Cross Country Route

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Cross Country Route
OwnerNetwork Rail
TypeSuburban rail, Heavy rail, Inter-city rail
SystemNational Rail
Operator(s)CrossCountry (principal operator)
East Midlands Railway
Great Western Railway
Northern Trains
TransPennine Express
West Midlands Trains
Rolling stockClass 170 Turbostar
Class 220 Voyager
Class 221 Super Voyager
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge
ElectrificationPartial 25 kV AC OHLE, from Bromsgrove to Birmingham New Street, Doncaster and Wakefield Westgate to Neville Hill TMD, Colton Junction to York
In progress: Colton Junction to Church Fenton
Operating speedUp to 125 mph (200 km/h) maximum, some sections limited to 100 mph (160 km/h)
Route map

(Click to expand)

The Cross Country Route is a long-distance rail route in England. It runs from Bristol Temple Meads to York via Birmingham New Street, Derby, Sheffield and Leeds or Doncaster. InterCity services on the route, which include some of the longest passenger journeys in the UK such as Aberdeen to Penzance, are run by CrossCountry.

The line is classed as a high-speed line because its sections from Birmingham to Wakefield Westgate and from Leeds to York have a speed limit of 125 mph (200 km/h), though the section from Birmingham to Bristol is limited to 100 mph (160 km/h) because of numerous level crossings, especially half-barrier level crossings, and the section from Wakefield to Leeds has the same limit because of a number of curves.[citation needed]


The Birmingham–Bristol section was built as the Birmingham and Gloucester and Bristol and Gloucester Railways[n 1] before joining the Midland Railway, the southern forerunner to the cross-country route. From Birmingham to the north-northeast, the line had three separately owned sections, namely the:

From the Labour Government's nationalisation in 1948 until privatisation in 1990, the route ran through all six regions of British Rail but did not have timetabling priority in any of them. Therefore the services were poorly promoted and thus not always well-patronised.[citation needed]

Most DerbyNottingham local passenger trains were taken over by diesel units from 14 April 1958, taking about 34 minutes between the two cities.[1][full citation needed]

In the 1990s most services were operated by British Rail's InterCity business unit. As part of the privatisation of British Rail, these were taken over by Virgin CrossCountry in 1997, with the Class 47 hauled Mark 2 and High Speed Train sets replaced by Class 220 and Class 221 diesel multiple units in the early 2000s.[2][3]

The use of the route for freight has decreased, because of the bulk of haulage switching to roads and the building of the M5, M6 and M1 motorways.

Abortive British Rail proposals for complete electrification[edit]

In the 1960s the route was considered for electrification.[citation needed] In the early 1980s, electrification was again discussed at length and documentation for various proposals was produced in 1981.[4] This would have been particularly beneficial for climbing the Lickey Incline between Cheltenham and Birmingham, as many of the early diesels were under-powered. In 1977 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended considering electrification of more of Britain's rail network, and by 1979 BR presented a range of options that included electrifying the cross-country route by 2000.[5] Under the governments that succeeded the 1976–79 Labour government, the proposal was not implemented.


Map of Cross Country network. The core Cross Country Route is between Bristol and York

The route is well connected, and aside from its own alignment it uses parts of the South Wales Main Line, Midland Main Line, Swinton–Doncaster line, and the East Coast Main Line. Major cities and towns served along the route include:

Nominal start-point at Derby

Milepost zero for the main predecessor Derby to Bristol route has always been Derby, hence a train travelling the whole route starts out going "up" then becomes "down". The Birmingham to Derby section of the route has a line speed of 125 mph (200 km/h), while Birmingham to Bristol is restricted to 100 mph (160 km/h) because of a number of half-barrier level crossings.


The line is not fully electrified, but some sections are overhead electrified at 25 kV AC such as Bromsgrove to Grand Junction,[6] with further electrified sections around Leeds and the East Coast Main Line near York. Network Rail stated in 2014 that the line between Derby and Sheffield would be electrified as part of the Midland Main Line upgrade.[7] However, the electrification programme was severely cut back in July 2017.[8] As of 2023, Network Rail is working on the section between York and Church Fenton.[9] The rest of the section between Leeds and York has electrification planned as part of the Transpennine Route Upgrade, which itself is part of the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands.[10][11] This plan also includes full Midland Main Line electrification and upgrades.

Electrification between Westerleigh Junction (near Yate, Gloucestershire) and Bristol Temple Meads was planned as part of the 21st-century modernisation of the Great Western Main Line, but as of 2023 work has yet to progress beyond Filton East Curve, south-west of Bristol Parkway.


Most long-distance services on the route are operated by Class 220/221 Voyagers, although a few services, until recently, operated using High Speed Trains. These trains are capable of achieving 125 mph (200 km/h), compared to the previous Class 47s and Mk 2 coaching stock, which had a top speed of 95 mph (150 km/h).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Briefly amalgamated as the Birmingham and Bristol Railway


  1. ^ The Railway Magazine. June 1958. p. 432. {{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "Virgin says farewell to 47s with Penzance – Derby trip". Rail Magazine. No. 443. 4 September 2002. p. 16.
  3. ^ "CrossCountry HSTs bow out". The Railway Magazine. No. 1230. October 2003. p. 84.
  4. ^ "1981 Railway archive" (PDF). 1981.
  5. ^ Railway Electrification. British Railways Board (Central Publicity Unit). Winter 1979. pp. 0–2, 8.
  6. ^ "First electric train travels between Birmingham and Bromsgrove". Global Railway Review. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  7. ^ "Midland Mainline improvement programme". Network Rail. Archived from the original on 26 December 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Rail electrification plans scrapped". BBC News. 20 July 2017. Archived from the original on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  9. ^ "York to Church Fenton Improvement Scheme". Network Rail. Retrieved 25 February 2022.
  10. ^ Haigh, Philip (14 December 2011). "£290m to wire York-Manchester trans-Pennine route". Rail Magazine. No. 685. pp. 8–9.
  11. ^ "Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands" (PDF). UK Government. 18 November 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 November 2021.