Great Eastern Main Line

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"GEML" redirects here. For the airport in Melilla, Spain, with that code, see Melilla Airport.
Great Eastern Main Line
360108 at Marks Tey.jpg
A Class 360 train at Marks Tey
Type Intercity, 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
Opened 1862
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio Greater Anglia
TfL Rail
c2c (limited services)
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 Mk1 and GEFF 25kV 50hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 100 mph (160 km/h)
Route map
Norwich 114 mi 77 ch
Bittern and Wherry Lines
Trowse Bridge
over River Wensum
A146 road
Norwich Victoria
Breckland Line
via Wymondham
River Yare
A47 road
A140 road
to Wymondham
Waveney Valley Line
Diss 94 mi 79 ch
A1066 road
River Waveney
A143 road
Eye Branch
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway
Ipswich to Ely Line
A14 road
Stowmarket 80 mi 46 ch
River Gipping
Needham Market 77 mi 7 ch
River Gipping
A14 road
River Gipping
East Suffolk Line
Ipswich Goods Yard
Lower Yard and
Ipswich Docks
Ipswich TMD
Ipswich 68 mi 65 ch
Stoke tunnel
Ipswich Stoke Hill
Griffin Wharf branch
(freight only)
A14 road
Bentley Church
Hadleigh Railway
River Stour
Mayflower Line
Manningtree 59 mi 35 ch
A120 road
Sunshine Coast Line
Colchester 51 mi 52 ch
Colchester TMD
A12 road
River Colne
Marks Tey 46 mi 49 ch
Gainsborough Line
A120 road
River Blackwater
Kelvedon & Tollesbury
Light Railway
Kelvedon 42 mi 21 ch
Witham–Maldon branch line
Braintree Branch Line
Witham 38 mi 47 ch
River Brain
Hatfield Peverel 35 mi 74 ch
A130 road
River Chelmer
Chelmsford 29 mi 60 ch
Chelmsford Viaduct
A12 road
Ingatestone 23 mi 50 ch
Shenfield to Southend Line
Shenfield Junction
Shenfield 20 mi 16 ch
Brentwood 18 mi 16 ch
M25 motorway
Harold Wood 14 mi 76 ch
A127 road
Gidea Park carriage sidings
Gidea Park 13 mi 41 ch
Romford to Upminster Line
Romford London Overground 12 mi 30 ch
Romford OHL depot
Chadwell Heath 9 mi 79 ch
Goodmayes 9 mi 23 ch
Seven Kings 8 mi 45 ch
Fairlop Loop
junction now site of Ilford depot
Ilford depot and Bombardier works
Ilford 7 mi 28 ch
River Roding
North Circular Road
Ilford flyover
Manor Park 6 mi 19 ch
London, Tilbury &
Southend Railway
Gospel Oak to Barking Line
Forest Gate 5 mi 21 ch
Maryland 4 mi 39 ch
Temple Mills Branch Line
to West Anglia
Stratford London Underground Docklands Light Railway London Overground 4 mi 3 ch
North London Line
Waterworks River
Thornton Fields
carriage sidings
City Mill River
Bow Midland Yard
opens 2019
River Lea
A12 road
Bryant and May works
Bow Junction
to Fenchurch Street
Coborn Road
Regent's Canal
Globe Road & Devonshire Street
Lea Valley Lines &
West Anglia Main Line
Bethnal Green 1 mi 10 ch
East London Line
Commercial Street
Wheeler Street Junction
Liverpool Street London Underground London Overground 0 mi 0 ch

The Great Eastern Main Line (GEML, sometimes referred to as the East Anglia Main Line) is a 115-mile (185 km) major railway line on the British railway system which connects Liverpool Street station in central London with destinations in east London and the East of England, including Stratford, Shenfield, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich and a number of coastal resorts including Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze.[1]

Its main users are commuters travelling to and from London, particularly to the City of London and Docklands financial districts, and business and leisure travellers. The route also provides the main artery for substantial freight traffic to Felixstowe and Harwich and the rest of England via London.[2]


The first section of the line opened in 1839 between a short-lived temporary terminus at Devonshire Street in the East End of London and Romford, then in the Municipal Borough of Romford in Essex, and was built by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR). The London terminus was then moved to Shoreditch (later renamed Bishopsgate) in the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in July 1840 and at the eastern end the line was extended out to Brentwood in the same year. A further 51 miles (82 km) of route was added to 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 (EUR) to standard gauge and opened for passenger traffic on 15 June 1846. Its sister company the Ipswich and Bury Railway built the line to Bury St Edmunds and this opened on 20 November 1846. Both companies shared the same office, many directors and key staff and started operating as a unified company using the EUR name from 1 January 1847. An extension from a new junction at Haughley to Norwich Victoria opened on 1 December 1849 although the position of this station was poor and a spur to allow some trains to operate into Norwich Thorpe station was opened to regular traffic on 1 November 1851. [4]

The ECR leased the EUR in 1854, but by the 1860s the railways in East Anglia were in financial trouble, and most were leased to the ECR; they wished to amalgamate formally, but could not obtain government agreement for this until 1862, when the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was formed by amalgamation. [5]

Until 1860 trains serving Ipswich used Ipswich Stoke Hill railway station which was located south of the tunnel. The current station was opened and located north of the tunnel.

From November 1872 Bishopsgate (Low Level) became a temporary terminus to relieve the main high-level Bishopsgate station while the GER was building its new permanent terminus at Liverpool Street. The latter opened in stages from February 1874, beginning with the first four platforms, until it was fully open from November 1875. At that time the 1840 Bishopsgate station closed to passengers and was converted into a goods station.

The GER was grouped in 1923 into the London and North Eastern Railway.

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 Street'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, with services commencing in 1946. Either side of the Ilford flyover there are single-track connections between the slow and fast pairs of lines, with the westbound track extending to Manor Park 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 some peak-time services. It was also envisaged that a flyover would be built at the country-end of the carriage sidings at Gidea Park to allow trains for 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.[6]

After nationalisation in 1948 the GEML formed part of the Eastern Region of British Railways. 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.[7] Electrification was extended to Colchester in 1961 by British Railways' Eastern Region and finally to Norwich by 1986.

In 1986 it became part of Network SouthEast. Between January 1997 and March 2004 suburban and medium-distance services were operated by First Great Eastern, while fast main line services were operated by Anglia Railways. Between April 2004 and February 2012 services out of Liverpool Street except for limited c2c services were all operated by National Express East Anglia. As of February 2012 services out of Liverpool Street except for those limited c2c services are operated by Abellio Greater Anglia; in May 2015 the Shenfield "metro" stopping service transferred from to TfL Rail, the precursor to Crossrail.

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 signal box to be closed and transferred to Liverpool Street IECC was Shenfield in 1992, which had only opened in 1982. The last boxes to be transferred were at Romford and Gidea Park in 1998, and were the oldest of those being transferred, having been opened under the GER/LNER 1924 resignalling scheme.

In summer 2011, the Docklands Light Railway was extended from Canning Town to Stratford and Stratford International. It uses the former North London Line alignment that runs beside the Jubilee line and directly links Stratford on the GEML to its international counterpart as well as local stations to the south and existing DLR branches in the Royal Docks.


A number of fatal accidents have occurred on the line throughout its history:

  • 1840: Brentwood; four killed[8]
  • 1850: Brentwood; nine workmen killed when they were struck by a train in dense fog
  • 1872: Kelvedon; one killed and 16 injured in a derailment
  • 1905: Witham; 11 killed and 71 injured in a derailment
  • 1913: Colchester; three killed and 14 injured in a collision and derailment
  • 1915: Ilford; 10 killed and 500 injured in a collision between two trains
  • 1941: Brentwood; seven killed in a collision between two trains
  • 1944: Ilford; nine killed and 38 injured in a collision between two trains
  • 1944: Romford; one killed and three injured in a collision between two trains
  • 1947: Gidea Park; seven killed and 45 injured in a collision between two trains


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).[9]

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.

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 overhead line 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 GEML to Bethnal Green.

From Bethnal Green the GEML 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 GEML 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.

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 & Bury Railway route. It was completed in 1846 and it is thought to be the earliest driven on a sharp continuous curve.[10] 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'.[11] The finds are considered important in understanding climate change during the Ice Age.[12] 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, so the walls carry running water most of the time.[citation needed]

Rolling stock[edit]

Electric locomotive-hauled inter-city trains operate the London-Norwich service. From 2004 these were updated with refurbished former 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 are used for non-electrified lines. Electric and diesel hauled freight services also operate on the GEML.[2] The passenger units utilised are:

  • Class 315: 318 seats across four cars per trainset. Maximum speed 75 mph (120 km/h).
  • Class 321: 307 seats across four cars. Maximum speed 100 mph (160 km/h).
  • Class 360: 280 seats across four cars. Maximum speed 100 mph (160 km/h).
  • Class 90 with Mark 3 coaches: Used on inter-city services. Maximum speed 110 mph (180 km/h).

Current developments[edit]


On 31 May 2015, TfL Rail (the precursor of Crossrail) took over operation of the Shenfield stopping "metro" service and, after 2018, the full Crossrail service will run via a tunnel through central London and link up with the Great Western Main Line to Reading and Heathrow Airport. New Class 345 rolling stock is expected to enter service on the Shenfield to Liverpool Street service from May 2017. Crossrail will interchange with remaining GEML 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.

  • 68 additional carriages to provide longer trains will be introduced between December 2009 and December 2011.[13]
  • Extension of platform 10A at Stratford to increase peak flow and capacity during the period 2009-2014.[14]
  • Additional path on the Colchester, Chelmsford and Southend routes during the period 2009-2014.[14]
  • A turn-back facility at Chadwell Heath and Brentwood during the period 2009-2014.[14]
  • A new station at Great Blakenham as part of the SnOasis development approx. half-way between Needham Market and Ipswich,[15] which received its final go-ahead on 6 November 2008.[16]
  • A new station at Beaulieu Park, 4 km north of Chelmsford, with 7 km of extra tracks between A130 and Hatfield Peverel.[17]
  • Crossrail will run to Shenfield from 2018.[18]

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.[19]


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

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

Electric line[edit]

A high-frequency service operates on the electric line between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, serving all intermediate stations, which is currently operated by TfL Rail. The off-peak service consists of six trains per hour with some additional services during peak times.[2] Some peak trains are scheduled to start or terminate at Gidea Park instead of Shenfield. The line is mostly within Greater London, with two stations in the Essex borough of Brentwood.

The electric line is also used by limited services extending to and from Southend Victoria or Southminster.[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 9 Brentwood
Shenfield C Brentwood

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. ^ Moffat, Hugh (1987). East Anglia's first railways. Lavenham: Terence Dalton Limited. pp. 62–69 and 85–90. ISBN 0 86138 038 X. 
  5. ^ Vaughan, Adrian (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. London: John Murray. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 0 7195 5150 1. 
  6. ^ Wilmoth, VJ (1956). "British Railways Electrification". Civil Engineering and Public Works 51 (600): 660–661. 
  7. ^ Glover, John (2003). "Eastern Electric", Ian Allan, London. ISBN 0-7110-2934-2.
  8. ^ Cecil J Allen; 'The Great Eastern Railway' 1955
  9. ^ "Route 7 - Great Eastern" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  10. ^ Moffat, Hugh (1987). East Anglia's First Railways. Lavenham: Terence Dalton. ISBN 0-86138-038-X. 
  11. ^ "Mammoth on High Street". Seven Wondered of Ipswich. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  12. ^ "Collections:Geology". Ipswich Borough Council. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  13. ^ "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. 
  14. ^ a b c "Greater Anglia Route Utilisation Strategy" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  15. ^ "Listening to residents and their concerns". Neil MacDonald. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  16. ^ "Final Government Approval". BBC news. 6 Nov 2008. 
  17. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ "London Reconnections: TfL Board Meeting Summary: DLR, Overground and Other Ways of Travelling". 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  19. ^ "‘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)