Port passenger and freight traffic

The Department for Transport publishes sea passenger statistics that include details of passenger movements on the service between Heysham and Douglas. In 2016, the Heysham-Douglas ferry service accounted for 48.1% of maritime passengers on the GB to Isle of Man route, with the rest largely using the service from Liverpool. 

Traffic levels on the Heysham-Douglas service have fluctuated between 2004 and 2016. They hit a peak in 2007 of 299,000, whilst the most recent total for 2016 was 268,000.  

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company operates both the Liverpool and Heysham routes to Douglas. The Liverpool route is the quicker service whilst a slower vessel (Ben-My-Chree) operates out of Heysham. 

Heysham Harbour railway station has a very limited number of services that have the sole purpose of connecting with the Heysham-Douglas sailings. Yearly passenger numbers (see railway station usage article) are modest and are listed with the other stations in Lancaster district.  

Table 1, Domestic waterborne passenger movements, thousands of passengers

Year 2004 2006  2008  2010  2012  2014  2016  Percentage change 2004-2016 
 Heysham-Douglas 272  269  290 258  257  258  268  -1.4% 

Source Department for Transport, sea passenger statistics SPA SO201

The former passenger service between Fleetwood and Larne in Northern Ireland was withdrawn on 24th December 2010, after a period of declining passenger numbers. Between 1999 and 2010, passenger levels varied between a high of 72,000 in 2004 to a low of 51,000 in the final year of 2010.

Table 2, Accompanied passenger vehicles, (thousands)
Year  2003  2005  2007  2009  2011 2013   2015  Percentage change, 2003-2015
Heysham-Douglas  75 67  94  86  77  79  76  +0.8% 
UK ports, all cars 6,804  6,305  6,677  6,405  6,188  5,719  5,606  -17.6% 

Source DfT, sea passenger statistics table SPA SO4 

Table 2 presents the number of accompanied passenger vehicles through Heysham and nationally. On the Heysham to Douglas route, the numbers were somewhat volatile rising from the lowest figure in 2005 to the highest in 2007, but ending up with about 1,000 more vehicles conveyed in 2015 than in 2003. At the national level, there was a more clearly defined reduction of -17.6% over the whole period. The market for accompanied cars at the national level has been affected by the growing number of passenger vehicles using the channel tunnel, and fewer vehicles on routes to the Irish Republic.  

Freight Traffic, Lancashire Ports 

The Department for Transport releases port freight statistics on a quarterly basis along with yearly reports. Table 3 has results from the yearly reports, but the quarterly updates have the most up-to-date figures for the major UK ports that include Heysham. 

Table 3, Lancashire ports, all freight traffic, 1965 - 2016 (thousand tonnes) 

Year 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985
Fleetwood 259 253 1,025 1,944 1,879
Heysham 3,563 586 593 885 926
Lancaster -- 85 49 134 233
Year 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Fleetwood *  1,381 1,236  1,530  1,635  1,137 
Heysham 1,485  2,708  3,723  3,676  3,461 
Lancaster 213  129  135  111  141 
Year 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Heysham 4,291 4,035  3,920  4,472  4,557  4,590
Lancaster 134 127  158  151  144  158

Source: Department for Transport.  * The closure of the Fleetwood-Larne ferry service in 2010 has meant that no freight traffic (excludes fish landings) has been recorded for Fleetwood since 2010. 

In September 2017, the Department for Transport published the 2016 port freight statistics that include long-term trends over a number of years. Table 3 presents historic data on total tonnage through the three Lancashire ports covering the period from 1965 to 2016.

Over the years, the national picture was one of constant increases up to 1999, when the results became somewhat more volatile. As a result of economic slowdown, the 2009 figure for the UK (501 million tonnes) was well below the result for the previous year, but the 2010 and 2011 numbers saw modest increases. UK ports handled just over 519 million tonnes of freight in 2011, but between 2012 and 2014, the totals were between 501 and 503 million tonnes. In 2015 and 2016 there were further falls to 497 and 484 million tonnes. These levels are well below the peak of just under 585 million tonnes in 2005.

The Lancashire results show some variations over the 52-year period. Heysham saw an enormous decrease in activity between 1965 and 1970, and it was not until 1997 that the port managed to surpass the 1965 figure of 3,563 thousand tonnes. From a high point in 2003, Heysham once again entered a period of decline until there was a turnaround in 2010 and most noticeably in 2011. The rise to 4,291 thousand tonnes in 2011 was underpinned by traffic being transferred after the closure of the Fleetwood to Larne freight route in December 2010 backed up by investments in infrastructure by Peel Ports. The following two years however saw some reduction in activity, but strong growth during 2014 saw a 14% increase on 2013 at Heysham. Further increases occurred in 2015 and in 2016 the freight traffic figure reached 4,590 thousand tonnes, which was the highest recorded yearly figure at the port.

It is anticipated that the opening of the Heysham to M6 link road (the Bay Gateway) and the planned £10 million expansion of Heysham port will support future growth.

The closure of the Fleetwood-Larne service has meant that no freight traffic (excludes fish landings) has been recorded through Fleetwood since 2010.

The small port of Glasson Dock (Lancaster) has a modest trade flow, and the 2016 figure of 158 thousand tonnes represents a modest improvement over the previous year.   

The figures for port activity in Lancashire reveal a useful role for traffic flows to the Isle of Man and Ireland, but the Lancashire ports only account for 0.98% of total UK tonnage. In a national context, activity at the Lancashire ports is small scale, however as sources of employment, and conduits to the movement of passengers and freight, they are still important to the local and wider economy.    


Heysham Port opened in 1904 and offers immediate access to the sea at all states of the tide. 

In addition to the Heysham to the Isle of Man passenger service, Stena Line operates a freight service between Heysham and Belfast, whilst Seatruck Ferries is an Irish Sea ferry company (part of the multi-national Clipper Group) that specialises in the carriage of unaccompanied freight. It operates from Heysham to Dublin and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland. 

The Morecambe Bay Gas Fields in the Irish Sea are operated by Centrica Energy, and Peterson UK Ltd has a gasfield support operation at Heysham.    


The port of Fleetwood is one of the 21 UK ports owned by Associated British Ports. The company's website lists the range of facilities at Fleetwood that includes an important fish auction hall. Fish landing results are excluded from the tonnage figures in Table 2. 

Glasson Dock (Lancaster) 

Glasson Dock is a small facility situated to the south of Lancaster that handles ships of up to 3,000 tonnes. There is a regular liner service to the Isle of Man for general cargo in conjunction with Mezeron

Page updated October 2017