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Norwich is the eastern terminus of the line
|Locale||East of England|
East Midlands Trains
|Rolling stock||Class 153/156|
|Track length||51 miles 8 chains (82.2 km)|
|Number of tracks||2|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Electrification||25 kV AC (between Cambridge and Ely and around Norwich)|
|Operating speed||75–90 mph|
The Breckland line is a secondary railway line in the east of England that links Cambridge in the west to Norwich in the east. The line runs through three counties: Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. It takes its name from the Breckland region of Norfolk, and passes through Thetford Forest.
The line is 51 miles 8 chains (82.2 km) in length from where it branches off the Fen line north of Ely to where it joins the Great Eastern Main Line south of Norwich. There are 12 stations on the line including the termini.
The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 5, SRS 05.09 and part of SRS 05.05. It is classified as a secondary line, except between Cambridge and Ely, which is classified as a London and South East commuter line. Passenger services on the Breckland line are operated by Greater Anglia (which manages all of the stations), CrossCountry, East Midlands Trains, and Great Northern.
Following the successful opening of the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway, the Norwich & Brandon Railway was incorporated in 1844 to build a line between those two places. The Eastern Counties Railway was at the same time building a route from Newport in Essex through Cambridge via Ely to Brandon. This route would be the first route between Norwich and London.
The two lines opened on the same day, 30 July 1845, although the line only opened to a temporary station at Wensum, pending the completion of the Trowse swing bridge which was achieved in December 1845. Through services from Shoreditch (later known as Bishopsgate) to Norwich Thorpe station started on 15 December 1845.
Although it was expected that locomotive changes would take place between the two companies at Brandon where an engine house had been built, the Norfolk Railway in fact operated trains to Ely. The ECR and its rival the Eastern Union Railway (EUR) were both sizing up the NR to acquire and expand their railway empire. The ECR trumped the EUR by taking over the NR, and became responsible for operating the services from 8 May 1848.
By the 1860s the railways in East Anglia were in financial trouble, and most were leased to the Eastern Counties Railway, which wished to amalgamate formally but could not obtain government agreement for this until an Act of Parliament on 7 August 1862, when the Great Eastern Railway (GER) was formed by the amalgamation.
The system settled down for the next six decades, apart from the disruption of the First World War. The difficult economic circumstances after the war led the Government to pass the Railways Act 1921 which led to the creation of the Big Four railway companies. The GER amalgamated with other railways to create the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) on 1 January 1923.
The line is double-track throughout but is only electrified between Cambridge and Ely, and also between Norwich and Trowse Junction, at 25 kV AC. It has a loading gauge of W8, except for the section connecting the Ipswich–Ely line to the Ely–Peterborough line, which is W10. The line speed ranges between 40 and 90 mph.
Until 2012 the line retained its historic characteristics, with well preserved stations, semaphore signalling and, until spring 2009, lineside telegraph poles, along with sections of jointed rail on wooden sleepers. However, the two-stage Ely–Norwich re-signalling programme in August and December 2012 involved the closure of the nine local mechanical signal boxes and removal of the seven sets of manually-operated wooden gates at level crossings. The Cambridge signal box now controls the modern electronic interlockings which operate the lightweight LED signals, while the level crossings have been fully automated with barriers and warning lights.
|Place||Station and grid reference|
|Spooner Row||Spooner Row:|
|Eccles and Quidenham||Eccles Road:|
|East Harling||Harling Road:|
|Burnt Fen area||Shippea Hill:|
Prickwillow station, between Ely and Shippea Hill stations, closed in 1850.
Some of the stations on the Breckland line see just one stopping train in each direction per day, mostly in the Norwich direction in the morning and in the Cambridge direction in the afternoon or evening. Three stations on the line are request stops only: Spooner Row, Lakenheath and Shippea Hill.
Passenger services are operated by several companies: