Eastern Counties Railway

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Eastern Counties Railway
Dates of operation 1839–1862
Successor Great Eastern Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (1844-1862)
Previous gauge 5 ft (1,524 mm) (1839-44)

The Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) was an English railway company incorporated in 1836 intended to link London with Ipswich via Colchester, and then to Norwich and Yarmouth. Construction began in late March 1837 on the first nine miles at the London end.[1] Construction was beset by engineering and other problems, leading to severe financial difficulties. As a result the project was truncated in April 1839 to Colchester.


After being authorised by an Act of Parliament on 4 July 1836, the railway opened on 20 June 1839 from a temporary terminus at Devonshire Street in Mile End to Romford.[2] On 1 July 1840 it was extended to a new London terminus at Shoreditch (renamed Bishopsgate in 1846) and to Brentwood; on 7 March 1843 to Colchester, a distance of 51 miles, now part of the Great Eastern Main Line.[3]

Track gauge[edit]

The railway was originally 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge on the recommendation of engineer John Braithwaite - at this time there was no legislation dictating the choice of gauge, and the directors favoured the Great Western Railway's broad gauge of 7 ft (2,134 mm). On grounds of cost Braithwaite recommended the 5 ft gauge to reduce wear on locomotive parts, and the Northern & Eastern Railway, planning to use the ECR between Stratford and Bishopsgate, was forced to adopt the same gauge.[4]

With the extension of the railway in the early 1840s it became apparent that 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge was a better choice, and in September and October 1844 gauge conversion was carried out, with the N&ER.


To Norwich[edit]

On 30 July 1845 ECR trains reached Norwich, but via the N&ER and Norwich & Brandon Railway, via Stratford, Cambridge, Ely and Brandon. It had leased the partly completed N&ER from 1 January 1844.

To Ipswich[edit]

The Colchester line was extended to Ipswich in 1846, and to Norwich in 1849 by the Eastern Union Railway, with which the ECR made an end-on connection. After a period of poor relations, the ECR took over operation of the EUR on 1 January 1854, formally sanctioned by an Act of 7 August 1854. In 1862 the merged company amalgamated with other East Anglian railways to form the Great Eastern Railway.


The railway was the first to use a two-wheel pony truck, in 1859, using the design of American inventor Levi Bissell.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • In September 1840, a train was in a rear-end collision with a passenger train at Old Ford, Essex. One person was killed.[5]
  • In September 1853, a freight train came to a halt near Brandon, Suffolk due to a defect on the locomotive. The driver of a second freight train deliberately ignored a red signal and consequently his train was in a rear-end collision with the first. Time interval working was in force.[6]
  • On 20 February 1860, a passenger train was derailed at Tottenham station when a tyre broke on the locomotive hauling it. Seven people were killed.[7]


  • The Railway Year Book, 1912
  1. ^ Gordon, D.PI. (1977). Thomas, David St John and Patmore, J. Allan, ed. A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain — Volume 5: The Eastern Counties (2nd ed.). Newton Abbott: David & Charles. 
  2. ^ McCarthy, Colin; McCarthy, David (2009). Railways of Britain – London North of the Thames. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-7110-3346-7. 
  3. ^ White, H.P. (1987). Thomas, David St John, ed. A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain — Volume 3: Greater London (3rd ed.). Dawlish: David & Charles. 
  4. ^ Brooks, Lyn (October 1993). "Broad gauge on the Eastern Counties Railway". Great Eastern Journal: 34. 
  5. ^ Hall, Stanley (1990). The Railway Detectives. London: Ian Allan. p. 20. ISBN 0 7110 1929 0. 
  6. ^ Vaughan, Adrian (2003) [2000]. Tracks to Disaster. Hersham: Ian Allan. p. 7. ISBN 0 7110 2985 7. 
  7. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble. Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 7. ISBN 0-906899-01-X.