East Coast Main Line

The East Coast Main Line viaduct at Durham.

TypeCommuter rail, InterCity, High-speed, Heavy rail
SystemNational Rail
LocaleGreater London, East of England, East Midlands, North East England, Scottish Borders, Central Scotland
TerminiLondon King's Cross
51°31′53″N 0°07′24″W / 51.5314°N 0.1234°W / 51.5314; -0.1234 (East Coast Main Line, London terminus)
Edinburgh Waverley
55°57′08″N 3°11′20″W / 55.9522°N 3.1889°W / 55.9522; -3.1889 (East Coast Main Line, Edinburgh terminus)
Opened1871 (complete line)
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Virgin Trains East Coast[1]
Hull Trains
East Midland Trains
First TransPennine Express
Northern Rail
First ScotRail
Grand Central
DB Schenker
Freightliner Heavy Haul
Direct Rail Services
Bounds Green
Neville Hill
Rolling stockClass 43 HST
Class 91
Class 142 "Pacer"
British Rail Class 156
Class 180 Adelante
Class 185 Pennine
Class 220 Voyager
Class 221 Super Voyager
Class 313
Class 317
Class 321
Class 325
Class 365 Networker
Line lengthTemplate:Convert/mi
No. of tracksTwo - Four
Track gaugeStandard Gauge {{#switch:sg
|3mm=3 mm (0.118 in)
|4mm=4 mm (0.157 in)
|4.5mm=4.5 mm (0.177 in)
|4.8mm=4.8 mm (0.189 in)
|6.5mm=6.5 mm (0.256 in)
|6.53mm=6.53 mm (0.257 in)
|8mm=8 mm (0.315 in)
|8.97mm=8.97 mm (0.353 in)
|9mm=9 mm (0.354 in)
|9.42mm=9.42 mm (0.371 in)
|10.5mm=10.5 mm (0.413 in)
|11.94mm=11.94 mm (0.470 in)
|12mm=12 mm (0.472 in)
|12.7mm=12.7 mm (0.5 in)
|13mm=13 mm (0.512 in)
|13.5mm=13.5 mm (0.531 in)
|14mm=14 mm (0.551 in)
|14.125mm=14.125 mm (0.556 in)
|14.2mm=14.2 mm (0.559 in)
|14.28mm=14.28 mm (0.562 in)
|14.3mm=14.3 mm (0.563 in)
|15.76mm=15.76 mm (0.620 in)
Electrification25kV 50hz AC OHLE
Operating speed125 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) maximum
Route map

Overview of the ECML (in blue) and other mainlines in the UK

Template:ECML article The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a Template:Convert/mi long[2] electrified high-speed railway[3] link between London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield, Leeds, York, Darlington, Newcastle and Edinburgh. It is classed as a High Speed railway line because it meets the necessary speed criteria of 125 mph (200 km/h)

The route forms a key artery on the eastern side of Great Britain and is broadly paralleled by the A1 trunk road. It links London, the South East and East Anglia with Yorkshire, the North East Regions and Scotland. It also carries key commuter flows for the north side of London. It is therefore important to the economic health of a number of areas of the country. It also handles cross-country, commuter and local passenger services, and carries heavy tonnages of freight traffic. The route has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.

Route definition and description[edit | edit source]

The Network Rail definition of the ECML includes five separate lines:

In addition to the formal Network Rail definition, the ECML is sometimes regarded as extending beyond Edinburgh Waverley to Aberdeen,[citation needed] running mostly right on the east coast via Kirkcaldy, Dundee and Arbroath. North of Edinburgh it includes the red cantilever Forth Bridge, and at Dundee the curved Tay Bridge, both crossing wide river estuaries.

The Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central via Carstairs and Motherwell line is officially part of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) route, but is often considered part of the ECML because several East Coast services from King's Cross to Glasgow Central use this section on a daily basis

History[edit | edit source]

The line was built by three railway companies, each serving their own area but with the intention of linking up to form the through route that became the East Coast Main Line. From north to south they were

  • the North British Railway, from Edinburgh to Berwick-on-Tweed, completed in 1846,
  • the North Eastern Railway from Berwick-on-Tweed to Shaftholme; the North Eastern Railway was substantially complete in 1871 when the company combined parts of several local railways and built a section to form a direct through route, and
  • the Great Northern Railway from Shaftholme to Kings Cross, completed in 1850.

The boundary between the NER and the GNR was an end-on junction, famously described as in "a ploughed field"[citation needed] at Shaftholme, some way north of Doncaster.

Realising that through journeys were an important part of their business, the companies established special rolling stock in 1860 on a collaborative basis; it was called the "East Coast Joint Stock".

In 1923 the three companies were grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).

Numerous alterations to short sections of the 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 by-pass anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. The Selby diversion was opened in 1983 and diverged from the original ECML at Temple Hirst, north of Doncaster, and joined the Leeds to York line at Colton Junction.

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 Gresley, including the famous steam locomotives "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard". Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, at Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff and this record was never beaten. It made the run on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section, on the descent of Stoke Bank.


55022 Royal Scots Grey 1961 - 1981 East Coast Main Line Deltic Express Locomotives

Steam locomotives were replaced by Diesel electrics in the early 1960s, when the purpose-built Deltic locomotive was developed by English Electric. The prototype was successful and a fleet of 22 locomotives was built, to handle all the important express traffic. The class 55 were powered by two engines originally developed for fast torpedo boat purposes, and the configuration of the engines led to the Deltic name. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and chubby body outline made them unmistakable in service. The class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, at Template:Convert/hp.

It was just after the Deltics were introduced that the first sections of the East Coast Main Line were upgraded to officially allow Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff running. The first length to be cleared for the new higher speed was a Template:Convert/mi stretch between Peterborough and Grantham on the 15 June 1965, the second was Template:Convert/mi between Grantham and Newark.[4]

As the demand for higher speed intensified, the Deltics were eventually superseded by the High Speed Train (HST), introduced between 1976 and 1981.

A prototype of the HST, the British Rail Class 43 (HST) achieved 143 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) on the line in 1973.[5] Current UK legislation requires in-cab signalling for speeds of over 125 mph which is the primary reason preventing the InterCity 225 train-sets from operating at their design speed of 140 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) in normal service.

A secondary but no less important factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficiently advanced to allow detection of two broken rails on the line on which the train was operating.[6]

Before the present in-cab regulations came in, British Rail experimented with 140 mph running by introducing a fifth, flashing green signalling aspect on track between New England North and Stoke Tunnel. The fifth aspect is not observable 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.[5] Locomotives have operated on the ECML at speeds of up to 161.7 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) in test runs.[7]

The ECML was electrified in the late 1980s using state money. The electrification work began in 1985 and the initial section between King's Cross and Leeds went into operational trials in 1988. The full electrification was completed in late 1990, and the current InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced.

Infrastructure[edit | edit source]

The line is mainly four tracks from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham, except for two twin-track sections; the first of these is near Welwyn North Station as it crosses the Digswell Viaduct and passes through two tunnels, the second is between Huntingdon and Peterborough near 'Stilton Fen'. North of Grantham the route is twin track except for four-track sections around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (which is south of York) and Northallerton, and another at Newcastle.[8]

The main route is electrified along the full route and only the Leeds and Wakefield branch between Leeds and York (Neville Hill Depot to Colton Junction) is non-electrified.[8]

With most the of the line rated for 125 mph (Template:Convert/outsep) operation, the ECML was the fastest main line in the UK until the opening of High Speed One. These relatively high speeds are possible because much of the ECML travels 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 has to traverse the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, leading to many more curves and a lower general speed limit of 110 mph (Template:Convert/outsep). Speeds on the WCML have been increased in recent years with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds available on the ECML.

Rolling stock[edit | edit source]

Most passenger services use the InterCity 225 rolling stock. Some diesels still operate on line, including:

Operators[edit | edit source]

File:East Coast HST first liveried set.JPG

The main provider of services on the line, East Coast

The line's current principal operator is East Coast, whose services include regular trains between King’s Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. East Coast is subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways—a holding company owned by the Department for Transport—and took over from National Express East Coast on 14 November 2009.[1] Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:

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.[9]

DB Schenker, FirstGBRf, Freightliner, Freightliner Heavy Haul and Direct Rail Services operate freight services.

Development[edit | edit source]

Capacity problems[edit | edit source]

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is currently insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.[citation needed]

There are bottlenecks at the following locations:

Rail services are vulnerable during high winds and there have been several de-wirements over the years due to the unusually wide spacing between the supporting masts of the overhead lines. This wide spacing was a result of extreme pressure from the Department for Transport (as proxy for the taxpayer) to reduce avoidable costs when the line was originally electrified between 1985 and 1990.[13]

Recent developments[edit | edit source]

File:Uk outline map with ECML railway.PNG

A schematic map of the ECML route with some major destinations shown

The Allington Chord was constructed near Grantham in 2006, allowing services between Nottingham and Skegness to pass under the line, rather than crossing it at a flat junction. This provided sufficient extra capacity for National Express East Coast to run 12 additional services between Leeds and London each day.[14][15]

Proposed developments[edit | edit source]

See also: Intercity Express Programme

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[8]

These include the following:

  • Linking the ECML to Thameslink as part of the Thameslink Programme (for First Capital Connect commuter services to be extended to south London).
  • Quadrupling the Welwyn North section, involving probable double-decking of the viaduct and duplication of the two tunnels[16]
  • Full reversible signalling over the Stilton Fen section
  • Power supply upgrades along the route, including some OLE support improvements and rewiring
  • Power supply enhancement on the diversionary Hertford Loop route
  • Provision of an extra platform at Kings Cross (the so-called "platform Y")[17]
  • Provision of a grade-separated junction at Hitchin North enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line[17]
  • Provision of a new Up Bay platform at Doncaster
  • Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage
  • Increasing maximum speeds on the fast lines to between 125 mph and 140 mph in conjunction with the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme
  • Replacement of the Newark Flat Crossing with a flyover[18]
  • Major remodelling of Peterborough Station[17]
  • A fourth track at Holgate Junction, south of York, by January 2012[19][17]
  • A new flyover at Shaftholme Junction in South Yorkshire to allow freight trains from Immingham to pass over the line on their way to Eggborough and Drax power stations, due for completion by the end of 2013[19][17]
  • Reopening of freight diversionary routes

Accidents[edit | edit source]

The ECML has been witness to a number of incidents resulting in death and serious injury:

Title Date Killed Injured Note
Hatfield rail crash (1870) Template:Dts/hart 8 3 Wheel disintegrated causing derailment killing six passengers and two bystanders
Abbots Ripton rail disaster Template:Dts/hart 13 59 Flying Scotsman crashed during a blizzard.
Morpeth rail crash (1877) Template:Dts/hart 5 17 Derailment caused by faulty track
Grantham rail accident Template:Dts/hart 14 17 Runaway or overspeed on curve - no definite cause established
Welwyn Garden City rail crash Template:Dts/hart 14 29 2 trains collided due to a signaller's error
King's Cross railway accident Template:Dts/hart 2 26 Train slipped on gradient and slid back into station
Potters Bar rail crash Template:Dts/hart 2 17 Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains
Goswick rail crash Template:Dts/hart 28 65 Edinburgh-London Flying Scotsman failed to slow down for a diversion and derailed. Signal passed at danger
Doncaster rail crash Template:Dts/hart 14 12 train derailed south the station and struck a bridge pier
Goswick Goods train derailment Template:Dts/hart 0 1 'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[20][21]
Connington South rail crash Template:Dts/hart 5 18 Express train was derailed
Thirsk rail crash Template:Dts/hart 7 45 Cement train derailed and hit by North bound express hauled by prototype locomotive DP2
Morpeth rail crash (1969) Template:Dts/hart 6 46 Excessive speed on curve
Penmanshiel Tunnel collapse Template:Dts/hart 2 2 workers killed when the tunnel collapsed during engineering works
Morpeth rail crash (1984) Template:Dts/hart 35 Excessive speed on curve
Newcastle Central railway station collision Template:Dts/hart 15 Two InterCity expresses collided[22]
Morpeth rail crash (1992) Template:Dts/hart 1 Collision between two freight trains
Morpeth rail crash (1994) Template:Dts/hart 1 Excessive speed led to the locomotive and the majority of carriages overturning
Hatfield rail crash Template:Dts/hart 4 70 InterCity 225 derailed. The accident highlighted poor management at Railtrack and led to its partial re-nationalisation.
Selby rail crash Template:Dts/hart 10 82 A Land Rover Defender swerved down an embankment off the M62 motorway into the path of a southbound GNER Intercity 225
Potters Bar rail crash (2002) Template:Dts/hart 7 70 Loose points on the line
Copmanthorpe rail crash Template:Dts/hart 1 A car crashed through a fence onto the line

Popular culture[edit | edit source]

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 Kings Cross to Newcastle in the opening credits.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite news
  2. East Coast Main Line Rail Route Upgrading, United Kingdom
  3. East Coast Main Line (PDF). Route Utilisation Strategy. Network Rail (February 2008). Retrieved on 14 May 2008. “The ECML RUS encompasses all long distance high speed and London commuter services into King’s Cross...”
  4. "Railway Magazine" (November 1965). 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Barnett, Roger (June 1992). "British Rail's InterCity 125 and 225" (PDF). University of California Transportation Center; University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved on 2008-05-27. 
  6. Heath, Don (August 1994). "Electrification of British Rail's East Coast Main Line". Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers (Transportation). 
  7. Keating, Oliver. The Inter-city 225. High Speed Rail. Retrieved on 2008-05-29.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Network Rail Route Business Plan (PDF). Network Rail (2008).
  9. Template:Cite news
  10. 10.0 10.1 Template:Cite news
  11. ECML Route Utilisation Strategy: Railfuture Response (PDF). The Railway Development Society Ltd. (2007-09-13). Retrieved on 2009-07-28.
  12. ECML Route Utilisation Strategy (PDF) 66, 134. Network Rail. Retrieved on 2009-07-29.
  13. The Wrong Line. Christian Wolmar.
  14. Template:Cite news
  15. Template:Cite news
  16. Friends of the Earth proposal
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 "Flyovers to go ahead at Hitchin, Ipswich, Shaftholme" (March 2010). The Railway Magazine 156 (1307). London: IPC Media. ISSN 0033-8923. 
  18. East Midlands Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation (PDF). Network Rail (2009).
  19. 19.0 19.1 Template:Cite news
  20. Northumberland Railways - Goswick station
  21. Railways Archive - Ministry report.
  22. Template:Cite news

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Template:Main inter-regional railway lines in Great Britain Template:Railway lines in the East of England Template:Railway lines in the East Midlands Template:Railway lines in London Template:Railway lines in North East England Template:Railway lines in Yorkshire and the Humber

Template:High-speed railway lines

Template:Use dmy dates

da:East Coast Main Line de:East Coast Main Line fr:East Coast Main Line nl:East Coast Main Line ja:イースト・コースト本線 pl:East Coast Main Line simple:East Coast Main Line

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