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Eastern Counties Railway

Eastern Counties Railway
Locale East Anglia/East London
Dates of operation 1839–1862
Successor Great Eastern Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (1844-1862)
Previous gauge 5 ft (1,524 mm) (1839-44)

The Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) was an English railway company incorporated in 1836 intended to link London with Ipswich via Colchester, and then extend to Norwich and Yarmouth.

Construction began in 1837 on the first nine miles at the London end.[1] Construction was beset by engineering and other problems, leading to severe financial difficulties. As a result, the project was truncated to Colchester in 1839.

In 1862 ECR was merged with a number of other companies to form the Great Eastern Railway.


  • Opening 1
  • Extensions 2
  • Track gauge 3
  • Innovations 4
  • Accidents and incidents 5
  • References 6


After being authorised by an Act of Parliament on 4 July 1836, construction of the line began in late March 1837 and the railway opened on 20 June 1839 from a temporary terminus at Devonshire Street in Mile End, east London, as far as Romford in Essex.[2]

On 1 July 1840 the ECR opened an extension at the London end to its permanent terminus at Shoreditch (renamed Bishopsgate in 1846) and at the country end to Brentwood. From 7 March 1843 the line ran all the way to Colchester, a distance of 51 miles; the route is now part of the Great Eastern Main Line.[3]


From 30 July 1845 ECR trains reached Norwich, but via the Northern & Eastern Railway and Norwich & Brandon Railway line, via Stratford, Cambridge, Ely and Brandon. It had leased the partly-completed N&ER from 1 January 1844.

The ECR's Colchester line was extended to Ipswich in 1846, and to Norwich in 1849 by the Eastern Union Railway, with which the ECR made an end-on connection. After a period of poor relations, the ECR took over operation of the EUR on 1 January 1854, formally sanctioned by an Act of Parliament on 7 August 1854.

In 1862 the merged company amalgamated with other East Anglian railways to form the Great Eastern Railway.

Track gauge

The ECR's railway was originally 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge on the recommendation of engineer John Braithwaite: at this time there was no legislation dictating the choice of gauge, and the directors favoured the Great Western Railway's broad gauge of 7 ft (2,134 mm). On grounds of cost Braithwaite recommended the 5 ft gauge to reduce wear on locomotive parts, and the N&ER, planning to use the ECR between Stratford and Bishopsgate, was forced to adopt the same gauge.[4]

With the extension of the railway in the early 1840s it became apparent that 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge was a better choice, and in September and October 1844 gauge conversion was carried out, with the N&ER.


The ECR was the first railway company to use a two-wheel pony truck, in 1859, using the design of American inventor Levi Bissell.

Accidents and incidents

  • In September 1840, a train was in a rear-end collision with a passenger train at Old Ford, Essex. One person was killed.[5]
  • In November 1846, an Inquest was held at the New Inn, Roydon, yesterday week, on the body of Elizabeth Coleman, aged eleven years, who was killed upon the above line. The deceased was, it appeared, endeavouring to cross the line at a point near the Roydon station where the Lockroad crosses the line on a level, when she was struck by the buffer of a Cambridge train, and killed upon the spot. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death"> The inquest would have taken place on Wednesday, November 25th 1846 [6]
  • In September 1853, a freight train came to a halt near Brandon, Suffolk, due to a defect on the locomotive. The driver of a second freight train ignored a red signal and consequently his train was in a rear-end collision with the first. Time interval working was in force.[7]
  • On 20 February 1860, a passenger train derailed at Tottenham when a tyre broke on the locomotive hauling it. Seven people were killed.[8]


  • The Railway Year Book, 1912
  1. ^ Gordon, D.PI. (1977). Thomas, David St John and Patmore, J. Allan, eds. A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain — Volume 5: The Eastern Counties (2nd ed.). Newton Abbott:  
  2. ^ McCarthy, Colin; McCarthy, David (2009). Railways of Britain – London North of the Thames. Hersham, Surrey: Ian Allan Publishing. pp. 15–16.  
  3. ^ White, H.P. (1987). Thomas, David St John, eds. A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain — Volume 3: Greater London (3rd ed.). Dawlish:  
  4. ^ Brooks, Lyn (October 1993). "Broad gauge on the Eastern Counties Railway". Great Eastern Journal: 34. 
  5. ^ Hall, Stanley (1990). The Railway Detectives. London: Ian Allan. p. 20.  
  6. ^ Herapath's Railway and Commercial Journal. Vol. 8. England: Herapath. 1846. p. 1545. 
  7. ^ Vaughan, Adrian (2003) [2000]. Tracks to Disaster. Hersham: Ian Allan. p. 7.  
  8. ^ Trevena, Arthur (1980). Trains in Trouble. Vol. 1. Redruth: Atlantic Books. p. 7.  
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