Great Eastern Main Line
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.
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.
- 1 History
- 2 Accidents
- 3 Infrastructure
- 4 Current developments
- 5 Proposed developments
- 6 Services
- 7 Passenger volume
- 8 References
- 9 Notes
Eastern Counties and Eastern Union Railways (1839-1862)
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. The original gauge for the line was 5 ft (1,524 mm), but this was converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 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.
In the later part of the 19th Century the two-track main line was expanded with additional tracks being added to cope with more traffic. In 1854 a third track was added between Bow Junction and Stratford to help accommodate the London and Tilbury and Southend trains which at that date were operating via Stratford.
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.
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.
Great Eastern Railway (1862-1922)
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.
By the 1870s suburbia in the Forest Gate was developing quickly and in 1872 suburban trains (this was the first distinctive suburban service on the main line as previously main line trains had performed this duty) terminated at a bay at Forest Gate station. These were followed by trains from Fenchurch Street [Note 1] in 1877. By 1882 these services had been extended and were terminating at Ilford, Romford or Brentwood.
In 1877 a fourth track was added between Bow Junction and Stratford and two goods only tracks were added between Stratford and Maryland Point stations. The four track Bow Junction to Stratford section was extended back to James Street Junction (near Globe Road station which opened the same year) in 1884 but Bethnal Green to James Street did not follow until 1891. It was also in this year that two extra tracks were added between Bethnal Green and Liverpool Street which were for the use of the West Anglia services. These tracks were built through the basement warehousing associated with Bishopsgate station located above.
The line was quadrupled to Ilford in 1895 and in 1899 onto Seven Kings.
In 1902 four-tracks were extended from Seven Kings to Romford, but it wasn’t until 1913 that four tracking beyond Ilford (to Shenfield) was suggested but unfortunately the First World War intervened. In 1903 the Fairlop Loop opened and a number of services that had previously terminated at Ilford were extended onto it. These services generally looped round and back to the GEML at Stratford (on the Cambridge line platforms).
London & North Eastern Railway (1923-1947)
In 1931/1932 that the LNER four tracked the line to Shenfield which became the terminus for inner suburban operation.
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.
British Rail (1948 - 1994)
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. Electrification was extended to Colchester in 1961 by British Railways' Eastern Region and finally to Norwich by 1986.
In 1986 the line as far as Manningtree became became part of Network SouthEast (although some NSE services actually terminated at Ipswich) whilst longer distance Norwich services were operated by Inter-City. Local services operating from the Ipswich and Norwich areas were operated by Regional Railways.
The Privatisation Era (1994-present day)
Following privatisation in 1994, 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
- 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. 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).
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.
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.
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. 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'. The finds are considered important in understanding climate change during the Ice Age. 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.
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. 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).
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.
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.
- Extension of platform 10A at Stratford to increase peak flow and capacity during the period 2009-2014.
- Additional path on the Colchester, Chelmsford and Southend routes during the period 2009-2014.
- A turn-back facility at Chadwell Heath and Brentwood during the period 2009-2014.
- A new station at Great Blakenham as part of the SnOasis development approx. half-way between Needham Market and Ipswich, which received its final go-ahead on 6 November 2008.
- A new station at Beaulieu Park, 4 km north of Chelmsford, with 7 km of extra tracks between A130 and Hatfield Peverel.
- Crossrail will run to Shenfield from 2018.
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.
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. 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.
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.
|London Liverpool Street||City of London|
|Romford||Havering||Romford to Upminster Line, to Upminster|
|Shenfield||Brentwood||Shenfield to Southend Line, to Southend Victoria or Southminster|
|Witham||Braintree||Braintree Branch Line, to 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|
|Norwich||Norwich||Wherry Lines, to Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft; Bittern Line, to Sheringham; Breckland Line, to Cambridge|
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. 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.
|London Liverpool Street||1||City of London|
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.
|London Liverpool Street||38,968,814||50,469,209||47,271,234||55,265,748||57,759,809||55,103,416||51,596,155||55,769,423||57,105,400||58,448,814||63,004,002|
|The annual passenger usage is based on sales of tickets in stated financial years from Office of Rail Regulation statistics. The statistics are for passengers arriving and departing from each station and cover twelve month periods that start in April. Please note that methodology may vary year on year.|
- National Rail, Rail Services Around London & the South East, (2006)
- Network Rail - Route 7 - Great Eastern (PDF)
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- It should be noted that Fenchurch Street was served by GER and LTSR services at this time and GER services were routed via Bow Road