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"ECML" redirects here. For the European Conference on Machine Learning, see ECML PKDD.
East Coast Main Line
InterCity 225 on the East Coast Main Line
Type Commuter rail, Intercity rail
High-speed 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

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
Opening 1871 (complete line)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) East Coast[1]
First Capital Connect
First Hull Trains
East Midland Trains
First TransPennine Express
Northern Rail
First ScotRail
Grand Central
DB Schenker
Direct Rail Services
Depot(s) Hornsey
Bounds Green
Neville Hill
Rolling stock Class 43 "HST"
Class 91
Class 142 "Pacer"
Class 144 "Pacer"
Class 153 "Super Sprinter"
Class 156 "Super Sprinter"
Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
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)
No. of tracks Two - Four
Track gauge
Loading gauge W9 (via Hertford Loop)
Route availability RA 7-9, RA 10 in parts between Selby and York
Electrification 25kV 50Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 125 mph (200 km/h) maximum
Route map

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a 393-mile (632 km) long[2] high-speed railway[3] link between London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Wakefield, Leeds, York, Darlington, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, electrified between London and Edinburgh; sections north of Edinburgh being serviced by diesel trains. It is classed as a high-speed railway because most of it meets the speed criterion of 125 mph (201 km/h). The main franchise on the line is operated by state-owned East Coast Main Line Company Ltd.

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 therefore 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. The route has ELRs ECM1 - ECM9.

Route definition and description

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

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.[4]

In addition to the formal Network Rail definition, the ECML is generally regarded as including the Edinburgh to Aberdeen Line, on which through express trains have run since before the 1923 creation of LNER and LMS. Some East Coast services continue beyond Edinburgh Waverley to Aberdeen, using the diesel engined HST originally built to serve the line, replacing the Deltic diesels which in turn (1962) replaced the LNER A4 Pacific express steam locomotives. [dubious ] running mostly in view of the east coast via Kirkcaldy, Dundee and Arbroath.[dubious ]| North of Edinburgh it includes the red cantilever Forth Bridge, and at Dundee the curved Tay Bridge, both crossing wide river estuaries.[dubious ]


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 NER combined an existing York - Selby line with a new section south of Selby to form a direct through route to an end-on junction with the GNR, at Shaftholme, just south of Askern.[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 by-pass 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, north of Doncaster, and joined the Leeds to York line at Colton Junction.

The northernmost section from Kinnaber Junction, north of Montrose to Aberdeen was built by the Caledonian Railway, but with North British running rights to Aberdeen Station, commonly referred to as Aberdeen Joint Station. The 'Race to the North' from London to Aberdeen was effectively resolved by the shortening of the King's Cross route by the construction of the two bridges, crossing the Forth and Tay estuaries.

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 55 were powered by two engines originally developed for fast torpedo boat purposes, and the configuration of the engines led to the Deltic name. Their characteristic throaty exhaust roar and chubby body outline made them unmistakable in service. The class 55 was for a time the most powerful diesel locomotive in service in Britain, at 3,300 hp (2,500 kW).

It was just after the Deltics were introduced that the first sections of the East Coast Main Line were upgraded to officially 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.[6]

As the demand for higher speed intensified, the Deltics were eventually superseded by the High Speed Train (HST), introduced between 1976 and 1981 and still in service in 2013 (re-engined, with the original Paxman Valenta power units replaced by MTU engines).

A prototype of the HST, the Class 41 achieved 143 mph (230 km/h) on the line in 1973.[7][8] 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 insufficiently advanced to allow detection of two broken rails on the line on which the train was operating.[9]

Before the present in-cab regulations came in, British Rail experimented with 140 mph running by introducing a fifth, flashing green signalling aspect on track 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.[7] Locomotives have operated on the ECML at speeds of up to 161.7 mph (260.2 km/h) in test runs.[10]

Electrification of the ECML was authorised in 1984, and work began in 1985 with the initial section between King's Cross and Leeds going into operational trials in 1988. Electrification as far as Edinburgh was completed in late 1990, and the current InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced.


The line is mainly four tracks from London to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham, except for two 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 between Huntingdon and Peterborough near 'Stilton Fen'. 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.[11]

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.[11]

With most the 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 passenger services use the InterCity 225 rolling stock. Some diesels still operate on line, including:


The line's current principal operator is East Coast, whose services include regular trains between King’s Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland. East Coast is subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways—a holding company owned by the Department for Transport—and took over from National Express East Coast on 14 November 2009.[1] 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.[12]

DB Schenker, FirstGBRf, 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.

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[13]
  • Just north of Newark station at a flat crossing with the Nottingham-Lincoln line.[14]
  • Doncaster station has limited facilities for terminating branch trains on the up side of the station.
  • South of Newcastle, leading to proposals to reopen the Leamside line to passenger and freight traffic.[15]

Rail services are vulnerable during high winds and there have been several de-wirements over the years due to the unusually wide spacing between the supporting masts of the overhead lines. The other cost-cutting measure was the use of headspan-type catenary systems over the quadruple tracked sections which are not as robust as the older gantry-type design used on the WCML. This was a result of extreme pressure from the Department for Transport (as proxy for the taxpayer) to reduce avoidable costs when the line was originally electrified between 1985 and 1990.[16]

Recent developments

  • The Allington Chord was constructed near Grantham in 2006, allowing services between Nottingham and Skegness to pass under the line, rather than crossing it at a flat junction. This provided sufficient extra capacity for National Express East Coast to run 12 additional services between Leeds and London each day.[17][18]
  • A new platform at London Kings Cross was opened on 20 May 2010. This was originally to be called "Platform Y".[19] Instead it was named platform 0 to avoid confusion of lettered and numbered platforms. The platform will be renamed platform 1 after major restoration work to the station is complete.[20]
  • The southern side of York station was given new track and signalling systems. An additional line (a fourth track at Holgate Junction) and new junction were completed in early 2011. This work helped to remove one of the bottlenecks on the East Coast Main Line. Previously, trains would sometimes have to wait before entering the station. The improvements allow for better flow of trains in and out of the station.[19][21][22]
  • Provision of a grade-separated junction to the north of Hitchin (the Hitchin flyover) enabling down Cambridge trains to cross the main line[19][23][24] The work was completed by 26 June 2013[25]

Proposed developments

Over the years successive infrastructure managers have developed schemes for route improvements.[11]

These include the following:

  • Linking the ECML to Thameslink as part of the Thameslink Programme (for First Capital Connect commuter services to be extended to south London).
  • Quadrupling the Welwyn North section, involving probable double-decking of the viaduct and duplication of the two tunnels[26]
  • Full reversible signalling over the Stilton Fen section
  • Power supply upgrades along the route, including some OLE support improvements and rewiring
  • Power supply enhancement on the diversionary Hertford Loop route
  • Provision of a new Up bay platform at Doncaster station
  • Enhanced passenger access to the platforms at Peterborough and Stevenage
  • Increasing maximum speeds on the fast lines to between 125 mph and 140 mph in conjunction with the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme
  • Replacement of the Newark North Gate Flat Crossing with a flyover[27]
  • Major remodelling of Peterborough station[19]
  • A new flyover at Shaftholme Junction in South Yorkshire, near the former Joan Croft station, to allow freight trains from Immingham to pass over the line on their way to Eggborough and Drax power stations, due for completion by the end of 2013[19][22]
  • Reopening of freight diversionary routes
  • The line section between London King's Cross to the approach of Doncaster will be signaled with Level 2 ERTMS. The target date for operational ERTMS services is December 2018 with completion in 2020[28]
  • An £8.6 million redevelopment of Newcastle Central Station will be undertaken enhancing the existing station and provide a state-of-the-art station for thousands of passengers.[29]


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 with inevitable consequences.
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 slid 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.
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 0 1 'Glasgow to Colchester' Goods train was derailed at Goswick.[30][31]
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.[32]
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.
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.
Copmanthorpe rail crash 25 September 2006 1 A car crashed through a fence onto the line.

Passenger volume

Popular culture

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.


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