Runcorn railway station is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to Liverpool Lime Street, Birmingham New Street and London Euston. Runcorn East connects Manchester Piccadilly, Warrington Bank Quay, Chester and North Wales. The A533 road passes through the town from the south and over the Mersey Gateway Bridge across the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. Three bridges span the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal at Runcorn: the Silver Jubilee Bridge, Mersey Gateway and Runcorn Railway Bridge. The Bridgewater Canal terminates in the town centre.
Runcorn was a small, isolated village until the Industrial Revolution. It was a health resort in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Towards the end of the 18th century, a port began to develop on the south bank of the River Mersey. During the 19th century, industries developed around the manufacture of soap and alkali, quarrying, shipbuilding, engineering, and tanning. New York Harbour and Liverpool Cathedral were built with Runcorn sandstone quarried from what is now Runcorn Hill Park. By the early 20th century, the prime industries were chemicals and tanning.
Chemical and high tech manufacturing continue and there has been diversification into services and particularly logistics because of Runcorn's easy access to the Manchester Ship Canal, railway and motorway networks. Runcorn was designated a new town in 1964 and greatly expanded eastward in the 1960s and 1970s. Areas of housing have continued to expand farther to the east with the development of Sandymoor in the 1990s and 2000s. This rapid growth since the second half of the 20th century has resulted in the population more than doubling from around 26,000 to its present estimated level of 70,000.
The town's motto is Navem Mercibus Implere meaning 'fill the ships with goods'. It is a classical quotation from Juvenal.
The earliest written reference to the town is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is spelled "Rumcofan", literally meaning "a wide cove or bay". This word is derived from the Old English words "rúm" ("wide" or "broad") and "cofa" ("cave" or "cove"). Other historical spellings of Runcorn include "Rumcoven", "Ronchestorn", "Runckhorne", and "Runcorne".