East Coast Main Line

"ECML" redirects here. For the European Conference on Machine Learning, see ECML PKDD.
East Coast Main Line

An InterCity 225 train on the East Coast Main Line approaching King's Cross.
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 Schenker
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 317
Class 321
Class 325
Class 365 "Networker Express"
Line length 393 miles (632 km)
Number of tracks Double track and Quadruple track
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) 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 25kV 50Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 125 mph (200 km/h) maximum
East Coast Main Line
Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line, Fife Circle Line,
Edinburgh to Dunblane Line,
North Berwick Line,
North Clyde Line, Shotts Line,
Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line
& Glasgow to Edinburgh via Carstairs Line
Edinburgh Waverley
Borders Railway
North Berwick Line
Manors Tyne and Wear Metro
Durham Coast Line
Newcastle Central Tyne and Wear Metro
Tyne Valley Line
Tees Valley Line
Tees Valley Line
Heritage railway to Wensleydale Railway
Northallerton to Eaglescliffe Line
Harrogate Line
York to Scarborough Line
Cross Country Route
& Dearne Valley Line
Selby Line
to Selby
Askern Branch Line
Wakefield Line
South Humberside Main Line
Swinton to Doncaster Line
Doncaster to Lincoln Line
Sheffield to Lincoln Line
Nottingham to Lincoln Line
Newark North Gate
Nottingham to Grantham Line
& Poacher Line
Birmingham to Peterborough Line
Peterborough to Lincoln Line
Ely to Peterborough Line
Heritage railway to Nene Valley Railway
St Neots
Cambridge Line
Hertford Loop Line
Welwyn North
Welwyn Garden City
Welham Green
Brookmans Park
Potters Bar
Hadley Wood
New Barnet
Oakleigh Park
New Southgate
Hertford Loop Line
Alexandra Palace
Gospel Oak to Barking Line
Finsbury Park Piccadilly Line Victoria Line
Northern City Line
North London Line North London Line
High Speed 1
London King's Cross Circle line (London Underground) Hammersmith & City Line Metropolitan Line Northern Line Piccadilly Line Victoria Line
A detailed diagram of the ECML can be
found at East Coast Main Line diagram
A map of CrossCountry, Grand Central, Hull Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast services on the East Coast Main Line

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km)[2] 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

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

Overview of the ECML (in blue) and other north-south mainlines in the UK

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 only used on weekdays for inner suburban services.[3]

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",[4] 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[4]

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.

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.[5]

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.[6][7] 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.[8]

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.[6] 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[9]


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 (Kings 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.[10] 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 between Hitchin and Peterborough was completed in 1987, Doncaster and York were reached in 1989. By 1990 electrification had reached Newcastle, and in 1991 Edinburgh. 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 1990 to work the electrified line.[11]


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.[12]

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.[12] 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 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.

Rolling stock

Most express passenger services use the InterCity 225 rolling stock.

Some diesels still operate on line, including:


A train operated by the former main provider of services on the line, East Coast.

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.[13]

DB Schenker, GBRf, Freightliner, Freightliner Heavy Haul and Direct Rail Services operate freight services.


Capacity problems

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is currently insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.[14]

There are bottlenecks at the following locations:

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 setup, compared to TTC 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 setup 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.[21]

Recent developments

Planned or proposed developments

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[12] The most recent of which is the £240 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS[31] with the objective of increasing capacity and reducing journey times. Current plans include the following:


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

Title Date Killed Injured Note
Welwyn Tunnel rail crash9 June 186622Three-train collision in tunnel, caused by guard's failure to protect train and signalling communications error
Hatfield rail crash (1870)26 December 187083Wheel disintegrated causing derailment killing six passengers and two bystanders
Abbots Ripton rail disaster21 January 18761359Flying Scotsman crashed during a blizzard.
Morpeth rail crash (1877)25 March 1877 517Derailment caused by faulty track.
Thirsk rail crash (1892)2 November 18921043Signalman forgot about a goods train standing at his box and accepted the Scotch Express onto his line with inevitable consequences.
Grantham rail accident19 August 19061417Runaway or overspeed on junction curve causing derailment - no definite cause established.
Welwyn Garden City rail crash15 June 19351429Two trains collided due to a signaller's error.
King's Cross railway accident 4 February 1945 2 26 Train slipped on gradient and slid back into station.
Potters Bar rail crash10 February 1946217Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains.
Goswick rail crash26 October 19472865Edinburgh-London Flying Scotsman failed to slow down for a diversion and derailed. Signal passed at danger
Doncaster rail crash16 March 19511412Train derailed south the station and struck a bridge pier.
Goswick Goods train derailment28 October 19531'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[36][37]
Connington South rail crash5 March 1967518Express 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 646Excessive speed on curve.
Penmanshiel Tunnel collapse17 March 19792Two workers killed when the tunnel collapsed during engineering works.
Morpeth rail crash (1984)24 June 198435Excessive speed on curve.
Newcastle Central railway station collision30 November 198915Two InterCity expresses collided.[38]
Morpeth rail crash (1992)13 November 19921Collision between two freight trains.
Morpeth rail crash (1994)27 June 19941Excessive speed led to the locomotive and the majority of carriages overturning.
Hatfield rail crash17 October 2000470InterCity 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 crash28 February 20011082A 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 2002770Derailment caused by a badly maintained set of points. Resulted in the end of the use of external contractors for routine maintenance.

Passenger volume

East Coast train at London King's Cross railway station

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 Kings 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.


  1. 1 2 "Route 5 - West Anglia" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 22 May 2009.
  2. East Coast Main Line Rail Route Upgrading, United Kingdom
  3. 1 2 Network Rail (31 March 2010). "Route Plans 2010: Route Plan G East Coast & North East" (PDF). p.5. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  4. 1 2 Joy, David (1978). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain - Volume 8: South and West Yorkshire. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 304. ISBN 0 7153 7783 3.
  5. "Railway Magazine". November 1965: 858.
  6. 1 2 Barnett, Roger (June 1992). "British Rail's InterCity 125 and 225" (PDF). UCTC Working Paper No. 114. University of California Transportation Center; University of California, Berkeley: 32. Retrieved 27 May 2008.
  7. Testing the prototype HST in 1973 - Welcome to my testing site. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  8. Heath, Don (August 1994). "Electrification of British Rail's East Coast Main Line". Paper No. 105. Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers (Transportation): 232.
  9. Keating, Oliver. "The Inter-city 225". High Speed Rail. Retrieved 29 May 2008.
  10. "Your NEW Electric Railway, The Great Northern Suburban Electrification" (PDF). British Railways. 1973. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  11. Semmens, P.W.B. (March 1991). Electrifying the East Coast Route: Making of Britain's First 140m.p.h. Railway. Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 978-0850599299.
  12. 1 2 3 "Route Business Plan" (PDF). Network Rail. 2008.
  13. Millward, David (10 April 2006). "'Phantom trains' haunt drive to improve East Coast line". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 June 2008.
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  15. "Misery line cheers up". BBC Track Record. November 1999. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
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  18. "Notification of proposed G1 network change" (PDF). Network Rail. Network Rail. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  19. "On Track for £21 million Doncaster Rail Upgrade". Doncaster Star. 17 April 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
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  21. Wolmar, Christian (2005). On the wrong line: How ideology and incompetence wrecked Britain's railways. London: Aurum. ISBN 978-1-85410-998-9.
  22. "New services are just the ticket". BBC News. 13 October 2005. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  23. "Trains get 6,000 more seats a day". BBC News. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2007.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 Pigott, Nick, ed. (March 2010). "Flyovers to go ahead at Hitchin, Ipswich, Shaftholme". The Railway Magazine. London. 156 (1307): 9. ISSN 0033-8923.
  25. "Faster trains and more services at York" (Press release). Network Rail. 3 January 2012.
  26. 1 2 Broadbent, Steve (10 February 2010). "Moving Yorkshire Forward". Rail (637). Peterborough. p. 62.
  27. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOZWyzAOTp8
  28. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhMR9lgsrjs
  29. http://www.networkrail.co.uk/news/2013/june/Passenger-services-start-using-Hitchin-flyover/
  30. "Newcastle Central Station in line for Rail Station of the Year award". 2015.
  31. "London North Eastern Route" (PDF). Network Rail. Network rail. p. 7. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  32. "Network Rail backtracks on crossings closures". The Times. 2015.
  33. "Office of Rail and Road, Transcript of Track Access Applications, 12th June 2015" (PDF). ORR. 2015.
  34. "East Midlands Route Utilisation Strategy Draft for Consultation" (PDF). Network Rail. 2009.
  35. "ERTMS Deployment in the UK: Re-signalling as a Key Measure to Enhance Rail Operations" (PDF). ERTMS. 2012.
  36. Northumberland Railways - Goswick station Archived 16 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. Railways Archive - Ministry report.
  38. "Chronology of rail crashes". BBC News. 10 May 2002. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
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