Prototype Profile: The East Coast Main Line

Prototype Profile: The East Coast Main Line

UK railroad map

A Map of British main lines, including the ECML.

The United Kingdom have always been leaders in railway innovation. The first steam locomotive-powered train appeared in the UK in 1811, a rack (or cog) railway that hauled coal from the Middleton Colliery to the destination in Leeds. In 1830, when the first steam locomotive appeared in the United States, the UK opened its first intercity route – the Liverpool and Manchester. Today, the UK remains a leader in railway innovation and intercity rail traffic is still hugely important. We look at one UK route this week in the Prototype Profile: The East Coast Main Line.

The East Coast Main Line has its origin in three separate railways dating from the late 1840s – the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. For nearly a century, these three operated independently but in partnership. In 1923, though, the three were combined to form the London and North Eastern and then 25 years later they became part of British Railways. After British Railways was privatized in 1995, the East Coast Main Line, or ECML, was spun off and several different rail companies operate both passenger and freight traffic along the route. The modern ECML route is from London in the south to Edinburgh in the north, with a several branches and connections along the way.

2 trains at London King's Cross

Two trains at the London King’s Cross station

Today, the primary passenger traffic on the ECML is handled by Virgin Trains East Coast, owned in part by Sir Richard Branson. Other passenger operations include Great Northern, Hull Trains, East Midland, and others. Freightliner, DB Schenker, and GBRf handle most of the freight traffic on the ECML.

The route’s southern terminus at London King’s Cross is famously commemorated in the Harry Potter books and films. Harry and others board the Hogwarts Express at London King’s Cross on the fantastical Platform 9 ¾. Today, the King’s Cross station includes an area labelled as Platform 9 ¾, with a luggage cart partially embedded in the concrete wall. The route has also been included in numerous other films and television shows and included as a route in the Trainz: A New Era and in the Train Simulator 2017 games.

Hogwarts Express

The Hogwarts Express originates and terminates at the London King’s Cross station in the fictional world of Harry Potter.

Like other routes and lines discussed in previous Prototype Profiles, the East Coast Main Line is included on the “bucket list” of many railfans worldwide. The history, the beauty of the terrain the line traverses, and the mix of electric and diesel rail traffic makes it a highly desirable railway to photograph and to model.

Coal train at Doncaster

A coal train on the ECML at Doncaster.









*All photos used licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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