East Coast Main Line

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East Coast Main Line
Looking north towards Hadley Wood tunnel from the railway bridge near Bakers Hill on the London Loop.JPG
An InterCity 125 train on the East Coast Main Line approaching Hadley Wood station and tunnels.
Type Commuter rail, Inter-city rail
Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
East of England
East Midlands
Yorkshire and the Humber
North East England
Scottish Borders
Central Scotland
Termini London King's Cross
51°31′53″N 0°07′24″W / 51.5314°N 0.1234°W / 51.5314; -0.1234 (East Coast Main Line, London terminus)
Edinburgh Waverley
55°57′08″N 3°11′20″W / 55.9522°N 3.1889°W / 55.9522; -3.1889 (East Coast Main Line, Edinburgh terminus)
Stations 52
Opened 1850
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Virgin Trains East Coast
Great Northern
Hull Trains
East Midlands Trains
TransPennine Express
Abellio ScotRail
Grand Central
DB Cargo UK
GB Railfreight
Direct Rail Services
Character Primary[1]
Depot(s) Hornsey
Bounds Green
Neville Hill
Rolling stock Class 43 "HST"
Class 91 "InterCity 225"
Class 142 "Pacer"
Class 144 "Pacer"
Class 153 "Super Sprinter"
Class 156 "Super Sprinter"
Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Class 180 "Adelante"
Class 185 "Pennine"
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
Class 222 "Meridian"
Class 313
Class 325
Class 365 "Networker Express"
Class 387 "Electrostar"
Line length 393 miles 13 chains (632.7 km)
Number of tracks Double track and Quadruple track
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 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 Mk 3a/b/d 25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 125 mph (200 km/h) maximum
East Coast Main Line
Edinburgh–Aberdeen line, Fife Circle Line,
Edinburgh–Dunblane line,
North Berwick Line,
North Clyde Line, Shotts Line,
Glasgow–Edinburgh via Falkirk line
and Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line
Edinburgh Waverley
Manors Tyne and Wear Metro
Newcastle Tyne and Wear Metro
Cross Country Route to Bristol
and Dearne Valley line to Sheffield
Newark North Gate
Nottingham–Grantham line to Nottingham
and Poacher Line to Skegness
St. Neots
Welwyn North
Welwyn Garden City
Welham Green
Brookmans Park
Potters Bar
Hadley Wood
New Barnet
Oakleigh Park
New Southgate
Alexandra Palace
Finsbury Park London Underground
Thameslink (
via Canal tunnels
from 2018
London King's Cross London Underground
A detailed diagram of the ECML can be
found at East Coast Main Line diagram

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km)[2] major railway[1] link between London and Edinburgh via Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield, Leeds, York, Darlington and Newcastle, electrified along the whole route. Services north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen and Inverness use diesel trains. The main franchise on the line is operated by Virgin Trains East Coast.

The route forms a key artery on the eastern side of Great Britain and is broadly paralleled by the A1 trunk road. It links London, the South East and East Anglia, with Yorkshire, the North East Regions and Scotland. It also carries key commuter flows for the north side of London. It is important to the economic health of several areas of England and Scotland. It also handles cross-country, commuter and local passenger services, and carries heavy tonnages of freight traffic.

Route definition and description[edit]

The ECML forms part of Network Rail's Strategic Route G which comprises six separate lines:[3]

The core part of the route is the main line between King's Cross and Edinburgh, with the Hertford Loop used for local and freight services and the Northern City Line providing an inner suburban service direct to the city.[4]

The route has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.


The line was built by three railway companies, each serving their own area, but with the intention of linking up to form the through route that became the East Coast Main Line. From north to south they were

When first completed, the GNR made an end-on connection at Askern, famously described by the GNR's chairman as, "a ploughed field four miles north of Doncaster",[5] with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a short section of which was used to reach the NER at Knottingley. In 1871, the route was shortened - NER opened a direct line which ran from an end-on junction with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern to Selby and then (once over Selby bridge on the Leeds- Hull Line) direct to York[5]

Realising that through journeys were an important part of their business, the companies established special rolling stock in 1860 on a collaborative basis; it was called the "East Coast Joint Stock".

In 1923 the three companies were grouped into the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). This later became part of British Railways in 1948.

Numerous alterations to short sections of the 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, built to bypass anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. The Selby Diversion was opened in 1983 and diverged from the original ECML at Temple Hirst Junction, north of Doncaster, and joined the Leeds to York Line at Colton Junction south west of York. The former line between Selby and York is now used as a cycle path.[6]

55012 "Crepello" enters King's Cross in May 1976. The Class 55 Deltic was the main express locomotive on the ECML between 1961 and 1981.

The ECML has been the backdrop for a number of famous rail journeys and locomotives. The line was worked for many years by Pacific locomotives designed by Gresley, including the famous steam locomotives "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard". Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, at 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) and this record was never beaten. It made the run on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section, on the descent of Stoke Bank.

Steam locomotives were replaced by Diesel electrics in the early 1960s, when the purpose-built Deltic locomotive was developed by English Electric. The prototype was successful and a fleet of 22 locomotives was built, to handle all the important express traffic. The Class 55s were powered by two Napier Deltic engines originally developed for fast torpedo boats, with the three crankshaft triangular configuration of the engines giving the Deltic name. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and chubby body outline made them unmistakable. The Class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, at 3,300 hp (2,500 kW).

Just after the Deltics were introduced, the first sections of the East Coast Main Line were upgraded to allow 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) running. The first length to be cleared for the new higher speed was a 17 miles (27 km) stretch between Peterborough and Grantham on 15 June 1965, the second was 12 miles (19 km) between Grantham and Newark.[7]

As the demand for higher speed intensified, the Deltics were superseded by the High Speed Train (HST), introduced between 1976 and 1981, and still in service in 2015, re-engined, with MTU engines replacing the original Paxman Valenta power units.

A prototype of the HST, the Class 41 achieved 143 mph (230 km/h) on the line in 1973.[8][9] Current UK legislation requires in-cab signalling for speeds of over 125 mph which is the primary reason preventing the InterCity 225 train-sets from operating at their design speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) in normal service.

A secondary factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficient to allow detection of two broken rails on the line on which the train was operating.[10]

Before the present in-cab regulations came in, 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.[8] 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[11]


The ECML was electrified using 25 kV AC overhead lines by British Rail in two phases between 1976 and 1991: The first phase between London (King's Cross) and Hitchin was carried out between 1976 and 1978 as part of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project using Mk.3A equipment. This included the Hertford Loop Line.[12] The second phase began in 1984, when authority was given to electrify to Edinburgh and Leeds using Mk.3B equipment. Construction began in 1985, and the section to Huntingdon was completed in 1986, Leeds was reached in 1988 and York was reached in 1989, by 1991 electrification had reached Edinburgh, and full electric services began on 8 July that year, eight weeks later than originally planned at the start of the project.[13] At the peak of the electrification project during the late 1980s, it was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world" at over 250 miles (400 km). The current InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced in 1989 to work the electrified line.[14][15]


The line is mainly four tracks from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham. However, there are two major twin-track sections: the first of these is near Welwyn North Station as it crosses the Digswell Viaduct and passes through two tunnels; the second is a section around 'Stilton Fen', between Fletton Junction near Peterborough, and southwards towards Holme Junction; furthermore, the section between Holme Junction south to Huntingdon is mostly triple track. North of Grantham the route is twin track except for four-track sections at Retford around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (which is south of York), Thirsk and Northallerton, and another at Newcastle.[16]

The main route is electrified along the full route and only the line between Leeds and York (Neville Hill Depot to Colton Junction) is non-electrified.[16] This diversionary route will be electrified as part of the transpennine electrification scheme, to be completed by December 2018.

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. These relatively high speeds are possible because much of the ECML travels on fairly straight track on the flatter, eastern regions of England, through Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, though there are significant speed restrictions (due to curvature) particularly north of Darlington and between Doncaster and Leeds. By contrast, the West Coast Main Line has to traverse the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, leading to many more curves and a lower general speed limit of 110 mph (180 km/h). Speeds on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) have been increased in recent years with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds available on the ECML.

Tunnels, viaducts and bridges[edit]

Major civil engineering structures on the East Coast Main Line include the following.[17][18]

Tunnels, viaducts and major bridges on the East Coast Main Line
Railway Structure Length Distance from Edinburgh Waverley ELR Location
Calton North Tunnel 490 yards (448 metres) 0 miles 27 chains – 0 miles 50 chains ECM8 West of Edinburgh Waverley station
Calton South Tunnel 400 yards (366 metres) 0 miles 29 chains – 0 miles 47 chains
St. Margarets Tunnel 3 chains 1 miles 32 chains – 1 mile 35 chains
Dunglas Viaduct 6 chains 36 miles 02 chains – 36 miles 08 chains Between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed stations
(Former Penmanshiel Tunnel) 12 chains 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 1 chain 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
Peascliff 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[19] 1214 yards (1110 metres) 12 miles 00 chains – 11 miles 25 chains Between Potters Bar and Hadley Wood stations
Hadley Wood North Tunnel[19] 232 yards (212 metres) 10 miles 70 chains – 10 miles 60 chains North of Hadley Wood station
Hadley Wood South Tunnel[19] 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[19] 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[19] 594 yards (543 metres) 1 mile 12 chains – 0 miles  65 chains North of King’s Cross station
Gasworks Tunnel[19] 528 yards (483 metres) 0 miles 46 chains – 0 miles 22 chains

Rolling stock[edit]

Commuter Trains[edit]

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Built
mph km/h
Class 68 Haymarket - DRS 68007 evening commuter service.JPG Diesel locomotive 1 100 160 2 Abellio ScotRail Fife Circle Line 2013-14
Mk2 Coach Haymarket - Abellio Mk2f 5965.JPG Passenger coach 6 100 160 12 1973-75
Class 158 158871Musselburgh.jpg DMU 2 90 145 48 Abellio ScotRail Cumbernauld Line, Shotts Line, Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway,
North Berwick Line (Occasional Saturday Services to Dunbar)
Class 170 Turbostar 170428 at Markinch.jpg DMU 3 90 145 55 Abellio ScotRail Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line, Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line, Edinburgh to Dunblane Line,
Fife Circle Line, Edinburgh Crossrail, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway,
North Berwick Line (Saturday Services to Dunbar and a peak time North Berwick Service)
Class 185 Pennine Class 185 at Manchester Piccadilly.jpg DMU 3 100 160 51 TransPennine Express Joining the ECML at York and continuing Newcastle and Scarborough 2005–06
Class 313 Great Northern 313058+313025 at Finsbury Park - 16 March 2017.jpg EMU 3 75 120 44 Great Northern London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City
Class 318 (gangway removed) Hyndland - Abellio 318262 Cumbernauld service.JPG EMU 3 90 145 21 Abellio ScotRail North Clyde Line 1986-87
Class 320 320 Saltire.JPG EMU 3 90 145 22 Abellio ScotRail North Clyde Line 1990
Class 320/4 (ex-Class 321/4) ScotRail Class 320 No. 320416 at Partick.jpg 100 161 7 1989–90
Class 334 334038 sits at Edinburgh Waverley, 05 April 2013.JPG EMU 3 90 145 21 Abellio ScotRail North Clyde Line 1999-2002
Class 350/4 Desiro First TransPennine Class 350, 350409, Patricroft railway station (geograph 4004447).jpg EMU 4 110 180 10 TransPennine Express Edinburgh to Manchester Airport 2013–14
Class 365 365535 London Kings Cross.jpg EMU 4 100 161 40 Great Northern London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and Ely 1994–95
Class 387/1 387108 at Kings Lynn.jpg EMU 4 110 177 29 Great Northern London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn 2014-15
Class 380 Desiro 380108 at Haymarket.jpg EMU 3 100 160 22 Abellio ScotRail North Berwick Line 2009-11
4 16

High Speed Trains[edit]

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Built
mph km/h
Class 43 HST InterCity 125 Haymarket - VTEC 43295 northbound Highland Chieftain.JPG Diesel locomotive VTEC: 2 x 9
GC: 2 x 6
XC: 2 x 7
EMT: 2 x 8
125 200 58 Virgin Trains East Coast
Grand Central
East Midlands Trains
Virgin Trains EC Services from London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness as well as daily services to Lincoln Central, Hull and Harrogate.
Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to: Sunderland and Bradford Interchange.
CrossCountry joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
East Midlands operates a limited service of HSTs which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to Leeds
Mark 3 Coach IC125@40 - TS 42210 at York.JPG Passenger coach 272 1975-88
Class 91 Intercity 225 Loco 91105 at King's Cross.JPG Electric locomotive 2 x 9 140 225 31 Virgin Trains East Coast London King's Cross to: Edinburgh, Leeds, Glasgow Central, York and Newcastle 1988—91
Mark 4 carriage Rake of VTEC Mark 4 London Kings Cross 1.jpg Passenger coach 302 1988-91
Driving Van Trailer VTEC Intercity 225 set at King's Cross 2.jpg Driving Van Trailer 31 1988-91
Class 180 Adelante Grand Central Class 180, Cromwell Moor.jpg DEMU 5 125 200 11 Grand Central
Hull Trains
Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to: Sunderland and Bradford Interchange.
Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to: Hull
Class 220 Voyager Hugh llewelyn 220 002 (6701873995).jpg 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 SuperVoyager Pair of Super Voyagers, Chester Railway Station (geograph 2986932).jpg DEMU 5 125 200 43 CrossCountry
Virgin Trains
XC: Joining the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continuing to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
Virgin Trains Services from Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston
Class 222 Meridian 222 003 at Chesterfield by Hugh Llewelyn.jpg DEMU 4 125 200 4 East Midlands Trains East Midlands operates a limited summer Saturday service which joins the ECML at Doncaster and continuing to York and Scarborough 2003–5
5 17
7 6
Class 390 Pendolino Rugby railway station MMB 23 390XXX.jpg EMU 9 or 11 140 (limited to 125) 225 (limited to 200) 56 Virgin Trains Edinburgh to: London Euston via Birmingham and Preston 2001-04

Future Trains[edit]

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Enter Service
mph km/h
Class 43 HST InterCity 125 Sprey Point - GWR 43005 going to Plymouth.JPG Diesel locomotive 2 x 4
2 x 5
125 200 54 Abellio ScotRail Highland Main Line, Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line 2018-
Mark 3 Coach Bristol Temple Meads - GWR Mk3 41146.JPG Passenger coach 175
Class 68 High Wycombe - DRS 68010 Birmingham Mainline service.JPG Diesel locomotive 1 100 160 19 TransPennine Express Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle 2018–19
Mark 5A Passenger coach 5 125 201 52
Driving Trailer 14
Class 385 Class 385 render.jpg EMU 3 100 160 46 Abellio ScotRail Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line, Stirling / Alloa / Dunblane Lines,
Shotts Line, Carstairs Line, North Berwick Line
4 24
Class 397 EMU 5 125 201 12 TransPennine Express Edinburgh to Manchester Airport and Liverpool Lime Street 2019
700/0 & 700/1 700008 Sevenoaks to Kentish Town 2E75 (31333854845).jpg EMU 8 100 161 60 Thameslink and Great Northern Brighton and Horsham (via Redhill) to Peterborough, Cambridge and the new station Cambridge North all via Stevenage. Dec- 2018
12 55
Class 717 EMU 6 100 161 25 Great Northern London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City
Class 800 Azuma Virgin Azuma train Kings Cross.jpg Bi-Mode Multiple Unit 5 140 225 10 Virgin Trains East Coast London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Aberdeen and Inverness 2019-
9 13
Class 801 Azuma EMU 5 140 225 12 London King's Cross to: Leeds, York, Newcastle and Glasgow Central.
9 30
Class 802 AT300 Bi-Mode Multiple Unit 5 140 225 24 TransPennine Express
Hull Trains
Hull Trains Services from London King's Cross to: Hull
TPE: Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle and Edinburgh


A train operated by the former main provider of services on the line, East Coast.
Overview of the ECML (in blue) and other north-south mainlines in the UK

The line's current principal operator is Virgin Trains East Coast, whose services include regular trains between King's Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. Virgin Trains East Coast is jointly operated by Stagecoach Group and Virgin Group and took over from East Coast on 1 March 2015. Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:

Eurostar previously held the rights to run five trains a day on the line for services from continental Europe to cities north of London, as part of the Regional Eurostar plan, although such services have never been run.[20]

The overnight Caledonian Sleeper operated by Serco occasionally uses the ECML when engineering works prevent it from using its normal train path on the WCML.

DB Cargo UK, Direct Rail Services, Freightliner and GB Railfreight operate freight services.


Capacity problems[edit]

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is currently[when?] insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.[21]

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[22]
  • The twin and triple-track sections located between Huntingdon and Peterborough.[23]
  • Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham to Lincoln Line.[24]
  • The section of double track between Stoke Tunnel and Doncaster.[23]
  • Doncaster station has limited facilities for terminating branch trains on the up side of the station. This has been remedied with the opening of a new platform (platform 0) on the up side so that trains to and from the Thorne direction do not conflict with high-speed trains.[25][26]
  • 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.[23][27]

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.[28]

Recent developments[edit]

  • 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.[29][30]
  • A new platform at London King's Cross was opened on 20 May 2010. This was originally to be called "Platform Y".[31] Instead it has been named Platform 0 to avoid confusion of lettered and numbered platforms.
  • Connection of the ECML to Thameslink at Belle Isle Jnc. 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.[31][32][33]
  • Provision of a £47m grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line[31][34][35] The work was completed by 26 June 2013[36]
  • 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.[31]
  • A new flyover 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.[31][33]
  • 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.[37]
  • Provision of a new Up bay platform (Platform 0) at Doncaster station (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Platform extensions at Stevenage, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Northallerton, Durham and Edinburgh Waverley stations for the Intercity Express Programme.

Planned or proposed developments[edit]

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[16] The most recent of which is the £247 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS[38] 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).
  • Additional down platform and turnback facility at Stevenage (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) - now delayed from CP5 to CP6.
  • 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.[39]
  • Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage.
  • Further remodelling at Peterborough and linespeed enhancements on the down slow line in the Fletton area (part of the ECML Connectivity programme).
  • Werrington Grade Separation: A £96 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 scheme is under TWA application (February 2017).
  • Replacement of the Flat Crossing at Newark with a flyover (scheme developed to GRIP Stage 2 by Jacobs)[40]
  • 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).
  • 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[41]
  • 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.)[42]
  • 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.[43]


The ECML has been witness to a number of incidents resulting in death and serious injury:

Title Date Killed Injured Note
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 the station and struck a bridge pier.
Goswick Goods train derailment 28 October 1953 1 'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[44][45]
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.[46]
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 led 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.

Passenger volume[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

The cuttings and tunnel entrances just north of King's Cross make a memorable smoky appearance 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. The motoring show Top Gear featured a race including LNER A1 60163 Tornado running up this 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 is also known as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express from the books and films in the Harry Potter series. Within the station concourse there is a tourist attraction of 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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Route map: Google

KML is from Wikidata