Nearly 175 years of tradition has come to an end on East Anglia’s railways with the last regular locomotive-hauled passenger services coming to an end with no ceremony.

%image(14549747, type="article-full", alt="The new Greater Anglia Intercity train is an electric multiple unit. Picture: GREATER ANGLIA")

Locomotives have hauled trains of carriages on the main line from London to Ipswich and Norwich since the Eastern Union Railway and Eastern Counties Railway linked the capital to the region in 1846. That has now come to an end with the withdrawal of the last Intercity trains made up of Class 90 electric locomotives and Mark III carriages.

The last traditional train ran on the line last Tuesday – and while a set remained on standby for use in an emergency, from the middle of this week that too will be stood down because the old trains are not compliant with disability regulations which are being enforced from April 1.

Their replacements are 12-car electric Intercity units built by Stadler in Switzerland which have been coming into service on the main line since January.The departure of the traditional trains came at the start of the coronavirus lockdown so there was no chance for enthusiasts to have a final trip in carriages that have become very familiar to anyone travelling to the capital in recent years.

%image(14549748, type="article-full", alt="Claud Hamilton locomotives operated on the line for almost 60 years. This one is piloting an LNER "Sandringham" class locomotive that was also built for East Anglian lines in the 1930s. DAVE KINDRED COLLECTION")

There was no opportunity to run a “farewell special” for enthusiasts – and it would be problematic to run one after the lockdown has been lifted because of the legislative issue and the fact that Greater Anglia will be looking to dispose of the unwanted carriages as soon as possible.

However the ending of the traditional train formations is a significant event for the rail industry in the region – and in the country as a whole.

The first train from London reached Ipswich in 1846, and Norwich was reached in 1879 using tracks built by the Eastern Counties Railway (from London to Colchester) and the Eastern Union Railway for the rest of the journey to Norwich Victoria station (that site is now a supermarket). The railway companies merged with others in 1862 to form the Great Eastern Railway.

%image(14549749, type="article-full", alt="Britannia was the first in a new class of locomotives introduced on East Anglian lines in 1951. Picture: ARCHANT FILES")

From the start the trains were formed of steam locomotives and carriages – a formation that continued until now although of course steam was superseded by diesel power in the 1950s and electric trains in the 1980s.

The Great Eastern Railway was an independent company doing its own thing on routes out of Liverpool Street for 61 years when it merged with other companies to form the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923 – the smaller rail companies had struggled to recover after the First World War.

But the East Anglian lines retained their own identity. One of the GER’s most successful locomotive classes, The Claud Hamiltons, continued operating well into British Railways’ days – the last was scrapped in 1960, sadly before the rail heritage movement really got going.

%image(14549470, type="article-full", alt="Britannia is now preserved and paid a return visit to the route in 2012. Its sister locomotive (which also operated in East Anglia) Oliver Cromwell has also paid several visits to the area in preservation. Picture: NIGEL SIMMONDS")

Even after the formation of the LNER, locomotives were designed specifically for the East Anglia lines – they did not need the long-distance capability of the Anglo-Scottish designs, but did need engines capable of decent speed for two to three hours at a time.

After nationalisation in 1948 British Railways sent some of its most powerful locomotives, the Britannia class, to the route. Engines like Britannia itself and Oliver Cromwell became familiar on the route through the 1950s – until the decision was taken that East Anglia should be one of the first regions to see the end of steam.

The first diesel services were introduced in 1958, hauled by what were to become Class 40 diesel locomotives, and by 1962 steam had largely disappeared from the region. The heavy Class 40s were subsequently superseded by the more powerful Class 47s.

%image(14549750, type="article-full", alt="Class 40 diesels took over main line services in the region from the late 1950s. Picture by Aubrey Frost")

In the early 1980s the decision was taken to electrify the lines from Colchester to Norwich and Harwich – and the route from London to Cambridge. The wires reached Ipswich in 1985 and Norwich in 1987.

The diesels were then replaced by electric Class 86 locomotives which had been transferred from the west coast route between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool – they were already 20 years old when they arrived in the region.

They provided the power for the InterCity trains until the early years of the 21st century when they were replaced by the current Class 90s. These will have a future on the rail network – they are being transferred to Freightliner, but the old Intercity carriages are likely to be cut up for scrap because there is no further use for them.

%image(14549751, type="article-full", alt="First electric train service from Ipswich, hauled by a Class 86 in May 1985. Picture: ARCHANT FILES")

A spokeswoman for Greater Anglia said: “We’ve now reached another key milestone in our transformation of the railway in East Anglia, as the last of our old Class 90 locomotives pulling Mark 3 carriages has run its final journey on our Norwich-London intercity service.

“The days of leaning out of the window to open the train door and then slamming them shut are over for our customers. These 40-plus-year-old trains have been replaced with brand new state-of-the-art modern electric trains, which are longer, with more seats and all the mod cons 21st century rail passengers expect, including plug and USB sockets, air conditioning and better passenger information screens.

“Our new intercity trains are also much easier for people with wheelchairs, buggies or heavy luggage to access, with a retractable step at every door which bridges the gap between the train and the platform.

%image(14549752, type="article-full", alt="A Class 90 electric locomotive prepares to leave Norwich with one of the last traditional Intercity trains on the route. Picture: GREATER ANGLIA")

“Our old intercity trains served us well. Our engineers did a great job keeping them maintained so that they won many industry awards for reliability. However, we are excited about the many benefits these new trains bring, not just in terms of passenger comfort, but also because they are faster with better acceleration and braking. They are also more environmentally-friendly with energy saving features.”