West Coast Main Line

West Coast Main Line
WCML and M1.jpg
The WCML running alongside the M1 at Watford Gap
SystemNational Rail
TerminiLondon Euston
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Passenger: Freight:
Rolling stock
Line length399 mi (642 km)[1]
Number of tracks
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Loading gaugeW10
Electrification25 kV 50 Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed
  • 125 mph (201 km/h) for tilting trains[2]
  • 110 mph (177 km/h) for standard trains
Route map

Edinburgh Waverley (Edinburgh Trams St Andrew Sq.)
Haymarket Edinburgh Trams
Glasgow Central (Glasgow Subway St Enoch)
Carstairs South Junction
Oxenholme Lake District
for Windermere
for Blackpool North
Euxton Junction
Wigan North Western
Warrington Bank Quay
Liverpool Lime Street Merseyrail
Liverpool South Parkway Merseyrail
Manchester Piccadilly Manchester Metrolink
for Dublin Ferry Port
ferry/water interchange
Chester Merseyrail
Cheadle Hulme Junction
Crewe North Junction
North Wales Coast Line
Stone Junction
Norton Bridge Junction
Stafford South Junction
Lichfield Trent Valley
Cross-City Line
Birmingham New Street Midland Metro
Cross Country Route
Birmingham International Birmingham Airport
Rugby Trent Valley Junction
Hillmorton Junction
Hanslope Junction
Milton Keynes Central
Watford Junction London Overground
London Euston London Underground London Overground
All WCML routes shown.
A detailed diagram of the core route can be
found at West Coast Main Line diagram.
(interactive map)

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is one of the most important railway corridors in the United Kingdom, connecting the major cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is one of the busiest mixed-traffic railway routes in Europe, carrying a mixture of intercity rail, regional rail, commuter rail and rail freight traffic. The core route of the WCML runs from London to Glasgow, with branches diverging to Northampton, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, totalling a route mileage of 700 miles (1,127 km).[3][4] Services from London to North Wales and Edinburgh also run via the WCML; however the main London-Edinburgh route is the East Coast Main Line. In addition, several sections of the WCML form part of the suburban railway systems in London, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, with many more smaller commuter stations, as well as providing links to more rural towns.

It is one of the busiest freight routes in Europe, carrying 40% of all UK rail freight traffic. The line is the principal rail freight corridor linking the European mainland (via the Channel Tunnel) through London and South East England to the West Midlands, North West England and Scotland.[5] The line has been declared a strategic European route and designated a priority Trans-European Networks (TENS) route.

Much of the line has a maximum speed of 125 mph (201 km/h), meeting the European Union's definition of an upgraded high-speed line,[6] although only Class 390 Pendolinos and Class 221 Super Voyagers with tilting mechanisms operated by Avanti West Coast travel at that speed. Other traffic is limited to 110 mph (177 km/h).


The core section between London Euston and Glasgow Central is 399 miles (642 km) long,[1] with principal InterCity stations at Milton Keynes Central, Rugby, Stafford, Crewe, Warrington Bank Quay, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle.

The northern WCML as it weaves through the Lune Gorge in Cumbria alongside the M6 Motorway

The central core[7] has branches serving the major towns and cities of Northampton, Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Stockport, Manchester, Runcorn, and Liverpool; there is also a link to Edinburgh, but this is not the direct route between London and Edinburgh.[8]

The route between Rugby and Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stafford was the original main line until the Trent Valley Line was built in 1847. South of Rugby there is a loop that serves Northampton, and there is also a branch north of Crewe to Liverpool which is notable since Weaver Junction on this branch is the oldest flyover-type junction in use. A loop branches off to serve Manchester, another between Colwich Junction in the Trent Valley south of Stafford via Stoke-on-Trent, one north of Stafford also via Stoke-on-Trent, and one via Crewe and Wilmslow. A further branch at Carstairs links Edinburgh to the WCML, providing a direct connection between the WCML and the East Coast Main Line.

The geography of the route was determined by avoiding large estates, and hilly areas, such as the Chilterns (Tring cutting), the Watford Gap and Northampton uplands followed by the Trent Valley, the mountains of Cumbria with a summit at Shap, and Beattock Summit in South Lanarkshire. This legacy means the WCML has limitations as a long-distance main line, with lower maximum speeds than the East Coast Main Line (ECML) route, the other major main line between London and Scotland. The principal solution has been the adoption of tilting trains, initially with British Rail's APT, and latterly the Class 390 Pendolino trains constructed by Alstom and introduced by Virgin Trains in 2003. A 'conventional' attempt to raise line speeds as part of the InterCity 250 upgrade in the 1990s would have relaxed maximum cant levels on curves and seen some track realignments; this scheme faltered for lack of funding in the economic climate of the time.