Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway

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Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway
Doncaster International
Bessacarr Halt
Park Drain
Tickhill Light Railway
Haxey and Epworth
Haxey Junction
Stockwith Goods Branch
West Trent Junction
East Trent Junction
Gainsborough Lea Road
Stow Park
Sykes Junction
Lancs, Darbs & East Coast Ry
Chesterfield to Lincoln line
Pyewipe Junction
Boultham Junction
West Holmes Junction
Holmes Yard
Lincoln St. Marks
Brayford Wharf Crossing
High Street Crossing
Lincoln Central
Lincoln Avoiding Line
GN Terrace Crossing
Sincil Junction
Greetwell Junction
Washingborough Junction
Branston and
Nocton and Dunston
Scopwick and
Sleaford-avoiding line
Donington Road
Spalding North Junction
French Drove
and Gedney Hill
Murrow East
Murrow West
Ramsey East
St Ives
Huntingdon East
Huntingdon North
Huntingdon line

The Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway (GNGEJR) was a joint railway owned by the Great Northern Railway and its rival, the Great Eastern Railway. It was established in 1879, and the joint company built a line between Spalding and Lincoln to complete a new, primarily freight, route between Cambridge and Doncaster, a distance of about 123 miles. The main purpose was to move Yorkshire coal into East Anglia, a highly profitable enterprise.

The route survives except for the section between March, Cambridgeshire and Spalding, Lincolnshire and the Lincoln by-pass line both of which were closed in the 1980s. The section between Peterborough and Spalding is now regarded as part of the joint line although this is not strictly (historically) accurate.

Opening dates[edit]

The line was amalgamation of several existing lines, as well as the construction of some directly as part of the process of opening the joint line, which is described below. The table below records the opening dates in geographic order from south to north.

Opening date From To Built by/Notes
17 August 1847[1] Chesterton Jn, Cambridge St Ives Eastern Counties Railway
17 August 1847[2] St Ives Huntingdon East Anglian Railway
29 October 1851[3] Huntingdon Huntingdon Jn East Anglian Railway
1 February 1848[1] St Ives March South Jn Eastern Counties Railway
10 December 1846[4] March South Jn March East Jn Eastern Counties Railway (opening actually Ely to Peterborough)
3 May 1847[5] March East Jn Whitemoor Jn Eastern Counties Railway
1 April 1867[6] Whitemoor Jn Spalding GNR
17 October 1848[7] Spalding area GNR (opening as part of PeterboroughBoston)
6 March 1882[8] Spalding North Jn Ruskington GNGEJR
1 August 1882[8] Ruskington Pyewipe Jn, Lincoln GNGEJR
9 April 1849[9] Pyewipe Jn Gainsborough West Jn GNR
15 July 1867[6] Gainsborough West Jn Black Carr Jn, Doncaster GNR [10]

Early history (1882–1923)[edit]


Before the joint line opened in 1882 there were a number of schemes that preceded it some of which involved a degree of political and legal wrangling based on one company trying to protect its territory and traffic from another. The first scheme in 1834 would have seen a line built from London to Cambridge and then York. This scheme built the line from London to Cambridge in 1836, but it was not until 1844 that the Eastern Counties Railway proposed to build the line from Cambridge to York. In 1846 a bill was presented but it conflicted with a bill presented to Parliament which called for a line from Peterborough to Bawtry (south of Doncaster) via Boston and Lincoln which got parliamentary consent.[11]


In 1847 the Eastern Counties Railway opened a line linking Ely-March and Peterborough although little progress was made on building a line to the north for some years. In 1862 the Eastern Counties Railway was merged to become part of the Great Eastern Railway (GER). The GER was by this point running all lines in East Anglia but was aware that its reliance on passenger and agricultural traffic was never going to bring in significant revenues so once gain looked at extending north with a bill for a railway from March – Spalding was promoted in 1863.

The Great Northern promoted a bill the following year for the same scheme and this was accepted but granted the GER the right to run trains from March to Spalding. After the GER had looked at a link to join the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway north of Doncaster the GN adopted a more conciliatory attitude to the GER. In 1866 the GNR and GER agreed to jointly operate the line from Spalding to Gainsborough via Boston and Lincoln and it was about this time that the GER suggested constructing a joint line from Spalding to Lincoln via Peterborough. Unfortunately the scheme foundered as the GER's finances were in poor shape at this time.

The relationship between the two companies foundered again when the GER looked at working with the L&YR which the GNR felt would affect its traffic with the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR). However, as relations between the GNR and MSLR cooled, Lord Cranborne (a shareholder in the MSLR and the GER) proposed the building of a joint GER/L&YR line.

Meanwhile, the GN suggested a total buyout of the GER to amalgamate the two railways. By 1872 the relationship between the GER and GNR had improved and amalgamation looked likely only to be undone on two occasions by the GER directors. In 1878 the GER presented a bill to parliament to build a line from March to Askern to link up with the L&YR. The GNR also presented a bill (Lincoln – Sleaford – Spalding) and this was passed by parliament although the GER was awarded full running powers.

The Joint Committee[edit]

In 1879 the two companies finally started working together and presented a bill to parliament proposing a joint committee to run the railway from Black Carr Junction near Doncaster to Huntingdon via Gainsborough, Lincoln, Spalding, March and St Ives.[12]

The committee consisted of five directors from each company and the GER members were supported by the Company Secretary, a solicitor, an engineer and the General Manager.[13]

The direct line from Spalding and Lincoln was opened on 1 August 1882 and the GER started operating coal trains over this route. Access to the coalfields in Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire was finally achieved by the GER in 1896 as they had invested heavily in the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway and was rewarded with running powers that saw GER locomotives reach coal mines in these areas. The junction for this line was Pyewipe Junction near Lincoln.

The committee ceased operation in 1909 when the Great Eastern took over management of the south end of the line (the working timetable split at March) and the Great Northern the north end. In 1923 after the grouping the management of the line was once again undertaken by a single organization – the London and North Eastern Railway.[12]

Passenger services[edit]

The most famous services on the line were run by the Great Eastern and linked Liverpool Street Station and York. Marketed as the Cathedrals Express (Ely, Lincoln and York being the three cathedrals) the train used the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint line between March and Doncaster.[citation needed] The service was withdrawn during the First World War and was not restored after. Another famous train that used the route for many of the years was the North Country Continental which linked Harwich Parkeston Quay with Manchester and the north-west.

The bulk of services were local and in July 1922 the Bradshaw's timetable guide revealed few passenger services serving the smaller intermediate stations during the week. The North Country Continental served March, Spalding and Lincoln on the route and a service from Lowestoft to York served March, Spalding, Lincoln, Gainsborough and Doncaster. A Liverpool Street to Doncaster service also called at these stations. Most of the minor stations had three or four services each way.

On Sundays, minor stations between March and Lincoln had no services and there was a single northbound express. There was a single all stations train from Lincoln to Doncaster.

Goods workings[edit]

Up to 1923[edit]

The winter 1890 GN & GE Joint Working Timetable (WTT) shows the line had generated a fair amount of traffic. In the WTT, there are only two GE worked coal trains daily from Doncaster to Whitemoor although these are augmented by a further four daily "as required" paths which would run if there was enough traffic. The bulk of the Up (southbound) Joint goods service was composed of mixed goods and coal trains, a daily total of six from Doncaster to Whitemoor, two from Lincoln and one from Sleaford. In addition, the GN worked one block coal train a day from Doncaster to Whitemoor, as well as a goods service from Lincoln Holmes Yard and various pick up trains (trains that picked up and dropped off goods at stations en route) from Doncaster to Lincoln. There were four GE worked fast goods trains from Doncaster including one that is shown to have originated at Bradford, and two from Lincoln, both of these being very smart connections out of Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway express goods services from Manchester.[14] In the opposite direction, the GE-worked freight services comprised eight fast goods workings, including two to Lincoln, four mixed goods and coal (1 to Lincoln) and five empty wagon services. There were also four "as required" paths to balance the Up service. The Down GN goods workings were an empties train from Whitemoor to Doncaster and a goods train to Sleaford and a service from Spalding to Doncaster. Also shown are a New England (Peterborough) to Colwick pick up goods via Spalding and Sleaford and several GN freights between Lincoln and Doncaster, most starting from New England and running via Boston.

LNER period (1923–1947)[edit]

The LNER recognised the need for additional siding space in the March area and in the 1920s constructed a large marshalling yard at Whitemoor which was completed by 1929. Located to the north of March the GNGEJR came in at the northern end of the site. By the 1930s the site in addition to coal the yard was dealing with bricks from the Peterborough brick fields, fish from Grimsby, Hull and Goole, fruit and vegetables from the local Fenland districts as well as significant amounts of sugar beet during the season. At this time the yard consisted of 30 miles of track and could accommodate 10,500 wagons whilst the engine shed was adjacent to the site. A full description of the yard in the 1930s was printed in a magazine series called "Railway Wonders of the World" printed in the 1930s.[15]

Although believed to be a target of strategic importance the yard was not targeted in the Second World War although it dealt with significant amounts of rail traffic at the time. One theory is that the invading German Army had identified it for their own use although in truth there is no proof of this.[16]

Railway Clearing House Junction Diagrams[edit]

These diagrams (shown below, from north to south) were prepared between 1903 and 1914 by the Railway Clearing House (RCH) to aid in the apportionment of revenue between the various railways. They show the junctions where the lines of different companies met, and the distances between those junctions and the nearby stations. To save space, some diagrams comprised more than one area, sometimes geographically unrelated. The intermediate sections between the junctions were not included on the diagrams, since a simple table of distances sufficed. The GN&GEJR was shown consistently as a dashed line, coloured orange and violet.

Vicinity of Doncaster, with the northern end of the GNGEJR at Black Carr Junction (1914) 
(left) Railways in the vicinity of Gainsborough and Sykes (1903) 
Railways in the vicinity of Lincoln (1908) 
(right) Railways in the vicinity of Sleaford (1904) 
(upper centre) Vicinity of Spalding and (lower centre) railways in the vicinity of March (1903) 
(upper centre) Southern end of the GN&GEJR at Huntingdon East (1914) 

Modern history[edit]

British Rail (1948–1994)[edit]

In 1953 Guyhirne and Murrow stations were closed to passengers. The other intermediate stations closed to passengers on 11 September 1961 and to goods four years later.[17]

With the closure of the Midland and Great Northern in 1959 a spur was laid at Murrow to allow remaining goods traffic (such as bricks from the Eye Green brick works) to access the GN and GE. This traffic lasted until July 1966 before this was also closed.[17]

As freight traffic started to dry up in the 1950s, the southern end of the joint line declined in importance and the line from March via St Ives closed in 1967. Remaining traffic was diverted via Ely or Peterborough.

The St Ives to Cambridge section was closed to passenger services on 1970 but the line survived until 1992 with sand trains running between Fen Drayton and London.

By 1973 other than a few local trains the only passenger services using the line were summer only services to seaside resorts such as Skegness and Great Yarmouth.[18]

In 1975 Metheringham and Ruskington railway stations were re-opened.

The line between Spalding and March was closed on 29 November 1982 although the marshalling yard and depot survived, and traffic went either eastwards towards Ely or westwards towards Peterborough (although there was still the occasional train along the Wisbech branch in the 1990s).

The Lincoln avoiding line closed in 1985 when British Rail built a line to link the Newark – Lincoln St Marks railway station to the Lincoln Central line. This enabled them to close Lincoln St Marks station and all services from the GNGEJR then passed through Lincoln rather than – as in previous years – just passenger trains. There was also a loop that allowed southbound trains from Lincoln Central to travel westwards before turning onto the Newark line, along with a short portion of the old avoiding line retained to allow through running from the Gainsborough direction towards Newark & vice versa (this has been mostly used for diversionary purposes when the ECML is blocked by engineering work).

Post-privatisation (1994–)[edit]

Although regarded as a backwater for a number of years, Network Rail are planning an upgrade of the line (2012) primarily as a freight route to release capacity on the East Coast Main Line. This will involve replacement of the mechanical Absolute block signalling with automatic block signalling and track improvements to improve speed and allow heavier freight trains to run on the route. In 2009 the March – Spalding line was considered for re-opening along with a number of other schemes as part of a Network rail strategic Freight Network paper.[19]

The "Joint" line is now generally referred to as Peterborough (Werrington Junction) to Doncaster via Lincoln although in truth this is historically inaccurate. There are two main issues that will need to be addressed in the future – firstly some form of grade separation will eventually be needed at Werrington Junction to remove conflicting moves with services on the busy East Coast Main Line and secondly the joint route now passes through the centre of Lincoln and will increase the usage of a key level crossing causing road congestion in the area.

Part of the March Whitemoor Yard site was returned to railway use in 2009 but the north end of the yard is now occupied by a prison. During construction in 2009 the remains of ancient road called the Fen Causeway were unearthed.[20]

Current service level[edit]

Details of current (December 2012) services can be found in table 18 of the Great British Timetable. Services are run by East Midlands Trains between Peterborough and Doncaster, though not all services run the whole length of the route. There is a roughly hourly service between Peterborough and Lincoln calling at Spalding, Sleaford, Ruskington and Metheringham. There are also few services that link Sleaford to Doncaster (calling all stations) again operated by East Midlands Trains. Northern Rail operate the all stations service between Lincoln and Sheffield which calls at Saxilby and Gainsborough Lea Road before diverging from the line to Doncaster just after it crosses the River Trent. There are no services between Sleaford and Spalding after around 17:00 Monday to Saturday as the signal boxes are closed.[21] Later services still run on the other parts of the line. The only Sunday services on the whole route in the December 2012 timetable are four afternoon Lincoln – Sheffield services calling at Saxilby and Gainsborough Lea Road.[22] There are no services to or from Doncaster or Peterborough.


Engine sheds[edit]

The following engine sheds were located along the route and are described north to south.

  • Doncaster

The GE initially shared with the GN but between 1893 and 1923 occupied the London and North Western Railway shed. In January 1923 with the grouping the GE engines moved back to the GN establishment as they were both part of the London and North Eastern Railway and the LNWR was part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway.

  • Pyewipe Junction

This Great Eastern shed was located at this location which was the junction for the LDECR line which gave access to the coalfields in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The depot closed in 1924 and was merged with the Great Northern establishment in the city although locomotives were stabled there for some time after.[23]

  • Lincoln

The engine shed at Lincoln was originally constructed in 1874 for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and was closed in 1964. When Pyewipe Junction engine shed was closed the staff and locomotives were transferred here. The building is now a theatre.

  • March

March depot was an important engine shed located adjacent to Whitemoor marshalling yard. It had a significant allocation of freight engines both in Great Eastern, London and North Eastern and British Rail days. The depot survived the closure of the Spalding – March line in the 1980s but changing freight patterns, saw it close in 1992.

  • Cambridge

Cambridge engine shed was a major shed on the Great Eastern Railway which supplied engines for some GNGE Joint services and branch line services in the area. A lot of freight services in later days were also worked by locomotives from Stratford TMD although these were generally replaced at March.


See the list of stations on the GNGEJR.

Signal Boxes[edit]

The signal boxes between Doncaster and Lincoln were built to a GN design.

These are some pictures of signalboxes built on the 1882 section of line between Spalding and Lincoln which were built to a Great Eastern design.

Network Rail resignalled the line in 2013/4 and this saw the old signal boxes and semaphore signalling removed. The line is now controlled from Lincoln Signalling Control Centre.[25]

Motive power[edit]


During the First World War, six R-O-D 2-8-0 locomotives were allocated to Pyewipe Junction engine shed for work on the GNGE joint and a further nine at Doncaster.[23]


In 1923 the following locomotive classes were allocated to the Great Eastern sheds at Doncaster, Pyewipe Jn and March.[26] It can be assumed most of these locomotives other than Great Northern 4-6-2 and 4-4-2 classes worked over the line. These would have been more typically employed on the East Coast Main Line but may have occasionally worked the GNGE Joint line.

Class Wheel Arrangement Railway Number at Doncaster Number at Pyewipe Number at March
D13 4-4-0 GER 3 3 6
D14 4-4-0 GER 0 0 1
D15 4-4-0 GER 1 0 4
E4 2-4-0 GER 1 0 4
J14 0-6-0 GER 0 0 1
J15 0-6-0 GER 0 3 17
J16 0-6-0 GER 0 1 7
J17 0-6-0 GER 0 2 15
J18 0-6-0 GER 0 0 7
J19 0-6-0 GER 0 0 8
J20 0-6-0 GER 0 0 14
J66 0-6-0T GER 0 3 10
J67 0-6-0T GER 0 0 1
J68 0-6-0T GER 0 0 1
J69 0-6-0T GER 0 0 1

In 1923 the following locomotives were allocated to the Great Northern sheds at Doncaster and Lincoln.[26]

Class Wheel Arrangement Railway Number at Doncaster Number at Lincoln
A1 4-6-2 GNR 3 0
C1 4-4-2 GNR 25 0
C2 4-4-2 GNR 4 0
C12 4-4-2T GNR 0 1
D2 4-4-0 GNR 11 4
D3 4-4-0 GNR 6 1
D4 4-4-0 GNR 0 1
J2 0-6-0 GNR 1 0
J3 0-6-0 GNR 18 1
J4 0-6-0 GNR 24 9
J5 0-6-0 GNR 6 0
J6 0-6-0 GNR 22 0
J52 0-6-0T GNR 25 2
J53 0-6-0T GNR 4 3
J54 0-6-0T GNR 8 3
J55 0-6-0T GNR 5 2
J56 0-6-0T GNR 1 1
J57 0-6-0T GNR 1 0

Locomotives from the GN sheds at Boston, Retford, New England (Peterborough) and Grantham would have all been seen on the line in the Spalding and Sleaford areas with some reaching March.

In 1923 Grand Central locomotives from Lincoln (GC) shed would have been seen in that area as would those from Tuxford engine shed.

British Rail[edit]

In BR days locomotives of the following classes are known to have worked the line:

Class 25Class 31Class 37Class 40Class 47Class 56Class 58Class 60

Photographs of diesel locomotives between Spalding and March can be found at this reference [27] whilst photographs of diesel locomotives between March and Cambridge can be found here.[28]


Since privatisation class 66 locomotives work most freight services. This primarily consists of coal trains between Lincoln, Gainsborough and Doncaster with imported coal for power stations. Some container traffic and oil traffic is routed this way but little traffic is routed south of Lincoln.




  1. ^ a b Gordon (1990), p. 153.
  2. ^ Allen (1975), p. 35.
  3. ^ Gordon (1990), p. 137.
  4. ^ Waszak (2005), p. 10.
  5. ^ Gordon (1990), p. 224.
  6. ^ a b Gordon (1990), p. 225.
  7. ^ Gordon (1990), p. 131.
  8. ^ a b Gordon (1990), p. 227.
  9. ^ Wrottesley (1979a), p. 41.
  10. ^ Finningley, accessed 25 November 2012
  11. ^ 'The Great Eastern Railway' by C J Allen (1955) Ian Allan ISBN 0711006598.[page needed]
  12. ^ a b Boreham, Andrew (October 1977). "An introduction to the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal. 13: 13.4. 
  13. ^ Watling, John (October 2000). "The GER Board, its committees and what they did Part 3". Great Eastern Railway Journal. 104: 104.23. 
  14. ^ Rush, A D N (September 1977). "TRAIN WORKING ON THE GN & GE JOINT LINE BEFORE 1914". Great Eastern Railway Society Journal: 13.5. 
  15. ^ Sorting Goods Wagons, accessed 28 November 2012
  16. ^ Why March rail yards are legendary, accessed 25 November 2012
  17. ^ a b Challis, David; Andy Rush (October 1982). "History of the constituent sections – March to Spalding". Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway – an introduction: 10. 
  18. ^ Challis, David; Andy Rush (October 1982). "An operational commentary". Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway – an introduction: 10. 
  19. ^ "Strategic Freight Network" (PDF). Network Rail. April 2008. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  20. ^ Conlon, Edward (19 November 2010). "Roman road junction discovered at Network Rail site". Cambridgeshire Times. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  21. ^ "Timetable Planning Rules – London North Eastern – Final Principal and Final Proposal for Subsidiary Change Timetable 2014 Version 4.0 (2.2 Route Opening Hours)" (PDF). Milton Keynes: Network Rail. 12 July 2013. p. 48. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  22. ^ "Table 18 Peterborough – Sleaford, Lincoln and Doncaster" (PDF). Great Britain Public Timetable. December 2012. Retrieved 27 December 2012. 
  23. ^ a b Great Eastern Engine Sheds Part 1 Chris Hawkins AND George Reeve (Wild Swan 1986) ISBN 0 906867 401[page needed]
  24. ^ Rail 699 'A vital Linc in the Chain'
  25. ^ "Network Rail completes latest signalling works on GNGE line". Railway Technology Magazine. 18 August 2014. 
  26. ^ a b Yeadon, W B (1996). London and North Eastern Railway Locomotive Allocations 1st January 1923. Challenger Publications. ISBN 1 899624 19 8. [page needed]
  27. ^ March to Spalding, accessed 28 November 2012
  28. ^ Cambridge – St Ives – March, accessed 28 November 2012
  29. ^ "Lines that should reopen – Top 36 | Campaign for Better Transport". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 


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