The Breckland Line runs from Cambridge in Cambridgeshire to Norwich in Norfolk, in East Anglia, England. It is so called because it runs through the Breckland region of Norfolk. The line also passes through Thetford Forest. The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 5, SRS 05.09 and part of SRS 05.05. It is classified as a secondary line except between Ely and Cambridge which is classified as London and South East commuter line.
The Norwich & Brandon Railway was incorporated in 1844 and backed by George & Robert Stephenson. It was opened as the Norfolk Railway on 30 July 1845 and Eastern Counties Railway opened a route from Cambridge via Ely to Brandon on the same day.
The line is double track throughout but is only electrified between Cambridge and Ely, at 25 kV AC. It has a loading gauge of W8 except for the section connecting the Ipswich to Ely Line to the Ely to Peterborough Line which is W10, and has a line speed of between 80-105 mph.
Until 2012 the line had very historic feel to it, with its well preserved stations, semaphore signalling and prior to Spring 2009 lineside telegraph poles, along with sections of jointed rail on wooden sleepers (gradually being replaced with many sections now cleared for 90 mph running, with 100 mph being feasible).
However, the two stage Ely-Norwich resignalling in August & December 2012 has meant closure of the nine local mechanical signal boxes and removal of the 7 sets of hand operated wooden gates at level crossings. Cambridge signal box now controls the modern electronic interlockings which operate the lightweight LED signals. The level crossing have been automated and are provided with full barriers and red flashing road lights.
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Some of the stations it serves see just one stopping train in each direction per day, mostly in the Norwich direction in the morning and from Norwich in the evening.
Passenger services are operated by several operators.
- Greater Anglia operate an hourly service between Cambridge and Norwich using Class 170 diesel multiple units.
- East Midlands Trains operate services between Ely and Norwich, as part of the Norwich-Liverpool route. Services are operated by Class 158 diesel multiple units.
- CrossCountry operate services between Ely and Cambridge as part of the Birmingham New Street-Stansted Airport route. Services are operated by Class 170 diesel multiple units.
- First Capital Connect operate services between Cambridge and Ely as part of their Fen Line service to King's Lynn. Services are usually operated by Class 365 electrical multiple units.
The line between Cambridge and Ely, part of the Fen Line to King's Lynn, is electrified at 25 kV AC, using overhead wires. The rest of the route between Ely and Norwich is not electrified, other than the final section into Norwich station, after joining with the electrified line from London.