The WCR was incorporated on 11 July 1861. In 1861, the WCR requested powers to construct a line from Northwich to Chester, with a branch to Helsby, but parliamentary approval was received only for a line via Mouldsworth to Helsby. In 1862, the WCR again sought powers for their line to Chester, with connecting branches from Mouldsworth to Helsby and from Cuddington to Winsford. Again, parliamentary approval was restricted, being confined to the line to Helsby and a branch to Winsford.
Following receipt of its statutory powers, the WCR commenced construction of its main 14.6 mile (23 km) line running west from the existing Cheshire Midland Railway at Northwich to join the Birkenhead Railway at Helsby Junction. On 15 August 1867, the WCR became a constituent of the Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC). Construction continued and the line from Northwich to Helsby opened for goods traffic on 1 September 1869 and for passenger trains on 22 June 1870. The public passenger service from Northwich to Helsby lasted only until 1 May 1875, but workmen's trains continued until 1944.
The WCR's main line left Northwich in a southwesterly direction and crossed the River Dane and the River Weaver by means of a half-mile long viaduct with forty-eight stone arches and two wrought-iron girder bridges. The first station out of Northwich was Hartford and Greenbank, renamed Greenbank on 7 May 1973. Further stations were located at Cuddington, Delamere, Mouldsworth, and Manley before the line's terminus at Helsby and Alvanley station. A goods station, engine shed and locomotive turntable were constructed between Helsby station and the junction with the Birkenhead Railway. Although the passenger service from Northwich to Helsby was terminated in 1875, the line from Mouldsworth to Helsby Junction continued in use until 14 September 1991 for freight trains heading for the Birkenhead Railway.
This route was a main arterial link between Birkenhead Docks, Ellesmere Port and Stanlow on to the main rail routes to Crewe and the South.