M6 motorway

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain; Road transport

The M6 near Carnforth, 2005
The M6 near Carnforth, 2005
M6 motorway
Length 226.7 miles
364.8 km
Direction South - North
Start Catthorpe
Primary destinations Rugby
End Carlisle
Construction dates 1958 - 1972
Motorways joined
M1 motorway
2 -
M69 motorway
3A -
M6 Toll
4/4A -
M42 motorway
6 -
A38(M) motorway
8 -
M5 motorway
10A -
M54 motorway
11A -
M6 Toll
20 -
M56 motorway
21A -
M62 motorway
26 -
M58 motorway
29 -
M65 motorway
30 -
M61 motorway
32 -
M55 motorway
35 -
A601(M) motorway
E 05
E 24
This article concerns the M6 motorway in England. There are also M6 motorways in Hungary (see M6 motorway (Hungary)) and the Republic of Ireland (see N6 road).

The M6 motorway is the longest motorway in the United Kingdom. It runs from a junction with the M1 near Rugby in central England, passes near Coventry, through Birmingham and near the major cities of Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, Liverpool, and Preston, and runs to the north of Carlisle, close to the Scottish border.

It is often claimed to be the busiest motorway in the country, although the M25 may also lay claim to this dubious distinction, depending on the measurement used. It is also sometimes referred to as the "Backbone of Britain" as it forms part of the central road corridor between Glasgow and London, connecting Scotland and the industrial North of England to the financial and governmental heart of the country in the South East.

From the M1 to the M6 Toll split near Birmingham, the M6 is part of the unsigned E-road E24. E5 joins the M6 Toll from the M42 and then uses the M6 to its north end at Carlisle, where it continues along the M74.

History and curiosities

The M6 in Cheshire, 1969
The M6 in Cheshire, 1969

The first section of the motorway, and indeed the first motorway in the country, the Preston by-pass, was opened by the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on December 5, 1958. In subsequent years the motorway was extended piecemeal in both directions and is now 230 miles (370 km) long.

Junction 6 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. Uniquely, at this point a local road (to Scout Green) runs between the two carriageways without a direct link to the motorway.

The section of the M6 which runs over Shap Fell in Cumbria is 320m 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 West Coast Main Line railway follows the same course, and in places runs alongside the M6 for much of its length.

The northbound entry slip road at Lancaster North 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.

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.


The M6 has been found to be the most haunted road (or reputedly so) in Britain, in a study performed on behalf of Tarmac, the roadbuilding company. As reported in the Guardian newspaper, 'The survey's results also include more traditional scenes of hauntings such as the A9 in the Highlands of Scotland, where a stagecoach with bewigged footmen has appeared to a succession of drivers. Other reports include eyes peeping out of bushes at the site of a colliery disaster in Leigh, Greater Manchester. Most of the phenomena seem benign, but several roads have a reputation for figures which appear to run into the path of traffic.'

The M6 Toll, being Britain's first toll motorway designed to relieve congestion on the main motorway section, is apparently haunted by a cohort of Roman legionnaires, with one interviewee reporting seeing 'about 20 soldiers "more like upright shadows than men walking through the tarmac as you would through water."'

M6 Toll

The M6 Toll, Britain's first toll motorway, was partially opened (to local traffic only) on December 9, 2003 and fully opened a few days later. It bypasses the West Midlands conurbation to the east and north of Birmingham and Walsall, and was built to alleviate congestion through the West Midlands. Prior to the opening of the toll motorway, this section of the M6 carried 180,000 vehicles per day at its busiest point near to Wolverhampton (between the junctions with the M54 and M5 motorways), compared to a design capacity of only 72,000 vehicles. The daytime price for a car to travel the full length of the M6 Toll increased from £3 to £3.50 on 14 June 2005.

An alternative way of by-passing the congested West Midlands area (northbound) is to continue north on the M1 then take the A50 or A52.

Future developments

Widening between J11a and J19

Due to the congested nature of the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester, the UK Government is planning to widen the existing motorway to increase capacity. The proposal is to widen the road from a 3 to a 4 lane dual carriageway between junction 11a and junction 19. The first phase of the widening could be completed by 2014, with the remaining sections following until full completion in 2017.

History of the proposal

In December 2002, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, announced his decision to widen the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester as a result of a study that had recently been completed. However, following on from the opening of the M6 toll road in December 2003, Mr Darling announced on 6 July 2004 a proposal to build a second toll road (dubbed the M6 Expressway) as an alternative to the widening scheme.

The two-lane Expressway was expected to run from Junction 11 ( Cannock) to Junction 19 ( Knutsford), following a roughly parallel course to the existing M6. It was discussed in the Department for Transport (DfT) document: M6: giving motorists a choice.

On 19 July 2005 the Minister of State for Transport, Dr Stephen Ladyman MP, released a press notice acknowledging there was no clear consensus over which option was best, and stating that he had commissioned more work to further develop the proposals for both options. His intention being that it would be easier to make a choice when the two were more clearly defined.

Responses to the earlier document were also published: Responses to M6: giving motorists a choice

Dr Ladyman released a further press notice on 20 July 2006 to announce the decision to abandon the Expressway proposal and continue with the original widening option.


The A556(M) link road, planned to provide a route to the M56 eastbound towards Manchester for travellers coming from the south on the M6, has been the subject of a public inquiry for many years. The Highways Agency's Route Management Strategy (RMS) for the A556 now promotes gradual upgrading to dual carriageway standard with a 50 mph speed limit, rather than a full upgrade to motorway.

"Cumberland Gap"

In March 2006, after years of political wrangling, the Government finally gave the green light to extend the M6 for 6 miles (the so-called "Cumberland Gap") from its northern terminus at Guard's Mill near Carlisle to the Anglo-Scottish border at Gretna where it will link into the existing A74(M). Costing £174m, (estimated at more than £30m a mile) the new road will be a mixture of new road and online upgrade of the existing A74. The high construction cost is attributable to the route of the road, which has to traverse the West Coast Main Line, and to this end new bridges will need to be constructed. The project has also been subject to a lengthy public enquiry, and the course of the route has been designed to minimise the number of properties that will be destroyed or relocated by the motorway. Once completed however (estimated in 2009), an uninterrupted motorway will then exist between Glasgow and London, and effectively as far south as Exeter.

What remains unclear however, is if the original numbering change to the M74/A74(M) to M6 will now go ahead. Although road signage on its southern stretches was equipped with removeable "A74(M)" plates which reveal "M6" beneath, the Scottish Executive has been reticent over whether the numbering change will actually happen.

Construction began on this section of motorway at the end of July 2006.


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 S.I. 1987/252
  • Statutory Instrument 1987 No. 2254: M6 Motorway (Catthorpe Interchange) Connecting Roads Scheme 1987 S.I. 1987/2254
  • Statutory Instrument 1990 No. 2659: M6 Motorway: Widening between Junctions 20 and 21A (Thelwall Viaduct) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1990 S.I. 1990/2659
  • Statutory Instrument 1991 No. 1873: M6 Motorway (Widening and Improvements Between Junctions 30 and 32) and Connecting Roads Scheme 1991 S.I. 1991/1873
  • Statutory Instrument 1993 No. 1370: Lancashire County Council (Proposed Connecting Roads to M6 Motorway at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1992 Confirmation Instrument 1993 S.I. 1993/1370
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1292: M6 Birmingham to Carlisle Motorway (At Haighton) Connecting Roads Scheme 1997 S.I. 1997/1292
  • Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1293: M6 Birmingham To Carlisle Motorway (at Haighton) Special Roads Scheme 1997 Transfer Order 1997 S.I. 1997/1293
  • Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 125: The M6 Motorway (Saredon and Packington Diversions) Scheme 1998 S.I. 1998/125
  • Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 1646: The M6 Motorway (Junction 38 Slip Roads) (Speed Limit) Regulations 1999 S.I. 1999/1646


M6 Motorway
Northbound exits Junction Southbound exits
Road continues as A74 ( A74(M)) to Glasgow, Edinburgh J44 Carlisle, Galashiels, Hawick A7
Carlisle, Galashiels, Hawick A7 Start of motorway
Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne A69 J43 Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne A69
Carlisle A6 J42 Carlisle A6
Southwaite services
Wigton B5305 J41 Wigton B5305
Penrith, Keswick A66 J40 Penrith, Keswick, Brough, Scotch Corner A66
Shap, Kendal (A6) J39 Shap (A6)
Tebay services
Brough A685
Appleby B6260
J38 Kendal, Brough A685
Kendal, Sedbergh A684 J37 Kendal, Sedbergh A684
no access to 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 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
Blackpool, Fleetwood, Preston, Garstang M55 J32 Blackpool M55
Preston, Longridge B6242 J31A No exit
Preston, Clitheroe A59 J31 Preston, Clitheroe A59
No exit J30 Manchester, Bolton M61
Leeds ( M62)
Blackburn ( M65)
Burnley, Blackburn, Preston M65 J29 Burnley, Blackburn M65
Leyland (A49) J28 Leyland (A49)
Charnock Richard services
Parbold, Standish, Chorley A5209 J27 Parbold A5209
Wigan, Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58 J26 Wigan, Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58
Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfield A49 J25 No exit
No exit J24 St. Helens, Ashton-in-Makerfield A58
Haydock, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows A580 (East Lancashire Road) J23
Haydock Island
Haydock, Manchester, Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows A580 (East Lancashire Road)
Newton-le-Willows A49 Leigh A579 J22 Warrington A49
Manchester, Leeds M62 J21A Liverpool, Southport M62
Liverpool, Southport M62 Manchester, Leeds M62
Warrington, Irlam A57 J21 Warrington, Irlam A57
Lymm, Macclesfield A50
Poplar 2000 Services
J20 Lymm, Macclesfield A50
Poplar 2000 Services
NORTH WALES, Runcorn, Birkenhead M56 NORTH WALES, Chester, Manchester & Airport, Stockport M56
Manchester & Airport, Stockport A556 (M56 (west)) J19 Northwich, Knutsford, Macclesfield A556
Knutsford services
(no HGVs)
Holmes Chapel, Middlewich, Northwich, Chester A54 J18 Holmes Chapel, Middlewich A54
Congleton, Sandbach A534 J17 Congleton, Sandbach A534
Sandbach services
Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Nantwich A500 J16 Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe, Nantwich A500
Keele services
Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme A500 J15 Stoke-on-Trent, Stone, Eccleshall A500
Stafford services
Stafford, Stone, Eccleshall A34 J14 Stafford A34
Stafford A449 J13 Stafford A449
Telford A5 J12 NORTH WALES, Cannock, Wolverhampton, Telford A5 ( M54)
No exit J11A The SOUTH, Lichfield M6 Toll
Cannock A460 J11 Wolverhampton A460
Hilton Park services
NORTH WALES, Wolverhampton, Telford M54 J10A No exit
Walsall, Wolverhampton A454 J10 Walsall A454
Wednesbury A461 J9 Wednesbury A461
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham, West Bromwich M5 J8 The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham, West Bromwich M5
Birmingham, Walsall A34 J7 Birmingham A34
Birmingham (Central) A38(M)
Sutton Coldfield A38
Gravelly Hill Interchange
Birmingham A38(M) & A38
Birmingham, Solihull A452 J5 No exit
No exit J4A The NORTH (M1)
The SOUTH ( M40) M42
Lichfield A446 J4 Coventry, Birmingham Airport, NEC A446
The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham & Airport, Solihull, NEC M42 (South)
The NORTH WEST, Lichfield M6 Toll (M42) J3A No exit
Corley services
Bedworth, Coventry, Nuneaton A444 J3 Bedworth, Coventry, Nuneaton A444
Coventry A46
Leicester M69 (M1)
J2 Coventry A46
Leicester M69
Rugby, Lutterworth A426 J1 Rugby A426
No exit M1 J19 Felixstowe, Corby, Kettering A14, M1 (North)
Start of motorway London M1

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