East Coast Main Line

Ceiling, Ticket Hall, Waverley Station
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Ceiling, Ticket Hall, Waverley Station

The first and fastest of the two cross-border routes connecting London with Scotland, the East Coast Main Line (ECML) provides direct services from London King's Cross to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. It was formed from regional railways which connected one to another but, unlike the West Coast Main Line, the Scottish section from Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed was the first to open on the 22nd June 1846. This was the initiative of the North British Railway Company, based in Edinburgh. The London to York section was principally the work of the Great Northern Railway and opened in 1849, while other parts came together as the North Eastern Railway in 1854. The Edinburgh-Aberdeen line opened in sections between 1838 and 1881, built by the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway, Edinburgh & Northern Railway, North British Railway, the Dundee & Arbroath Railway and the Aberdeen Railway, but it was not continuous until the Forth Bridge and its approaches were completed by the North British Railway in 1889. By this time the Caledonian Railway had taken over the Dundee & Arbroath and the Aberdeen Railway, and joint running with the North British took place between Dundee and Aberdeen. From 1923 these regional companies came together as the London and North Eastern Railway and, for the first time, the line was operated as an integrated whole. Nationalisation followed in 1948.

The ECML between King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley was electrified in the late 1980s at a cost of over £500 million. This involved the construction of more than 28,000 masts to support wiring above 1400 miles (2252 km) of track, the raising of bridges, adjustments to tunnels and improved track geometry for high-speed running. The rejuvenated line was formally inaugurated by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 28th June 1991. Limited stop services can now complete the 393-mile / 632-km journey to Edinburgh in as little as four hours. A succession of speed records have been set on the line. In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached 100 mph (160 km/h) near Essendine in the East Midlands. Four years later, the Mallard achieved 126 mph (202 km/h) between Grantham and Peterborough, which remains the world record for a steam locomotive. In 1973 a prototype diesel InterCity 125 High Speed Train reached 143.2 mph (229 km/h) between York and Darlington, while the highest speed on standard track in the UK of 161.7 mph (259 km/h) was achieved by an InterCity 225 train on a test run in 1989. Electrification of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line was completed in 2016, but services destined for Aberdeen or Inverness continue to use diesel traction, and the line speeds over the Edinburgh-Aberdeen route are slower (100 mph / 160 km/h maximum) with a further restriction being the single track section to the south of Montrose, including the South Esk and Ferryden Viaducts. Therefore, the 130-mile / 210 km journey to Aberdeen takes a further three hours.

While the line remains owned and maintained by Network Rail, a public-sector arm's length company, train services are now operated by private franchise-holders. The line carries more than 20 million passengers each year, together with freight, although the majority of freight is carried on the southern section the line rather than to Scotland, where the West Coast Main Line predominates. Further upgrades to increase capacity were completed in 2019.

The Edinburgh-Aberdeen section passes along a picturesque coast and incorporates the iconic Forth and Tay Bridges. There are branch lines to North Berwick, the Fife Circle Line and Ladybank-Perth, with the Dundee and Perth Railway providing a cross-country connection to Glasgow via Stirling.

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