West Anglia Main Line

West Anglia Main Line

Type Commuter rail, Suburban rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Termini Liverpool Street, London
Stations 28
Owner Network Rail
Rolling stock
Number of tracks 2–4
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 100 mph (160 km/h) maximum

West Anglia Main Line

Fen Line
55 mi 52 ch
89.56 km
Varsity Line
Cambridge Line
52 mi 36 ch
84.41 km
Stour Valley Railway
River Cam
Whittlesford Parkway
49 mi 1 ch
78.88 km
46 mi 23 ch
74.49 km
Newmarket & Chesterford Rly
River Cam
Great Chesterford
45 mi 56 ch
73.55 km
Littlebury Tunnel (
407 yd
372 m
Audley End Tunnel (
456 yd
417 m
Saffron Walden Railway
Audley End
41 mi 55 ch
67.09 km
39 mi 72 ch
64.21 km
Elsenham & Thaxted Light Rly
Stansted Airport London Stansted Airport
36 mi 67 ch
59.28 km
Stansted Tunnel (
1.0 mi
1.6 km
184 yd
168 m
35 mi 45 ch
57.23 km
Stansted Mountfitchet
33 mi 28 ch
53.67 km
Bishop's Stortford to
Braintree Branch Line
Bishop's Stortford
30 mi 27 ch
48.82 km
River Stort Navigation
26 mi 57 ch
42.99 km
Harlow Mill
24 mi 36 ch
39.35 km
Harlow Mill aggregate terminal
Harlow Town
22 mi 59 ch
36.59 km
River Stort Navigation
20 mi 9 ch
32.37 km
River Lee Navigation
Hertford East Branch Line
17 mi 17 ch
27.7 km
Cheshunt Lea Valley Lines
14 mi 1 ch
22.55 km
Lea Valley Lines
Great Eastern Main Line
Stratford London Underground Docklands Light Railway Crossrail London Overground
4 mi 3 ch
6.5 km
London Liverpool Street
0 mi 0 ch
0 km
London Underground Crossrail London Overground

The West Anglia Main Line is one of the two main lines from Liverpool Street, the other being the Great Eastern Main Line to Ipswich and Norwich. It runs generally north through Cheshunt, Broxbourne, Harlow, Bishop's Stortford and Audley End (near Saffron Walden) to Cambridge, with branches serving Stratford, Hertford and Stansted Airport. The line runs along the boundary between Hertfordshire and Essex for much of its length.

In the early years the line was the main route from London to Norwich, now primarily a commuter route for stations between Cambridge and London. It was an important goods route for many years as the southern end of a route from coalfields in Yorkshire.

Detail on the routes in London are in the Lea Valley Lines article.


The first section was built for the Northern and Eastern Railway from Stratford to Broxbourne and opened in 1840. It was extended northwards in stages, reaching Spellbrook, 3 miles (5 km) short of Bishops Stortford, in 1842. In 1843 the line reached Bishops Stortford, and in the following year the Northern and Eastern Railway was leased by the Eastern Counties Railway. It was this railway company opened the section from Bishops Stortford to Cambridge as part of its extension to Ely and Brandon in 1845.

By the 1860s the railways in East Anglia were in financial trouble, and most were leased to the Eastern Counties Railway. Although they wished to amalgamate formally, they could not obtain government agreement for this until 1862, when the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was formed by amalgamation.[1]

The opening of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway in 1882 saw the Great Eastern open up a direct link with coal-producing areas in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire joining the line north of Cambridge at Chesterton Junction, generally routed to the large marshalling yards at Temple Mills.

Following the grouping in 1923 the line became part of the London & North Eastern Railway.

In 1948 following nationalization the line passed to British Railways Eastern Region.

In 1952 the branch from Elsenham to Thaxted (known as the "Gin & Toffee Line") closed to passengers, and goods services were withdrawn a year later. The Saffron Walden line closed to passengers on 7 September 1964 and to freight three months later.

Electrification first came in the early 1960s in sections. Electrification to Chingford included the Stratford – Lea Bridge – Hall Farm Junction section (although this was never completed), and the line from Liverpool Street to Broxbourne via Seven Sisters and the Southbury Loop was electrified. The route via Tottenham Hale was still operated by diesel traction, the British Rail Class 125 'Lea Valley' DMUs.[2]

The line from Clapton Junction (on the Chingford line) through Tottenham Hale to Cheshunt and from Broxbourne to Bishops Stortford was electrified on 9 March 1969[3] and from there to Cambridge in 1987. Stratford to Coppermill Junction was electrified in 1989. The power supply is 25 kV AC overhead line.

In 1991 a branch line to Stansted Airport was opened, and services to London Liverpool Street commenced.

The Network Rail Greater Anglia Route Utilisation Strategy, published in December 2007, outlined a number of developments. Proposals for 2009–14 include the extension of remaining non-compliant platforms on the Liverpool Street-Cambridge route and at Stansted Airport to handle 12 cars; the reinstatement of 9-car trains during peak times on the Hertford East, Enfield Town, Cheshunt via Southbury and Chingford branch services, requiring a small amount of infrastructure; stabling and maintenance facilities for the larger, enhanced fleet; removal of the three level crossings between Tottenham Hale and Waltham Cross; and power supply to be enhanced for some of these options and likely future requirements.[4]

In early 2011, ticket barriers were installed at Bishop's Stortford, Harlow Town, Broxbourne, Cheshunt and Hackney Downs, some of the busiest stations on the line, to reduce the need for ticket inspectors on the Stansted Express service and reduce fare evasion. By 2014 selected stations had had their platforms extended to enable 12-car trains to Cambridge.

A station was proposed near Clapton called Queens Road but never opened.[5]

Service (2014)

Services from Liverpool Street to Cambridge, Hertford East and Stansted Airport are operated by Abellio Greater Anglia.

Express services from Liverpool Street to Stansted Airport are operated by Stansted Express, a brand of Abellio Greater Anglia.

Services from Stansted Airport to Cambridge (and onward to Birmingham New Street via Peterborough) are operated by CrossCountry.

The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 5, which comprises SRS 05.01 and part of 05.05. It is classified as a London and South East commuter line.[6]

In London, the line forms the Tottenham Hale branch of the Lea Valley Lines.


The line was initially 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge, but between 5 September and 7 October 1844 it was converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge.

In 2013 the line was double track for most of its length, with small sections of single track on the Stansted branch and at Ware and quadruple track between Hackney Downs and Liverpool Street. The line is electrified at 25 kV AC and has a loading gauge of W8 except for the Stansted branch, which is W6.[6]

Engine sheds

Stratford engine shed had the biggest concentration of steam locomotives (555 in January 1923) supplying the line, the Great Eastern Main Line, extensive suburban services out of Liverpool Street and numerous shunting and freight locomotives.

There was a significant steam shed at Cambridge (178 in January 1923), which supplied the line, a number of cross-country lines and services to King's Cross.

There were smaller sheds at Broxbourne and Bishops Stortford with smaller engines for all-stations trains. In 1923 locomotives were allocated to Stratford but everyday maintenance was the responsibility of the smaller sheds.

Following dieselisation in the 1960s Stratford became the major depot with nearly all the other depots closing. Cambridge became a diesel multiple unit (DMU) depot and maintained a small allocation of shunting locomotives. Most other workings were supplied by March depot on the March to Peterborough line.

Electrification in the 1960s and 1970s saw electric trains generally allocated to Ilford depot on the Great Eastern Main Line. In 2014 there are stabling sidings at Cambridge, Bishops Stortford and Orient Way (between Lea Bridge and Stratford). Other units are stabled at Chingford or Ilford.

Locomotives and rolling stock

Throughout the steam era trains were predominantly hauled by Great Eastern Railway (or its constituent companies') locomotives: when steam ended in East Anglia in the 1960s some of these locomotives were still operated – see Stratford TMD and Great Eastern Railway. After the grouping of 1923 LNER-designed locomotives were used with the B17 4-6-0 class working many main line services. Following nationalisation in 1948 British Railways introduced the Britannia 4-6-2 class on some main line services until succeeded by diesels in the late 1950s.

East Anglia was the first area to be worked completely by diesel trains with Class 31s taking over some express workings. These were succeeded by more powerful Class 37 and Class 47 until full electrification to King's Lynn in the 1980s when Class 86 locomotives took over.

Suburban services from about 1958 were operated by British Rail Class 125 DMUs, and following the 1969 electrification Class 305 and Class 308 units. Other units from the GE section such as Class 302 and 306 also operated services during this period.[7]

These were replaced by Class 317 units and in 2014 mostly Class 317s and new Bombardier Class 379s. Class 170 DMUs operate from Stansted Airport north through Cambridge to Birmingham on Cross Country services only.

Future developments

A WAGN EMU travels through Harlow Town station in 2001.

If Stansted Airport's expansion is authorised it is planned that the line will see many further changes. Long term proposals include four-tracking between Coppermill Junction and Broxbourne junction; an additional tunnel and platform edge on the Stansted Airport branch; one additional train per hour serving Stansted and up to six further trains per hour at peak times, including four into Stratford as a terminus.[4] More stations, such as Broxbourne, will also have platform extensions to accommodate 12-car trains.

It seems likely that two tracks will be built alongside the line to Cheshunt as part of Crossrail 2. Intermediate stations from Tottenham Hale will transfer to Crossrail 2 releasing capacity on the main line for additional trains.[8]


  1. Vaughan, Adrian (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. London: John Murray. pp. 134, 135. ISBN 0 7195 5150 1.
  2. Mitchell, Vic; Dave Brennand (January 2014). Stratford – Cheshunt. Midhurst: Middleton Press. p. 96. ISBN 978 1 908174 53 6.
  3. Mitchell, Vic; Dave Brennand (January 2014). Stratford – Cheshunt. Midhurst: Middleton Press. p. 3. ISBN 978 1 908174 53 6.
  4. 1 2 "Greater Anglia Route Utilisation Strategy" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  5. Brown, Joe (2006). London Railway Atlas (1st ed.). Ian Allan Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 0-7110-3137-1.
  6. 1 2 "Route 5 – West Anglia" (PDF). Network Rail. Retrieved 2009-05-22.
  7. Mitchell, Vic; Dave Brennand (January 2014). Stratford – Cheshunt. Midhurst: Middleton Press. pp. 106, 110, 120. ISBN 978 1 908174 53 6.
  8. "The Transport Committee: Crossrail and the Overground Talk Shop". London Reconnections. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
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