East Suffolk Line

East Suffolk Line

156419 crossing a bridge near Boss Hall
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Suffolk,
East of England
Termini Ipswich
Stations 12
Opened 1854
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio Greater Anglia
Character Rural Branch line
Rolling stock Class 153 "Sprinter"
Class 156 "Sprinter"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Line length 49.03 mi (78.91 km)
Number of tracks 1-2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Operating speed 55mph

The East Suffolk Line is an un-electrified secondary railway line running between Ipswich and Lowestoft in Suffolk, England. The traffic along the route consists of passenger services operated by Abellio Greater Anglia, while nuclear flask trains for the Sizewell nuclear power stations are operated by Direct Rail Services. It and the Wherry Line are the easternmost railway lines in Great Britain.

The original section of the line opened between Halesworth and Haddiscoe in 1854 with the rest of the current route opening on 1 June 1859.

East Suffolk Line

Yarmouth to Lowestoft Line
to Yarmouth Beach
Wherry Lines
to Norwich
Lake Lothing
Lowestoft harbour
Kirkley goods yard
Oulton Broad South
Yarmouth to Beccles Line
to Yarmouth South Town
Waveney Valley Line
to Tivetshall

Southwold Railway
to Southwold
River Blyth
River Yox
Aldeburgh Branch Line
(partially open to goods)
Snape Branch Line
River Alde
Framlingham Branch
to Framlingham
Wickham Market
Felixstowe Branch Line
to Felixstowe
River Gipping
Great Eastern Main Line
Left arrow to Norwich • to London Right arrow


Early Years

In 1847 the Ipswich & Bury Railway secured the rights to build the line from Ipswich to Woodbridge with the passing of the Ipswich & Bury Railway (Woodbridge Extension) Act. The works were delayed for financial reasons and the Ipswich & Bury Railway was absorbed by the Eastern Union Railway(EUR) in 1847 (which given that they shared six directors was a logical step).[1] Between 1847 and 1849 the EUR was building the line from Haughley to Norwich and it was not until 1851 that the EUR's appointed solicitor posted a notice signalling the EUR's intent to ask parliament for more time to build the railway.[2] The moves may have been encouraged by the fact the people of Woodbridge issued a "Manifesto of discontent" which included the claim the town was losing money because it had no railway. However it was not until 1856 that work on the link between Ipswich and Woodbridge started.[3]

The Halesworth, Beccles & Haddiscoe Railway was incorporated in 1851 and the first section of the East Suffolk line from Beccles to Halesworth was constructed by contractors Peto, Brassey and Betts. The East Suffolk Railway, which had been incorporated on 3 July 1854, took over the powers of the Halesworth, Beccles & Haddiscoe Railway[4] and the route opened on the 4 December 1854.[4] It was originally built as a single line and continued north to Haddiscoe to a junction on what is now part of the Wherry Lines.[5] This line was closed from 17 May 1858 to 1 June 1859 to enable doubling and the opening of the through route between Great Yarmouth and Ipswich and the associated branches being built at that time.

In the early 1850s the EUR was struggling financially and on 1 January 1854 had been leased by the Eastern Counties Railway - a move later ratified by a parliamentary act of 7 August 1854.[6]

The third part of the (current) East Suffolk Line was the Lowestoft - Beccles section. The Lowestoft and Beccles Railway (LBR) was formed on 26 October 1855. The original terminus of the line was going to be near to St John’s church in South Lowestoft. The East Suffolk (Branch and capital) Act of 28 June 1858 gave the company permission to build a viaduct over Lake Lothing subject to various Admiralty conditions. This meant that the railway would have access to the existing Lowestoft Central station and the original alignment was then developed into a southern route to Lowestoft Harbour. The following month a parliamentary act received royal assent on 23 July 1858 and the LBR and East Suffolk Railway merged. The Beccles to Lowestoft branch line was also opened as a single line branch on 1 June 1859. It joined the main line to Yarmouth just north of Beccles at Lowestoft Line Junction[5][7]

1 June 1859 saw the line open as a through route between Ipswich East Suffolk Junction and north to Yarmouth South Town.[4] The following (connecting) branch lines also opened on this date:

From opening the line was operated by the Eastern Counties Railway(ECR) although the East Suffolk Railway continued to exist until 1862.[8]

The branch to Lowestoft south side (goods only) opened later in 1859.

By the 1860s the railways in East Anglia were in financial trouble, and most were leased to the Eastern Counties Railway; 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.[9]

The final section of the Waveney Valley Line opened linking Bungay to Beccles on 2 March 1863.

On 26 September 1865 a light engine returning from Great Yarmouth to Ipswich derailed between Darsham and Halesworth killing the driver and fireman.[10]

Saxmundham Station circa 1901

The Felixstowe Branch Line opened on 1 May 1877 with a junction at Westerfield Junction and some 2½ years later on 24 September 1879 the narrow gauge Southwold Railway opened to Halesworth.

On 24 December 1891 an accident occurred at Barnby Box (between Beccles and Carlton Colville) with three killed and four injuries.[11]

In 1896 the Lowestoft branch track was extended from Lowestoft Line Junction directly into Beccles leading to the closure of the junction signal box. The Lowestoft - Beccles section was doubled in 1899 and a fourth track laid between Beccles station and the divergence of the Lowestoft route.

On 25 September 1900 at Westerfield station at 0845, GER Class Y14 0-6-0 locomotive no 522 which was then just a year old stopped at a signal on the Ipswich side of the level crossing awaiting a route to the Felixstowe branch. Shortly afterwards the boiler exploded killing driver John Barnard and his fireman William Macdonald both based at Ipswich engine shed. The boiler was thrown 40 yards forwards, over the level crossing and ended up on the down platform. Apparently the locomotive had a history of boiler problems although in the official report the Boiler Foreman at Ipswich Engine shed was blamed. The victims were buried in Ipswich cemetery and both their gravestones have a likeness of a Y14 0-6-0 carved onto them.[12][13]

London and North Eastern Railway 1923-1947

In the 1923 Grouping, the GER amalgamated with other railways to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Cambridge became a LNER station.

Carlton Colville station was renamed Oulton Broad South on 26 September 1927.[14]

On 1 January 1927 there was a train crash at Woodbridge station. A wagon coupling had broken at Bealings station and when the engine stopped at Woodbridge, the rear portion running downhill smashed into the back of the stationary train. Only one minor injury was recorded.[15]

On April 11, 1929, after one week’s notice, the Southwold Railway closed.

After World War 2 broke out in 1939 an emergency timetable was introduced and only 8 trains per day (Ipswich - Great Yarmouth) operated over the week with just two on Sundays. Saxmundham acted as a railhead for 6,000 evacuees from London although with the threat of invasion in 1940 they were moved away. Because of the lines proximity to the East Anglian coast a number of armoured trains operated until 1943 when they were stood down as the threat of invasion had receded.[16]

During World War 2 stations on the line acted as railheads for the various airbases in East Anglia. Melton for example was the railhead for RAF Bentwaters and remains of aircraft from Orfordness and Sutton crash airfield were sent via Melton during 1943.

British Railways 1948-1994

In 1948 following nationalization the station became part of British Railways (Eastern Region).

Regular passenger services were withdrawn from the Framlingham Branch on 1 November 1952 although occasional specials ran serving Framlingham College and on one occasion the royal train visited the branch.[17]

An L1 2-6-4T in a wintry scene at Beccles Station about to work the Lowestoft portion of an express from London Liverpool Street.

The east coast floods of 31 January 1953 saw track damage at Woodbridge (embankment in danger of slipping) and Melton (track eroded) although services were restored fairly quickly.[18]

As early as 1955 the British Transport Commission had identified the line north of Beccles to Great Yarmouth as a candidate for closure with all trains being diverted via Lowestoft. The station at Melton closed on 2 May 1955 and in the following year a lack of patronage saw Bealings station close in September 1956 although the goods yard survived until April 1965.[19] The last train operated on the Snape branch 4 March 1960 worked by Ipswich engine shed’s J15 65389 with official closure following on 7 March. This was the last regular main line steam working in Suffolk. Freight traffic was withdrawn from the Framlingham Branch on 19 April 1963.[20]

The Beccles to Great Yarmouth section was closed on 2 November 1959, just over one hundred years after it had been opened.[5] The rest of the line was then threatened with complete closure as part of the Beeching Plan of 1963. The Branch Line Reinvigoration Society mounted a campaign to fight closure and action committees were formed in Beccles and Halesworth and although British Railways made some economies to reduce running costs it was not until 29 June 1966 that Barbara Castle (Minister of Transport) announced the line would be reprieved.[21]

The goods yards at Westerfield, Bealings, Wickham Market, Brampton and Oulton Broad South all closed on 13 July 1964.

The Aldeburgh branch was closed to passenger traffic on 12 September 1966. In 1972 the junction was simplified and Saxmundham Junction signal box taken out of service.[22]

The line was resignalled in 1984 using the Radio Electronic Token Block resulting in the closure of all signal boxes except the RETB controlling signalbox at Saxmumdham. Also, to ensure the line's survival, parts of the remaining line were reduced to single track to minimize maintenance costs. However on a more positive note the station at Melton was reopened on 3 September 1984.

The Privatization Era 1994-present day

Following privatization of the UK railways, Railtrack became responsible for infrastructure maintenance in 1994. Following financial problems Network Rail took over operation of the infrastructure in 2002.

The operation of the line was privatised in 1997 when the franchise was awarded to Anglia Railways who operated it until April 2004 when National Express East Anglia won the replacement franchise operating under the brand name 'One' until February 2008. From 5 February 2012 Abellio Greater Anglia took over operating the franchise.

As of December 2010, services between Lowestoft and London Liverpool Street via the Suffolk Line no longer operate, mainly to free up capacity on the main line south of Ipswich. A few London-Lowestoft services still run but these only operate via Norwich.

From December 2012 an hourly service over the route was introduced following the completion of the passing loop at Beccles (see below).

In 2014 at the very southern end of the line a new chord was opened linking the East Suffolk Line to the line to Bury St Edmunds and the Midlands. This line is primarily used by Freightliner trains to or from Felixstowe Docks with a new junction called Boss Hall Junction enabling access to the chord.[23]


The line runs north from Ipswich via Woodbridge, Saxmundham, Halesworth, Beccles to Lowestoft and other intermediate stations. It connects with the following operational lines: Great Eastern Main Line, the Felixstowe Branch Line, Aldeburgh Branch Line (freight only) and the Wherry Lines.


The line is double-track from Ipswich to Woodbridge and from Saxmundham to Halesworth with the rest of the route being single track, apart from a short passing loop at Beccles. The line is not electrified, has a loading gauge of W10 between Ipswich and Westerfield and W6 for all other sections, and a line speed of between 40-55 mph.[24]

Until October 2012, the section from Westerfield to Oulton Broad was signalled using Radio Electronic Token Block controlled from Saxmundham, and was the only line in England to use this system (the system was used elsewhere in the UK in both Wales and Scotland). However, due to radio frequency licensing issues, and the imminent beginning of an hourly service to Lowestoft which would have been beyond the capacity of RETB, Track Circuit Block signalling (using AzLM axle counters) has replaced the RETB system, which was abolished after the last Ipswich - Lowestoft service reached Oulton Broad South on the night of Friday 19 October 2012. Between Saturday 20 October and Monday 22 October 2012 the new Track Circuit Block signalling system was commissioned and tested. The new signalling came into operation on Tuesday 23 October 2012, controlled from the existing signal box at Saxmundham. On 10 December 2012 a new passing loop and reinstated second platform opened at Beccles.[25]

Under Network Rail planning the line is part of Strategic Route 7. The section between Ipswich and Westerfield is a part of SRS 07.12 and is classified as secondary line with the remainder of the line being part of SRS 07.11 and classified as rural.

The Ipswich "Bacon Factory Curve" opened to regular traffic on 31 March 2014 at the southern end of the line allowing trains to run directly from the East Suffolk Line towards the Midlands without the need to reverse in the Ipswich. The first revenue earning train headed by Class 66 locomotive 66733 on a Felixstowe - Doncaster container train ran on 24 March.[26]


Engine sheds

During the steam era the only engine sheds located on the line were at Beccles and Lowestoft. Locomotives from Yarmouth South Town, Norwich and Ipswich engine sheds all worked services over the line and some express services would have been worked by locomotives from Stratford engine shed. Branch lines such as Framlingham and Aldeburgh had engine sheds for their branch locomotives.

Motive Power

During the steam era the majority of services would have been worked by locomotives of Great Eastern origin. These would have included:

Class (LNER classification) Wheel Arrangement Usual traffic
B12 4-6-0 Express Passenger
D13 4-4-0 Passenger
D14 4-4-0 Passenger
D15 4-4-0 Passenger
E4 2-4-0 Passenger
F3 2-4-2T Branch Line
F4 2-4-2T Branch Line
F5 2-4-2T Branch Line
J14 0-6-0 Goods
J15 0-6-0 Goods

In 1928 the London and North Eastern introduced the B17 class 4-6-0 locomotives on express workings.

After 1948 the LNER Thompson Class L1 2-6-4T was introduced (this was an LNER design built under British Railway's auspices) and saw service on the line. From 1951 the Britannia class 4-6-2 locomotives worked express services.

From the late 1950s diesel locomotives started appearing on services. These included:

Diesel Multiple Units took over all local stopping services on 5 January 1959 and the last steam locomotives used the line in June 1960.[17] Several classes of DMU have worked the line including Gloucester RCW Class 100, Cravens Class 105 and for many years in the 1980s and 1990s Metropolitan Cammel Class 101 based at Norwich depot. The latter operated as a small dedicated fleet equipped with radio signaling equipment. An experimental railbus, LEV1, was employed on the East Suffolk for two months in 1980.[27] Eventually more modern types of DMU operated the line with Class 150s running East Suffolk line services.

In 2014 passenger services are operated by Class 153, Class 156 and Class 170 DMUs. Freight to Sizewell on the former Aldeburgh branch line is typically in the hands of Class 37 or Class 20s whilst Class 66 and Class 70s work trains to Felixstowe.

Signal Boxes

The following is a list of signal boxes operational during the steam and early years of the diesel era. They are listed south to north.

Timetabled Services

1854 services

The first trains that operated over the East Suffolk Line commenced on 9 December 1854 and generally operated between Haddiscoe station on the Norwich to Lowestoft line and Halesworth with five trains each day. All trains called at all stations and journey time was 45 minutes although this was cut to 40 minutes the following year. No trains ran on Sundays.[32] In connection with the opening of the line as a through route the service was suspended on 15 July 1858 and a replacement horse bus service was introduced.[33]

1859 services

On weekdays there were four trains per day from Ipswich. These called all stations and divided at Beccles with one portion for Great Yarmouth and the other for Lowestoft. In the opposite direction trains combined at Beccles for the onward journey to Ipswich. There were two trains each way on Sundays. Interestingly timetables showed a station at Snape Junction which was never built.[34]

Early Great Eastern Railway changes 1862 - 1900

In its first year of operation the Great Eastern Railway operated a through train to London Bishopsgate (this station was in use prior to Liverpool Street opening) calling all stations to Ipswich then Manningtree, Colchester, Marks Tey, Witham, Chelmsford and Stratford. The following year a 1000 service from Bishopsgate would get passengers to Lowestoft in 3 hours 15 minutes and Great Yarmouth in 3 hours 25 minutes. After Ipswich the only call was at Beccles where the train divided into two sections for the two towns.[35]

By 1883 stopping services had increased to eight per day (splitting and joining at Beccles) and there were two or three services from Liverpool Street.

September 1939

The outbreak of World War 2 saw weekday services reduced to eight trains per day with just two trains on Sundays.[36]

January 1959

The January 1959 timetable was notable as all local services were worked by Diesel Multiple Units. Express services on the route ran every three hours between Yarmouth (South Town) and Ipswich and this was supplemented by an hourly DMU service which mostly ran via Gorleston and Lowestoft (reverse) to Beccles before calling Halesworth, Saxmundham and Woodbridge only. Minor stations were served by occasional all stations services such as Ipswich to Yarmouth, Yarmouth to Beccles and Halesworth to Lowestoft.[17]

2014 Current services

In 2014 the route sees a regular hourly passenger service (two-hourly on Sundays) running between Ipswich and Lowestoft operated by Class 170, Class 156 and Class 153 diesel multiple units. This service used to run all the way to London Liverpool Street but as of 2010 this service via the East Suffolk Line was stopped to enable longer electric trains to be used south of Ipswich. A few London-Lowestoft services still run but these only operate via Norwich. From December 2010, an hourly service on the East Suffolk Line was introduced between Ipswich and Saxmundham, and from December 2012 the hourly service was extended throughout the whole route to Lowestoft following the development of a passing loop at Beccles.[37] Services from Felixstowe operate between Westerfield and Ipswich East Suffolk Junction on the south end of the line and this section is also extremely busy with container trains to and from the Port of Felixstowe. The only other freight services run between Sizewell power station on the former Aldeburgh Branch Line via Saxmundham to the south end of the line.


Two of the stations on the line had level crossings that were incorporated into the platforms. At Saxmundham the original down platform (the platforms here were staggered rather than opposite each other) required extension for longer trains and rather than close the Chantry Road, the platform acted as a gate and were swung across the railway when road access was required. A train hit the road gate in the early 1960s and the platform was replaced by more conventional gates. By this time the railway had become a secondary route and the longer platform was not required.[38]

A similar arrangement was at Halesworth where the platforms were extended in 1887. Increasing road traffic in the 1950s resulted in a new road bridge being built to the north of the station. The level crossing was abolished in 1959 although the gates remained as part of the platform for some years.[39]

The movable platform at Halesworth Station c 2008

At Beccles there was an unusual draw bridge arrangement which allowed milk churns and barrows to be moved from the main platform to the island platform. This was installed in 1933 and was located at the south end of the station. When not in use the bridge formed part of the platform surface.[40]

At Woodbridge there was long siding (referred to as a tramway) which ran alongside the East Suffolk Line for 41 chains (820 m) towards Melton. Serving a number of riverside industries and open until the 1950s it was notable as being worked by shunting horses rather than locomotives.[41]

Proposed developments

Southwold Branch Line

Main article: Southwold Railway

The Southwold Railway Society formed in 1994 hoped to re-instate all or part of the narrow gauge line however this has been rejected. A planning application for a railway steam park in Southwold was approved in February 2009.


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  2. issue 21265 21 November 1851. "The London Gazette". the Gazette. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  3. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 18. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  4. 1 2 3 "The coming of the railway to the area". Belton History. Retrieved 2009-05-02.
  5. 1 2 3 "East Suffolk Line". East Suffolk Line. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
  6. Allen, Cecil J (1975). The Great Eastern Railway. Shepperton UK: Ian Allan. p. 32. ISBN 07110 0659 8.
  7. Kenworthy, Graham (April 2009). "Lowestoft South Side Part 1". Great Eastern Journal. 138: 3.
  8. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2004). Saxmundham to Yarmouth. Midhurst: Middleton Press. p. 2. ISBN 1 901706 69 9.
  9. Vaughan, Adrian (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. London: John Murray. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 0 7195 5150 1.
  10. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 29. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  11. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 42. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  12. Freestone, Jill; Smith, Richard W (1998). Ipswich Engines and Ipswich Men. Ipswich: Under Stoke History group. ISBN 0-9532257-0-4.
  13. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_Westerfield1900.pdf
  14. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 46. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  15. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 33. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  16. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 24. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  17. 1 2 3 Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 27. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  18. Kenworthy, Graham (January 2013). "East coast floods January 1953". Great Eastern Journal (153): 5.
  19. Great Eastern Railway Society Journal Issue 77 Pages 24/5 Article 'Great Eastern Line 5' Dick Riley/Paul Goldmith/Harry Parr (Jan 1994)
  20. "Framlingham summary from". Suffolk Camra. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  21. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 28. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  22. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2003). Branch Lines to Felixstowe and Aldeburgh. Midhurst, UK: Middleton Press. p. Fig 84. ISBN 1 904474 20 9.
  23. Ipswich Chord rail link opens for Felixstowe freight, BBC news website, 2014-03-29. Retrieved 2014-03-29.
  24. "Route 7 - Great Eastern" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  25. https://www.networkrailmediacentre.co.uk/News-Releases/7220/New-hourly-service-on-East-Suffolk-line Accessed: 10 December 2012
  26. Johnson, Marc. "Ipswich chord and freight yard". Rail Engineer UK. Rail Engineer. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  27. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 31. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  28. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2005). Ipswich to Saxmundham. Midhurst UK: Middleton Press. p. 19. ISBN 1 901706 41 9.
  29. Wilson, Bryan (July 2001). "photo caption". Great Eastern Journal. 107: 11.
  30. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2004). Saxmundham to Yarmouth. Midhurst, UK: Middleton Press. p. 32. ISBN 1 901706 69 9.
  31. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2004). Saxmundham to Yarmouth. Midhurst, UK: Middleton Press. p. map IX. ISBN 1 901706 69 9.
  32. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 9. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  33. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 10. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  34. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 20. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  35. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 22. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  36. Cooper, John M (1982). East Suffolk Railway. Usk: Oakwood Press. p. 25. ISBN 085361 285 4.
  37. Suffolk: Problems remain as Beccles rail loop opens on East Suffolk line, East Anglian Daily Times, 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
  38. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2004). Saxmundham to Yarmouth. Midhurst UK: Middelton Press. p. Figs 16/20/21. ISBN 1 901706 69 9.
  39. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2005). Ipswich to Saxmundham. Midhurst UK: Middelton Press. p. figs 113/114. ISBN 1 901706 41 9.
  40. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2004). Saxmundham to Yarmouth. Midhurst UK: Middelton Press. p. Figs 40/1. ISBN 1 901706 69 9.
  41. Adderson, Richard; Kenworthy, Graham (2005). Ipswich to Saxmundham. Midhurst UK: Middelton Press. p. figs 44/46. ISBN 1 901706 41 9.

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