|Main region(s)||London, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk|
|Stations called at||54|
|National Rail abbreviation||GN (Great Northern)|
|Parent company||Govia Thameslink Railway|
|Gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE|
750 V DC third rail
The Great Northern Route (formerly known as Great Northern Electrics) is the name given to suburban rail services run on the southern end of Britain's East Coast Main Line and its associated branches. Services operate to or from London King's Cross and Moorgate in London. Destinations include Hertford North, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn. Services run through parts of Greater London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
The route forms a major commuter route into London from Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and eastern Bedfordshire: ridership has grown rapidly over recent years. In 2009, rolling stock was transferred from other lines to allow additional services and longer trains to be run. In early 2018, the line was connected to the Thameslink route via a junction just south of the High Speed 1 bridge, north of King's Cross, allowing through services to south of London.
- 1 Route
- 2 Services
- 3 History
- 4 Govia Thameslink Railway
- 5 Future developments
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The network consists of all local and semi-fast services on these lines:
At privatisation the services became part of West Anglia Great Northern, becoming their sole route in 2004 when the West Anglia services were transferred to 'one'. In April 2006 the services became the responsibility of First Capital Connect. In September 2014, the Department for Transport transferred the new Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise to Govia Thameslink Railway. When the Thameslink Programme is completed in 2018, many of these services will become part of the Thameslink network, running through central London to destinations south of the River Thames.
Several services are provided on the route and these are, from fastest to slowest:
Cambridge cruiser (or Cambridge express)
This service runs Monday to Saturday and is reduced to hourly on Sunday.(Trains do not call at Cambridge North on Sundays)
In the direction of the morning and evening peaks, this runs as a modified half-hourly service between London King's Cross and Cambridge only. Additional peak services start or terminate at Royston whilst others are extended to/from King's Lynn or Ely.
In the rush hour services have a number of calling points, services call at:
- Letchworth, Baldock, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Letchworth, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Royston, Cambridge then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston, Cambridge, then all stations to King's Lynn or Ely.
In the direction of the morning and evening peaks, this service runs half-hourly.
In the direction of the morning and evening peaks, there is an additional half-hourly services to Peterborough calling at Hitchin and/or Biggleswade, St Neots, Huntingdon and Peterborough only. Other services either only stop at Huntingdon whilst others stop at St. Neots and Huntingdon and others at Stevenage and/or Biggleswade, St. Neots and Huntingdon.
Additional services start/terminate at Huntingdon to/from London.
An hourly service between London King's Cross and Cambridge calling at Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City and then all stations. A number of services in the morning and evening to/from London Kings Cross are extended to start or terminate at Ely or King's Lynn and additional services starting/terminating at Royston. In the direction of the morning and evening peaks, this service runs half-hourly.
In the rush hour trains often have a range of calling points with services calling at:
- Finsbury Park, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Hatfield, then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Welwyn North, Knebworth, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Finsbury Park, Stevenage then all stations to Royston, Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Royston then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Letchworth, Royston then all stations to Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
- Letchworth, then all stations to Royston, Cambridge, King's Lynn or Ely.
Increased to half-hourly during rush hour. Additional services start/terminate at Huntingdon to/from London.
A service every 15 minutes between Moorgate and Welwyn Garden City and between Moorgate and Hertford North calling at all stations. Two Hertford services per hour run to Stevenage. As of December 2019, these trains will run to Watton at stone only in order to facilitate a new bay platform at Stevenage. Rail replacement bus services subsidise this service by running between Stevenage and Hertford North. In peak hours, some services terminate short at Gordon Hill
The service is reduced to every 30 minute, in the night and on Saturday and Sunday.
A half hourly service to Welwyn Garden City runs to and from London Kings Cross in peak hours which omits stops at Harringay, Hornsey, Alexandra Palace, Hadley Wood, Brookmans Park and Welham Green.
Some Hertford loop peak services omit stops at Bowes Park, Grange Park, Crews Hill and Bayford.
The term Great Northern is related to the Great Northern Railway, the original builders of the line.
Six stopping and two (three on Saturday) Semi-fast services to Cambridge (Monday to Saturday) - One Sunday stopping service to Cambridge with two back. The fastest service taking about 1hr30 to travel from London King's Cross to Cambridge.
An additional seven services reached Baldock (Monday to Saturday)
An additional three services reached Letchworth (Monday to Saturday), the last service running just after midnight Thursday morning.
Since the 1960s, Great Northern has been used to describe the suburban part of the East Coast Main Line, south of Peterborough and south of Royston. The Great Northern Railway proposed electrification of part of the line in 1903, but it was not until 1971 that a scheme to electrify the line from London King's Cross and Moorgate was authorised.
The Inner Suburban Lines to Welwyn Garden City and Hertford North were electrified in 1976 with Class 313 EMUs. In 1978 the electrification was complete to Royston with Class 312 EMUs providing the service. The route was then promoted as the Great Northern Electrics. The route between Hertford and Langley Junction, south of Stevenage, was also electrified but not regularly used by electric trains until 1979 when one Moorgate-Hertford service per hour was extended to Letchworth; prior to this diesel multiple units provided an infrequent service over this route, running between Hertford and Huntingdon/Peterborough. From 1979 until 1987 DMUs provided the service between Hitchin and Huntingdon/Peterborough. DMUs also provided a shuttle service between Royston and Cambridge between 1978 and 1988, connecting with the electric trains and replacing the former through Cambridge buffet expresses between Kings Cross and the university city.
With the electrification by British Rail of the East Coast Main Line electric services could be extended to Peterborough and the Outer Suburban Service was changed from Class 312 to Class 317, some of which were cascaded from the newly created Thameslink route, with the remainder newly built.
In 1984 the decision to electrify the line between Royston and Shepreth Branch Junction with the West Anglia Main Line north of Shelford allowed the reinstatement of through services to Cambridge from London King's Cross via the East Coast Main Line, resulting in faster journey times than from Liverpool Street via the West Anglia Main Line. This electrification was completed in 1988.
Rapid growth on the route, especially on the Cambridge Line resulted in consultation on a new service pattern, which was then implemented at the timetable change in Spring 2009. During the peak hours, the route is now saturated and can support no further service improvements.
Together with the Digswell Viaduct (Welwyn Viaduct) some ten miles to the south, the flat junction just north of Hitchin was a major bottleneck, as northbound trains diverging from the East Coast Main Line towards Letchworth and thence to Cambridge had to cross one northbound (fast) line and two southbound (fast and slow) lines to access the Cambridge Line. Proposals as part of the original electrification work envisaged a new underpass here and land was set aside for its construction. However, budgetary constraints forced this part of the programme to be abandoned. The land stood empty for many years, but has since been used to provide new housing.
A new plan and subsequent application for an order to build a flyover was approved, and construction was completed in June 2013. The scheme has created a new single-track line that diverges from the northbound slow line at a new junction just beyond Hitchin station, using a short embankment section of the former Bedford to Hitchin Line, a section of which was cleared of vegetation and made progressively higher, to form a short ramp. The track is carried over the East Coast Main Line on a newly constructed viaduct and onto a new embankment to join the present Cambridge Line at the newly created Hitchin East Junction, closer to Letchworth. Although this takes trains over a longer distance, it removes the need for them to dwell at Hitchin – sometimes for several minutes – awaiting a path across the tracks of the main London-Peterborough route, thus decreasing the overall journey time to Cambridge in many instances. The scheme improves the punctuality and reliability of both the London-Cambridge and London-Peterborough routes, because Peterborough-bound stopping trains are no longer delayed if running closely behind a Cambridge service being held at Hitchin waiting to cross the flat junction.
As part of the Thameslink Programme, the Great Northern Route has been connected to the existing Thameslink route via a new junction at Belle Isle (south of the High Speed 1 flyover, just north of London King's Cross). Two single-bore tunnels (known as the Canal Tunnels) were driven from here to the low-level platforms at St Pancras during the 'St Pancras Box' phase of the redevelopment works that created St Pancras International station. Trains diverging from the Great Northern Route at Belle Isle will join the 'core' St Pancras - Farringdon - City Thameslink - Blackfriars section of the existing Thameslink route and then serve stations across Surrey, East Sussex, Kent, and West Sussex.
On 6 November 2017 the first Thameslink Programme units entered service on the Great Northern route. 700128 worked the 0656 Peterborough-London King’s Cross and 1812 return, while 700125 worked the 0733 Peterborough-London King’s Cross and 1742 return. Eventually 75% of the GN fleet will be Class 700 units.
East-West (Varsity) line
The Varsity Line connected Cambridge with Oxford via Sandy and Bedford ("Varsity" being slang for "University", those termini being major university towns). It was closed in 1968 but there are now plans to restore this route, but via the Cambridge Line and the East Coast Main Line, diverting westwards at Stevenage.
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Cars||Number||Routes operated||Built|
|365 Networker Express||EMU||100||161||4||21||Great Northern “express” services||1994–5|
|387/1 Electrostar||EMU||110||177||4||29||Great Northern “express” services||2014–5|
|700/0 & 700/1 Desiro City||EMU||100||161||8||60||All Thameslink services||2014–8|
|717 Desiro City||EMU||85||137||6||25||Northern City Line||2018–9|
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Cars||Number||Routes operated||Built||Withdrawn||Notes|
|313||EMU||75||120||3||21||Great Northern “suburban” services to/from Moorgate||1976–7||2019||Scrapped and replaced with Class 717.|
- Department for Transport. "New rail franchising deal set to transform passenger services across London and south east". Retrieved 28 May 2014.
- First Capital Connect. "A - Train Times 18 May to 13 December 2014 - Great Northern Route" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 June 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
- Bradshaw's July 1922 Railway Guide. Manchester: Henry Blacklock & Company. 1922.
- British Railways Board. "Your New Electric Railway: The Great Northern Suburban Electrification" (PDF). Retrieved 15 April 2010.
- "Major rail closures ruled out". Home News. The Times (61815). London. 26 April 1984. p. 4.
- "Cambridge Capacity Study". First Capital Connect. Archived from the original on 2 April 2010. Retrieved 14 March 2010.
- "APPENDIX 2: Issues in defining and measuring railway capacity" (PDF). Office of Rail Regulation. 13 February 2006. p. 2. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
- Network Rail. "Hitchin Flyover". Retrieved 28 February 2014.
- Network Rail. "The Network Rail Hitchin (Cambridge Junction) Order" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2010.
- "GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway) Presentation" (PDF). Govia. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- First Capital Connect. "2016 (Thameslink & Great Northern routes)". Archived from the original on 2 April 2010. Retrieved 15 April 2010.
- Network Rail (December 2006). London North Eastern Sectional Appendix. Module LNE. p. 12 LOR LN101 Seq002. NR30018/02.
- "Class 700s make Great Northern debut". railmagazine.com. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
- "New Govia Thameslink Railway trains to be Class 717s". RAIL magazine. RAIL magazine. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
- Perren, Brian (30 November – 13 December 1989). "Great Northern reliability". RAIL. No. 110. EMAP National Publications. pp. 24–27. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.