Bittern Line

Bittern Line
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Norfolk
East of England
Termini Norwich
Stations 10
Opened 1874-77
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Abellio Greater Anglia
Character Rural Branch line
Rolling stock Class 153 "Sprinter"
Class 156 "Sprinter"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Line length 30.41 mi (48.94 km)
Number of tracks 1-2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The Bittern Line[1] is a railway line from Norwich to Cromer then Sheringham[2] in Norfolk, England. It is one of the most scenic in the East of England traversing the Norfolk Broads on its route to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the North Norfolk Coast. The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 7, SRS 07.11 and is classified as a rural line.[3] It is named after the bittern, a rare bird found in the reedy wetlands of Norfolk.


The line was opened between Norwich and North Walsham in 1874 by the East Norfolk Railway, and reached Cromer by 1877. The rest of the line, between Cromer and Sheringham, was opened in 1887 using a section of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway line (a further section of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway running from Sheringham to Holt is preserved as the North Norfolk Railway).

The Bittern Line Partnership was set up by Norfolk County Council in 1997.

In November 2006 track renewal work began with whole lengths of the old track being lifted and new rails and sleepers being installed, along with new level crossing points. The work will improve the ride comfort and safety and reduce noise levels for those living near to the track. The work was carried out by Balfour Beatty on behalf of Network Rail.

The line was designated a community rail line by the Department for Transport on 28 September 2007.

Passenger numbers are increasing, and the route has seen a number of service improvements in recent years, including two additional trains in the evening (one an hour after the previous last train, and one filling in a two-hour gap before the last train), and the next timetable will see the Sunday service improved from two-hourly to hourly.

Bittern Line

North Norfolk Railway
(former M&GN to Melton Constable)
Station Road
West Runton
Cromer (Beach)
Cromer High

Roughton Road

Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway
to Yarmouth Beach via Mundesley-on-Sea
to Great Yarmouth
Guntonfor Northrepps Aerodrome
to Great Yarmouth
B1150 to Coltishall
to Cromer Beach via Mundesley-on-Sea
to Yarmouth Beach
Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway
to Melton Constable
North Walsham

Bure Valley Railway

former line to County School

B1354 to Coltishall
Hoveton and Wroxhamfor The Broads
River Bure
to Norwich
to Norwich
Wherry Lines
River Yare
River Yare

Great Eastern Main Line


The towns and villages served by the route are listed below.[4]


Passenger services are operated by Abellio Greater Anglia. The line is also used by freight services which are operated by GB Railfreight, part of Groupe Eurotunnel S.A. The line also sees freight services taking gas condensate from a terminal at North Walsham to Harwich.

A service was in place that sent spent ballast to North Walsham for onwards sale and disposal. This service has now ceased as the contract with Frimstone for spent TfL ballast has finished.


The line is double track from Norwich to Hoveton and Wroxham where the line becomes single track, with a passing loop at North Walsham, and a two platform station at Cromer also allowing passing. The line is not electrified, has a loading gauge of W8 between Norwich and Roughton Road and W6 from Roughton Road to Sheringham, and a line speed of between 40-75 mph.[3]

The line was resignalled in 2000, leading to the closure of a number of mechanical signal boxes with control moving to a panel in the Trowse Swing Bridge control room. This saw the end of one of the few remaining sections of single track main line controlled by tokens. It is arguable that this is not a real improvement since there have been a number of serious failures causing full or partial suspension of service during electrical storms. This is due to the system using high frequency pulses in the rail as opposed to standard track circuits to operate level crossings. The resignalling meant that Cromer signal box, the last surviving M&GN example, was decommissioned; however it has been saved as a museum.

The line uses Class 153, Class 156 and Class 170 diesel multiple units.

One of the main signalling problems lies in the data loggers at Whitlingham Junction which when the failsafe system trips them requires a manual reset. The same system has been installed on the Marston Vale Line between Bedford and Bletchley, but the system was installed using automatic reset for the data loggers. Network Rail claim that they cannot justify the £93,000 to replace the manual ones at Whitlingham.

Proposed developments

Rackheath station

A new station is included as part of the Rackheath eco-town which would be served by a 15-minute service during peak time.[6] The building of the town may also mean a short freight spur being built to transport fuel to fire an on-site power station. The plans for the settlement received approval from the government in July 2009.[7]

The Sheringham Link

The second train to use the new level crossing, Saturday 24 April 2010

After a period of 36 years the link between the Bittern Line and the North Norfolk Railway was reinstated on 11 March 2010 on the occasion of the opening of a new level crossing at Sheringham. Occasional use by charter trains and visiting rolling stock is anticipated, not more than twelve times a year.


  2. OS Explorer Map 252 - Norfolk Coast East. ISBN 978-0-319-23815-8.
  3. 1 2 "Route 7 - Great Eastern" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  4. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 2008-11-16.
  5. Ordnance Survey (2005). OS Explorer Map OL40 - The Broads. ISBN 0-319-23769-9.
  6. "Transport". Rackheath eco-community.
  7. "Airfield eco-town plan selected". BBC News. 2009-07-16. Retrieved 2009-07-19.

External links

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