27 November 2007

The end is nigh

Today saw Peter and myself visit the East Coast Main Line (ECML) to take some photos of GNER trains before the franchise is taken over by National Express on 9 December 2007. Similar to the sight we saw on the eve of the end of Central Trains operations many of the vinyls denoting that franchise name had been removed, with many complete HST sets that passed us by wearing no identifying names whatsoever. Of the Class 91 (electric) trains that shot by at high speed with branding removed only the main engine unit bore GNER lettering.

The photo at the top was taken from one of only two bridges in the unitary authority of Rutland that crosses the ECML - a tiny amount of this area encroaches onto the ECML around the tiny village of Essendine near Stamford.

There were still numerous GNER sets that bore full branding throughout though of those in the transition period it was interesting to see what intermediate alterations National Express has planned. Unlike the prominent white that can be seen on all the coaches operating along its UK-wide network, very little seems to be altering on the ECML: the dark blue colour seen on all current GNER trains seems set to stay although the red horizontal stripe running under the windows from end-to-end of each carriage has been replaced by a white stripe on a few carriages we saw in Grantham. The Great North Eastern Railway plaques that are placed in the lower centre of each carriage have started to be removed, too, and are likely to be auctioned off in the near future.

The ECML runs from Kings Cross in central London north to Peterborough via Stevenage and Huntingdon then to Grantham, Newark North Gate, Retford, Doncaster and York. Then towards the North East and Scotland via Darlington, Durham and Newcastle thence Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Dunbar to Edinburgh. There are limited daily extensions beyond Edinburgh to Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen. A Spur north of Doncaster to/from Hull and very frequent arm to/from Wakefield Westgate & Leeds (plus a further daily extension to/from Bradford Forster Square) also exist.

I've always found travel on GNER over the past decade less frought than on other operators' services. This could well have something to do with the lack of integration the ECML has with other national rail lines in the UK: there is no bottleneck along its length such as Birmingham New Street or massive interchange points (other than Kings Cross) even though Edinburgh Waverley station covers the largest area of any rail station in the UK. The ECML is a straightforward linear route.

That is not to say it hasn't made the headlines over the past few years. The Great Heck disaster on 21 February 2001 saw a Land Rover towing a trailer leave the M62 and descend the embankment onto the ECML as a Newcastle-Kings Cross train was approaching at 125mph. 17 October 2000 saw the Hatfield Rail Crash, the result of poor line maintenance by the then maintenance company Railtrack, which derailed a London-Leeds train at 115mph. In both the Hatfield and Great Heck accident, the same electric Class 91 train was invloved - 91023, in both cases the engine suffered only minor damage (facing towards Scotland as all such Class 91 engines are on the ECML). This engine was re-numbered 91132 at the time the Class 91 fleet was being mechanically overhauled.