Railway Services of the GER

In the mid 1850s, the ECR was third in the league of companies running the fastest trains. However, this achievement was short lived and only a few years later, the ECR was being lampooned in the popular press of the day for its atrocious services. On the formation of the GER, the management gave high priority to improving matters and whilst not making any dramatic changes, the railway became punctual. In the early GER days, there were still two prime routes to Norwich, via Colchester and via Cambridge, some seasons the Colchester route provided faster trains sometimes the Cambridge route was the quicker. From 1888, the Colchester route always had the faster service. By 1906, the fastest Norwich trains took 2 hours 26 minutes from Liverpool Street. On the completion of the Tottenham and Hampstead Joint Railway, the GER chose to run some of its services to Cambridge and Norwich from the Midland terminus of St Pancras thus competing more directly with the GNR services from the adjacent Kings Cross. Some race specials for Newmarket were also run from St Pancras. St Pancras services ceased after the Grouping, as might be expected. Royal trains to Sandringham were normally worked from St Pancras until after the Grouping whence they were run from Kings Cross.

When the GN&GEJ line was opened, a Liverpool Street to Doncaster service was introduced which soon after was extended to York. There were three such return trains daily. This service was complemented a few years later by a Harwich to Doncaster service connecting with the Continental ferry services, again these trains were later extended to York. After the First World War, the "North Country Continental" trains, as they had become known, were re-directed to Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool with just through carriages to York. It is interesting to look at the operation of this train in its early days with coaches being detached at March for Birmingham (two coaches for the LNWR and one for the Midland), one coach detached at Lincoln for forwarding by the GCR to Manchester and Liverpool and one detached at Doncaster, also for Liverpool but via the L&YR.

In 1896 troughs were installed at Tivetshall (near Diss) and the following year at Halifax Junction (near Ipswich) these enabled non-stop running between London and Norwich and Cromer. In the first decade of the twentieth century, non-stop services were also provided from London to Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Felixstowe. The Liverpool Street service to Cromer was called the "Norfolk Coast Express".

The GER was an early user of the motor bus. In 1904 a bus service was introduced during the summer holiday period between Lowestoft, Oulton and Southwold. Its success lead to other services being introduced. However, it was decided to sell off these services in 1913.

In 1910, a new express service was introduced between Liverpool Street and Southend, in direct competition with the LT&SR, again this was a successful venture. In 1914, at the instigation of Henry Thornton, many services were accelerated.

Some services were provided over the East London Joint line through the Thames tunnel. These mainly terminated at New Cross but some ran as far as Croydon.

Fenchurch Street was used for services to Blackwall and North Woolwich but some trains utilised the link via Bow Junction to provide a service to the rest of the GER suburban network. There were also some suburban trains which avoided both the London termini such as the North Woolwich Enfield service. By the early years of the twentieth century, a very intensive suburban service was in place. When Thornton was appointed, even he did not recommend the expense of electrification, but he set about improvements using steam. As mentioned before, he relied on FV Russell and a committee to make recommendations and draw up a scheme. Every aspect of the rush hour operation was studied. The plans dictated only relatively minor changes to track layouts and signaling. The modifications were planned in detail and implemented in a strict sequence. The Liverpool Street trackwork, and associated signaling changes were made to ensure the minimum conflict between incoming and outgoing trains; each platform was provided with an engine dock to hold released locomotives by an outgoing train so that the next incoming train would not have to wait for the engine movement, the engine thus held would immediately couple up to the next arrival at that platform. Similar provisions were made at the outer terminals. At Liverpool Street, there was 4 minutes allowed between a train arriving and the departure of the same stock outbound. At various locations, extra outer home and advanced starter signals were put in place to allow for a closer headway between trains. All rail contacts, fouling bars and locking bars were examined to ensure that they would not adversely interfere with the more intensive services. The trains were standardised to 16 coaches providing 848 seats. The platforms, ticket barriers and circulating areas were all changed to allow for best part of a thousand people being disgorged from a train and getting them away from the platform to allow for other passengers to board and get the train away in no more than 4 minutes. The old Metropolitan tunnel was blocked up at this time. The interval between services was just 2 1/2 minutes between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. Passengers arriving at Liverpool Street to catch a train were presented with a colour code system which indicated the route and stops that a train would make. Locomotives carried headcodes and coloured lamps to enable signalmen to identify the service. Printed instructions were issued and staff trained in accordance. In July 1920, the new service started. Initially, the new service was mainly operated by 1886-designed Holden 0-6-0 tanks (GER class T18/LNER J66) which had to not only pull quite heavy trains but keep strict time up the various grades including several at 1 in 70. The morning, up, service showed an increase of 75% on the previous service and the evening, down service was increased by 50%.

As much of the area that the GER covered was rural, a lot of the goods traffic was associated with agriculture; coal, manure and fertilizers for delivery to the farms and later in the year, fresh produce from the farms for the London markets. Mention has been made of the coal traffic originating in the North Midlands heading over the GN&GE Joint line to London. The London docks and the Harwich/Parkeston activities generated substantial import and export goods traffic.


Thank you to Richard Barron for the above information.