The Kendal and Windermere Railway built a branch line from the main line to Kendal and on to Windermere, in Cumbria in north-west England. It was promoted by local interests in Kendal when it became clear that the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway would not be routed through Kendal. It was built from a junction at Oxenholme to Kendal to a terminus near Windermere; at the time there was no settlement of that name. The line opened in April 1847. The engineer was Joseph Locke and the partnership of contractors consisted of Thomas Brassey, William Mackenzie, Robert Stephenson and George Heald.
Excursion traffic and residential development was greatly encouraged by the branch line, and the town of Windermere flourished but the company was not commercially successful and sold its line to the London and North Western Railway. The leisure business on which the branch line depended declined considerably around 1960 and the infrastructure was simplified. It remains open as the Windermere Branch Line.
In the 1830s the railway network was emerging in England and central Scotland but they were not connected. From 1832 it became increasingly certain that a connection between England and Scotland would be built northward from Preston to Carlisle and beyond. The difficult terrain presented a significant challenge, particularly because steam engines did not have a great hauling power in the early years. A line following the Cumberland coast reached by a massive barrage across Morecambe Bay was proposed, but although it gave access to population centres, it was a very roundabout route and the cost of the Morecambe Bay barrage would be considerable.
More direct routes were proposed involving steep gradients and long tunnels and several were viable. Kendal was the only town of any size between Lancaster and Carlisle and there was great dismay in Kendal when the favoured routes by-passed the town. A possible route running north from Kendal along Long Sleddale required a long and deep tunnel to proceed to the west shore of Hawes Water.[note 1]
Finance was hard to come by and proponents of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, delayed presenting a Bill in Parliament, but in 1843 their engineer, Joseph Locke, made some modifications to the intended route to save expense, and published a route passing several miles east of Kendal. Interested parties in Kendal decided to build a branch railway to their town from the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway and continue it to the shore of Windermere, which was by then a tourist attraction.
In the 1845 session of Parliament, a Bill was presented for the Kendal and Windermere Railway which was to run from Oxenholme to Birthwaite, a small community in what is now Windermere town. It would make a junction with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway at Oxenholme. The Bill passed without opposition, and Royal Assent was given on 30 June 1845. The line would be single track between Kendal and Windermere, although it was changed to double track, without increasing the authorised £125,000 share capital. Construction was carried out in collaboration with the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway.