East Coast Main Line

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile long (632 km)[2] electrified railway[1] between London and Edinburgh via Peterborough, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. The line is a key transport artery on the eastern side of Great Britain running broadly parallel to the A1 road.

East Coast Main Line
OwnerNetwork Rail
SystemNational Rail
  • Hornsey
  • Bounds Green
  • Neville Hill
  • Doncaster Carr IEP Depot
  • Heaton
  • Craigentinny
  • Haymarket
Line length393 miles 13 chains (632.7 km)
Number of tracksDouble track and quadruple track
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Loading gaugeW9 (via Hertford Loop)
Route availabilityRA 7-9, RA 10 in parts between Selby and York
Electrification25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed125 miles per hour (201 km/h) maximum. To be increased to 140 miles per hour (230 km/h).
Route map

(Click to expand)
East Coast Main Line
Edinburgh–Dundee line,
Edinburgh–Dunblane line,
Fife Circle Line,
North Clyde Line, Shotts Line,
Glasgow–Edinburgh via Falkirk line
& Glasgow–Edinburgh via Carstairs line
Edinburgh Waverley
North Berwick Line
to North Berwick
Durham Coast Line
to Middlesbrough
Tees Valley line
to Bishop Auckland
Selby Line
Askern branch line
to Knottingley
Swinton–Doncaster line
to Swinton
Newark North Gate
St. Neots
Cambridge line
to Cambridge
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
Finsbury Park
London King's Cross
A detailed diagram of the ECML can be
found at East Coast Main Line diagram

The line was built during the 1840s by three railway companies, the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. In 1923, the Railway Act of 1921 led to their amalgamation to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the line became its primary route. The LNER competed with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) for long-distance passenger traffic between London and Scotland. The LNER's chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley designed iconic Pacific steam locomotives, including Flying Scotsman and Mallard which achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) on the Grantham-to-Peterborough section.

In 1948, the railways were nationalised and operated by British Railways. In the early 1960s, steam was replaced by Diesel-electric traction, including the Deltics and sections of the line were upgraded so that trains could run at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). With the demand for higher speed, British Rail introduced InterCity 125 high-speed trains between 1976 and 1981. In 1973, a Class 41 (an HST prototype), achieved a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run. In the 1980s, the line was electrified and InterCity 225 trains were introduced, which have now been largely replaced by Class 800 and Class 801 units. The November 2021 Integrated Rail Plan stated that the linespeed will be upgraded to 140 miles per hour (230 km/h).[3]

The line links London, South East England and East Anglia, with Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland and is important to their local economies. It carries key commuter traffic in north London and cross-country, commuter, local passenger services, and freight. There is currently no electrification north of Edinburgh to Aberdeen or Inverness. In 1997, operations were privatised. The primary long distance operator is London North Eastern Railway, but open-access competition on services to Northern England and Scotland is provided by Hull Trains, Grand Central and Lumo.

Route definition and description

The ECML is part of Network Rail's Strategic Route G which comprises six separate lines:[4]

The core route is the main line between King's Cross and Edinburgh, the Hertford Loop is used for local and freight services and the Northern City Line provides an inner suburban service to the city.[5] The line has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.[6][7]


Origins and early operations

The ECML was constructed by three independent railway companies. During the 1830s and 1840s, each company built part of the route to serve its own area, but also intending to link with other railways to form the through route that would become the East Coast Main Line. From north to south, the companies were:

The GNR established an end-on connection with the NER at Askern, famously described by the GNR's chairman as in "a ploughed field four miles north of Doncaster".[8] Askern was connected to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, a short section of which was used to reach the NER at Knottingley. In 1871, the line was shortened when the NER opened a direct line from an end-on junction, with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern to Selby and over Selby Bridge on the Leeds-Hull line direct to York.[8]

Through journeys were important and lucrative for the companies and in 1860 they built special rolling stock for the line. Services were operated using "East Coast Joint Stock" until 1922.[9]

In 1923, in an effort to stem the losses of smaller companies, the Railway Act of 1921 required the companies to amalgamate to form the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).[10] The LNER was the second largest railway company in Britain, its routes were located to the north and east of London. On 1 January 1948, the Transport Act of 1947 implemented by Clement Attlee's Labour Government, nationalised the LNER and other privately owned railway companies to form British Railways.[11] British Railways managed the ECML as its Eastern Region up to its discorporation in the early 1980s.

Alterations to sections of the ECML's 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 bypassing anticipated mining subsidence from the Selby coalfield and a bottleneck at Selby station. The Selby Diversion which diverged from the ECML at Temple Hirst Junction, north of Doncaster and joined the Leeds to York Line at Colton Junction south west of York opened in 1983. The old line between Selby and York was dismantled and is now a public cycleway.[12]

LNER Class A3 No. 2547 Doncaster hauls the daily Flying Scotsman in 1928.

The line was temporarily realigned while the ground was stabilised when mining subsidence affected 200 metres of track 17 km to the east of Edinburgh, near Wallyford. The tracks were re-routed as was the overhead electrification equipment and the work was completed in 2000 when the track was returned to its original alignment. In 2001, severe subsidence was discovered at nearby, Dolphinstone[13] and about 2 km of track was permanently moved laterally in a gentle curve to avoid a permanent speed restriction in 2002.

The line was worked for many years by Pacific steam locomotives designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, including the "Flying Scotsman" and "Mallard".[14] Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, having attained a recorded top speed of 126 miles per hour (203 km/h), while traversing the Grantham-to-Peterborough section on the descent of Stoke Bank. To date, the speed record set by Mallard has not been broken.[15]

Diesel era

In the early 1960s, steam locomotives were replaced by diesel-electrics, amongst them the Deltic, a powerful high-speed locomotive developed and built by English Electric. The prototype was successful and a fleet of 22 locomotives were built and put into BR service for express traffic. Designated the Class 55, they were powered by a pair of Napier Deltic engines that had been developed for fast torpedo boats. The Class 55 'Deltics' were for a time the fastest and most powerful diesel locomotives in service in Britain, capable of reaching 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) and providing up to 3,300 hp (2,500 kW). When introduced into service in 1961, the Class 55's ability to rapidly accelerate and maintain high speed over long distances, immediately cut over one hour from the standard London to Edinburgh journey time, from seven hours to under six. Further improvements to the infrastructure, meant that by the mid-1970s, another half-hour had been cut from the journey time.[16]

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

In the years following the introduction of the Deltics, sections of the ECML were upgraded for trains running at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). On 15 June 1965, the first length of high-speed line, a 17 miles (27 km) stretch between Peterborough and Grantham, was completed. The next section was 12 miles (19 km) of line between Grantham and Newark and more sections were upgraded to enable high speeds along much of the line.[17]

As the demand for higher speed intensified, British Rail produced a successor to the Deltics, the high speed train (HST), introduced in the late-1970s, which was capable of reaching 125 mph (201 km/h) on existing infrastructure. The HSTs brought the fastest London-Edinburgh timing down by another hour to 4 ½ hours.[16] It was a popular and iconic train and remained in passenger service in 2018 after a re-engining programme during the 2000s, in which MTU engines replaced the HST's original Paxman Valenta power units.

In 1973, the prototype HST British Rail Class 41 recorded a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h) in a test run the line.[18][19] British legislation required the use of in-cab signalling for running at speeds in excess of 125 mph (201 km/h) and so regular trains services were unable to run at such speeds. The lack of in-cab signalling was the primary reason that prevented the InterCity 225 train-sets from operating at their design speed of 140 mph (225 km/h) during normal service. A secondary factor was that the signalling technology of the time was insufficient to allow detection of two broken rails on the running line.[20]

Before current in-cab regulations were introduced, 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.[18] 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.[21]


In the 1930s, studies were conducted into electrifying sections or all of the ECML.[22] While British Rail considered electrification to be of equal importance to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and ECML during the 1950s, political factors delayed ECML electrification. Instead, investment was in high-speed diesel traction, the Deltic and high-speed train, for implementing service improvements,[22] whilst the WCML electrification was largely complete by 1974. During the period when Richard Beeching was chairman of British Rail, WCML electrification with a spur from Carstairs to Edinburgh was seen as possible justification for the truncation of the ECML at Newcastle.[23]

Between 1976 and 1991, the ECML was electrified with 25 kV AC overhead lines, installed in two phases: The first phase was carried out for the benefit of suburban traffic between 1976 and 1978 as part of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project, which covered the southern end of the route between London (King's Cross) and Hitchin (including the Hertford Loop Line), using Mk.3A equipment.[24]

A working group of British Rail and Department for Transport officials convened in the late 1970s determined that, of all options for further electrification, the ECML represented the best value by far. Its in-house forecasts determined that increases in revenue and considerable reductions in energy and maintenance costs would occur by electrifying the line.[25] In 1984, the second phase commenced to electrify the Northern section to Edinburgh and Leeds. The Secretary of State for Transport Nicholas Ridley and Minister for Railways David Mitchell played a large role in the decision to proceed.[25]

The programme covered roughly 1,400 single-track miles and required major infrastructure changes, including resignalling the northern part of the line from Temple Hirst junction near Selby to the Scottish border and new signalling centres at Niddrie, York and Newcastle, ten power supply points at key points on the line, and clearance and immunisation activity to protect equipment.[25] The ECML was crossed by 127 overbridges which were adjusted to accommodate the change. It was decided to rebuild individual bridges as opposed to lowering the track or other compromises. Some overbridges, such as the aqueduct near Abbots Ripton, were subject to innovative alterations to accommodate the installation of the overhead lines[25] and on listed structures, such as the Royal Border Bridge, a specially-developed mast and foundation were used; elsewhere the standard Mk.3B equipment was deployed.[25] The programme also electrified the Edinburgh-Carstairs branch of the WCML, to allow InterCity 225 sets to access Glasgow Central, with the added benefit of creating an electrified path to/from Edinburgh on the WCML from the south.

An InterCity 225 set on the ECML in 1991, shortly after the completion of the electrification

In 1985, construction began on the second phase; in the late 1980s, the programme was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world", spanning more than 250 miles (400 km). In 1986, the section to Huntingdon was completed, Leeds was reached in 1988 and the line to York was energised in 1989; by 1991, electrification had reached Edinburgh and electric services began on 8 July, eight weeks later than scheduled. Significant traffic increases occurred in the two years after completion; one station recorded a 58 per cent increase in passengers.[25]

Electrification was completed at a cost of £344.4 million (at 1983 prices which is equivalent to £1,236,000,000 in 2021)[26], a minor overrun against its authorised expenditure of £331.9 million. 40 per cent of the total cost was on new traction and rolling stock and 60 per cent for the electrification of the line.[25] Shirres compared the ECML and later Great Western Railway electrification programmes, noting a 740 per cent increase in cost between the former and the latter; in this respect, the ECML scheme was more cost effective.[25] The infrastructure supported speeds of up to 140 mph on a 3hr 29mins non-stop run between London and Edinburgh on 26 September 1991.[25] British regulations have since required in-cab signalling on any train running at speeds above 125 mph (201 km/h) preventing such speeds from being legally attained in regular service.[20]

In 1989, InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced on the line.[27][28] They were developed to a competitive tender, to which GEC was awarded the contract.[25] The Intercity 225 sets were used alongside other rolling stock, including Class 90 locomotives and Class 317 electric multiple units. The displaced diesel trains were reallocated predominantly to the Midland Main Line.[25]


In November 2021 the DfT announced a major upgrade of the line. The upgrade is set to include major track improvements and digital signalling, leading to higher speeds, reduced journey times and increases in seat capacity. The power supply will also be upgraded to allow longer and more frequent trains. Maximum speeds will be increased to 140mph on some sections.[3]


Royal Border Bridge, at Berwick-upon-Tweed, one of the most notable structures on the ECML.

The line is mainly quadruple track from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham, with two double track sections: one between Digswell Jn & Woolmer Green Jn, where the line passes over the Digswell Viaduct, Welwyn North station and the two Welwyn tunnels; and one between Fletton Junction (south of Peterborough) and Holme Junction, south of Holme Fen. The route between Holme Junction and Huntingdon is mostly triple track, with the exception of a southbound loop between Conington and Woodwalton. North of Grantham the line is double track except for quadruple-track sections at Retford, around Doncaster, between Colton Junction (south of York), Thirsk and Northallerton, and Newcastle.[29]

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. The high speeds are possible because much of the line is on fairly straight track on the flatter, eastern side of England, through Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, though there are significant speed restrictions because of the line's curvature particularly north of Darlington and between Doncaster and Leeds. By contrast, the West Coast Main Line crosses the Trent Valley and the mountains of Cumbria, with more curvature and a lower speed limit of 110 mph (180 km/h). Speeds on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) were increased with the introduction of tilting Pendolino trains and now match the 125 mph speeds on the ECML.

Rolling stock

Commuter trains

Family Class Image Type Top speed Operator Routes
mph km/h
BR Sprinter Class 158 DMU 90 145 ScotRail, East Midlands Railway Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway. Also between Grantham and Peterborough on East Midlands Railway services.
Bombardier Turbostar Class 170 DMU 100 161 ScotRail Fife Circle Line, Highland Main Line, Borders Railway
Siemens Desiro Class 185 DMU 100 161 TransPennine Express Joining the ECML at York and continuing to Newcastle
Alstom Coradia Juniper Class 334 EMU 90 145 ScotRail North Clyde Line
CAF Civity Class 331 EMU 110 180 Northern Trains Leeds to Doncaster
Siemens Desiro Class 380 EMU 100 161 ScotRail North Berwick Line
Hitachi AT200 Class 385 EMU 100 161 ScotRail North Berwick Line
Bombardier Electrostar Class 387 EMU 110 177 Govia Thameslink Railway London King's Cross to Peterborough, Cambridge, Ely and King's Lynn
Siemens Desiro Class 700 EMU 100 161 Govia Thameslink Railway London King's Cross to Cambridge

Cambridge to Brighton via London Bridge Peterborough to Horsham via London Bridge

Class 717 EMU 85 137 Govia Thameslink Railway London Moorgate and London King's Cross to Welwyn Garden City, Hertford North, Stevenage,
and Letchworth Garden City

High-speed trains

Family Class Image Type Top speed Operator Routes
mph km/h
InterCity 125 Class 43 Diesel locomotive 125 200 CrossCountry Joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continues to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
Mark 3 coach Passenger coach
InterCity 225 Class 91 Electric locomotive 125 200 London North Eastern Railway London King's Cross to Leeds and York
Mark 4 coach Passenger coach
Driving Van Trailer Control car
Alstom Coradia Class 180 Adelante DMU 125 200 Grand Central Services from London King's Cross to Sunderland and Bradford Interchange
Bombardier Voyager Class 220 DEMU 125 200 CrossCountry Joins the ECML at either Doncaster or York and continues to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow Central, Dundee and Aberdeen
Class 221 DEMU 125 200
Hitachi AT300 Class 800 Azuma Bi-mode multiple unit 125 200 London North Eastern Railway London King's Cross to Leeds, Lincoln, Hull, York, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Aberdeen and Inverness
Class 801 Azuma EMU London King's Cross to Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow Central
Class 802 Nova 1 Bi-mode multiple unit 125 200 TransPennine Express Joins the ECML at York and continues to Newcastle and Edinburgh
Class 802 Paragon Hull Trains London King's Cross to Hull and Beverley
Class 803 EMU 125 200 Lumo London King's Cross to Edinburgh


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

The line's current principal operator is London North Eastern Railway (LNER), whose services include regular long-distance expresses between King's Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. LNER is operated on behalf of the Department for Transport by a consortium of Arup Group, Ernst & Young and SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit, which took over from Virgin Trains East Coast on 24 June 2018.[30]

Other operators of passenger trains on the line are:

  • Great Northern: medium-distance services between King's Cross, Peterborough, Cambridge and King's Lynn and commuter services between Moorgate and Stevenage via either Welwyn Garden City or the Hertford Loop.
  • Hull Trains: operates five trains per day between King's Cross and Hull and two per day between King's Cross and Beverley on weekdays, while at weekends there are five trains per day between King's Cross and Hull.
  • East Midlands Railway: local services between Grantham and Peterborough, part of the service that runs between Liverpool Lime Street and Norwich.
  • CrossCountry: cross-country services north of Sheffield are routed via either Leeds or Doncaster. Leeds trains use the ECML between Wakefield Westgate and Leeds and then again north of York. Doncaster trains use the ECML north of Doncaster. Services run to and beyond Edinburgh. Occasional services run from Doncaster to Leeds before rejoining the ECML at York.
  • TransPennine Express: between Liverpool Lime Street and Newcastle, also between Manchester Airport and Middlesbrough before they divert off the ECML to Middlesbrough via Yarm.
  • Northern Trains: suburban services from Doncaster to Leeds and Chathill to Newcastle via Morpeth railway station and infrequent services between Newcastle and Darlington that continue to Middlesbrough and Saltburn. Services between Selby and York also use the line from Hambleton Junction to York.
  • ScotRail: services from Edinburgh Waverley to North Berwick and Dunbar.
  • Grand Central: operates five daily services between King's Cross and Sunderland, branching off the main line at Northallerton; and four daily services between King's Cross and Bradford, branching off at Doncaster.

Eurostar previously held the rights to run five trains a day on the line for services from mainland Europe to cities north of London, as part of the Regional Eurostar plan, which never came to fruition.[31]

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.

In 2019 FirstGroup and Hitachi Rail secured rights from the Office of Road and Rail to run a new 'open access' service between the two capitals.[32]


Capacity problems

The ECML is one of the busiest lines on the British rail network and there is insufficient capacity on parts of the line to satisfy all the requirements of both passenger and freight operators.[33]

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[34]
  • The twin and triple-track sections located between Huntingdon and Peterborough.[35]
  • Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham to Lincoln Line.[36]
  • The section of double track between Stoke Tunnel and Doncaster.[35]
  • 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.[35][37]

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 (twin-track cantilever)[38] and portal style support structures, during installation.[39] 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.[40]

Recent developments

Canal Tunnels northern entrance at Belle Isle Junction
  • 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.[41][42]
  • Connection of the ECML to Thameslink at Belle Isle Jnc. via the Canal Tunnels 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.[43][44][45]
  • Provision of a £47 million grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line.[43] The work was completed by 26 June 2013[46]
  • 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.[43]
  • A new flying junction 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.[43][45]
  • 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.[47]
  • Platform extensions at Stevenage, Grantham, Newark North Gate, Northallerton, Durham and Edinburgh Waverley stations for the Intercity Express Programme.
  • Linespeed enhancement on the down slow line in the Fletton area (part of the ECML Connectivity programme) completed in March 2019.
  • Additional 130-metre terminal platform on the down side for Hertford Loop trains at Stevenage, with an extra track from Langley Junction, was started in early 2019 and opened for use on 2 August 2020.[48]
  • Werrington Grade Separation was a £200 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 project was approved in summer 2018.[49] It was officially opened by the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris on 14 December 2021.[50][51][52]

Planned or proposed developments

The European Union Directive 96/48/EC, Annex 1 defines high-speed rail's minimum Speed Limit as 200 km/h (124 mph) on existing lines which have been specially upgraded.[53]

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[29] The most recent of which is the £247 million "ECML Connectivity Fund" included in the 2012 HLOS[54] 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).
  • 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.[55]
  • Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage.
  • Replacement of the Flat Crossing at Newark with a flyover (scheme developed to GRIP Stage 2 by Jacobs)[56]
  • 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) which were installed at Conington in January 2018. This will include installation of static frequency converter (Frequency changer) technology at Hambleton Junction and Marshall Meadows Bay area.
  • 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[57]
  • 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).[58]
  • 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.[59]
  • In June 2020 it was reported that the UK government would provide £350 million to fund the UK's first digital signalling system on a long-distance rail route. The signalling is to be fitted on a 100-mile (161 km) section of the East Coast Main Line between Kings Cross, London, and Lincolnshire, which will allow trains to run closer together and increase service frequency, speed and reliability. No date for when the new technology, already in use on the Thameslink lines at London Bridge and some London Underground lines, has been given.[60]


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 1877517Derailment 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.
Grantham rail accident19 August 19061417Runaway or overspeed on junction curve causing derailment - no definite cause established.
Cramlington Miners Strike derailment10 May 19262The Flying Scotsman was derailed by a group miners during the General Strike between Cramlington and Annisford.
Welwyn Garden City rail crash15 June 19351429Two trains collided due to a signaller's error.
King's Cross railway accident4 February 1945226Train slipped on gradient and rolled back into station.
Browney rail crash5 January 19461018Northbound express hits the wreckage of a derailed goods train.[61]
Potters Bar rail crash10 February 1946217Local train hit buffers fouling main line with wreckage hit by two further trains.
Doncaster rail crash (1947)9 August 194718188King'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 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 of the station and struck a bridge pier.
Goswick Goods train derailment28 October 19531'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[62][63]
Connington South rail crash5 March 1967518Express train was derailed.
Thirsk rail crash31 July 1967745Cement train derailed and hit by North bound express hauled by prototype locomotive. DP2
Morpeth rail crash (1969)7 May 1969646Excessive 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.[64]
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. The Class 91 locomotive involved in this crash was the same locomotive that was involved in the Great Heck rail crash - 91023. Following repair and refurbishment after Great Heck rail crash, the locomotive was renumbered 91132.
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 hauled by a Class 66. The Class 91 locomotive involved in this crash was the same locomotive that was involved in the Hatfield rail crash - 91023. Following repair and refurbishment, the locomotive was renumbered 91132.
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.

The cuttings and tunnel entrances just north of King's Cross appear in the 1955 Ealing comedy film The Ladykillers.[65] 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.[66] During 2009, the motoring show Top Gear featured a long-distance race, in which LNER A1 60163 Tornado, a Jaguar XK120 and a Vincent Black Shadow competed to be the fastest vehicle to travel the full length of the line from London to Edinburgh.[67]

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.

King's Cross Station is also depicted as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express in the books and films of the Harry Potter franchise. This connection is marked by a tourist attraction within the station concourse, featuring the Platform 9¾ sign and a luggage trolley partially embedded in the station wall with an owl cage and suitcases on it.[68]

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