandoned in 2006 due to excessive costs, anticipated construction problems[9] and disappointing levels of usage of the M6 Toll.

Proposed developments

Increased capacity between J11a and J19

The government wishes to improve reliability and capacity between Junctions 11 by Cannock and Junction 19 near Knutsford. In 2004, it favoured a new motorway, 'The Expressway' following a roughly parallel course to the existing M6.[10] In July 2006, the government announced its decision to abandon the Expressway proposal, and favoured widening accompanied by demand-management measures,[11] and have launched a study to consider options for providing additional capacity.[12] The first phase of the widening could be completed by 2014, with the remaining sections following until full completion in 2017.[11]

Hard shoulder running (junction 4-5 and 8 to 10a)

In October 2007, following a successful trial on the M42 in the West Midlands, the UK government have announced that two stretches of the M6 will be upgraded to allow the hard shoulder to be used as a normal running lane during busy conditions under a scheme called Active Traffic Management.[13] The two stretches, between junctions 4 and 5 and between junctions 10a and 8, are two of the busiest sections on the entire motorway. The system could also be extended onto other stretches of the M6 as the government is going to undertake a feasibility study to determine other likely locations where this technology can be used.

Junction with M1 and A14

The Highways Agency is planning a major upgrade to the overloaded interchange between the M6, the M1 motorway and the A14 road at Catthorpe.[14]

M6 motorway in culture

The M6 motorway was featured in the lyrics of Wings' 1973 single "Helen Wheels": "M6 south down Liverpool, where they play the west coast sound". The song was a single only release in the UK (1973) but was added to the US and international album release of Band on the Run.

Reference to the motorway appeared in the 1975 song "Moonlighting" by Leo Sayer via the lyric "Meanwhile the Carlisle turnoff of the M6 motorway, drinking cold black coffee, eating hot cup cakes".

A reference to the M6 motorway is made in the song "Family" from the 1989 New Model Army album Thunder and Consolation: "M6 southbound road side cafe on a wild wet windy night."

The song 'Northern', by experimental English group One More Grain describes a journey through Cumbria on the northbound carriageway of the M6 ("driving on the M6, headed north to Penrith"), mentioning many of the sites, towns and landmarks on the way e.g. Sedbergh, Howgill Fells, Metal Bridge, Rockcliffe Marsh and the Solway Firth.


Data[15][16] from driver location signs are used to provide distance and carriageway identifier information.

M6 Motorway
km Northbound exits (A Carriageway) Junction Southbound exits (B Carriageway)
M6 now continues as A74(M) to Glasgow, Edinburgh
England / Scotland border
Gretna (Green) B7076
Longtown A6071
M6 J45 No exit
Todhills rest area Services Todhills rest area
Carlisle (North), Galashiels, Hawick A7 J44
[coord 1]
Hexham A689
Workington (A595), Carlisle A7
Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle upon Tyne A69 J43 Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle upon Tyne A69
Carlisle (South) A6 J42 Carlisle (South) A6
Southwaite services Services Southwaite services
Wigton B5305 J41 Wigton B5305
Penrith, Workington, Keswick A66 J40 Penrith, Keswick, Brough, Scotch Corner A66
Shap, Kendal (A6) J39 Shap (A6)
Tebay services Services Tebay services
Brough A685
Appleby B6260
J38 Kendal, Brough A685
Kendal, Sedbergh A684 J37 Kendal, Sedbergh A684
no access to services Services Killington Lake services
Kirkby Lonsdale, Skipton A65
Kendal, Barrow-in-Furness A590
J36 Kirkby Lonsdale, Skipton A65
Barrow-in-Furness A590
Burton-in-Kendal services Services no access to services
Carnforth, Morecambe A601(M) (A6) J35 Carnforth, Morecambe A601(M) (A6)
Lancaster, Morecambe, Kirkby Lonsdale, Heysham A683 J34 Lancaster, Morecambe A683
Lancaster A6 J33 Garstang, Fleetwood A6
Lancaster (Forton) services Services Lancaster (Forton) services
Blackpool, Fleetwood, Preston, Garstang M55 J32 Blackpool M55
Preston, Longridge B6242 J31A No exit
Preston, Clitheroe A59 J31 Preston, Clitheroe A59
346.6 No exit J30 Manchester, Bolton M61
Leeds (M62)
Blackburn (M65)
344.4 Burnley, Blackburn, Preston M65 J29 Burnley, Blackburn M65
341.2 Leyland (A49) J28 Leyland (A49)
Charnock Richard services Services Charnock Richard services
329.3 Parbold, Standish, Chorley A5209 J27 Parbold, Wigan A5209
322.9 Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58 J26 Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58
318.7 Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfield A49 J25 No exit
316.4 No exit J24 St. Helens, Ashton-in-Makerfield A58
313.8 Haydock, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows A580 (East Lancashire Road) J23 Haydock, Manchester, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows A580 (East Lancashire Road)
298.4 Newton-le-Willows A49 Leigh A579 J22 Warrington A49
306.9 Manchester, Leeds M62 J21A Liverpool, Southport M62
Liverpool, Southport M62 Manchester, Leeds M62
302.6 Warrington, Irlam A57 J21 Warrington, Irlam A57
Thelwall Viaduct
[coord 2]
Lymm, Macclesfield A50
Lymm Services
Lymm, Macclesfield A50
Lymm Services
NORTH WALES, Runcorn, Birkenhead M56 NORTH WALES, Chester, Manchester & Airport, Stockport M56
289.9 Manchester & Airport, Stockport A556 (M56 (west)) J19 Northwich, Knutsford, Macclesfield A556
Knutsford services
(no HGVs)
Services Knutsford services
(no HGVs)
277.0 Holmes Chapel, Middlewich, Northwich, Chester A54 J18 Holmes Chapel, Middlewich A54
270.9 Congleton, Sandbach A534 J17 Congleton, Sandbach A534
Sandbach services Services Sandbach services
261.9 Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Nantwich A500 J16 Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Nantwich A500
Keele services Services Keele services
246.2 Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme A500 J15 Stoke-on-Trent, Stone, Eccleshall A500
Derby (A50)
Stafford services Services Stafford services
228.2 Stafford, Stone, Eccleshall A34 J14 Stafford (North) A34
220.1 Stafford A449 J13 Stafford (South & Central) A449
211.2 Telford A5 J12 NORTH WALES, Cannock, Wolverhampton, Telford A5 (M54)
No exit J11A The SOUTH, Lichfield M6 Toll
207.3 Cannock A460 J11 Wolverhampton A460
Hilton Park services Services Hilton Park services
NORTH WALES, Wolverhampton, Telford M54 J10A No exit
198.3 Walsall, Wolverhampton A454 J10 Walsall A454
195.6 Wednesbury A461 J9 Wednesbury A461
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (West), West Bromwich M5 J8
[coord 3]
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham, West Bromwich M5
190.2 Birmingham (NW), Walsall A34 J7
[coord 4]
Birmingham A34
183.5 Birmingham (Central & North) A38(M)
Sutton Coldfield A5127
Gravelly Hill Interchange
[coord 5]
Birmingham A38(M) & A38
178.1 Birmingham (NE), Castle Bromwich A452 J5
[coord 6]
No exit westbound
175.5 No exit J4A The NORTH (M1)
The SOUTH (M40) M42
170.5 Lichfield A446
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (East & Airport), Solihull, NEC M42
J4 Coventry, Birmingham Airport, NEC A446
The NORTH WEST, Lichfield M6 Toll (M42) J3A No exit
Corley services Services Corley services
155.3 Bedworth, Coventry, Nuneaton A444 J3 Bedworth, Coventry, Nuneaton A444
149.6 Coventry A46
Leicester M69 (M1)
J2 Coventry A46
Leicester M69
137.4 Rugby A426 J1 Rugby, Lutterworth A426
No exit M1 J19
[coord 7]
Felixstowe, Corby, Kettering A14, M1 (North)
Start of motorway London M1

Coordinate list

  1. ^ 54°55′48″N 2°56′47″W / 54.93013°N 2.94643°W / 54.93013; -2.94643 (J44) J44
  2. ^ 53°23′26″N 2°30′21″W / 53.3906°N 2.5059°W / 53.3906; -2.5059 Thelwell Viaduct
  3. ^ 52°32′53″N 1°57′54″W / 52.548°N 1.965°W / 52.548; -1.965 (J8)J8 - Start of M5 motorway
  4. ^ 52°33′11″N 1°56′02″W / 52.5530°N 1.9338°W / 52.5530; -1.9338 (J7) J7
  5. ^ 52°30′40″N 1°51′58″W / 52.511°N 1.866°W / 52.511; -1.866 (J6) J6 - Gravelly Hill Interchange
  6. ^ 52°30′33″N 1°47′20″W / 52.5093°N 1.7888°W / 52.5093; -1.7888 (J5) J5
  7. ^ 52°24′15″N 1°10′39″W / 52.4043°N 1.1776°W / 52.4043; -1.1776 (M1 J19) Southern end of the M6


The M6 near Carnforth, 2005

Each motorway in England requires that a legal document called a Statutory Instrument be published, detailing the route of the road, before it can be built. The dates given on these Statutory Instruments relate to when the document was published, and not when the road was built. Provided below is an incomplete list of the Statutory Instruments relating to the route of the M6.

  • Statutory Instrument 1987 No. 252: County Council of West Midlands (M6 Motorway Junction 10) (Connecting Road) Scheme 1985 Confirmation Instrument 1987[17]
  • Statutory Instrument 1987 No. 2254: M6 Motorway (Catthorpe Interchange) Connecting Roads Scheme 1987[18]
  • Statutory Instrument 1990 No. 2659: M6 Motorway: Widening between Junctions 20 and 21A (Thelwall Viaduct) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1990[19]
  • Statutory Instrument 1991 No. 1873: M6 Motorway (Widening and Improvements Between Junctions 30 and 32) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1991[20]
  • Statutory Instrument 1993 No. 1370: Lancashire County Council (Proposed Connecting Roads to M6 Motorway at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1992 Confirmation Instrument 1993[21]
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1292: M6 Birmingham to Carlisle Motorway (At Haighton) Connecting Roads Scheme 1997[22]
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1293: M6 Birmingham To Carlisle Motorway (at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1997 Transfer Order 1997[23]
  • Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 125: The M6 Motorway (Saredon and Packington Diversions) Scheme 1998[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Preston Bypass Opening (Booklet)" (pdf). CBRD. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  2. ^ "The Preston By-pass-Enquiry Needed". Practical Motorist and Motor Cyclist 5 (nbr57): 803. March 1959.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "News: Motorway lighting". Autocar 137 nbr 3978: page 19. 13 July 1972.  
  5. ^ "M6 Carlisle - Gretna". CBRD. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  6. ^ "M6 Carlisle to Guards Mill Extension". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  7. ^ "M6 North Extension, United Kingdom". Road Traffic Technology. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  8. ^ "one year after study" (PDF). Highways Agency. 2005-08-11. Retrieved 2008-01-24.  
  9. ^ "Decision on M6 upgrade announced". 2006-07-20. Retrieved 2007-09-30.  
  10. ^ "Encouraging better use of roads and the M6". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  11. ^ a b "Decision on M6 upgrade announced". Government News Network. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  12. ^ "M6 Jct 11A - 19 (Increasing Capacity) Study". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  
  13. ^ "Hard-shoulder scheme to go nationwide". The Independent. 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2007-01-25.  
  14. ^ "M1 Jct 19". Retrieved 2008-02-28.  
  15. ^ Driver Location Signs, M6 J4-18(map) Highway Authority 2009
  16. ^ Driver Location Signs, Highway Agency Area 10 (map) - Highway Authority, 2009
  17. ^ "S.I. 1987/252". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  18. ^ "S.I. 1987/2254". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  19. ^ "S.I. 1990/2659". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  20. ^ "S.I. 1991/1873". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  21. ^ "S.I. 1993/1370". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  22. ^ "S.I. 1997/1292". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  23. ^ "S.I. 1997/1293". Office of Public Sector Information.  
  24. ^ "S.I. 1998/125". Office of Public Sector Information.  

External links


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