East Coast Mainline

East Coast Mainline

The upgrading of the 393 mile (632km) UK rail route between London and Edinburgh, and its key divergences serving Leeds, Bradford and Glasgow is amongst infrastructure-owner Network Rail’s largest projects, taking second place behind the West Coast Main Line.
The route is the spine of Eastern England and Scotland and has been at the forefront of investment since the age of steam. In 1991 it was electrified to Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, but it is now struggling to cope with current increases in traffic and future projections.

It carries almost 2,000 passenger and 250 freight trains per day. Current projections are for a 40% to 50% rise in Inter-City passenger traffic, 30% to 40% in local/cross-country traffic and a 20% rise in freight.

Inter-City trains are currently operated by Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), a subsidiary of Sea Containers. However it shares substantial parts of the core route (London-Edinburgh) with three freight operators and eight other passenger operators.

Upgrade Project

Before it got into financial difficulty at the end of 2001, Railtrack was planning to spend up to £1.6 billion over ten years to remodel track and junctions to remove bottlenecks. Phase one is complete, the £165 million reconstruction of the station area and track layout at Leeds. It allows the processing of 40 trains per hour, compared with 28 previously. Another scheme approved is the remove of the bottleneck at Allington Junction (Grantham) and an increase in line speeds.

In the longer term, line speeds will be raised to 140mph and could allow for tilting trains. There has been a radical proposal by franchise-bidder Virgin Trains to build a £6 billion ’diversion’ between Peterborough and York, providing 120 miles of 136mph (220km/h) TGV-style two-track railway, and the existing ’classic’ line retained for secondary use. Network Rail, however, sees the ideal solution as a ’six-track’ railway over 100 miles, by refurbishing under-used parallel routes to the ECML.


The main constraint on growth is the lack of capacity imposed by basic track layouts and signalling systems. Many major junctions and sections of the route are shared with commuter or regional trains.
The line also crosses challenging terrain in its southern half as it cuts through hills on the approach to London with numerous tunnels and a viaduct. The proximity of housing in the Capital means that widening the line to four or six tracks would be expensive.

Rolling Stock

Franchised train operator GNER operates a fleet of 31 6,090hp (4,540kW) Class 91 locomotives built by BREL (now Adtranz) at Crewe Works. These work in push-pull mode with 31 nine-car Mk4 coaches plus driving van trailers built by Metro-Cammell (Now Alstom). The trains were introduced from 1991; designed to run at 140mph (225kmh) and could be retro-fitted with tilt because they have chamfered bodysides.

To serve non-electrified sections (Hull, Harrogate, Inverness and Aberdeen) GNER uses nine 125mph diesel-powered High Speed Trains, with dedicated power cars at either end. Their formations have recently been augmented with an extra passenger vehicle.
GNER also leases three Regional Eurostars, which run between London, Leeds and York (they are not permitted anywhere else on the route).


The East Coast Main Line is seen as a front-runner for fitting the new European Trains Control System (ETCS) which must be adopted on all 125mph routes following a European Union directive. This incorporates Automatic Train Protection controls and trains receive signalling information from lineside transponders.
The route is fully signalled with colour lights and between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Glasgow is equipped for bi-directional running. Most signalling was renewed when the line was electrified, and is controlled from seven signalboxes.

The Future

The franchise was let to GNER in 1996 for seven years (later extended to nine). The annual subsidy Government subsidy will have fallen from £62 million to zero during that time.
If it wins a franchise renewal contract in 2005, GNER is contemplating new diesel trains or advanced tilting trains similar to the Pendolino trains ordered for the West Coast Main Line by Virgin.

Services Provided

Since August 1999 Corus has provided a multi-functional Consultancy service to Network Rail Project Delivery and the ECML Programme Management Team, in its upgrading of the East Coast Main Line and Diversionary routes.

Working under Partnership Agreement, Corus has provided input on infrastructure changes on the East Coast mainline from Kings Cross to Berwick.

The initiatives Corus has worked on include:

• Main Line Gauging
• Permanent Way Schemes
• Freight Diversions
• Feasibility studies: gauging, route availability, earthworks surveillance

Corus has been asked to carry out further feasibility studies on the following key elements of the programme:

• GN/GE route - Werrington Jn. To Doncaster via Lincoln
• Northallerton to Ferryhill via Stockton
• Leamside branch reopening
• Kings Cross Platform ’O’
• Peterborough Remodelling

Arup developed and operated an Environmental Design Management (EDM) process during feasibility design work to upgrade the existing railway infrastructure for the Strategic Rail Authority.

The aim of the EDM process was early identification of potential environmental impacts so that designs could incorporate mitigation measures and produce an auditable document tracing the influence of environmental issues on the design of each scheme.

Desk-top environmental appraisals for each of three proposed scheme options identified major environmental constraints and potential environmental impacts and were used to influence the final designs proposed by the team.

Statement by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to Railtrack’s increase in cost estimates for the upgrade of the East Cost Main Line

The Deputy Prime Minister said:
"I view with grave concern the increase in Railtrack’s cost estimates for the East Coast Main Line (ECML) announced by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) today. I have therefore asked the Chairman of the SRA, Sir Alastair Morton, to advise me urgently of the reasons for this, why this information has only become available at this late stage and what the implications are for the ECML refranchising process now taking place."

Engineering work this autumn will affect services north of Newcastle.

The East Coast Main Line will be closed between Newcastle and Edinburgh every Saturday and Sunday from 11/12 September until 13/14 November 2004. GNER services will be diverted via Carlisle and will not serve Glasgow Central during this period. Special timetables will apply.
Weekend services to and from Bradford, Skipton, Harrogate, including some trains on Friday evenings and Monday mornings, will also be affected and generally will not be through trains beyond Leeds. GNER have issued the following information for services. Details of weekend services are available on their web site or from National Rail Enquiries up until the weekend of 16/17 October.

The following GNER trains will not run between Leeds and Skipton, Harrogate or York: Passengers are required to use other trains for local journeys or to connect.

Virgin’s 200mph East Coast vision

The East Coast line is based at King’s Cross in London
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is planning a £5bn bid for one of the busiest rail routes in the UK, the East Coast main line.

Virgin wants to introduce European-style high-speed trains, capable of speeds of up to 205 miles per hour, on the London-to-Edinburgh route.
That would cut the journey time on that journey to just over three hours.

Virgin is bidding for the next 20-year licence to operate the line, which is being auctioned by the Strategic Rail Authority and begins in 2003.

Virgin TGVs

Sir Richard already owns two other rail franchises, the West Coast main line and the Cross-Country line.

The East Coast line has seen traffic rise 26% since 1996, to 16m customers.

It is currently operated by GNER, which is owned by shipping company Sea Containers.

Virgin said that its plans would allow rail companies to beat out competition from airlines on the domestic routes.

"To get all-around benefits to all the cities and counties that can be served by the East Coast main line, a new high-speed line with the fastest trains in Europe, is the only answer," Virgin said.

It plans to build a new track between Peterborough and Newcastle in order to operate French-style TGVs (trains grand vitesse) like the Eurostar London-to-Paris train on its route.

Virgin says it will cost £3.5bn to upgrade the track, and £1.8bn to purchase 60 TGV trains which would be built in Birmingham and would be fully operational by 2009.

Virgin already has plans to upgrade the trains on its West Coast main line by introducing tilting trains by 2003.

Virgin says its application is supported by the other East Coast train operators, Prism (which runs the West Anglia Great Northern), GB Railways (Anglia) and National Express (Midland Main Line).

The rail authority will announce its decision in September. The existing operator, GNER, is also bidding to retain its franchise.

Virgin has been criticised for its poor performance on the West Coast main line, which has suffered from delays in track upgrading.

Firms battle for East Coast line

GNER was awarded the franchise in 1996
Four companies have entered the race to take over the running of one of Britain’s busiest rail lines.
GNER which currently operates trains on the East Coast Main Line faces a challenge to win a new franchise from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).
First Group, Danish Railways and the Inter City-Railways consortium - comprising Stagecoach, Virgin and Deutsche Bahn - will also bid.
The new franchise for the line will run from May 2005 for seven years.
It involves providing services between London, parts of East Anglia, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, Humberside, the North East and Scotland along the East Coast Main Line and other routes.

’Detailed bids’

The SRA expects to announce a preferred bidder this winter.
SRA Chairman Richard Bowker said: "All of these parties are strong players with considerable rail experience.
"It is particularly good to see strong international participation.
"The parties had to reach a high threshold to pre-qualify, and we now look forward to inviting them to submit detailed bids outlining what they will do for passengers and taxpayers."
Christopher Garnett, GNER’s chief executive, said earlier that the company was ready for the tough competition.
He said: "There is a lot of good work to build on and much more to do. Our goal is to continue to be the best rail operator in Britain.
Flagship route
"We look forward to serving our passengers and communities on this flagship route for many years to come and to keep raising standards on their behalf."
First Group, which has taken over the Trans Pennine franchise from Arriva Trains Northern, also said it regarded the East Coast route as core territory for them.
First’s chief executive Moir Lockhead said: "We look forward to working with the Strategic Rail Authority and all of our stakeholders on proposals to develop this flagship route.
"We welcome the opportunity to deliver substantially improved performance and high quality service to customers along the East Coast Mainline."
The Joint Venture will be one-third owned by Stagecoach, Virgin and Deutsche Bahn as partners and will bid for intercity rail franchises in the UK.
The Joint Venture will operate independently of Virgin and Stagecoach’s existing UK rail interests.
It said details of the bid would not be made public until the appropriate time but passengers could expect an "innovative bid, involving rolling stock and service enhancements".

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