|East Coast Main Line|
|Termini||London King's Cross|
|Line length||393 miles 13 chains (632.7 km)|
|Number of tracks||Double track and Quadruple track|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Loading gauge||W9 (via Hertford Loop)|
|Route availability||RA 7-9, RA 10 in parts between Selby and York|
|Electrification||25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE|
|Operating speed||125 mph (200 km/h) maximum|
The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km) major railway between London and Edinburgh via Peterborough, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle; it is electrified along the whole route. The route is a key transport artery on the eastern side of Great Britain and broadly paralleled by the A1 road.
The original line was built during the 1840s by three railway companies, the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. In 1923, the enactment of the Railway Act of 1921 led to their amalgamation to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The line was the primary route of the LNER, who competed against the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) for long-distance passenger traffic between London and Scotland. The LNER's chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley designed iconic Pacific locomotives, including the steam locomotives "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard" which achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section.
On 1 January 1948, the railways were nationalised by the government, and operated by British Railways. During the early 1960s, steam locomotion was replaced by Diesel-electric traction, including the Deltics and sections of the line were upgraded so trains could run at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). With the demand for higher speed, British Rail introduced InterCity 125 High Speed trains between 1976 and 1981. In 1973, the prototype of the HST, the Class 41, achieved a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run on the line. During the 1980s, the line was electrified and InterCity 225 trains were introduced.
The line links London, South East England and East Anglia, with Yorkshire, the North East Regions and Scotland and is important to the economy of several areas of England and Scotland. It carries key commuter flows for the north side of London and handles cross-country, commuter and local passenger services, and carries freight traffic. Services north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness use diesel trains. In 1997, operations were privatised. The current operator is London North Eastern Railway, bringing the LNER name back into use, which took over from Virgin Trains East Coast in June 2018.
- 1 Route definition and description
- 2 Infrastructure
- 3 Rolling stock
- 4 Operators
- 5 Development
- 6 Accidents
- 7 Passenger volume
- 8 Popular culture
- 9 References
Route definition and description
- The main line between London King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations, via Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Retford, Doncaster, York, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar. The line crosses the Anglo-Scottish border at Marshall Meadows Bay;
- The Doncaster branch of the Wakefield Line, between Doncaster and Leeds, via Wakefield Westgate;
- The Northern City Line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate; and
- The Hertford Loop Line from Alexandra Palace to Stevenage.
- The branch line to North Berwick
- The Dunbar loop
The core route is the main line between King's Cross and Edinburgh, and the Hertford Loop is used for local and freight services and the Northern City Line provides an inner suburban service to the city. The route has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.
Origins and early operations
The ECML was originally developed and constructed out of the efforts of three independent railway companies. During the 1830s and 1840s, each of these firms had built their part of the route with the principal aim of serving their own areas, but also held the intention of linking each other's railways together to form an extensive through route that would become the East Coast Main Line. From north to south, these companies were:
- the North British Railway, from Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed, completed in 1846.
- the North Eastern Railway from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Shaftholme.
- the Great Northern Railway from Shaftholme to King's Cross, completed in 1850.
When first completed, the GNR established an end-on connection at Askern, famously described by the GNR's chairman as being "a ploughed field four miles north of Doncaster". Askern was connected with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a short section of which was used to reach the NER at Knottingley. During 1871, the route was shortened when the NER opened a direct line, which ran from an end-on junction, with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern to Selby and then (once over Selby bridge on the Leeds- Hull Line) direct to York.
Having come to recognise that through journeys had become an important and lucrative element of their respective businesses, in 1860 the three companies decided to establish special rolling stock. Services using this rolling stock were operated on a collaborative basis under the name of "East Coast Joint Stock" and continued to be performed under this identity up to 1922.
During 1923, as part of an effort to stem the losses of smaller railway companies, the Railway Act of 1921 required the three companies to group together to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). Throughout its existence, the LNER was the second largest railway company in Britain, its routes mainly covering various territories located to the North and East of London. On 1 January 1948, as a consequence of the Transport Act of 1947 implemented by Clement Attlee's Labour Government, the LNER was nationalised along with the other privately owned railway companies to form the state-owned British Railways. The company managed the ECML under its Eastern Region division up to its discorporation during the early 1980s.
Numerous alterations to short sections of the ECML's original route have taken place, the most notable being the opening of the King Edward VII Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1906 and the Selby Diversion, built to bypass anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. During 1983, the Selby Diversion was opened, which diverged from the original ECML at Temple Hirst Junction, north of Doncaster, and joined the Leeds to York Line at Colton Junction, south west of York. The former line between Selby and York was dismantled and has since been used as a public cycle path.
More recently the discovery of mining subsidence affecting 200 metres of track 17 km to the east of Edinburgh, near Wallyford, led to the line being temporarily realigned while the ground was stabilised. This was a large operation as not only had the tracks to be re-routed but also overhead electrification equipment. However it was completed successfully in 2000 and the track returned to its original alignment. In 2001 a second and much more severe site of subsidence was discovered nearby, at Dolphingstone , and on this occasion about 2km of track had to be permanently moved laterally in a gentle curve, avoiding the need for a permanent speed restriction. This was completed in 2002.
The ECML has been the backdrop for a number of famous rail journeys and locomotives. The line was worked for many years by Pacific locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, including the famous steam locomotives "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard". Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, having attained a recorded top speed of 126 miles per hour (203 km/h), while traversing the Grantham-to-Peterborough section on the descent of Stoke Bank. To date, the speed record set by Mallard has not been broken.
During the early 1960s, the line's steam locomotives were replaced by Diesel-electric counterparts, amongst them the purpose-built Deltic, a powerful high-speed locomotive developed and built by British manufacturing conglomerate English Electric. The prototype was found to have been successful in its trials, leading to a fleet of 22 locomotives being built and put into BR service to handle all the important express traffic. Designated as the Class 55, they were powered by a pair of Napier Deltic engines, which had been originally developed for fast torpedo boats; the unusual three crankshaft triangular configuration of the engines was the source of the locomotive's Deltic moniker. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and chubby body outline made them unmistakable and distinctive amongst their peers. The Class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, capable of providing up to 3,300 hp (2,500 kW).
In the immediate years following the introduction of the Deltics, the first sections of the East Coast Main Line were upgraded to enable trains to be routinely run at speeds of up to100 miles per hour (160 km/h). On 15 June 1965, the first length to be cleared for the new higher speed, a 17 miles (27 km) stretch between Peterborough and Grantham, entered service. The second section was a 12 miles (19 km) line between Grantham and Newark; many sections were upgraded thereafter to enable such speeds to be reached across much of the EMCL.
As the demand for higher speed intensified, British Rail made intensive efforts during the late 1960s and early 1970s to produce a successor to the Deltics. They would be superseded by the High Speed Train (HST), which was introduced between 1976 and 1981. Capable of 125 mph (201 km/h), the HST proved to be a popular and iconic train on the line. The type remains in regular passenger service as of 2018, albeit having undergone a re-engining programme during the 2000s, in which newer MTU engines replaced the HST's original Paxman Valenta power units.
During 1973, the prototype of the HST, the Class 41, was recorded as having achieved a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in one test run the line. As a consequence of current British legislation requiring the use of in-cab signalling for running at speeds in excess of 125 mph (201 km/h) , regular trains services are unable to be run at such speeds. The lack of in-cab signalling has been cited as being the primary reason which has prevented the InterCity 225 train-sets from being operated at their design speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) during normal service. A secondary factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficient to allow detection of two broken rails on the line on which the train was operating.
Before the present in-cab regulations came in, British Rail experimented with 140 mph running by introducing a fifth, flashing green signalling aspect on the Down Fast line (signals P487 to P615) and Up Fast line (signals P610 to P494) between New England North and Stoke Tunnel. The fifth aspect is still shown in normal service and appears when the next signal is showing a green (or another flashing green) aspect and the signal section is clear, which ensures that there is sufficient braking distance to bring a train to a stand from 140 mph. Locomotives have operated on the ECML at speeds of up to 161.7 mph (260.2 km/h) in test runs. The capability to run special test trains in excess of 125 mph is listed as being maintained in the LNE Sectional Appendix.
As early as the 1930s, studies were being conducted into potential options for electrifying sections or all of the ECML. While British Rail had considered its electrification to hold equal importance to that of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) during the 1950s, political factors played a role in delaying such ambitions while the WCML did receive such changes. Instead, investment was directed towards high-speed diesel traction, such as the Deltic and High Speed Train, as an alternative path for implementing service improvements.
Between 1976 and 1991, the ECML was electrified along its length. The route has been furnished with 25 kV AC overhead lines, which were installed in two phases: The first phase between London (King's Cross) and Hitchin (including the Hertford Loop Line) was carried out between 1976 and 1978 as part of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project, using Mk.3A equipment. This only comprised a short length of the line, covering 30 miles in total.
According to author David Shirres, a working group of British Rail and Department for Transport officials convened during the late 1970s had determined that, of all potential options available for further electrification, the ECML represented by the best value for money by far. Reportedly, the in-house forecasts produced during this study had determined both increases in revenue and considerable reductions in energy and maintenance costs would occur by electrifying the line. During 1984, the second phase of the programme commenced when authority was given to electrify the Northern section of the line to Edinburgh and Leeds. Shirres has credited the role of the then Secretary of State for Transport Nicholas Ridley and of the then-Minister for Railways David Mitchell as having played a large role in the decision to proceed with the electrification programme.
The electrification programme covered roughly 1,400 single-track miles and involved several major infrastructure changes being carried out, including the resignalling of the northern part of the route from Temple Hirst junction, near Selby, to the Scottish border (accompanied by new signalling centres at Niddrie, York and Newcastle, in Tyneside), ten new power supply points along key points of the route, as well as necessary clearance and immunisation activity to protect equipment. The ECML was crossed by a total of 127 overbridges which had to be adjusted to accommodate the change; in general, it was decided to rebuild or replace individual bridges as opposed to lowering the track or other line-based compromises. Some of these overbridges, such as the aqueduct near Abbots Ripton, were subject to innovative alterations in order to accommodate the installation of the overhead lines. In order to better accommodate listed structures, such as the Royal Border Bridge, and other sensitive areas, a specially-developed mast and foundation combination were used; elsewhere, the standard Mk.3B equipment was deployed.
During 1985, construction work began on the second phase; at the peak of the electrification project in the late 1980s, the programme was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world", spanning over 250 miles (400 km). In 1986, the section to Huntingdon was completed, Leeds was reached during 1988 and the route through to York was energised in 1989; by 1991, electrification had reached Edinburgh, allowing for full electric services to commence on 8 July that year, eight weeks later than had been originally scheduled at the start of the project. As had been projected, significant traffic increases occurred within two years of completion; one station alone recorded a 58 per cent increase in activity.
The programme was completed at a total cost of £344.4 million (at 1983 prices), a relatively minor cost overrun against a total authorised expenditure of £331.9 million. 40 per cent of this figure was attributed to the procurement of new traction and rolling stock, while 60 per cent was spent upon the electrification of the line itself. Shirres has compared the ECML and later Great Western Railway electrification programmes, noting an apparent 740 per cent increase in overall cost between the former and the latter; in this respect, the earlier electrification scheme was considerably more cost effective. The infrastructure is capable of supporting speeds of up to 140 mph, a feat which has been demonstrated, such as a 3hr 29mins non-stop run between London and Edinburgh on 26 September 1991; however, British regulations have since required the use of in-cab signalling upon any train running at speeds above 125 mph (201 km/h), which prevents such speeds from being legally attained during regular service.
During 1989, the InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced to work the newly-electrified line. These were developed to a competitive tender, to which GEC was awarded as the winner. The Intercity 225 sets were joined by other rolling stock, including the Class 90 locomotives and Class 317 electric multiple units. The displaced diesel trains were reallocated to other lines, predominantly the Midland Mainline.
The line is mainly four tracks from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham. There are two twin-track sections, one near Welwyn North Station where it crosses the Digswell Viaduct and passes through two tunnels. The second is a section around 'Stilton Fen', between Fletton Junction near Peterborough, and southwards towards Holme Junction. The section between Holme Junction south to Huntingdon is mostly triple track. North of Grantham the route is twin track except for four-track sections at Retford around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (south of York), Thirsk and Northallerton, and another at Newcastle.
The main line is electrified along its full route and only the line between Leeds and York (Neville Hill Depot to Colton Junction) is not electrified. This route is part of the Transpennine electrification scheme.
With most of the line rated for 125 mph (200 km/h) operation, the ECML was the fastest main line in the UK until the opening of High Speed 1. The high speeds are possible because much of the line is on fairly straight track on the flatter, eastern regions of England, through Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, though there are significant speed restrictions (due to curvature) particularly north of Darlington and between Doncaster and Leeds. By contrast, the West Coast Main Line crosses the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, with more curvature and a lower general speed limit of 110 mph (180 km/h). Speeds on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) were increased with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds on the ECML.
Tunnels, viaducts and bridges
|Railway Structure||Length||Distance from Edinburgh Waverley||ELR||Location|
|Calton North Tunnel||490 yards (450 m)||0 miles 27 chains – 0 miles 50 chains||ECM8||East of Edinburgh Waverley station|
|Calton South Tunnel||400 yards (370 m)||0 miles 29 chains – 0 miles 47 chains|
|St. Margarets Tunnel||3 chains (60 m)||1 miles 32 chains – 1 mile 35 chains|
|Dunglas Viaduct||6 chains (120 m)||36 miles 02 chains – 36 miles 08 chains||Between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed stations|
|(Former Penmanshiel Tunnel)||12 chains (240 m)||39 miles 52 chains – 39 miles 64 chains|
|Distance from Newcastle|
|Royal Border Bridge||33 chains||66 miles 74 chains – 66 miles 41 chains||ECM7||South of Berwick-upon-Tweed station|
|Viaduct||3 chains||66 miles 33 chains – 66 miles 30 chains|
|River Aln||10 chains||35 miles 50 chains – 35 miles 40 chains||North of Alnmouth station|
|River Coquet||9 chains||30 miles 01 chains – 29 miles 72 chains||North of Acklington station|
|Bothal (River Wansbeck)||9 chains||17 miles 57 chains – 17 mile 48 chains||Between Pegswood and Morpeth stations|
|Plessey (River Blyth)||6 chains||12 miles 23 chains – 12 miles 17 chains||Between Morpeth and Cramlington stations|
|Great Lime Road||3 chains||5 miles 53 chains – 5 miles 50 chains||Between Cramlington and Chathill stations|
|Ouseburn Viaduct||14 chains||1 miles 18 chains – 1 mile 04 chains||North of Manors station|
|Red Barns Tunnel||98 yards (90 metres)||0 miles 70 chains – 0 miles 65 chains|
|Viaduct||28 chains||0 miles 40 chains – 0 miles 11 chains||East of Newcastle station|
|Distance from York|
|Viaduct||14 chains||80 miles 04 chains – 79 miles 70 chains||ECM5||West and South of Newcastle station|
|King Edward Bridge||13 chains||79 miles 66 chains – 79 miles 53 chains|
|Viaduct||4 chains||79 miles 53 chains – 79 miles 49 chains|
|Chester-le-Street Viaduct||1 chain||72 miles 20 chains – 72 miles 19 chains||North of Chester-le-Street station|
|Chester Moor or Dene Viaduct||10 chains||71 miles 07 chains – 70 miles 77 chains||South of Chester-le-Street station|
|Plawsworth Viaduct||6 chains||69 miles 60 chains – 69 miles 54 chains|
|Durham Viaduct||12 chains||66 miles 06 chains – 65 miles 74 chains||South of Durham station|
|Relly Mill Viaduct||6 chains||65 miles 23 chains – 65 miles 17 chains|
|Langley Moor Viaduct (River Dearness)||6 chains||64 miles 39 chains – 64 miles 33 chains|
|Croxdale Viaduct (River Wear)||9 chains||62 miles 18 chains – 62 miles 09 chains||Between Durham and Darlington stations|
|Aycliffe Viaduct (River Skerne)||49 miles 17 chains|
|River Skerne Viaduct||2 chains||47 miles 26 chains – 47 miles 24 chains|
|River Skerne Viaduct||3 chains||45 miles 33 chains – 45 miles 30 chains|
|Croft Viaduct (River Tees)||6 chains||41 miles 11 chains – 41 miles 05 chains||South of Darlington station|
|Skelton Bridge (River Ouse)||4 chains||3 miles 16 chains – 3 miles 12 chains||Between Thirsk and York stations|
|Distance from King’s Cross|
|Ryther Viaducts (River Wharfe)||25 chains||180 miles 28 chains – 180 miles 03 chains||ECM3||Between York and Doncaster stations|
|Selby Dam Viaduct||7 chains||175 miles 20 chains – 175 miles 13 chains|
|Selby Canal Viaduct||2 chains||172 miles 44 chains – 172 miles 42 chains|
|River Aire||4 chains||169 miles 44 chains – miles 40 chains|
|Aire & Calder Navigation||166 miles 66 chains||ECM2|
|Balby Bridge Tunnel||95 yards (87 metres)||155 miles 38 chains – 155 miles 34 chains||ECM1||Between Doncaster and Retford stations|
|Bawtry Viaduct||15 chains||147 miles 24 chains – 147 miles 09 chains|
|River Idle Viaduct||2 chains||138 miles 23 chains – 138 miles 21 chains||Between Retford and Newark North Gate stations|
|Askham Tunnel||57 yards (52 metres)||134 miles 40 chains – 134 miles 37 chains|
|Viaduct||121 miles 40 chains|
|Muskham Viaduct||15 chains||121 miles 31 chains – 121 miles 16 chains|
|Peascliff Tunnel||968 yards (885 metres)||108 miles 29 chains – 107miles 65 chains||Between Newark North Gate and Grantham stations|
|West Gate Viaduct||105 miles 54 chains||North of Grantham station|
|Stoke Tunnel||880 yards (805 metres)||100 miles 79 chains – 100 miles 39 chains||Between Grantham and Peterborough stations|
|Bytham Viaduct||4 chains||92 miles 63 chains – 92 miles 59 chains|
|River Nene Viaduct||3 chains||75 miles 68 chains – 75 miles 65 chains||South of Peterborough station|
|Great Ouse Viaduct||3 chains||58 miles 18 chains – 58 miles 15 chains||South of Huntingdon station|
|Robbery Lane Viaduct||23 miles 32 chains||Between Knebworth and Welwyn North stations|
|Welwyn North Tunnel||1049 yards (959 metres)||23 miles 12 chains – 22 miles 44 chains|
|Welwyn South Tunnel||446 yards (408 metres)||22 miles 31 chains – 22 miles 11 chains|
|Welwyn or Digswell Viaduct||513 yards (469 metres)||21 miles 60 chains – 21 miles 37 chains||Between Welwyn North and Welwyn Garden City stations|
|Potters Bar Tunnel||1214 yards (1110 metres)||12 miles 00 chains – 11 miles 25 chains||Between Potters Bar and Hadley Wood stations|
|Hadley Wood North Tunnel||232 yards (212 metres)||10 miles 70 chains – 10 miles 60 chains||North of Hadley Wood station|
|Hadley Wood South Tunnel||384 yards (351 metres)||10 miles 39 chains – 10 miles 21 chains||South of Hadley Wood station|
|Viaduct||8 miles 64 chains||South of New Barnet station|
|Barnet Tunnel||605 yards (351 metres)||7 miles 70 chains – 7 miles 42 chains||Between Oakleigh Park and New Southgate stations|
|Wood Green Tunnels||705 yards (644 metres)||5 miles 73 chains – 5 miles 41 chains||Between New Southgate and Alexandra Palace stations|
|Copenhagen Tunnel||594 yards (543 metres)||1 mile 12 chains – 0 miles 65 chains||North of King’s Cross station|
|Gasworks Tunnel||528 yards (483 metres)||0 miles 46 chains – 0 miles 22 chains|
Line-side monitoring equipment
|Name / Type||Line||Location||Engineers Line Reference (ELR)|
|Stenton HABD||Up Berwick||24 miles 20 chains (from Edinburgh)||ECM8|
|Oxwellmains HABD||Down Berwick||32 miles 65 chains|
|Innerwick Wheelchex||Up Berwick, Down Berwick||33 miles 62 chains|
|Lamberton HABD||Up Berwick||54 miles 06 chains|
|Goswick HABD||Down Main||60 miles 66 chains (from Newcastle)||ECM7|
|Newham HABD||Up Main||47 miles 08 chains|
|Stamford HABD||Up Main (was on Down Main before Sept. 2017)||40 miles 38 chains|
|Chevington HABD||Up Main||25 miles 48 chains|
|Longhirst HABD||Down Main||20 miles 20 chains|
|Dam Dykes HABD||Up Main (Down Main removed Sept. 2017)||8 miles 45 chains|
|Plawsworth (Chester-le-Street) HABD||Down Main||70 miles 20 chains (from York)||ECM5|
|Littleburn (Durham) HABD||Up Fast||63 miles 59 chains|
|Aycliffe HABD||Down Main||49 miles 36 chains|
|Eryholme (East Cowton) HABD||Down Main||38 miles 72 chains|
|Danby Wiske HABD||Up Main||33 miles 50 chains|
|Sessay HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast, Up Fast, Up Slow||16 miles 65 chains|
|Sessay Wheelchex||Up Fast, Up Slow||16 miles 65 chains|
|Earfit Lane HABD||Down Leeds, Down Main||184 miles 04 chains (from King’s Cross)||ECM4|
|Daw Lane HABD||Up Main||159 miles 10 chains||ECM1|
|Bawtry HABD||Down Main||148 miles 55 chains|
|Torworth HABD||Up Main||143 miles 17 chains|
|Gamston (Askam) HABD||Down Main||134 miles 37 chains|
|Cromwell HABD||Up Main||124 miles 55 chains|
|Balderton HABD||Down Main||116 miles 70 chains|
|Barkston HABD||Up Main||109 miles 56 chains|
|Stoke HABD||Down Main||99 miles 78 chains|
|Lolham HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||83 miles 33 chains|
|Holme HABD||Down Main||69 miles 28 chains|
|Abbots Ripton HABD||Up Main||64 miles 25 chains|
|Offord HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast||54 miles 07 chains|
|Biggleswade HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||42 miles 10 chains|
|Wymondley HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||30 miles 60 chains|
|Langley HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast||26 miles 62 chains|
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|Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|Class 68||Diesel locomotive||1||100||160||2||Abellio ScotRail||Fife Circle Line||2013-14|
|Mk2 Coach||Passenger coach||6||100||160||12||1973-75|
|Class 158 Express Sprinter||DMU||2||90||145||48||Abellio ScotRail||Cumbernauld Line, Shotts Line, Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway,
North Berwick Line (Occasional Saturday Services to Dunbar)
|Class 170 Turbostar||DMU||3||90||145||55||Abellio ScotRail||Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line, Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line, Edinburgh to Dunblane Line,
Fife Circle Line, Edinburgh Crossrail, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway,
North Berwick Line (Saturday Services to Dunbar and a peak time North Berwick Service)
|Class 185 Desiro||DMU||3||100||160||51||TransPennine Express||Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Scarborough||2005–06|
|Class 313||EMU||3||75||120||44||Great Northern||London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City
|Class 318 (gangway removed)||EMU||3||90||145||21||Abellio ScotRail||North Clyde Line||1986-87|
|Class 320||EMU||3||90||145||22||Abellio ScotRail||North Clyde Line||1990|
|Class 320/4 (ex-Class 321/4)||100||161||7||1989–90|
|Class 350/4 Juniper||EMU||3||90||145||21||Abellio ScotRail||North Clyde Line||1999-2002|
|Class 350/4 Desiro||EMU||4||110||180||10||TransPennine Express||Edinburgh to Manchester Airport||2013–14|
|Class 365 Networker Express||EMU||4||100||161||40||Great Northern
|London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and Ely
Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line
|Class 387/1 Electrostar||EMU||4||110||177||29||Great Northern||London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn||2014-15|
|Class 380 Desiro||EMU||3||100||160||22||Abellio ScotRail||North Berwick Line||2009-11|
|Class 385 AT200||EMU||3||100||160||46||Abellio ScotRail||Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line, Stirling / Alloa / Dunblane Lines,
Shotts Line, Carstairs Line, North Berwick Line
|Class 700 Desiro City||EMU||8||100||160||60||Govia Thameslink Railway||Cambridge to Brighton via London Bridge||2015-18|
|Class 717 Desiro City||EMU||6||100||160||5||Govia Thameslink Railway||Great Northern Route||2018-|
|Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|Class 43 HST InterCity 125||Diesel locomotive||LNER: 2 x 9
XC: 2 x 7
EMT: 2 x 8
|125||200||58||London North Eastern Railway
East Midlands Trains
|London North Eastern Railway Services from London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness as well as daily services to Lincoln Central, Hull and Harrogate.
CrossCountry joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
East Midlands operates a limited service of HSTs which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to Leeds
|Mark 3 Coach||Passenger coach||272||1975-88|
|Class 91 Intercity 225||Electric locomotive||2 x 9||140||225||31||London North Eastern Railway||London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Leeds, Glasgow Central, York and Newcastle||1988—91|
|Mark 4 carriage||Passenger coach||302||1988-91|
|Driving Van Trailer||Driving Van Trailer||31||1988-91|
|Class 180 Adelante||DMU||5||125||200||11||Grand Central
|Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to: Sunderland and Bradford Interchange.
Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to: Hull
|Class 220 Voyager||DEMU||4||125||200||34||CrossCountry||Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen||2000-01|
|Class 221 SuperVoyager||DEMU||5||125||200||20||Virgin Trains||VT: Services between Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston||2001–2002|
|22||CrossCountry||XC: Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen|
|Class 222 Meridian||DEMU||4||125||200||4||East Midlands Trains||East Midlands operates a limited summer Saturday service which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to York and Scarborough||2003–5|
|Class 390 Pendolino||EMU||9 or 11||140 (limited to 125)||225 (limited to 200)||56||Virgin Trains||Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston||2001-04|
This section possibly contains unsourced predictions, speculative material, or accounts of events that might not occur. Information must be verifiable and based on reliable published sources. (August 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
|Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Enter Service|
|Class 43 HST InterCity 125||Diesel locomotive||2 x 4
2 x 5
|125||200||54||Abellio ScotRail||Highland Main Line, Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line||2018-|
|Mark 3 Coach||Passenger coach||175|
|Class 68||Diesel locomotive||1||100||160||19||TransPennine Express||Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle||2018–19|
|Mark 5A||Passenger coach||5||125||201||52|
|Class 397||EMU||5||125||201||12||TransPennine Express||Edinburgh to Manchester Airport and Liverpool Lime Street||2019|
|Class 717||EMU||6||100||161||25||Great Northern||London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City
|Class 800 Azuma||Bi-Mode Multiple Unit||5||140||225||10||London North Eastern Railway||London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Aberdeen and Inverness||2019-|
|Class 801 Azuma||EMU||5||140||225||12||London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle and Glasgow Central.|
|Class 802 AT300||Bi-Mode Multiple Unit||5||140||225||29||TransPennine Express
|Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to: Hull/Beverley
TPE: Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle and Edinburgh
The line's current principal operator is London North Eastern Railway (LNER), whose services include regular trains between King's Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. LNER is operated on behalf of the Department for Transport by a consortium of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit and took over from Virgin Trains East Coast on 24 June 2018.
Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:
- Great Northern: long distance services between King's Cross, Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn and commuter services between Moorgate and Stevenage via either Welwyn Garden City or the Hertford Loop.
- Hull Trains: operate six trains per day between King's Cross and Hull and one per day between King's Cross and Beverley on weekdays, whilst on weekends there are seven trains a day between King's Cross and Hull.
- East Midlands Trains: local services between Grantham and Peterborough, part of the service that runs between Liverpool Lime Street and Norwich, as well as infrequent services between London-York and Scarborough, extensions of services running to/from Sheffield, Leicester and London St Pancras.
- CrossCountry: cross-country services north of Sheffield are routed via either Leeds or Doncaster. Leeds trains use the ECML between Wakefield Westgate and Leeds and then again north of York. Doncaster trains use the ECML north of Doncaster. Services run to and beyond Edinburgh. Occasional services run from Doncaster to Leeds before rejoining the ECML at York.
- TransPennine Express: between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle also between Manchester Airport and Middlesbrough before they divert off the ECML to Middlesbrough via Yarm.
- Northern: suburban services from Doncaster to Leeds and Chathill to Newcastle via Morpeth railway station and infrequent services between Newcastle and Darlington that continue to Middlesbrough and Saltburn. Services between Selby and York also use the line from Hambleton Junction to York.
- Abellio ScotRail: services from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick and Dunbar.
- Grand Central: intercity operate five daily services between King's Cross and Sunderland, branching off the main line at Northallerton; and four daily services between King's Cross and Bradford, branching off at Doncaster.
- Greater Anglia: operate 2 hourly services between Ipswich and Peterborough.
Eurostar previously held the rights to run five trains a day on the line for services from continental Europe to cities north of London, as part of the Regional Eurostar plan, although such services have never been run.
The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is currently[when?] insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.
There are bottlenecks at the following locations:
- The section of twin track within a four-line section at Welwyn North over the Digswell Viaduct and through the Welwyn tunnels
- The twin and triple-track sections located between Huntingdon and Peterborough.
- Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham to Lincoln Line.
- The section of double track between Stoke Tunnel and Doncaster.
- Doncaster station has limited facilities for terminating branch trains on the up side of the station. This has been remedied with the opening of a new platform (platform 0) on the up side so that trains to and from the Thorne direction do not conflict with high-speed trains.
- The north throat of York station including Skelton Bridge Junction
- South of Newcastle to Northallerton (which is also predominately double track), leading to proposals to reopen the Leamside line to passenger and freight traffic.
Railway operations are vulnerable during high winds and there have been several de-wirements over the years due to the unusually wide spacing (up to 75 m) between the supporting masts of the overhead lines. The other cost-reduction measure was the use of headspan catenary support systems over the quadruple track sections – as employed in the Weaver Junction to Glasgow Electrification on the WCML during the 1970s. Headspans do not have mechanically independent registration (MIR) of each electrified road and thus are more complex to set up, compared to TTC (two-track cantilever) and portal style support structures, during installation . In the event of a de-wirement of a given road, headspans result in the need to correctly set up the OLE of adjacent roads before the line can reopen to electric traction. This was a result of extreme pressure from the Department for Transport to reduce avoidable costs when the line was originally electrified between 1985 and 1990.
- The Allington Chord was constructed near Grantham in 2006, allowing services between Nottingham and Skegness to call at Grantham without having to use the ECML, trains now passing under the line. This provided sufficient extra capacity for 12 additional services between Leeds and London each day.
- A new platform at London King's Cross was opened on 20 May 2010. This was originally to be called "Platform Y". Instead it has been named Platform 0 to avoid confusion of lettered and numbered platforms.
- Connection of the ECML to Thameslink at Belle Isle Jnc. as part of the Thameslink Programme (for Thameslink and Great Northern commuter services to extend to Brighton, Horsham and Maidstone East).
- At the southern end of York station a short length of fourth track was installed in early 2011 at Holgate Junction with accompanying OLE and signalling systems. This work helped to remove one of the bottlenecks on the East Coast Main Line. Previously, trains from Leeds would sometimes have to wait before entering the station. The improvement allows for better flow of trains in and out of the station.
- Provision of a £47m grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line. The work was completed by 26 June 2013
- Major remodelling of Peterborough station was completed during early 2014 providing three platform faces for services in the up direction towards London and two for ECML services travelling north on the down lines. An additional two platform faces are also available for Cross Country services to and from stations to the east of Peterborough.
- A new flying junction just south of Joan Croft level crossing in South Yorkshire to allow freight trains from Immingham to pass over the line on their way to Eggborough and Drax power stations, was completed in very early 2014. The project, known as the North Doncaster Chord, also replaced the level crossing on a minor road with a new overbridge just to the north of the original crossing point.
- Renewal and gauge enhancement of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Line which runs parallel to the ECML between Peterborough and Doncaster. This removes freight traffic from a heavily congested section of the ECML.
- A new Rail operating centre (ROC), with training facilities, opened in early 2014 at the "Engineer's Triangle" in York. The ROC will enable signalling and day-to-day operations of the route to be undertaken in a single location. Signalling control/traffic management using ERTMS is scheduled to be introduced from 2020 on the ECML between London King's Cross and Doncaster - managed from the York ROC.
- An £8.6 million redevelopment of Newcastle station was completed in 2014 enhancing the existing station and provide a state-of-the-art station for thousands of passengers.
- Provision of a new Up bay platform (Platform 0) at Doncaster station (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Platform extensions at Stevenage, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Northallerton, Durham and Edinburgh Waverley stations for the Intercity Express Programme.
- Linespeed enhancement on the down slow line in the Fletton area (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) completed in March 2019.
Planned or proposed developments
Most of the length of the ECML is capable of 140 mph subject to certain infrastructure upgrades. Below is the foreword of the Greengauge 21 report:
- "Upgrading the East Coast Main Line to 140 mph operation as a high priority alongside HS2 and to be delivered without delay. Newcastle London timings across a shorter route could closely match those achievable by HS2."
The European Union Directive 96/48/EC, Annex 1 defines high-speed rail's minimum Speed Limit as 200 km/h (124 mph) on existing lines which have been specially upgraded. The ECML can become a high-speed operational line.
Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements. The most recent of which is the £247 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS with the objective of increasing capacity and reducing journey times. Current plans include the following specific schemes:
- King's Cross throat remodelling to improve capacity and introduce higher speed turnouts reducing journey times.
- Power supply enhancement on the diversionary Hertford Loop route
- Additional turnback facility at Gordon Hill (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Additional down platform and turnback facility at Stevenage (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) - now delayed from CP5 to CP6.
- Re-quadrupling of the route between Huntingdon and Woodwalton (HW4T) which was rationalised in the 1980s during electrification (part of the ECML Connectivity programme). This also involves the closure and diversion of a level crossing at Abbots Ripton which was approved in November 2017.
- Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage.
- Werrington Grade Separation: A £200 million scheme to increase capacity north of Peterborough station by constructing a dive under to route rail traffic between the Stamford Lines and the GNGE line, thereby avoiding at-grade conflicts on the ECML. The project was approved in summer 2018 and groundwork construction started in September 2018.
- Replacement of the Flat Crossing at Newark with a flyover (scheme developed to GRIP Stage 2 by Jacobs)
- Upgrading of the Down Fast line at Shaftholme Junction from 100 mph to 125 mph and higher speed associated crossovers (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Modified north throat at York Station to reduce congestion for services calling at Platforms 9 - 11 (part of the ECML Connectivity programme)
- Freight loops between York and Darlington (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Darlington station up fast line platform and future station remodelling as part of HS2.
- Fitment of TASS Balises and Gauging/Structure works proposed by the open operator GNER (Alliance Rail) to enable tilt operation of Pendolino trains north of Darlington station, supporting its aspirations for express 3hr43min London to Edinburgh Services.
And on a more route wide basis the following projects:
- Power supply upgrades (PSU) between Wood Green and Bawtry (Phase 1 - completed in September 2017) and Bawtry to Edinburgh (Phase 2), including some overhead lines (OLE) support improvements, rewiring of the contact and catenary wires, and headspan to portal conversions (HS2P) which were installed at Conington in January 2018.
- The line between London King's Cross and Bawtry, on the approach to Doncaster, will be signalled with Level 2 ERTMS. The target date for operational ERTMS services is December 2018 with completion in 2020
- Level crossing closures between King's Cross and Doncaster: As of July 2015 this will no longer be conducted as a single closure of 73 level crossings but will be conducted on a case-by case basis (for example Abbots Ripton Level Crossing will close as part of the HW4T scheme.)
- Increasing maximum speeds on the fast lines between Woolmer Green and Dalton-on-Tees up to 140 mph (225 km/h) in conjunction with the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme, level crossing closures, ETRMS fitments, OLE rewiring and the OLE PSU - est. to cost £1.3 billion (2014). This project is referred to as "L2E4" or London to Edinburgh (in) 4 Hours. L2E4 examined the operation of the IEP at 140 mph on the ECML and the sections of track which can be upgraded to permit this, together with the engineering and operational costs.
The ECML has been witness to a number of incidents resulting in death and serious injury:
|Welwyn Tunnel rail crash||9 June 1866||2||2||Three-train collision in tunnel, caused by guard's failure to protect train and signalling communications error|
|Hatfield rail crash (1870)||26 December 1870||8||3||Wheel disintegrated causing derailment killing six passengers and two bystanders|
|Abbots Ripton rail disaster||21 January 1876||13||59||Flying Scotsman crashed during a blizzard.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1877)||25 March 1877||5||17||Derailment caused by faulty track.|
|Thirsk rail crash (1892)||2 November 1892||10||43||Signalman forgot about a goods train standing at his box and accepted the Scotch Express onto his line.|
|Grantham rail accident||19 August 1906||14||17||Runaway or overspeed on junction curve causing derailment - no definite cause established.|
|Welwyn Garden City rail crash||15 June 1935||14||29||Two trains collided due to a signaller's error.|
|King's Cross railway accident||4 February 1945||2||26||Train slipped on gradient and rolled back into station.|
|Potters Bar rail crash||10 February 1946||2||17||Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains.|
|Doncaster rail crash (1947)||9 August 1947||18||188||King's Cross to Leeds train was incorrectly signalled into a section already occupied by a stationary train, which resulted in a rear-end collision.|
|Goswick rail crash||26 October 1947||28||65||Edinburgh-London Flying Scotsman failed to slow down for a diversion and derailed. Signal passed at danger|
|Doncaster rail crash||16 March 1951||14||12||Train derailed south of the station and struck a bridge pier.|
|Goswick Goods train derailment||28 October 1953||1||'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.|
|Connington South rail crash||5 March 1967||5||18||Express train was derailed.|
|Thirsk rail crash||31 July 1967||7||45||Cement train derailed and hit by North bound express hauled by prototype locomotive. DP2|
|Morpeth rail crash (1969)||7 May 1969||6||46||Excessive speed on curve.|
|Penmanshiel Tunnel collapse||17 March 1979||2||Two workers killed when the tunnel collapsed during engineering works.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1984)||24 June 1984||35||Excessive speed on curve.|
|Newcastle Central railway station collision||30 November 1989||15||Two InterCity expresses collided.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1992)||13 November 1992||1||Collision between two freight trains.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1994)||27 June 1994||1||Excessive speed led to the locomotive and the majority of carriages overturning.|
|Hatfield rail crash||17 October 2000||4||70||InterCity 225 derailed due to a failure to replace a fractured rail. The accident highlighted poor management at Railtrack and led to its partial re-nationalisation.|
|Great Heck rail crash||28 February 2001||10||82||A Land Rover Defender swerved down an embankment off the M62 motorway into the path of a southbound GNER Intercity 225, which then was struck by a freight train hauled by a Class 66|
|Potters Bar rail crash (2002)||10 May 2002||7||70||Derailment caused by a badly maintained set of points. Resulted in the end of the use of external contractors for routine maintenance.|
|Edinburgh to Doncaster|
|Leeds to Doncaster|
|Sandal and Agbrigg||86,415||97,328||107,190||118,718||123,387||162,448||158,610||180,046|
|Bentley (South Yorkshire)||81,494||114,419||123,292||98,641||95,264||159,788||153,550||152,994|
|Doncaster to London King's Cross|
|Newark North Gate||335,126||377,172||400,286||1,187,545||923,070||960,948||924,528||976,526|
|Welwyn Garden City||1,717,434||2,002,197||2,020,502||2,322,204||2,502,240||2,522,398||2,385,014||2,431,948|
|London Kings Cross||19,137,693||20,805,979||20,301,663||22,503,777||23,945,017||24,641,427||24,817,616||26,254,644|
|The annual passenger usage is based on sales of tickets in stated financial years from Office of Rail Regulation statistics. The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve month periods that start in April. Please note that methodology may vary year on year. Note also that Barking and Blackhorse Road are affected by usage of the ticket gates for the underground and that Gospel Oak connects to the North London Line section of the London Overground and is similarly affected.|
The cuttings and tunnel entrances just north of King's Cross make a memorable smoky appearance in the 1955 Ealing comedy film The Ladykillers. Also during the 1950s, the line featured in the 1954 documentary short Elizabethan Express. Later, the 1971 British gangster film Get Carter features a journey from London King's Cross to Newcastle in the opening credits. During 2009, the motoring show Top Gear featured a long distance race, in which LNER A1 60163 Tornado, a Jaguar XK120 and a Vincent Black Shadow competed to be the fastest vehicle to travel the full length of the line from London to Edinburgh.
The route has been featured in several train simulator games. Trainz Simulator 2010 features the route between London and York, Trainz Simulator 12 extends the route to Newcastle, and Trainz: A New Era brings it all the way to Edinburgh, allowing the entire 393-mile route to be driven. All three routes take place during the 1970s, around the time the InterCity 125 was introduced; this is reinforced by instructions in the "HST Southbound Express" session not to move until the guard has locked the doors, since the trains did not have pneumatic locks initially; doing so will lead to an automatic failure. Other rolling stock includes Class 37s, Class 47s, and Class 105s, plus Mark 2 coaches. TS12's version added Class 55 Deltics and Class 313s, as well as additional pre-made, pre-scripted sessions.
King's Cross Station is also known as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express from the books and films of the Harry Potter franchise. This connection is marked by a tourist attraction within the station concourse, featuring the Platform 9¾ sign and a luggage trolley partially embedded in the station wall with an owl cage and suitcases on it.
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