Sparks to Norwich
Rail Express|December 2020
Loco-powered services between Liverpool Street and Norwich came to an end earlier this year, although unlike the cessation of HST workings on the East Coast Main Line at the end of 2019, coronavirus meant there was no big farewell. David Russell looks back at 35 years of electric traction on the route.
David Russell

THE Great Eastern Main Line from Liverpool Street to Norwich has been a busy route for many years and one of the most important for long-distance travel in East Anglia. Extension of the earlier outer suburban electrification north of Colchester, including the branch to Harwich, was authorised in November 1982 and completed in three stages to Ipswich in 1985, Harwich in 1986, and finally Norwich in 1987.

Diesels took over from steam between London and Norwich in 1958. EE Type 4 (Class 40) No. D200 hauled the inaugural diesel working on the route, which was the 10.27 Liverpool Street-Norwich on April 18, 1958. Thereafter, the ‘Whistler’ and five classmates Nos. D201-5 became a familiar sight on the route, with Nos. D206-9 joining the fleet at Stratford in 1961.

A further change took place in 1965 when more powerful Brush Type 4 (Class 47) power was introduced, enabling timetable improvements to be made. The ‘47s’ became the usual motive power on the route for the next 20 years, and in the early 1980s several of the Stratford-based locos were upgraded with electric train heating (ETH). This enabled a rolling stock upgrade to take place, with the appearance of air-conditioned Mk.2 coaches cascaded from the East Coast Main Line by the introduction there of HSTs.

LOCO SWAPS AT IPSWICH

Electrification work between Colchester and Ipswich/ Harwich was completed in 1985, the first electric train to operate to Ipswich under its own power being a pair of EMUs, Nos. 305505/10, on a test run on April 9.

The following month saw the introduction of Class 86s on Liverpool Street to Norwich services, although with electrification of the northern section still not complete, this necessitated a change of traction at Ipswich and Stratford-based ‘47s’ continued to be used between there and Norwich. Harwich also saw regular electric services from the May 1985 timetable change, with Class 86s being used on boat trains between Harwich and London, and EMUs on local stopping services.

To mark the launch of the electrics, No. 86246 was named Royal Anglian Regiment at Liverpool Street on May 13 – although the Queen Mother, who unveiled the nameplate, mistakenly referred to it as the ‘Royal Anglican Regiment’. During the first years of operation, there was no specific pool of ‘86s’ that operated on the Great Eastern, and locos would be supplied by the WCML depot at Willesden.

Electrification of the GEML reached Stowmarket a couple of months later, with a trial run using a pair of ‘Clacton’ units (Nos. 309621/26) taking place on July 22. However, it was 1987 before all the work was completed. The same year also saw Class 86s begin to operate between Liverpool Street and Cambridge following electrification of that route.

An event on May 5, 1987 – prior to the introduction of the new timetable six days later – saw No. 86220 (formerly Goliath) renamed The Round Tabler before it undertook a record-breaking run (under 84 minutes) from Norwich to Liverpool Street. However, regular “Norwich in 90” would have to wait until the public timetable in 2019!

Sectorisation saw a dedicated ‘IANA’ pool created in 1988 for InterCity’s Anglia fleet. Class 86s initially allocated to this pool were Nos. 8621416/18-21/23/30/32/35. The locos continued to be based at Willesden, but in March 1989 Ilford depot took over responsibility for the Anglia ‘86s’. Reallocated to Ilford were Nos. 8621416/18/20/21/23/27/30/32/35/37/38/44.

SCOTTISH DBSOs

A development in 1990 was the arrival of the 13 Mk.2f DBSO coaches that had previously been used by ScotRail on its push-pull services between Edinburgh, Glasgow and other Scottish cities. The mass introduction of Class 156 and 158 units in Scotland had replaced many loco-hauled services and rendered these vehicles surplus to requirements north of the border.

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