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Midland Main Line

East Midlands Trains HST at Clay Cross.
Type Inter City, Commuter rail,
Regional rail and Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
East of England
East Midlands
Yorkshire and the Humber
Termini London St. Pancras International
Leeds City
Stations 35 (up to Sheffield)
Opened Stages between 1830s-1860s
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) East Midlands Trains
First Capital Connect
First Transpennine Express
Northern Rail
First GBRf
Depot(s) Crickelwood, Derby, Neville Hill
Rolling stock Class 43/HST
Class 222 "Meridian"
Class 170 "Turbostar"
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
Class 319
Class 377 "Electrostar"
No. of tracks Two-Four
Track gauge Standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Electrification 25kV 50hz AC (South of Bedford)
Operating speed Below 125 mph (201 km/h)

The Midland Main Line is a major railway line in the United Kingdom, part of the British railway system.

The 'modern' line links London St. Pancras International to Sheffield station in northern England via Luton, Bedford, Kettering, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Chesterfield.

Historically the line has extended further north to Manchester in the north west, Leeds in the north east and trains ran through to both Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. The straighter East Coast Main Line initially saw the demise of Midland trains to Leeds and ultimately Scotland due to the longer journey times. Later, electrification of the West Coast Main Line and the Beeching cuts saw Manchester trains withdrawn from the Midland and transferred to the West Coast Main Line.

January 2009 saw the opening of a brand new station, East Midlands Parkway between Loughborough and Trent Junction, to act as a parkway station for the major East Midlands cities and serve East Midlands Airport.[1]

Express passenger services on the line are operated by East Midlands Trains. The section between St Pancras and Bedford is electrified and forms the northern half of the Thameslink suburban service (operated by First Capital Connect), which provides a through service from Bedford to Brighton.

The northern part of the route between Derby and Sheffield forms part of the Cross Country Route and is shared with CrossCountry. The route from Nottingham to Leeds via Barnsley and Sheffield is shared with Northern. TransPennine Express operate through Sheffield. East Midlands Local also operates regional and local services between Nottingham and Leicester / Derby / Sheffield / Manchester.



The Midland Main Line was built in stages between the 1830s and the 1860s, originating in three lines which met at the Tri Junct Station in Derby, which became the Midland Railway.

First to arrive was the line built by the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway from Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire (on the London and Birmingham Railway) to Derby, which opened on 12 August 1839.[2] This section is now known as the Cross-Country Route through Birmingham to Bristol.

A Midland Mainline High Speed Train arrives alongside a Class 170 at St Pancras in 2004

This was followed on 1 July 1840 by the North Midland Railway, which ran from Derby to Leeds Hunslet Lane via Chesterfield, Swinton, Masborough near Rotherham (from where the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway ran a branch to Sheffield Wicker Station) and Normanton. This avoided Sheffield, Barnsley, and Wakefield in order to reduce gradients.

On the same day the Midland Counties Railway, which ran from Derby and Nottingham to Leicester Campbell Street, was extended from Leicester to a temporary station on the northern outskirts of Rugby.[3] A few months later, the Rugby viaduct was finished and the Midland Counties Railway reached the London and Birmingham Railway's Rugby Station. This cut 11 miles off the B&DJR route via Hampton-in-Arden.

When these three companies merged to form the Midland Railway on 10 May 1844,[4] the Midland did not have its own route to London, and relied upon a junction at Rugby with the London and Birmingham's line (which became part of the London and North Western Railway on 1 January 1846) to London Euston for access to the capital.

By the 1850s the junction at Rugby had become severely congested, and so the Midland Railway constructed a route from Leicester to Hitchin on the Great Northern Railway, via Bedford.[5] The line avoids Northampton, a medium town south of Leicester, instead going via Kettering and Wellingborough in the east of Northamptonshire. This line met with similar problems at Hitchin as the former alignment had at Rugby, so in 1868 a line was opened from Bedford via Luton to London St Pancras.[6]

The final stretch of what is considered to be the modern Midland Main Line was a short cut-off from Chesterfield through Sheffield, which opened in 1870.

Also part of the line, as defined by Network Rail,[7] is the Erewash Valley Line, Leicester to Burton upon Trent Line, Oakham to Kettering Line and sections of the Nottingham to Lincoln Line (as far east as Newark) and Birmingham to Peterborough Line (between Nuneaton and Oakham).

Partly to appease the concerns and opposition of landowners along the route, in places some of it was built to avoid large estates and rural towns, and to reduce construction costs the railways followed natural contours, resulting in many curves and bends. This has also resulted in the MML passing through some of the hillier areas of the British mainland, such as Sharnbrook (where there is a 1 in 119 gradient from the south taking the line to 340 feet above sea level). This has left a legacy of lower maximum speeds on the line compared to the other main lines. The solution to similar problems on the West Coast Main Line has been the adoption of tilting trains, Class 390 Pendolino trains introduced by Virgin in 2003.

By 1983, the line had undergone electrification from Moorgate as far north as Bedford. The introduction of the High Speed Train (HST) in May 1983 following the Leicester area resignalling brought about an increase of the ruling linespeed on the fast lines from 90 mph to 110 mph.

Between 2001 and 2003 the section of the Midland Main Line between Derby and Sheffield was upgraded from 100 mph to 110 mph as part of Operation Princess, the Virgin Cross Country route upgrade.

Many plans have been drawn up in a bid to improve speed and journey times only later to be dropped, although more recently with investment easier to come by, the line is set to benefit from 125mph running on extended stretches, improved signalling, increased number of tracks and possible electrification further north.[8]



Barrow upon Soar rail accident

On 1 February 2008, an East Midlands Connect Class 158 158856 working a service from Nottingham railway station to Norwich railway station was involved in an incident at Barrow upon Soar. The train hit a footbridge that was in its path, after a road vehicle had struck and damaged the bridge, causing the bridge to be foul of the running line. Six passengers were on board the service and the driver had to be cut free from his driving cab. The footbridge itself, of Midland Railway heritage, has since been replaced.[9]


The principal operator is East Midlands Trains, which replaced Midland Mainline on 11 November 2007. Other operators include:

Route definition and description

The growth and decline of a Trent railway junction, where lines from Derby, Nottingham and the Erewash converge

The cities, towns and villages served by the MML are listed below. Those in bold are served most of the day by the East Midlands Trains London or other InterCity services. Be aware this section details the original line to Manchester (where it linked to the West Coast Main Line) and Carlisle (via Leeds where it meets with the 'modern' East Coast Main Line).

Network Rail group all lines in the East Midlands and the route north as far as Chesterfield and south to London as route 19. The actual line extends beyond this into routes 10 and 11.

London to Nottingham and Sheffield (Network Rail Route 19)

Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
grid reference
Branches and loops
London London St Pancras High Speed 1 diverges north of St Pancras
Kentish Town, London Kentish Town
West Hampstead, London West Hampstead Thameslink
Cricklewood, London Cricklewood Dudding Hill Line diverges north of Cricklewood
Hendon, London Hendon Dudding Hill Line diverges south of Hendon
Mill Hill, London Mill Hill Broadway
Borehamwood Elstree & Borehamwood
Radlett Radlett
St Albans St Albans City
Harpenden Harpenden
Luton Luton Airport Parkway
Luton Luton
Leagrave, Luton Leagrave
Harlington Harlington
Flitwick Flitwick
Bedford Bedford Midland Marston Vale Line diverges south of Bedford
Wellingborough Wellingborough Midland Road
Kettering Kettering Oakham to Kettering Line diverges north of Kettering at Glendon Jun
**Corby **Corby Oakham to Kettering Line
Market Harborough Market Harborough
Leicester Leicester London Road Birmingham to Peterborough Line diverges south of Leicester at Wigston Junction
Syston Syston Birmingham to Peterborough Line diverges north of Syston
Sileby Sileby
Barrow-upon-Soar Barrow-upon-Soar
Loughborough Loughborough Midland
Ratcliffe-on-Soar (East Midlands Airport) East Midlands Parkway Trent Junction to Clay Cross Junction via Derby (the original line), the Nottingham branch, and the Erewash Valley Line each diverge north of East Midlands Parkway
Via Derby
Long Eaton Long Eaton
Spondon Spondon
Derby Derby Midland Cross Country Route and Crewe to Derby Line diverges south of Derby
Duffield Duffield
Belper Belper
Ambergate Ambergate (old platforms) Derwent Valley Line diverges at Ambergate
Via Nottingham
Attenborough Attenborough
Beeston Beeston
Nottingham Nottingham Northbound trains for the north reverse towards Langley Mill. Other continue onto
the Robin Hood Line, Nottingham to Grantham or Lincoln Lines
Via Erewash Valley (bypassing or calling at Nottingham)
Langley Mill Langley Mill Erewash Valley and Trent Nottingham Lines regoin together south of Langley Mill.
Alfreton Alfreton
Clay Cross Junction to Leeds
Chesterfield Chesterfield Trent Junction to Clay Cross via Derby and Erewash Valley Lines rejoin together south of Chesterfield.
Dronfield Dronfield Hope Valley Line diverges north of Dronfield
Sheffield Sheffield Midland Hope Valley Line diverges south of Sheffield
Sheffield to Lincoln Line diverges north of Sheffield
Sheffield Meadowhall Hallam and Penistone Lines diverges at Meadowhall
Via Doncaster
Doncaster Doncaster Connects to the East Coast Main Line south of Doncaster
Bypassing Doncaster
Wakefield Wakefield Westgate Connects with the East Coast Main Line south of Wakefield Westgate
Leeds Leeds City Leeds City Lines
Tunnel Stations Between
Camden Road Tunnel St Pancras and Kentish Town
Hampstead Tunnel Kentish Town and West Hampstead
Lismore Circus Tunnel Kentish Town and West Hampstead
Belsize Tunnel Kentish Town and West Hampstead
Elstree Tunnel Mill Hill Broadway and Elstree & Borehamwood
Ampthill Tunnel Flitwick and Bedford
Sharnbrook Tunnel (Freight Line only) Bedford and Wellingborough
Knighton Tunnel Market Harborough and Leicester
Red Hill Tunnel East Midlands Parkway and Long Eaton / Trent Junction
Milford Tunnel Duffield and Belper
Toadmoor Tunnel Belper and Chesterfield
Wingfield Tunnel Belper and Chesterfield
Alfreton Tunnel Langley Mill and Alfreton
Clay Cross Tunnel Belper and Chesterfield
Bradway Tunnel Chesterfield and Dronfield

Ambergate Junction to Manchester

For marketing and franchising, this is no longer considered part of the Midland Main Line: see Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway

BR standard class 7 70017 Arrow rounds the curve at Ambergate with The Palatine, September 1958

The line was once the Midland Railway's route from London St Pancras to Manchester, branching at Ambergate Junction along the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, now known as the Derwent Valley Line. In days gone by, it featured named expresses such as The Palatine. Much later in the twentieth century, it carried the Midland Pullman.

Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
grid reference
Ambergate Ambergate
Whatstandwell Whatstandwell
Cromford Cromford
Matlock Bath Matlock Bath
Matlock Matlock
Closed Section Stations
Darley Dale Darley Dale
Rowsley Rowsley
Bakewell Bakewell
Hassop Hassop
Great Longstone Great Longstone
Monsal Dale Monsal Dale
Millers Dale Millers Dale
Blackwell Mill Blackwell Mill
Now part of the Buxton or other lines
Buxton Buxton
Peak Forest Peak Forest (Now Closed)
Chapel-en-le-Frith Chapel-en-le-Frith
Chinley Chinley
Bugsworth Buxworth (Now Closed)
New Mills New Mills Central
Strines Strines
Marple Marple
Romiley Romiley
Bredbury Bredbury
Brinnington Brinnington
Reddish Reddish North
Gorton Ryder Brow
Belle Vue/Gorton Belle Vue
Stockport Stockport (Teviot Dale)
Manchester Manchester Central (Now Closed)
The complex network of road and rail around Ambergate Junction, formerly where Manchester expresses left the mainline

This line was closed in the 1960s between Matlock and Buxton, severing an important link between Manchester and the East Midlands, which has never been satisfactorily replaced by any mode of transport. A section of the route remains in the hands of the Peak Rail preservation group, operating between Matlock and Rowsley to the north.

Leeds to Carlisle

For marketing and franchising, this is no longer considered part of the Midland Main Line: see Settle-Carlisle Railway.

A geographical representation of the aborted Midland Main Line diversion through the West Riding, which would have put Bradford on a through line and provided a direct connection to Scotland. (Existing lines shown in black and the diversion in red).

World War I prevented the Midland Railway from finishing its direct route through the West Riding to join the Settle and Carlisle (which would have cut six miles from the journey and avoided the need for reversal at Leeds).

The first part of the Midland's West Riding extension from the main line at Royston (Yorks.) to Dewsbury was opened before the war. However the second part of the extension was not completed. This involved a viaduct at Dewsbury over the River Calder, a tunnel under Dewsbury Moor and a new approach railway into Bradford from the south at a lower level than the existing railway (a good part of which was to be in tunnel) leading into Bradford Midland (or Bradford Forster Square) station.

The 500 yard gap between the stations at Bradford continues to exist - closing it today would also need to take into account the different levels between the two Bradford stations, a task made easier in the days of electric rather than steam traction, allowing for steeper gradients than possible at the time of the Midland's proposed extension.

Two impressive viaducts remain on the completed part of the line between Royston Junction and Dewsbury as a testament to the Midland's ambition to complete a third direct Anglo-Scottish route. The line served two goods stations and provided a route for occasional express passenger trains before its eventual closure in 1968.

The failure to complete this section ended the Midland's hopes of being a serious competitor on routes to Scotland and finally put beyond all doubt that Leeds, not Bradford, would be the West Riding's principal city. Midland trains to Scotland therefore continued to call at Leeds before travelling along the Aire Valley to the Settle and Carlisle. From Carlisle they then travelled onwards via either the Glasgow and South Western or Waverley route. In days gone by the line enjoyed named expresses such as the Thames-Clyde Express and The Waverley.

Former stations

As with most railway lines in Britain, the route used to serve far more stations than it currently does (and consequently passes close to settlements that it no longer serves). Places that the current mainline used to serve include

Looking south along the Midland Main Line at St. Albans.
A Midland Mainline High Speed Train emerging from Milford Tunnel.
The Erewash Valley Line, part of the Midland Main Line. Seen here at Stapleford.
Track layout on the northern approach to Sheffield station
Leeds railway station, a former key reversal point on the Midland Main Line on the route north

The following on the original North Midland Railway line


Former Midland Mainline Meridian passing through Loughborough

Traffic levels on the Midland Main Line are rising faster than national average, with continued increases predicted. The now defunct Strategic Rail Authority produced a Route Utilisation Strategy for the Midland Main Line in 2006 to propose ways of meeting this demand;[10] Network Rail started work on a new study in February 2008 and this is expected to be finalised early in 2010.[11]

Network Rail's plans

The Midland Main line has for many years been thought of as a 'Cinderella' line and, with the increasing capacity constraints on other lines, the route looks set to benefit from investment and enhancement. Plans for the line include:

  • Re-signalling of the entire route, which is expected to be complete by 2016 when all signalling will be controlled by the East Midlands Signalling centre in Derby.[12]
  • Rebuilding Leicester station which would also involve an enhanced approach layout during re-signalling works.[13]
  • Rebuilding Bedford station.
  • Accessibility enhancements at Loughborough, Luton, Harpenden, Long Eaton, Wellingborough and Elstree & Borehamwood by 2015.[14]
  • Upgraded approach signalling to junctions allowing trains to cross over at higher speeds.
  • Thameslink Programme (see below).
  • Straightening the line at Market Harborough.
  • Electrification.[15]
  • Speeds of up to 125 mph between Elstree & Borehamwood and Red Hill Tunnel South Portal (December 2013 onwards) leading to an 8 minute reduction in London - Sheffield journey times.[16]
First Capital Connect, a rapidly expanding company which will benefit greatly from the Thameslink works

Route Utilisation Strategy

Thameslink Programme

2007 business plan

Network Rail's 2007 business plan for the Midland Main Line [19] talks for the first time in recent years of line speed increases - bringing journey times to Sheffield to under two hours, meaning that journey times would become more competitive with other north-south routes. Highlights include:

  • Kettering south - Harowden Junction (Wellingborough) third bi-directional slow line
  • Syston - Trent south slow line linespeed increases
  • Erewash Valley line resignalling (ongoing)
  • Removal of Clay Cross Junction (2008), new high speed Junction created south of Chesterfield (May 2008)
  • Trent Junction resignalling (April 2009 - January 2010)
  • Bedford & Nottingham stations remodelling
  • Flashing yellow signal aspects added at key junctions - Radlett, Harpenden and Leagrave

Freight utilisation strategy

Network Rail published a Route Utilisation Strategy for freight in 2007;[20] over the coming years a cross-country freight route will be developed enhancing the Birmingham to Peterborough Line, increasing the lines through Leicester, and remodelling Syston and Wigston Junctions.

East Midlands Draft Route Utilisation Strategy


Proposed on the Midland Main Line

Extra services from North Northamptonshire to Derby/Nottingham options:

  • One extra semi fast train between Bedford and Derby which would call at Wellingborough, Kettering with other stations possiable
  • Extra call at Bedford, Wellingborough or Kettering on the Sheffield semi-fast train.

Extra Freight Capcity between Corby and Bedford options:

  • New passing loops on slow lines
  • 4 tracking between Bedford to Kettering North Junction and 2 tracking on the Oakham to Kettering Line

Extra capacity on InterCity services options:

Other included:

  • Faster line speeds
  • Faster junction speeds
  • Electrification
  • Longer loop lengths
  • Longer platform lengths
  • More capacity for rolling stock depots and stabling
  • Larger loading gauge (up to W12)
Also Proposed on the Midland Main Line


  2. ^ "Birmingham and Derby Railway=9 March 2008". 
  3. ^ "Midland Counties Railway=March 9, 2008". 
  4. ^ "Midland Railway=9 March 2008". 
  5. ^ "A Midland Railway chronology>Incorporation and expansion=1998". The Midland Railway Society.. 
  6. ^ "A Midland Railway chronology>London extension=1998". The Midland Railway Society.. 
  7. ^ Route 19 Midland Main Line and East Midlands
  8. ^
  9. ^ Train Driver Critically Injured After Lorry Smashes Into Bridge |Sky News|UK News
  10. ^ "Midland Main Line / East Midlands > Route Utilisation Strategy". Strategic Rail Authority. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  11. ^ "East Midlands". Network Rail.\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies\East%20Midlands&pageid=4449&root=\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  12. ^ "SECRETARY OF STATE OPENS NETWORK RAIL CONTROL CENTRE". Network Rail. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  13. ^ "Plans for £150m station facelift". 2008-03-06. 
  14. ^ DFT: Access For All Stations Access date 4 January 2010
  15. ^ "Working Group 4 – Electrification Strategy". Network Rail.\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies\Network\Working%20Group%204%20–%20Electrification%20Strategy&pageid=4449&root=\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  16. ^ [ "Network Rail CP4 Delivery Plan 2009 Enhancements programme: statement of scope, outputs and milestones Dec 2009 update"]. 
  17. ^ "Thamslink Programme > News". 
  18. ^ "Thameslink Programme > Network Rail". 
  19. ^ "Business Plan 2007 > Route 19 > Midland Main Line & East Midlands". 
  20. ^ "Route Utilisation Strategy > Freight".\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies\Freight&pageid=2895&root=. 
  21. ^ a b Network Rail: East Midlands Draft Route Utilisation Strategy Access date: 4th January 2010]
  22. ^ a b c ATOC: Connecting Communities Report Access date: 4 January 2010
  23. ^ Brent Cross: Better Transport
  24. ^ [ Bedfordshire Railway & Transport Association: Ampthill station] Access date: 4th January 2010


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