East Coast Main Line
|East Coast Main Line|
|Termini||London King's Cross|
|Line length||393 miles 13 chains (632.7 km)|
|Number of tracks||Double track and quadruple track|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Loading gauge||W9 (via Hertford Loop)|
|Route availability||RA 7-9, RA 10 in parts between Selby and York|
|Electrification||25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE|
|Operating speed||125 mph (200 km/h) maximum|
The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km) electrified railway between London and Edinburgh via Peterborough, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. The line is a key transport artery on the eastern side of Great Britain running broadly parallel to the A1 road.
The line was built during the 1840s by three railway companies, the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. In 1923, the Railway Act of 1921 led to their amalgamation to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the line became its primary route. The LNER competed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) for long-distance passenger traffic between London and Scotland. The LNER's chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley designed iconic Pacific steam locomotives, including the Flying Scotsman and Mallard which achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section.
On 1 January 1948, the railways were nationalised and operated by British Railways. In the early 1960s, steam was replaced by Diesel-electric traction, including the Deltics and sections of the line were upgraded so that trains could run at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). With the demand for higher speed, British Rail introduced InterCity 125 high-speed trains between 1976 and 1981. In 1973, the prototype of the HST, the Class 41, achieved a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run. In the 1980s, the line was electrified and InterCity 225 trains were introduced.
The line links London, South East England and East Anglia, with Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland and is important to their local economies. It carries key commuter traffic in north London and cross-country, commuter, local passenger services, and freight. Services north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness use diesel trains. In 1997, operations were privatised. It is operated by London North Eastern Railway which took over from Virgin Trains East Coast in June 2018.
Route definition and description
- The main line between London King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley stations, via Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Retford, Doncaster, York, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar. The line crosses the Anglo-Scottish border at Marshall Meadows Bay;
- The Wakefield Line, between Doncaster and Leeds, via Wakefield Westgate;
- The Northern City Line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate; and
- The Hertford Loop Line from Alexandra Palace to Stevenage.
- The branch line to North Berwick
- The Dunbar loop
The core route is the main line between King's Cross and Edinburgh, the Hertford Loop is used for local and freight services and the Northern City Line provides an inner suburban service to the city. The line has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.
Origins and early operations
The ECML was constructed by three independent railway companies. During the 1830s and 1840s, each company built part of the route to serve its own area, but also intending to link with other railways to form the through route that would become the East Coast Main Line. From north to south, the companies were:
- the North British Railway, from Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed, completed in 1846.
- the North Eastern Railway from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Shaftholme.
- the Great Northern Railway from Shaftholme to King's Cross, completed in 1850.
The GNR established an end-on connection with the NER at Askern, famously described by the GNR's chairman as in "a ploughed field four miles north of Doncaster". Askern was connected to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a short section of which was used to reach the NER at Knottingley. In 1871, the line was shortened when the NER opened a direct line from an end-on junction, with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern to Selby and over Selby Bridge on the Leeds-Hull line direct to York.
Through journeys were important and lucrative for the companies and in 1860 they built special rolling stock for the line. Services were operated using "East Coast Joint Stock" until 1922.
In 1923, in an effort to stem the losses of smaller companies, the Railway Act of 1921 required the companies to amalgamate to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The LNER was the second largest railway company in Britain, its routes were located to the north and east of London. On 1 January 1948, the Transport Act of 1947 implemented by Clement Attlee's Labour Government, nationalised the LNER and other privately owned railway companies to form British Railways. British Railways managed the ECML as its Eastern Region up to its discorporation in the early 1980s.
Alterations to sections of the ECML's 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 bypassing anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. The Selby Diversion which diverged from the ECML at Temple Hirst Junction, north of Doncaster and joined the Leeds to York Line at Colton Junction south west of York opened in 1983. The old line between Selby and York was dismantled and is now a public cycleway.
The line was temporarily realigned while the ground was stabilised when mining subsidence affected 200 metres of track 17 km to the east of Edinburgh, near Wallyford. The tracks were re-routed as was the overhead electrification equipment and the work was completed in 2000 when the track was returned to its original alignment. In 2001, severe subsidence was discovered at nearby, Dolphinstone and about 2 km of track was permanently moved laterally in a gentle curve to avoid a permanent speed restriction in 2002.
The line was worked for many years by Pacific steam locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, including the "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard". Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, having attained a recorded top speed of 126 miles per hour (203 km/h), while traversing the Grantham-to-Peterborough section on the descent of Stoke Bank. To date, the speed record set by Mallard has not been broken.
In the early 1960s, steam locomotives were replaced by Diesel-electrics, amongst them the Deltic, a powerful high-speed locomotive developed and built by English Electric. The prototype was successful and a fleet of 22 locomotives were built and put into BR service for express traffic. Designated the Class 55, they were powered by a pair of Napier Deltic engines that had been developed for fast torpedo boats; the unusual three-crankshaft triangular configuration of the engines was the source of the locomotive's Deltic moniker. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and body outline made them unmistakable and distinctive amongst their peers. The Class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, capable of providing up to 3,300 hp (2,500 kW).
In the years following the introduction of the Deltics, sections of the ECML were upgraded for trains running at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). On 15 June 1965, the first length of high-speed line, a 17 miles (27 km) stretch between Peterborough and Grantham, was completed. The next section was 12 miles (19 km) of line between Grantham and Newark and more sections were upgraded to enable high speeds along much of the line.
As the demand for higher speed intensified, British Rail produced a successor to the Deltics, the high speed train (HST), which was introduced between 1976 and 1981. Capable of 125 mph (201 km/h), it was a popular and iconic train and remained in passenger service in 2018 after a re-engining programme during the 2000s, in which MTU engines replaced the HST's original Paxman Valenta power units.
In 1973, the prototype HST British Rail Class 41 recorded a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run the line. British legislation required the use of in-cab signalling for running at speeds in excess of 125 mph (201 km/h) and so regular trains services were unable to run at such speeds. The lack of in-cab signalling was the primary reason that prevented the InterCity 225 train-sets from operating at their design speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) during normal service. A secondary factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficient to allow detection of two broken rails on the running line.
Before current in-cab regulations were introduced, British Rail experimented with 140 mph running by introducing a fifth, flashing green signalling aspect on the Down Fast line (signals P487 to P615) and Up Fast line (signals P610 to P494) between New England North and Stoke Tunnel. The fifth aspect is still shown 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. Locomotives have operated on the ECML at speeds of up to 161.7 mph (260.2 km/h) in test runs. The capability to run special test trains in excess of 125 mph is listed as being maintained in the LNE Sectional Appendix.
In the 1930s, studies were conducted into electrifying sections or all of the ECML. While British Rail considered electrification to be of equal importance to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and ECML during the 1950s, political factors delayed ECML electrification. Instead, investment was in high-speed diesel traction, the Deltic and high-speed train, for implementing service improvements, whilst the WCML electrification was largely complete by 1974.
Between 1976 and 1991, the ECML was electrified with 25 kV AC overhead lines, which were installed in two phases: The first phase between London (King's Cross) and Hitchin (including the Hertford Loop Line) was carried out between 1976 and 1978 as the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project, using Mk.3A equipment over 30 miles in total.
A working group of British Rail and Department for Transport officials convened in the late 1970s determined that, of all options for further electrification, the ECML represented the best value by far. Its in-house forecasts determined that increases in revenue and considerable reductions in energy and maintenance costs would occur by electrifying the line. In 1984, the second phase commenced to electrify the Northern section to Edinburgh and Leeds. The Secretary of State for Transport Nicholas Ridley and Minister for Railways David Mitchell played a large role in the decision to proceed.
The programme covered roughly 1,400 single-track miles and required major infrastructure changes, including resignalling the northern part of the line from Temple Hirst junction near Selby to the Scottish border and new signalling centres at Niddrie, York and Newcastle, ten power supply points at key points on the line, and clearance and immunisation activity to protect equipment. The ECML was crossed by 127 overbridges which were adjusted to accommodate the change. It was decided to rebuild individual bridges as opposed to lowering the track or other compromises. Some overbridges, such as the aqueduct near Abbots Ripton, were subject to innovative alterations to accommodate the installation of the overhead lines and on listed structures, such as the Royal Border Bridge, a specially-developed mast and foundation were used; elsewhere the standard Mk.3B equipment was deployed. The programme also electrified the Edinburgh-Carstairs branch of the WCML, to allow InterCity 225 sets to access Glasgow Central, with the added benefit of creating an electrified path to/from Edinburgh on the WCML from the south.
In 1985, construction began on the second phase; in the late 1980s, the programme was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world", spanning more than 250 miles (400 km). In 1986, the section to Huntingdon was completed, Leeds was reached in 1988 and the line to York was energised in 1989; by 1991, electrification had reached Edinburgh and electric services began on 8 July, eight weeks later than scheduled. Significant traffic increases occurred in the two years after completion; one station recorded a 58 per cent increase in passengers.
Electrification was completed at a cost of £344.4 million (at 1983 prices), a minor overrun against its authorised expenditure of £331.9 million. 40 per cent of the total cost was on new traction and rolling stock and 60 per cent for the electrification of the line. Shirres compared the ECML and later Great Western Railway electrification programmes, noting a 740 per cent increase in cost between the former and the latter; in this respect, the ECML scheme was more cost effective. The infrastructure supported speeds of up to 140 mph on a 3hr 29mins non-stop run between London and Edinburgh on 26 September 1991. British regulations have since required in-cab signalling on any train running at speeds above 125 mph (201 km/h) preventing such speeds from being legally attained in regular service.
In 1989, InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced on the line. They were developed to a competitive tender, to which GEC was awarded the contract. The Intercity 225 sets were used alongside other rolling stock, including Class 90 locomotives and Class 317 electric multiple units. The displaced diesel trains were reallocated predominantly to the Midland Main Line.
The line is mainly quadruple track from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham, with two double track sections: one between Digswell Jn & Woolmer Green Jn, where the line passes over the Digswell Viaduct, Welwyn North station and the two Welwyn tunnels; and one between Fletton Junction (south of Peterborough) and Holme Junction, south of Holme Fen. The route between Holme Junction and Huntingdon is mostly triple track, with the exception of a southbound loop between Conington and Woodwalton. North of Grantham the line is double track except for quadruple-track sections at Retford, around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (south of York), Thirsk and Northallerton, and Newcastle.
With most of the line rated for 125 mph (200 km/h) operation, the ECML was the fastest main line in the UK until the opening of High Speed 1. The high speeds are possible because much of the line is on fairly straight track on the flatter, eastern side of England, through Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, though there are significant speed restrictions because of the line's curvature particularly north of Darlington and between Doncaster and Leeds. By contrast, the West Coast Main Line crosses the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, with more curvature and a lower speed limit of 110 mph (180 km/h). Speeds on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) were increased with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds on the ECML.
Tunnels, viaducts and bridges
|Railway Structure||Length||Distance from Edinburgh Waverley||ELR||Location|
|Calton North Tunnel||490 yards (450 m)||0 miles 27 chains – 0 miles 50 chains||ECM8||East of Edinburgh Waverley station|
|Calton South Tunnel||400 yards (370 m)||0 miles 29 chains – 0 miles 47 chains|
|St. Margarets Tunnel||3 chains (60 m)||1 miles 32 chains – 1 mile 35 chains|
|Dunglas Viaduct||6 chains (120 m)||36 miles 02 chains – 36 miles 08 chains||Between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed stations|
|(Former Penmanshiel Tunnel)||12 chains (240 m)||39 miles 52 chains – 39 miles 64 chains|
|Distance from Newcastle|
|Royal Border Bridge||33 chains||66 miles 74 chains – 66 miles 41 chains||ECM7||South of Berwick-upon-Tweed station|
|Viaduct||3 chains||66 miles 33 chains – 66 miles 30 chains|
|River Aln||10 chains||35 miles 50 chains – 35 miles 40 chains||North of Alnmouth station|
|River Coquet||9 chains||30 miles 01 chains – 29 miles 72 chains||North of Acklington station|
|Bothal (River Wansbeck)||9 chains||17 miles 57 chains – 17 mile 48 chains||Between Pegswood and Morpeth stations|
|Plessey (River Blyth)||6 chains||12 miles 23 chains – 12 miles 17 chains||Between Morpeth and Cramlington stations|
|Great Lime Road||3 chains||5 miles 53 chains – 5 miles 50 chains||Between Cramlington and Chathill stations|
|Ouseburn Viaduct||14 chains||1 miles 18 chains – 1 mile 04 chains||North of Manors station|
|Red Barns Tunnel||98 yards (90 metres)||0 miles 70 chains – 0 miles 65 chains|
|Viaduct||28 chains||0 miles 40 chains – 0 miles 11 chains||East of Newcastle station|
|Distance from York|
|Viaduct||14 chains||80 miles 04 chains – 79 miles 70 chains||ECM5||West and South of Newcastle station|
|King Edward Bridge||13 chains||79 miles 66 chains – 79 miles 53 chains|
|Viaduct||4 chains||79 miles 53 chains – 79 miles 49 chains|
|Chester-le-Street Viaduct||12 chains||72 miles 20 chains – 72 miles 19 chains||North of Chester-le-Street station|
|Chester Moor or Dene Viaduct||10 chains||71 miles 07 chains – 70 miles 77 chains||South of Chester-le-Street station|
|Plawsworth Viaduct||6 chains||69 miles 60 chains – 69 miles 54 chains|
|Durham Viaduct||12 chains||66 miles 06 chains – 65 miles 74 chains||South of Durham station|
|Relly Mill Viaduct||6 chains||65 miles 23 chains – 65 miles 17 chains|
|Langley Moor Viaduct (River Dearness)||6 chains||64 miles 39 chains – 64 miles 33 chains|
|Croxdale Viaduct (River Wear)||9 chains||62 miles 18 chains – 62 miles 09 chains||Between Durham and Darlington stations|
|Aycliffe Viaduct (River Skerne)||49 miles 17 chains|
|River Skerne Viaduct||2 chains||47 miles 26 chains – 47 miles 24 chains|
|River Skerne Viaduct||3 chains||45 miles 33 chains – 45 miles 30 chains|
|Croft Viaduct (River Tees)||6 chains||41 miles 11 chains – 41 miles 05 chains||South of Darlington station|
|Skelton Bridge (River Ouse)||4 chains||3 miles 16 chains – 3 miles 12 chains||Between Thirsk and York stations|
|Distance from King's Cross|
|Ryther Viaducts (River Wharfe)||25 chains||180 miles 28 chains – 180 miles 03 chains||ECM3||Between York and Doncaster stations|
|Selby Dam Viaduct||7 chains||175 miles 20 chains – 175 miles 13 chains|
|Selby Canal Viaduct||2 chains||172 miles 44 chains – 172 miles 42 chains|
|River Aire||4 chains||169 miles 44 chains – miles 40 chains|
|Aire & Calder Navigation||166 miles 66 chains||ECM2|
|Balby Bridge Tunnel||95 yards (87 metres)||155 miles 38 chains – 155 miles 34 chains||ECM1||Between Doncaster and Retford stations|
|Bawtry Viaduct||15 chains||147 miles 24 chains – 147 miles 09 chains|
|River Idle Viaduct||2 chains||138 miles 23 chains – 138 miles 21 chains||Between Retford and Newark North Gate stations|
|Askham Tunnel||57 yards (52 metres)||134 miles 40 chains – 134 miles 37 chains|
|Viaduct||121 miles 40 chains|
|Muskham Viaduct||15 chains||121 miles 31 chains – 121 miles 16 chains|
|Peascliffe Tunnel||968 yards (885 metres)||108 miles 29 chains – 107miles 65 chains||Between Newark North Gate and Grantham stations|
|West Gate Viaduct||105 miles 54 chains||North of Grantham station|
|Stoke Tunnel||880 yards (805 metres)||100 miles 79 chains – 100 miles 39 chains||Between Grantham and Peterborough stations|
|Bytham Viaduct||4 chains||92 miles 63 chains – 92 miles 59 chains|
|River Nene Viaduct||3 chains||75 miles 68 chains – 75 miles 65 chains||South of Peterborough station|
|Great Ouse Viaduct||3 chains||58 miles 18 chains – 58 miles 15 chains||South of Huntingdon station|
|Robbery Lane Viaduct||23 miles 32 chains||Between Knebworth and Welwyn North stations|
|Welwyn North Tunnel||1049 yards (959 metres)||23 miles 12 chains – 22 miles 44 chains|
|Welwyn South Tunnel||446 yards (408 metres)||22 miles 31 chains – 22 miles 11 chains|
|Welwyn or Digswell Viaduct||513 yards (469 metres)||21 miles 60 chains – 21 miles 37 chains||Between Welwyn North and Welwyn Garden City stations|
|Potters Bar Tunnel||1214 yards (1110 metres)||12 miles 00 chains – 11 miles 25 chains||Between Potters Bar and Hadley Wood stations|
|Hadley Wood North Tunnel||232 yards (212 metres)||10 miles 70 chains – 10 miles 60 chains||North of Hadley Wood station|
|Hadley Wood South Tunnel||384 yards (351 metres)||10 miles 39 chains – 10 miles 21 chains||South of Hadley Wood station|
|Viaduct||8 miles 64 chains||South of New Barnet station|
|Barnet Tunnel||605 yards (351 metres)||7 miles 70 chains – 7 miles 42 chains||Between Oakleigh Park and New Southgate stations|
|Wood Green Tunnels||705 yards (644 metres)||5 miles 73 chains – 5 miles 41 chains||Between New Southgate and Alexandra Palace stations|
|Copenhagen Tunnel||594 yards (543 metres)||1 mile 12 chains – 0 miles 65 chains||North of King's Cross station|
|Gasworks Tunnel||528 yards (483 metres)||0 miles 46 chains – 0 miles 22 chains|
Line-side monitoring equipment
|Name / Type||Line||Location||Engineers Line Reference (ELR)|
|Stenton HABD||Up Berwick||24 miles 20 chains (from Edinburgh)||ECM8|
|Oxwellmains HABD||Down Berwick||32 miles 65 chains|
|Innerwick Wheelchex||Up Berwick, Down Berwick||33 miles 62 chains|
|Lamberton HABD||Up Berwick||54 miles 06 chains|
|Goswick HABD||Down Main||60 miles 66 chains (from Newcastle)||ECM7|
|Newham HABD||Up Main||47 miles 08 chains|
|Stamford HABD||Up Main (was on Down Main before Sept. 2017)||40 miles 38 chains|
|Chevington HABD||Up Main||25 miles 48 chains|
|Longhirst HABD||Down Main||20 miles 20 chains|
|Dam Dykes HABD||Up Main (Down Main removed Sept. 2017)||8 miles 45 chains|
|Plawsworth (Chester-le-Street) HABD||Down Main||70 miles 20 chains (from York)||ECM5|
|Littleburn (Durham) HABD||Up Fast||63 miles 59 chains|
|Aycliffe HABD||Down Main||49 miles 36 chains|
|Eryholme (East Cowton) HABD||Down Main||38 miles 72 chains|
|Danby Wiske HABD||Up Main||33 miles 50 chains|
|Sessay HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast, Up Fast, Up Slow||16 miles 65 chains|
|Sessay Wheelchex||Up Fast, Up Slow||16 miles 65 chains|
|Earfit Lane HABD||Down Leeds, Down Main||184 miles 04 chains (from King's Cross)||ECM4|
|Daw Lane HABD||Up Main||159 miles 10 chains||ECM1|
|Bawtry HABD||Down Main||148 miles 55 chains|
|Torworth HABD||Up Main||143 miles 17 chains|
|Gamston (Askam) HABD||Down Main||134 miles 37 chains|
|Cromwell HABD||Up Main||124 miles 55 chains|
|Balderton HABD||Down Main||116 miles 70 chains|
|Barkston HABD||Up Main||109 miles 56 chains|
|Stoke HABD||Down Main||99 miles 78 chains|
|Lolham HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||83 miles 33 chains|
|Holme HABD||Down Main||69 miles 28 chains|
|Abbots Ripton HABD||Up Main||64 miles 25 chains|
|Offord HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast||54 miles 07 chains|
|Biggleswade HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||42 miles 10 chains|
|Wymondley HABD||Up Fast, Up Slow||30 miles 60 chains|
|Langley HABD||Down Slow, Down Fast||26 miles 62 chains|
|Trainset[clarification needed – discuss]||Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|Sprinter||Class 158||DMU||2||90||145||48||Abellio ScotRail||Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway||1989-92|
|Bombardier Turbostar||Class 170 Turbostar||DMU||3||100||160||34||Abellio ScotRail||Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway||1998-2005|
|Siemens Desiro||Class 185||DMU||3||100||160||51||TransPennine Express||Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle||2005–06|
|Alstom Coradia Juniper||Class 334||EMU||3||90||145||21||Abellio ScotRail||North Clyde Line||1999-2002|
|CAF Civity||Class 331||EMU||3||110||180||31||Northern Trains||Leeds to Doncaster||2017-2020|
|Networker||Class 365 Networker Express||EMU||4||100||161||40||Govia Thameslink Railway||London King's Cross to Peterborough, Baldock||1994–95|
|Siemens Desiro||Class 380||EMU||3||100||160||22||Abellio ScotRail||North Berwick Line||2009-11|
|Hitachi AT200||Class 385||EMU||3||100||160||46||Abellio ScotRail||North Berwick Line||2015-19|
|Bombardier Electrostar||Class 387||EMU||4||110||177||29||Govia Thameslink Railway||London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn||2014-15|
|Siemens Desiro||Class 700 Desiro City||EMU||8||100||160||60||Govia Thameslink Railway||London King's Cross to Cambridge||2014-18|
|Siemens Desiro||Class 717 Desiro City||EMU||6||85||137||25||Govia Thameslink Railway||London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City
|Trainset[clarification needed – discuss]||Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|InterCity 125||Class 43||Diesel locomotive||EMR: 6, 8
East Midlands Railway
|EMR: Operates a limited service which join the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to Leeds.
XC: Joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continues to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
|Mark 3 Coach||Passenger coach||176||1975-88|
|InterCity 225||Class 91||Electric locomotive||9||125||200||31||London North Eastern Railway (Currently in storage)||London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Glasgow Central||1988—91|
|Mark 4 carriage||Passenger coach||302||1989-92|
|Driving Van Trailer||Control car||31||1988|
|Alstom Coradia||Class 180 Adelante||DMU||5||125||200||10||Grand Central
||Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to: Sunderland and Bradford Interchange.
|Bombardier Voyager||Class 220 Voyager||DEMU||4||125||200||34||CrossCountry||Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen||2000-01|
|Class 221 Super Voyager||DEMU||4||125||200||4||2001–2002|
|Bombardier Voyager||Class 222 Meridian||DEMU||4||125||200||4||East Midlands Railway||East Midlands Railway operates a limited summer Saturday service which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to York and Scarborough||2003–5|
|Hitachi AT300||Class 800 Azuma||Bi-mode multiple unit||5||125||200||10||London North Eastern Railway||London King's Cross to: Leeds, Lincoln Central, Hull, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Aberdeen and Inverness||2014-2018|
|Class 801 Azuma||EMU||5||12||London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow Central||2017-2020|
|Hitachi AT300||Class 802 Nova 1||Bi-mode multiple unit||5||125||200||19||TransPennine Express||Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle and Edinburgh||2017-2019|
|Hitachi AT300||Class 802 Paragon||5||Hull Trains||London King's Cross to Hull and Beverley||2019-2020|
|Class||Image||Type||Cars per set||Top speed||Number||Operator||Routes||Enter Service|
|Class 803||EMU||5||140||225||5||East Coast Trains||London King's Cross to Edinburgh||2021-|
The line's current principal operator is London North Eastern Railway (LNER), whose services include regular long-distance expresses between King's Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. LNER is operated on behalf of the Department for Transport by a consortium of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit, which took over from Virgin Trains East Coast on 24 June 2018.
Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:
- Great Northern: medium-distance services between King's Cross, Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn and commuter services between Moorgate and Stevenage via either Welwyn Garden City or the Hertford Loop.
- Hull Trains: operates five trains per day between King's Cross and Hull and two per day between King's Cross and Beverley on weekdays, while at weekends there are five trains per day between King's Cross and Hull.
- East Midlands Railway: local services between Grantham and Peterborough, part of the service that runs between Liverpool Lime Street and Norwich, as well as infrequent services between London-York and Scarborough, extensions of services running to/from Sheffield, Leicester and London St Pancras.
- CrossCountry: cross-country services north of Sheffield are routed via either Leeds or Doncaster. Leeds trains use the ECML between Wakefield Westgate and Leeds and then again north of York. Doncaster trains use the ECML north of Doncaster. Services run to and beyond Edinburgh. Occasional services run from Doncaster to Leeds before rejoining the ECML at York.
- TransPennine Express: between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle, also between Manchester Airport and Middlesbrough before they divert off the ECML to Middlesbrough via Yarm.
- Northern Trains: suburban services from Doncaster to Leeds and Chathill to Newcastle via Morpeth railway station and infrequent services between Newcastle and Darlington that continue to Middlesbrough and Saltburn. Services between Selby and York also use the line from Hambleton Junction to York.
- Abellio ScotRail: services from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick and Dunbar.
- Grand Central: operates five daily services between King's Cross and Sunderland, branching off the main line at Northallerton; and four daily services between King's Cross and Bradford, branching off at Doncaster.
- Greater Anglia: operates one train every two hours between Ipswich and Peterborough.
Eurostar previously held the rights to run five trains a day on the line for services from mainland Europe to cities north of London, as part of the Regional Eurostar plan, which never came to fruition.
The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.
There are bottlenecks at the following locations:
- The section of twin track within a four-line section at Welwyn North over the Digswell Viaduct and through the Welwyn tunnels
- The twin and triple-track sections located between Huntingdon and Peterborough.
- Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham to Lincoln Line.
- The section of double track between Stoke Tunnel and Doncaster.
- The north throat of York station including Skelton Bridge Junction
- South of Newcastle to Northallerton (which is also predominately double track), leading to proposals to reopen the Leamside line to passenger and freight traffic.
Railway operations are vulnerable during high winds and there have been several de-wirements over the years due to the unusually wide spacing (up to 75 m) between the supporting masts of the overhead lines. The other cost-reduction measure was the use of headspan catenary support systems over the quadruple track sections – as employed in the Weaver Junction to Glasgow Electrification on the WCML during the 1970s. Headspans do not have mechanically independent registration (MIR) of each electrified road and thus are more complex to set up, compared to TTC (two-track cantilever) and portal style support structures, during installation. In the event of a de-wirement of a given road, headspans result in the need to correctly set up the OLE of adjacent roads before the line can reopen to electric traction. This was a result of extreme pressure from the Department for Transport to reduce avoidable costs when the line was originally electrified between 1985 and 1990.
- The Allington Chord was constructed near Grantham in 2006, allowing services between Nottingham and Skegness to call at Grantham without having to use the ECML, trains now passing under the line. This provided sufficient extra capacity for 12 additional services between Leeds and London each day.
- Connection of the ECML to Thameslink at Belle Isle Jnc. via the Canal Tunnels as part of the Thameslink Programme (for Thameslink and Great Northern commuter services to extend to Brighton, Horsham and Maidstone East).
- At the southern end of York station a short length of fourth track was installed in early 2011 at Holgate Junction with accompanying OLE and signalling systems. This work helped to remove one of the bottlenecks on the East Coast Main Line. Previously, trains from Leeds would sometimes have to wait before entering the station. The improvement allows for better flow of trains in and out of the station.
- Provision of a £47 million grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line. The work was completed by 26 June 2013
- Major remodelling of Peterborough station was completed during early 2014 providing three platform faces for services in the up direction towards London and two for ECML services travelling north on the down lines. An additional two platform faces are also available for Cross Country services to and from stations to the east of Peterborough.
- A new flying junction just south of Joan Croft level crossing in South Yorkshire to allow freight trains from Immingham to pass over the line on their way to Eggborough and Drax power stations, was completed in very early 2014. The project, known as the North Doncaster Chord, also replaced the level crossing on a minor road with a new overbridge just to the north of the original crossing point.
- Renewal and gauge enhancement of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Line which runs parallel to the ECML between Peterborough and Doncaster. This removes freight traffic from a heavily congested section of the ECML.
- A new Rail operating centre (ROC), with training facilities, opened in early 2014 at the "Engineer's Triangle" in York. The ROC will enable signalling and day-to-day operations of the route to be undertaken in a single location. Signalling control/traffic management using ERTMS is scheduled to be introduced from 2020 on the ECML between London King's Cross and Doncaster - managed from the York ROC.
- An £8.6 million redevelopment of Newcastle station was completed in 2014 enhancing the existing station and provide a state-of-the-art station for thousands of passengers.
- Platform extensions at Stevenage, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Northallerton, Durham and Edinburgh Waverley stations for the Intercity Express Programme.
- Linespeed enhancement on the down slow line in the Fletton area (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) completed in March 2019.
- Additional 130-metre terminal platform on the down side for Hertford Loop trains at Stevenage, with an extra track from Langley Junction, was started in early 2019 and opened for use on 2 August 2020.
Planned or proposed developments
Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements. The most recent of which is the £247 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS with the objective of increasing capacity and reducing journey times. Current plans include the following specific schemes:
- King's Cross throat remodelling to improve capacity and introduce higher speed turnouts reducing journey times.
- Power supply enhancement on the diversionary Hertford Loop route
- Additional turnback facility at Gordon Hill (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Re-quadrupling of the route between Huntingdon and Woodwalton (HW4T) which was rationalised in the 1980s during electrification (part of the ECML Connectivity programme). This also involves the closure and diversion of a level crossing at Abbots Ripton which was approved in November 2017.
- Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage.
- Werrington Grade Separation: A £200 million scheme to increase capacity north of Peterborough station by constructing a dive under to route rail traffic between the Stamford Lines and the GNGE line, thereby avoiding at-grade conflicts on the ECML. The project was approved in summer 2018 and groundwork construction started in September 2018.
- Replacement of the Flat Crossing at Newark with a flyover (scheme developed to GRIP Stage 2 by Jacobs)
- Upgrading of the Down Fast line at Shaftholme Junction from 100 mph to 125 mph and higher speed associated crossovers (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Modified north throat at York Station to reduce congestion for services calling at Platforms 9 - 11 (part of the ECML Connectivity programme)
- Freight loops between York and Darlington (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
- Darlington station up fast line platform and future station remodelling as part of HS2.
- Fitment of TASS Balises and Gauging/Structure works proposed by the open operator GNER (Alliance Rail) to enable tilt operation of Pendolino trains north of Darlington station, supporting its aspirations for express 3hr43min London to Edinburgh Services.
And on a more route wide basis the following projects:
- Power supply upgrades (PSU) between Wood Green and Bawtry (Phase 1 - completed in September 2017) and Bawtry to Edinburgh (Phase 2), including some overhead lines (OLE) support improvements, rewiring of the contact and catenary wires, and headspan to portal conversions (HS2P) which were installed at Conington in January 2018. This will include installation of static frequency converter (Frequency changer) technology at Hambleton Junction and Marshall Meadows Bay area.
- The line between London King's Cross and Bawtry, on the approach to Doncaster, will be signalled with Level 2 ERTMS. The target date for operational ERTMS services is December 2018 with completion in 2020
- Level crossing closures between King's Cross and Doncaster: As of July 2015 this will no longer be conducted as a single closure of 73 level crossings but will be conducted on a case-by case basis (for example, Abbots Ripton Level Crossing will close as part of the HW4T scheme).
- Increasing maximum speeds on the fast lines between Woolmer Green and Dalton-on-Tees up to 140 mph (225 km/h) in conjunction with the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme, level crossing closures, ETRMS fitments, OLE rewiring and the OLE PSU - est. to cost £1.3 billion (2014). This project is referred to as "L2E4" or London to Edinburgh (in) 4 Hours. L2E4 examined the operation of the IEP at 140 mph on the ECML and the sections of track which can be upgraded to permit this, together with the engineering and operational costs.
- In June 2020 it was reported that the UK government would provide £350 million to fund the UK's first digital signalling system on a long-distance rail route. The signalling is to be fitted on a 100-mile (161 km) section of the East Coast Main Line between Kings Cross, London, and Lincolnshire, which will allow trains to run closer together and increase service frequency, speed and reliability. No date for when the new technology, already in use on the Thameslink lines at London Bridge and some London Underground lines, has been given.
The proposed High Speed 2 eastern leg would release capacity on the East Coast Main Line by diverting London and Birmingham bound services south of York to a new, dedicated line. In addition, long-distance services between Edinburgh and London will travel via the West Coast Main Line.
The ECML has been witness to a number of incidents resulting in death and serious injury:
|Welwyn Tunnel rail crash||9 June 1866||2||2||Three-train collision in tunnel, caused by guard's failure to protect train and signalling communications error|
|Hatfield rail crash (1870)||26 December 1870||8||3||Wheel disintegrated causing derailment killing six passengers and two bystanders|
|Abbots Ripton rail disaster||21 January 1876||13||59||Flying Scotsman crashed during a blizzard.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1877)||25 March 1877||5||17||Derailment caused by faulty track.|
|Thirsk rail crash (1892)||2 November 1892||10||43||Signalman forgot about a goods train standing at his box and accepted the Scotch Express onto his line.|
|Grantham rail accident||19 August 1906||14||17||Runaway or overspeed on junction curve causing derailment - no definite cause established.|
|Welwyn Garden City rail crash||15 June 1935||14||29||Two trains collided due to a signaller's error.|
|King's Cross railway accident||4 February 1945||2||26||Train slipped on gradient and rolled back into station.|
|Potters Bar rail crash||10 February 1946||2||17||Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains.|
|Doncaster rail crash (1947)||9 August 1947||18||188||King's Cross to Leeds train was incorrectly signalled into a section already occupied by a stationary train, which resulted in a rear-end collision.|
|Goswick rail crash||26 October 1947||28||65||Edinburgh-London Flying Scotsman failed to slow down for a diversion and derailed. Signal passed at danger|
|Doncaster rail crash||16 March 1951||14||12||Train derailed south of the station and struck a bridge pier.|
|Goswick Goods train derailment||28 October 1953||1||'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.|
|Connington South rail crash||5 March 1967||5||18||Express train was derailed.|
|Thirsk rail crash||31 July 1967||7||45||Cement train derailed and hit by North bound express hauled by prototype locomotive. DP2|
|Morpeth rail crash (1969)||7 May 1969||6||46||Excessive speed on curve.|
|Penmanshiel Tunnel collapse||17 March 1979||2||Two workers killed when the tunnel collapsed during engineering works.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1984)||24 June 1984||35||Excessive speed on curve.|
|Newcastle Central railway station collision||30 November 1989||15||Two InterCity expresses collided.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1992)||13 November 1992||1||Collision between two freight trains.|
|Morpeth rail crash (1994)||27 June 1994||1||Excessive speed led to the locomotive and the majority of carriages overturning.|
|Hatfield rail crash||17 October 2000||4||70||InterCity 225 derailed due to a failure to replace a fractured rail. The accident highlighted poor management at Railtrack and led to its partial re-nationalisation.|
|Great Heck rail crash||28 February 2001||10||82||A Land Rover Defender swerved down an embankment off the M62 motorway into the path of a southbound GNER Intercity 225, which then was struck by a freight train hauled by a Class 66|
|Potters Bar rail crash (2002)||10 May 2002||7||70||Derailment caused by a badly maintained set of points. Resulted in the end of the use of external contractors for routine maintenance.|
The cuttings and tunnel entrances just north of King's Cross appear 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 King's Cross to Newcastle in the opening credits. During 2009, the motoring show Top Gear featured a long-distance race, in which LNER A1 60163 Tornado, a Jaguar XK120 and a Vincent Black Shadow competed to be the fastest vehicle to travel the full length of the line from London to Edinburgh.
The route has been featured in several train simulator games. Trainz Simulator 2010 features the route between London and York, Trainz Simulator 12 extends the route to Newcastle, and Trainz: A New Era brings it all the way to Edinburgh, allowing the entire 393-mile route to be driven. All three routes take place during the 1970s, around the time the InterCity 125 was introduced; this is reinforced by instructions in the "HST Southbound Express" session not to move until the guard has locked the doors, since the trains did not have pneumatic locks initially; doing so will lead to an automatic failure. Other rolling stock includes Class 37s, Class 47s, and Class 105s, plus Mark 2 coaches. TS12's version added Class 55 Deltics and Class 313s, as well as additional pre-made, pre-scripted sessions.
King's Cross Station is also depicted as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express in the books and films of the Harry Potter franchise. This connection is marked by a tourist attraction within the station concourse, featuring the Platform 9¾ sign and a luggage trolley partially embedded in the station wall with an owl cage and suitcases on it.
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