The northern route runs from Liverpool Lime Street station, via Earlestown and Newton-le-Willows, and continues to either Manchester Victoria or Manchester Piccadilly. The line follows George Stephenson's original 32-mile (51.5 km) Liverpool and Manchester Railway of 1830, which was the world's first inter-city passenger railway and the first to have run 'scheduled' services. Many early steam locomotives were initially used on this line including Stephenson's Rocket, which won the Rainhill Trials in 1829 (see List of Liverpool and Manchester Railway locomotives). The line also includes a number of listed structures including stations and bridges, particularly the Rainhill Skew Bridge and the nine-arch Sankey Viaduct. The line uses Class 319 electric EMU units.
An hourly semi-fast service is operated by Northern, from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Airport, usually calling at Wavertree Technology Park, St Helens Junction, Newton-le-Willows, Manchester Oxford Road and Manchester Piccadilly, and continuing to Manchester Airport.
Northern also operates an hourly service calling at all stations along the line between Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Victoria. This 'stopping service' is supplemented by an additional all-stations service between Liverpool Lime Street and Earlestown, which continues along the West Coast Main Line to Warrington Bank Quay.