The Anonymous Widower

The New Fifth Platform At Stevenage Station – 11th October 2019

Stevenage station is getting a fifth platform for the termination of Great Northern services to and from Moorgate station.

  • This platform will be on the down side of the station.
  • A single platform should be able to turnback at least four trains per hour (tph) and possibly as many as six tph, that have used the Hertford Loop Line to come North.
  • Wikipedia says that this will increase the capacity and freqiency on the East Coast Main Line and the Hertford Loop Line.

These are a few pictures of the works.

This page on the Network Rail we site is entitled Stevenage Turnback and it gives more details.

  • improved resilience and reliability is claimed.
  • Two kilometres of new track and a set of points will be added.
  • The embankment on the West side of the track will be strengthened.
  • The signalling will be improved.
  • Two bridges will be modified.

Everything should be completed by Summer 2020, so that the four tph from Moorgate to Stevenage can be resumed.

These are my observations.

  • The work on the West side of the East Coast Main Line seems to be to a very high standard.
  • There seems to be enough space for a possible double-track or a passing loop between the new platform and the Hertford Loop Line in future.
  • The embankment on the West side of the track is being strengthened.
  • Will trains still be able to come from the Hertford Loop and continue North?

It certainly appears to me to be built to allow expansion in the future.

What Frequency Will The New Platform Be Able To Handle?

There are several platforms in the UK, where four tph are turned back.

It looks to me, that there is no reason, why this frequency couldn’t be handled in the new platform at Stevenage.

Especially, as there appears to be at least one crossover between Stevenage and Watton-at-Stone stations.

But could it handle more trains?

The Hertford Loop Line is scheduled to be updated with digital signalling. So in the future, this may be possible, if the need is there!

The Great Northern Metro

It should also be noted that in 2016, Govia Thameslink Railway published plans for a Great Northern Metro. They seemed to have dropped this idea, but I discussed the plan in The Great Northern Metro.

This is a brief summary of those proposals.

  • Fourteen tph in the High Peak.
  • In the Off Peak, there would be six tph to Hertford North, four tph to Welwyn Garden City and two tph to Stevenage.
  • Sunday services are four tph to both branches and two tph to Stevenage.

I do wonder what is the capacity of the Hertford Loop Line.

  • It has grade-separated junctions at both ends of the route.
  • It is double-track throughout.
  • It has 25 KVAC overhead electrification.
  • It has a 75 mph operating speed.
  • It has turnback platforms at Gordon Hill and Hertford North stations.
  • It is planned to equip the route with digital signalling.
  • It is planned to upgrade the power supply.
  • It probably handles a maximum of about eight tph, which can include a couple of freight trains.

I suspect that this route can be improved to handle more and longer trains., at a higher speed than now!

Could Thameslink Use The Hertford Loop Line?

Could some Thameslink services to Cambridge and Peterborough use the Hertford Loop Line, rather than the East Coast Main Line?


  • The Hertford Loop Line will have an increased speed limit.
  • Digital signalling is to be introduced on the route.
  • Trains might only stop at Hertford North, Enfield Chase and Alexandra Palace.
  • Some current Thameslink services between London and Cambridge and Peterborough, run non-stop between Finsbury Park and Stevenage.

Diverting some services to the Hertford Loop Line would have the following advantages.

  • It would relrease capacity on the East Coast Main Line.
  • It would reduce the number of trains using the two-track section over the Digswell viaduct.
  • It could give Hertford a direct link to Cambridge and Peterborough.

The disadvantage would be that services would be a few minutes slower.

140 mph Running On The East Coast Main Line

Under Planned Or Proposed Developments the Wikipedia entry for the EastCoast Main Line says this.

Most of the length of the ECML is capable of 140 mph subject to certain infrastructure upgrades. Below is the foreword of the Greengauge 21 report:

“Upgrading the East Coast Main Line to 140 mph operation as a high priority alongside HS2 and to be delivered without delay. Newcastle London timings across a shorter route could closely match those achievable by HS2..

The section then goes on to describe a lot of improvements with the aim of running between London and Edinburgh in four hours.

The project has a code name of L2E4. There is more information at this page on the Network Rail web site.

South of Peterborough, there are infrastructure and rolling stock limitations, that will stop the Hitachi Class 800 trains running at 140 mph.

  • Extra tracks are needed between Huntington and Woodwalton.
  • There is a double-track section over the Digswell viaduct, through Welwyn North station and the Welwyn tunnels.
  • Thameslink’s Class 700 trains that run services to Cambridge and Peterborough are only capable of 100 mph.
  • Great Northern’s Class 387 trains, that run services to Cambridge and Kings Lynn are only capable of 110 mph.
  • Hull Trains and Grand Central run services with trains that are only capable of 125 mph.

I will deal with these in order.

Extra Tracks Between Huntingdon and Woodwalton

The Wikipedia entry for the East Coast Main Line says this about this project.

Re-quadrupling of the route between Huntingdon and Woodwalton (HW4T) which was rationalised in the 1980s during electrification (part of the ECML Connectivity programme). This also involves the closure and diversion of a level crossing at Abbots Ripton which was approved in November 2017.

This improvement, which will mean continuous quadruple tracks between Stevenage and Peterborough will mean.

  • A few minutes for all trains will be saved.
  • Slower stopping services between London and Peterborough, will be kept out of the way of the 140 mph expresses.

What sort of stink would there be, if a motorway closed in the 1980s was now being rebuilt, to provide what existed forty years ago?

But British Rail closed or simplified infrastructure, without properly looking at the consequences, mainly to please or under the direction of the Treasury.

Double-Track Over Digwell Viaduct And Through Welwyn North Station

This is one of the worst rail bottlenecks in the UK.

To make matters worse, a service between Kings Cross and Cambridge with a frequency of two tph stops at the station.

It means a fast train would have to do a pit stop at speeds nor far off those of a racing car.

I think we can say, that adding extra tracks through the area would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

But consider the trains that pass Welwyn North every hour.

  • LNER – 5 trains
  • Thameslink – 3 trains
  • Cambridge and Ely expresses – 2 trains
  • Cambridge stopping trains – 2 trains.
  • Hull Trains – 7 trains per day.
  • Grand Central – 9 trains per day.

If it is assumed that the Hull Trains and Grand Central add up to one train per hour, it looks like about thirteen tph go through the double track section.

If another couple of trains are added for luck, this means that the double track section will be handling a train every four minutes.

The double-track section is less than five miles long, so a 140 mph train will run between the quadruple track sections at Welwyn Garden City and Knebworth stations  in jut over two minutes.

Currently, the trains that stop at Welwyn North station are timetabled to take nine minutes between stops at Welwyn Garden City and Knebworth stations.

Effectively, the stop at Welwyn North station blocks the double-track section for nine minutes..

This means that there are two twenty-one minute periods in an hour where the other trains can pass through.

So how can you maximise the use of these available periods?

  • The trains must arrive precisely at the right time – Digital signalling with automatic train control is probably the best way to ensure this.
  • All through trains must be running as near to 140 mph as possible.
  • Diverting of slower trains to alternative routes should be examined.
  • The stopping train should be able to execute a stop in the shortest possible time.

I believe that if the timetable is efficient, that as many as twenty tph could be handled.

Most would go through the double-track section at 140 mph!

I must add a point about safety.

Trains currently go through these platforms at Welwyn North station at a maximum speed of 125 mph.

Will more trains going through at a faster speed, necessitate the addition of a passenger protection system at the station?

Thameslink’s Class 700 Trains

I have heard East Midlands drivers moan about Class 700 trains on the Midland Main Line, as they are too slow at 100 mph to mix it with the 125 mph expresses.

It looks like the Treasury got the specification wrong again! Surprise! Surprise! Even a 110 mph capability, as is often specified for outer suburban trains would be better.

But these trains run non-stop between Finsbury Park and Stevenage stations, so at 100-110 mph, they will be a bit of a hindrance to the trains running at 140 mph. It would be like granny and grandpa in a Morris Minor in the fast lane of a motorway!

If there is the capacity, then perhaps the Thameslink trains should run on an upgraded Hertfprd Loop Line along with the 100 mph Class 717 trains.

Once they rejoined the East Coast Main Line, they would take to the upgraded slow lines to go Cambridge and Peterborough.

Great Northern’s Class 387 Trains

Cambridge is one of the UK’s world-class cities and it deserves a top quality service from London.

The current Class 387 trains are only 110 mph trains, so wouldn’t fit well with the herds of 140 mph trains running to and from London.

It would probably be best in the long term to replace these trains with 140 mph trains designed for the route.

After all if Oxford can have a commuter service to London using Class 802 trains, then surely these are good enough for Cambridge?

In Call For ETCS On King’s Lynn Route, I discuss the possibility of digital signalling on the London and Kings Lynn route via Cambridge, based on reports in Rail Magazine.

If the Cambridge Line from Hitchin were to be upgraded for faster running, then London and Cambridge times might be reduced significantly.

Hull Trains And Grand Central

Hull Trains and Grand Central will want to participate in the 140 mph action between London and Doncaster.

Hull Trains have already made their move and have leased a fleet of Class 802 trains, which will shortly enter service.

Another Open Access operator; East Coast Trains has already ordered five Hitachi 140 mph trains.

Will Grand Central replace their fleet of Class 180 trains?

They will either buy 140 mph trains, cease trading or give up!

The other operators won’t want slow trains on the fast lines.

How Many 140 mph Trains Will Be Able To Run Between London And Doncaster?

I finish this section with a question.

I answered this question and a few others in Thoughts On A 140 mph East Coast Main Line Between London And Doncaster.

This was my conclusion.

If something similar to what I have proposed is possible, it looks like as many as an extra seven tph can be accommodated between Kings Cross and the North.

That is certainly worth having.


The new platform at Stevenage station is a well-designed sub-project that enables  the Hertford Loop Line to be used to its full capability.

  • Up to four tph will be able to run between Moorgate and Stevenage stations.
  • The redesigned junction at Stevenage will allow services like Thameslink to use the Hertford Loop Line rather than run at 100 mph on the East Coast Main Line.

It is an important sub-project in turning the East Coast Main Line into a high speed line with a high proportion of 140 mph running.






October 11, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trains Ordered For 2021 Launch Of ‘High-Quality, Low Fare’ London – Edinburgh Service

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

This is the first paragraph.

FirstGroup has finalised an order for five Hitachi AT300 electric trainsets which it will use to launch a London – Edinburgh open access service in autumn 2021.

The trains are Class 802 trains, similar to those used by FirstGroup companies; Hull Trains and Great Western Railway.

These are some points from the article.

  • FirstGroup is targeting the two-thirds of passengers, who fly between London and Edinburgh.
  • They are also targeting business passengers, as the first train arrives in Edinburgh at 10:00.
  • The trains are five-cars.
  • The trains are one class with onboard catering, air-conditioning, power sockets and free wi-fi.
  • Stops will be five trains per day with stops at Stevenage, Newcastle and Morpeth.
  • The trains will take around four hours.
  • The service will start in Autumn 2021.

These are my observations.

Earlier Start

I suspect that the service can’t start earlier, due to one of the following.

  • The lead time in building the trains.
  • Completion of the new Werrington Junction.
  • Completion of the sorting of Kings Cross.
  • Completion of the works at Stevenage station.

The track works will probably be needed to create the extra paths needed on the East Coast Main Line.

Electric-Only Trains

Most other Class 802 trains are bi-mode trains, but will these be electric-only?

Capacity Issues

If the trains prove too small, they can just add extra carriages or two trains can run as a pair.


Trains will probably take nine hours for a round-trip, allowing 30 minutes for turnround.

This would mean that two trains leaving London and Edinburgh at six, would arrive back at home after two round trips around midnight.


I think it will be a successful service.

March 22, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reasons To Go Virgin Or East Coast

I went up to the Commonwealth Games on the 08:30 Virgin out of Euston arriving on time at 13:01 give or take a minute or so.

The best thing about going Virgin before 09:00, is that you get a proper breakfast, which includes a gluten-free option. I had plenty of tea, some delicious scrambled egg and smoked salmon and a glass of juice.

I didn’t get my gluten-free roll though!

As I was meeting someone in Glasgow, who’d come through from Edinburgh, I could have gone up with East Coast and then across to Glasgow with her.

But it would have meant an earlier start and I had to see the builders.

I think it’s true to say that if you’re going to Glasgow or Edinburgh from London, it’s probably better to go direct. But even so, the distance between the two big Scottish cities isn’t great, with the fastest trains taking between fifty minutes and an hour.

So as Virgin run twenty trains a day up the West Coast and East Coast run eighteen and the fastest trains take about the same four hours sand a bit, it’s very much a case of you pays your money and takes your choice.

The trains are different with Virgin running tilting Class 390 trains and non-tiliting diesel InterCity 125 and electric Inter City 225 trains. My preference is for the non-tilting trains.

The only certain thing is that in the next few years, train routes between England and Glasgow and Edinburgh will gain more capacity and will get faster.

As an example, over the last year, Transpennine Express has introduced new faster Class 350 electric trains to and from Manchester. I thought I heard several northern families in Glasgow, who looked like day trippers up for the Games.

A Transpennine Class 350 In Glasgow

A Transpennine Class 350 In Glasgow

So is this illustrative of how fast, comfortable, high-capacity railways change our lives?

The biggest changed will be Network Rail moving to in-cab signalling, which will allow running over 200 kph on both the West and East Coast Main Lines. This could bring the journey time from London to Scotland much closer to the magic four hours, using the current trains.

When I went to Edinburgh recently by easyJet, security problems meant that I took five and a half hour from my home to Edinburgh city centre. So a four hour journey will be fast enough to give the planes a run for their money. But not everybody goes between London and the major Scottish cities and possibly the biggest beneficiaries of a faster service will be those who have easy access to intermediate stations like York, Peterborough, Preston and Carlisle.

The biggest problem will be track and train capacity on the East and West Coast routes. On the West Coast, there will probably be a further increase in the Class 390 fleet and on the East Coast the Class 800 and 801 are coming.

As with so much on Britain’s railways, the elephant-in-the-room is freight, which is increasing substantially. So will we see extra routes and tracks opened up to held the freight through, just like we have with the GNGE between Doncaster and Peterborough via Lincoln. Of course, we will!

Perhaps, in Scotland, we might even see the return of freight to a Waverley line extended to Carlisle.

Then there is the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Program, a project that seems to have lost its way a bit recently. But the main aim of getting about a dozen services every hour between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with some taking just over half-an-hour must be a goal for Scotland.

July 28, 2014 Posted by | Food, Transport | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not All Important Projects Are Visible

I have recently come down the East Coast Main Line from Edinburgh to London. Starting at 05:40 in the morning there are up to 23 trains on that route during a typical day.

That is a lot of trains, carriages and seats and it only needs something small to go wrong for all the services to be delayed and even cancelled.

One of the biggest problems is that the line is crossed by other important routes, where say a freight train has to cross from east to west. So a slight problem can have a tremendous knock-on effect.

Last year, one of these crossings was eased by the opening of the Hitchin flyover, where Cambridge trains join and leave the main line.

Now another of these crossings has been eliminated with the opening of the North Doncaster Chord, which now takes heavy coal trains over the main line. A level crossing was also eliminated.

This is a quote from the linked article in Modern Railways.

The movement of coal to generate electricity is vital in keeping the UK’s lights switched on. Over 35 per cent of UK-consumed electricity is generated by coal moved by rail

I didn’t think that coal was still used to generate that amount of electricity.

Both the Hitchin and North Doncaster projects cost a few tens of million pounds and will help the East Coast Main Line to be more punctual.

But I have not seen either of them in mainstream media.

We need to find a way to tell the frustrated passenger on the train, that things will be getting better and that the engineers are doing their utmost.

One of the good things about the troubles in Dawlish, was all the high profile media attention that the project received.

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Transport | , | Leave a comment

Edinburgh – Plane Or Train?

I have just been up to Edinburgh and the Borders to see friends. I went up by EasyJet from Stansted and came back in First Class by East Coast.

I took the 11:50 flight and that meant I left home about eight in the morning. That sounds early, but as I needed to get there as the gate closed at 11:20 and the train took an hour or so, I wasn’t taking any chances. I also wanted to have a good breakfast on the way to the airport, as I know that there isn’t a good gluten-free restaurant air-side at Stansted.

I also had to take my passport for security purposes.

A Passport For Scotland

A Passport For Scotland

I suppose if Scotland votes for independence, this will become the norm for every journey across the border.

The plane was a few minutes early and after getting slightly lost in the Terminal, I was met by one of old friends and we were soon on one of the new trams to the city centre.

The flight up had cost me £47.93 for the actual flight, £13.85 to get to Stansted and £9 to get into Edinburgh.  Which makes a total of £70.78.

Coming back yesterday, I bought my First Class ticket at nine o’clock in the evening on Wednesday for £64.35.

This cost surprised me and should I say my hosts in the Borders, thought it was good value.

It did of course include snacks on the way down, which I declined, as they we’re gluten-free, but I did keep myself plied with free drink all the way. It was mostly tea, but I did have a miniature of whisky (Scotch of course!) and was offered a second.

On the flight up, all I’d got on board, was an excellent lemonade in a box. Paid for at £2.50. If EasyJet keep selling these, it’ll certainly mean when I fly, I’ll know where to book.

If we look at the time taken. From my house to the centre of Edinburgh, it took me an elapsed time of about five and a half hours. I did give myself a lot of time to get to Stansted, but I needed it, as security took nearly an hour. Gone are the days of turn-up-and-go at London’s third airport.

Coming back, the train left at 14:30 and I just missed the end of the One Show, which means that the time was about seven-thirty. So it was just over five hours.

I don’t think I’ll be flying up to Edinburgh again from Stansted. Both journeys took about the same time, but the train was cheaper, more luxurious and included as much free food and drink as I wanted. Even if as a coeliac, I couldn’t eat the food. On the train, I also got a proper table on which to lay my paper flat out. And of course, security was more noted by its apparent absence.

Over the next few years the train will get faster as new trains, in-cab signalling and track improvement will mean that large portions of the line will be capable of 140 rather than the current 125 mph.

So city centre to city centre travellers like me will probably always take the train. For me, all that East Coast Trains need to do is get some decent gluten-free food. As Virgin do it, why can’t they?



June 6, 2014 Posted by | Food, Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Meadowhall An Ideal Journey Break On A Train?

yesterday I went up to seeIpswich play in Barnsley. It wasn’t a good match, as the wind made a lot of things difficult and it probably had a part in some of the goals. Since the Nottingham Forest match on the 14th December, which was ruined by wind, I think there has only been one match, where conditions were conducive to good football. I know it’s only a game, but it does illustrate how bad the weather has been, these last couple of months.

As I said because of ticketing issues with East Midlands Trains, I went up to Barnsley changing at Sheffield, but came back via Meadowhall and Doncaster on Est Coast.

I walked quickly down the hill from Oakwell to the station and within a couple of minutes I was on a fast Class 158 train to Meadowhall. I nearly missed the stop, as the weather was so bad, you couldn’t make out the station names, but as it was the first stop from Barnsley, I was pretty sure it was Meadowhall.

It was an easy walk into the shopping centre and you enter by Marks and Spencer, where I just purchased some socks, but I could of course have bought a gluten-free meal. As it was I went further into the centre and had supper at Carluccio’s, which although it was full, was queueless.

The other thing I needed to buy, was a book and Waterstones was hard by the passage to the station.  i also picked up another copy of The Times, as a friend has a letter in the paper and they wanted me to send them a copy.

I suspect that if you’re going to Manchester Airport by train, then to break the journey at Meadowhall might be better than paying airport prices for your last minute purchases, that we always need.

My choice of route was further vindicated, when I got on an East Coast train from Doncaster to London.  The Inter City 225 was so much more comfortable and smoother in Standard, than the dreaded Class 222 of East Midland Trains in First.  I also had two chances to purchase a cup of tea from a trolley, whereas East Midlands there was no at-seat service and they expect you to walk to the bar.

I’ve got to go to Leicester in a couple of weeks and I’ll do anything to avoid going on one of those Class 222s.

February 9, 2014 Posted by | Sport, Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

East Coast Didn’t Impress

It had been a long time, since I travelled all the way up from London to Edinburgh in one go.  Once a few years ago in the days of GNER, I did a trip from Peterborough to Edinburgh and back in a day. That must have been after I had been diagnosed as a coeliac, and I can remember discussing my meals with the on-board chef.

As it was I didn’t get any breakfast on the way up, as they had nothing that was gluten-free.  So I might as well have saved money and travelled in Standard Class.  Compare this with Virgin Trains, who now serve an excellent gluten-free breakfast.

I also had a seat with a table that rattled a lot and shook tea everywhere. I just think it needed the tightening of a couple of screws.

I think that next time, I go to Edinburgh, I’ll combine it with an intermediate stop like Liverpool or Newcastle or perhaps take the soft option and fly.

Mainly because I was getting distinctly hungry by the time I finished my journey.

I could have taken a packed lunch or bought sandwiches in Marks and Spencer in Kings Cross, but that really nullifies the advantage of First Class. Obviously with a shorter journey to say Leeds, York or Newcastle, this lack of food is less of a problem, as I can eat well at both ends of the trip.

As I Can in Edinburgh, but surely one of the reasons to take long distance trains, is to enjoy the travel and the views and hopefully some well-served food.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Food, Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Over The Border Into Scotland

Compared to some railway journeys in the UK and Europe, the East Coast Main Line doesn’t have the best of views and give many photo opportunities. Perhaps crossing the Tweed into Scotland is one of the few.

I was on the western side of the train and in many ways the other side is best for the views, which  include the cathedrals at Peterborough and Durham, the bridges of Newcastle and the sea once you’ve passed Newcastle.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , | Leave a comment

Speeding Past The Hitchin Flyover

The Hitchin Flyover, is compared to HS2, a fairly miniscule piece of railway infrastructure.

According to this article, it will cost £47 million and save 30,000 minutes a year in train schedules.

I  have this feeling, that engineers know of similar schemes, that would benefit UK railways all over the country. But most of them aren’t very sexy for politicians.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

Over The Digswell Viaduct

As the train went over the Digswell Viaduct just north of Welwyn Garden City, I took a couple of pictures of the view. I usually do.

Over The Digswell Viaduct

Over The Digswell Viaduct

But none in my opinion, are anywhere near as good, as this one, with the shadow of the viaduct on the valley floor below.

I would love to claim, I planned it all and actually booked a train north on a fine day, at the right time to get the shadow.

But it was all of course, down to luck.

I do bet though, that it’s not the first time, this picture has been taken. Perhaps with an  iconic Stirling Single or a Gresley A4 Pacific blowing plumes of steam into the sky.

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Transport | , , | 2 Comments