Great Eastern Main Line

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Great Eastern Main Line
360108 at Marks Tey.jpg
Type Inter City, Commuter rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
East of England
Termini London Liverpool Street
51°31′08″N 0°04′53″W / 51.5188°N 0.0815°W / 51.5188; -0.0815 (Great Eastern Main Line, London terminus)
52°37′36″N 1°18′24″E / 52.6267°N 1.3067°E / 52.6267; 1.3067 (Great Eastern Main Line, Norwich terminus)
Stations 27
Opening 1862
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio Greater Anglia
TfL Rail
Depot(s) Norwich Crown Point
Rolling stock Class 90/Mark 3
Class 170 "Turbostar" (small section)
Class 315 until 2017
Class 317
Class 321
Class 345 from 2017
Class 357 "Electrostar" (small section)
Class 360 "Desiro"
Class 379 "Electrostar" (small section)
Line length 133 mi (214 km)
No. of tracks 2–6
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 25kV 50hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 100 mph (160 km/h)
Route map
Bittern & Wherry Lines
Trowse swing bridge
over River Wensum
Norwich Victoria
Breckland Line
via Wymondham
River Yare
to Wymondham
Waveney Valley Line
River Waveney
Eye Branch
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway
Ipswich to Ely Line
River Gipping
Needham Market
East Suffolk Line
Ipswich Goods Yard
Lower Yard and
Ipswich Docks
Ipswich TMD
Stoke Tunnel
Ipswich Stoke Hill
Griffin Wharf branch
freight only
Bentley Church
Hadleigh Railway
River Stour
Mayflower Line
Sunshine Coast Line
Colchester TMD
River Colne
Marks Tey
Gainsborough Line
Kelvedon & Tollesbury
Light Railway
Witham–Maldon branch line
Braintree Branch Line
Hatfield Peverel
River Chelmer
Chelmsford Viaduct
Shenfield to Southend Line
Shenfield Junction
M25 motorway
Harold Wood
Gidea Park Carriage Sidings
Gidea Park
Romford to Upminster Line
Romford OHL Depot
Chadwell Heath
Seven Kings
Fairlop Loop
junction now site of Ilford Depot
Ilford Maintenance Depot
& Bombardier Works
North Circular Road
River Roding
Ilford Flyover
Manor Park
London, Tilbury &
Southend Railway
Gospel Oak to Barking Line
Forest Gate
to West Anglia
(Temple Mills branch)
Stratford London Underground Docklands Light Railway London Overground
North London Line
Waterworks River
Thornton Fields
Carriage Sidings
closed 2008
City Mill River
Bow Midland Yard
opens 2019
River Lea
Bryant and May works siding
closed 1979
Bow Junction
to Fenchurch Street
Coborn Road
Regent's Canal
Globe Road
Lea Valley Lines &
West Anglia Main Line
Bethnal Green
East London Line
Bishopsgate (Low Level)
Wheeler Street Junction
Liverpool Street London Underground

The Great Eastern Main Line (GEML, sometimes referred to as the East Anglia Main Line) is a 133-mile (214 km) major railway line of the British railway system, which connects Liverpool Street in the City of London with destinations in east London and the East of England, including Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich and several coastal resorts such as Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze.[1] The main markets are commuter travel to London, particularly to the City of London and Docklands, and business and leisure travellers. The route also provides the main artery for substantial freight traffic between the Port of Felixstowe, Harwich International Port and the rest of Great Britain, via London.[2]


The earliest section of the line operated between Devonshire Street railway station (Mile End) and Romford from 1839 and was built by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR). The London terminus was then moved to Bishopsgate railway station (initially known as Shoreditch) on 1 July 1840 and the line was extended out to Brentwood in the same year. A further 51 miles (82 km) of route was added to link London with Colchester by 1843.[3] The original gauge for the line was 5 ft (1,524 mm), but this was converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge in 1844.

The section of line between Colchester and Ipswich was built by the Eastern Union Railway to standard gauge and opened for passenger traffic on 15 June 1846 and the route to Norwich (Norwich Victoria railway station) opened in 1849.

Eastern Counties Railway and Eastern Union Railways and others were amalgamated to form the Great Eastern Railway in 1862.

The London terminus was again moved, this time to Liverpool Street on 2 February 1872.

The line was 'grouped' into the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 and from 1948 formed part of the Eastern Region of British Railways.

In the 1930s a flyover was constructed just west of Ilford to switch the main and electric lines over, to enable main line trains to utilise Liverpool St's longer west side platforms without having to cross east side suburban traffic in the station throat. The new arrangement also facilitated cross-platform interchange with the Central line at Stratford, services commencing in 1946. Either side of Ilford Flyover, there are single-track connections between the slow and fast pairs of lines, with the westbound track extending to Manor Park railway station and just beyond. A short fifth platform face serves the track at Manor Park, but it sees no normal use. The eastbound track extends as far as Ilford, connecting with that station's fifth (bay) platform, which does see frequent rush hour services. It was also envisaged that a flyover would be built at the country end of Gidea Park Carriage Sidings to allow trains to Southend Victoria to change from the fast line to the slow line, instead of at the London end of Shenfield as they do now.

Plans were drawn up in the 1930s to electrify the suburban lines from Liverpool Street to Shenfield at 1500 V DC and work was started on implementing this. However, the outbreak of the Second World War brought the project to a temporary halt and it was not until 1949 that the scheme was completed with electrification being extended to Chelmsford in 1956.[4]

The British Railways 1955 Modernisation Plan called for overhead line systems in Great Britain to be standardised at 25 kV AC. However, due to low clearances under bridges the route was electrified at 6.25 kV AC. The section between Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria was completed in November 1960. Extensive testing showed that smaller electrical clearances could be tolerated for the 25 kV system than originally thought necessary. As a result it was now possible to increase the voltage without having to either raise bridges or lower the tracks along the route to obtain larger clearances. The route between Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria was converted to 25 kV AC between 1976 and 1980[5] Electrification was extended to Colchester in 1961 by BR's Eastern Region and finally to Norwich by 1986.

In 1986 it became part of Network SouthEast. Between 5 January 1997 and 31 March 2004, suburban and medium distance services were operated by First Great Eastern, while fast mainline services were operated by Anglia Railways. Between April 2004 and February 2012 services out of Liverpool Street except for c2c services were all operated by National Express East Anglia. As of February 2012 services out of Liverpool Street except for c2c services are now operated by Abellio Greater Anglia. However on 31 May 2015 the Shenfield Metro all stopping service transferred from Abellio Greater Anglia to TfL Rail.

Liverpool Street IECC replaced signal boxes at Bethnal Green (closed 1997), Bow (closed 1996), Stratford (GE panel closed 1997), Ilford (closed 1996), Romford (closed 1998), Gidea Park (closed 1998), Shenfield (closed 1992) and Chelmsford (closed 1994). The system uses BR Mark 3 solid state interlockings, predominantly four-aspect signals and a combination of Smiths clamp-lock and GEC-Alsthom HW2000 point machines.

The first signalbox to be closed and transferred to Liverpool Street IECC was Shenfield, which had only opened in 1982. The last boxes to be transferred were at Romford and Gidea Park, and were the oldest of those being transferred, having been opened under the GER/LNER 1924 resignalling scheme.



The line is owned and maintained by Network Rail.[2] It is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 7, is composed of SRS's 07.01, 07.02 and 07.03, and is classified as a primary line. The line has a loading gauge of W10 between Liverpool Street and Haughley junction and from there is W9 to Norwich. It has a line speed of between 80–100 mph (130–160 km/h).[7]

The main line is electrified at 25 kV AC using overhead wires and comes under the control of Romford Electrical Control Room. The branches to Upminster, Southend Victoria, Southminster, Braintree, Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze and Harwich Town are also electrified.

In between Romford and Chadwell Heath there is a small Network Rail OLE depot adjacent to the Jutsums Lane overbridge. In addition at the London end of the depot is Network Rail's Electrical Control Room that controls the supply and switching of the OHL system for the whole of the former Anglia Region.

Signalling is controlled by two main signalling centres, Liverpool Street IECC (opened in 1992) and Colchester PSB (opened in December 1983). Liverpool Street IECC controls signalling up to Marks Tey, where it fringes with Colchester PSB, which has control to Norwich. There are also several small signal boxes that control local infrastructure, such as Ingatestone box, which has jurisdiction over several local level crossings.

Track layout[edit]

On leaving Liverpool Street, the route comprises two pairs of tracks, known as the Mains and the Electrics, with a further pair of tracks, the 'Suburbans', which carry the West Anglia Main Line alongside the GE to Bethnal Green Junction.

From Bethnal Green the GE has four lines to Bow Junction, where there is a complex set of switches and crossings. A line from the LTS route joins the up electric and there are a further two lines, the up and down Temple Mills, giving access to the North London line and Temple Mills. The GE is six tracks up to the London end of Stratford and the junction to Temple Mills, and there are five lines through the station dropping to four at the country end.

A flyover just west of Ilford enables main line trains to utilise Liverpool St's longer west side platforms without having to cross east side suburban traffic in the station throat. This arrangement also facilitated cross-platform interchange with the Central line at Stratford. Either side of Ilford Flyover, there are single-track connections between the slow and fast pairs of lines, with the westbound track extending to Manor Park railway station and just beyond. A short fifth platform face serves the track at Manor Park, but it sees no normal use. The eastbound track extends as far as Ilford, connecting with that station's fifth (bay) platform, which does see frequent rush hour services.

At Shenfield the line to Southend Victoria diverges and the main line route drops from four lines to two; this arrangement continues for the vast majority of the way to Norwich. There are several locations where the route has more than two lines, predominantly through stations such as Colchester and Ipswich, along with goods loops, such as at the London end of Ingatestone.

Stoke tunnel[edit]

The only railway tunnel on the Great Eastern Main Line is just to the south of the current Ipswich railway station. The 361-yard (330 m) long tunnel was built by Peter Bruff as part of the Ipswich to Ely Line. It was completed in 1846 and it is thought to be the earliest driven on a sharp continuous curve.[8] During the excavation of the tunnel many important fossils were uncovered, including rhinoceros, lion, and, mammoth; the site was known as the 'Stoke Bone Beds'.[9] The finds are considered important in understanding climate change during the Ice Age.[10] This tunnel had the trackbed lowered so the line could accommodate higher container trains.

The tunnel has earned itself the reputation "the wettest tunnel in Britain" as a natural spring still runs through the tunnel, the walls carry running water most of the time.[citation needed]

Rolling stock[edit]

Electric locomotive-hauled inter-city trains on Norwich to London service. From 2004 onward, these were updated with refurbished ex-West Coast Main Line locomotives and coaches following the introduction of the Class 390 Pendolino stock on that route.

Electric multiple units for inner and outer suburban passenger trains and diesel multiple units for non-electrified lines. Electric and diesel hauled freight services.[2]

  • Class 315 - 318 seats across four cars. Maximum speed 75 mph (120 km/h)
  • Class 321 - 307 seats across four cars per trainset, 100 mph (160 km/h)
  • Class 360 (Desiro) - four cars per trainset, 100 mph
  • Class 90 with Mark 3 coaches - London-Norwich express passenger trains, maximum speed 110 mph (180 km/h), running speed 100 mph (160 km/h)

Current developments[edit]

2011 DLR extension[edit]

In summer 2011, the DLR extension from Canning Town to Stratford Regional and Stratford International was completed. It is using the former North London Line alignment that runs beside the Jubilee line and will directly link Stratford Regional to its international counterpart, local stations to the south and existing DLR branches in the Royal Docks.

International services from Stratford[edit]

Stratford International station opened on 30 November 2009, and is connected to Stratford station by the Docklands Light Railway extension which was completed on 31 August 2011. Stratford International was originally built to serve Eurostar trains to mainland Europe, however these plans never came to fruition.[11]

There are several other potential operators that may use the station for International services including Deutsche Bahn's proposed London-Frankfurt service[12] and the "Transmanche Metro" project to Calais via local stations.[13]


On 31 May 2015, TfL Rail (Crossrail concession) took over the metro service and (after 2018) take it via a tunnel through central London and link up with the Great Western Main Line as far as Reading and Heathrow Airport. However, the Crossrail rolling stock is expected to enter service on the GEML in May 2017. The Crossrail service will interchange with remaining Great Eastern Main Line services at Liverpool Street (via new underground platforms), Stratford, Romford and Shenfield.

Proposed developments[edit]

The Greater Anglia RUS, published in December 2007 outlines a number of developments intended for the Great Eastern route. Other proposals have been announced separately.

In November 2013 an upgrade of the GEML to enable London to Norwich express services to achieve an improved journey time of 90 minutes was announced, this indicated that a raised linespeed of 110 mph would be required and the replacement of the existing Cl90/Mk.3 rolling stock with new Inter-City rolling stock.[20]


Nearly all trains are operated by Abellio Greater Anglia and TfL Rail, however a number of early morning, late evening and night c2c services operate on the line.[2] From May 1985 to May 2007 London Fenchurch Street closed at 22:30 as a cost-saving exercise and all services operated from Liverpool Street. c2c also operates from Liverpool Street when engineering work prevents access to Fenchurch Street.

Liverpool Street is the principal passenger destination, although Stratford, with connections to Canary Wharf and its proximity to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, has grown in significance.[2]

Main line[edit]

Fast services utilise the main lines between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. Branch lines diverge at Romford, Shenfield, Witham, Marks Tey, Colchester, Ipswich, Stowmarket and Norwich.

Station District Branches
London Liverpool Street City of London
Stratford Newham
Romford Havering Romford to Upminster Line: Upminster
Shenfield Brentwood Shenfield to Southend Line: Southend Victoria / Southminster
Ingatestone Brentwood
Chelmsford Chelmsford
Hatfield Peverel Braintree
Witham Braintree Braintree Branch Line: Braintree
Kelvedon Braintree
Marks Tey Colchester Gainsborough Line: Sudbury
Colchester Colchester Sunshine Coast Line: Colchester Town / Clacton-on-Sea / Walton-on-the-Naze
Manningtree Tendring Mayflower Line: Harwich Town
Ipswich Ipswich Felixstowe Branch Line: Felixstowe
East Suffolk Line: Lowestoft
Needham Market Mid Suffolk
Stowmarket Mid Suffolk Ipswich to Ely Line: Ely / Cambridge
Diss South Norfolk
Norwich Norwich Wherry Lines: Great Yarmouth / Lowestoft
Bittern Line: Sheringham
Breckland Line: Cambridge

Slow Line[edit]

A high-frequency service operates on the slow lines between Liverpool Street and Shenfield serving all stations which is operated by TfL Rail. The off-peak service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield consists of six trains an hour with eight trains per hour during rush hour.[2] Some peak trains are scheduled to start or terminate at Gidea Park with a small number of trains starting/terminating at Ilford and a limited service starts/terminates at Stratford and Romford. A limited service also operates between Stratford and Ilford-Shenfield. The line is mostly within Greater London, with two stations in the Brentwood borough of Essex. All of these services are run by TfL Rail.

The line is also used by a limited service extending to/from Southend Victoria and Southminster stopping at Stratford, Romford then all stations operates on the line on weekdays. Semi-fast services to/from Southend Victoria also use the line on Sundays. One limited service between Liverpool Street and Colchester also serves the line, this service calls at Stratford, Seven Kings, Gidea Park, Shenfield then either all or most stations to Colchester. As well as limited services to/from Colchester on Sundays. However all services to/from Southend Victoria and Southminster do use the slow route between Liverpool Street and Stratford. These services are all run by Abellio Greater Anglia. [2]

Station Zone District
London Liverpool Street 1 City of London
Stratford 3 Newham
Maryland 3 Newham
Forest Gate 3 Newham
Manor Park 3/4 Newham
Ilford 4 Redbridge
Seven Kings 4 Redbridge
Goodmayes 4 Redbridge
Chadwell Heath 5 Redbridge
Romford 6 Havering
Gidea Park 6 Havering
Harold Wood 6 Havering
Brentwood n/a Brentwood
Shenfield n/a Brentwood

The section between Stratford and Gidea Park follows the same route as the A118 road.

Passenger volume[edit]

These are the passenger usage statistics from the year beginning April 2002 to the year beginning April 2013. Needham Market is the only station on the line that is not served by trains to/from London.


  1. ^ National Rail, Rail Services Around London & the South East, (2006)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Network Rail - Route 7 - Great Eastern (PDF)
  3. ^ "Eagle 61 :: Railway Guide books of the Eastern Counties Railway". Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  4. ^ Wilmoth, VJ (1956). "British Railways Electrification". Civil Engineering and Public Works 51 (600): 660–661. 
  5. ^ Glover, John (2003). "Eastern Electric", Ian Allan, London. ISBN 0-7110-2934-2.
  6. ^ Cecil J Allen; 'The Great Eastern Railway' 1955
  7. ^ "Route 7 - Great Eastern" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  8. ^ Moffat, Hugh (1987). East Anglia's First Railways. Lavenham: Terence Dalton. ISBN 0-86138-038-X. 
  9. ^ "Mammoth on High Street". Seven Wondered of Ipswich. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  10. ^ "Collections:Geology". Ipswich Borough Council. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  11. ^ Webster, Ben (21 April 2006). "Ghost train station that cost £210m". The Times (London). 
  12. ^ Jameson, Angela (10 March 2010). "Deutsche Bahn may run London to Frankfurt service". The Times (London). Retrieved 2 April 2010. 
  13. ^ "Commuter trains from Calais to Kent 'could be running before 2012 Olympics', claims French mayor". Daily Mail. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  14. ^ "11,000 Extra Seats To Be Provided For National Express East Anglia Customers With 188 Additional Carriages (Including 120 New Build Carriages)". National Express East Anglia. 
  15. ^ a b c "Greater Anglia Route Utilisation Strategy" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  16. ^ "Listening to residents and their concerns". Neil MacDonald. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  17. ^ "Final Government Approval". BBC news. 6 Nov 2008. 
  18. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ "London Reconnections: TfL Board Meeting Summary: DLR, Overground and Other Ways of Travelling". 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  20. ^ "‘Norwich in Ninety’ rail taskforce announced by Chancellor". 2013-11-07. Retrieved 2015-03-15. 

Coordinates: 51°56′57″N 1°01′56″E / 51.9491°N 1.0323°E / 51.9491; 1.0323 (Great Eastern Main Line)