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British Rail

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See also: National Rail and Network Rail
This article is about the defunct entity "British Railways", which later traded as "British Rail". The History of rail transport in Great Britain is covered in its own article.
British Railways/British Rail Fate PrivatisedSuccessor Principally Railtrack(infrastructure); members of ATOC(passenger); EWSand Freightliner(freight) Founded 1962 (previously a section of the BTC) Defunct 2000 Location Great Britain and adjacent waters Industry Land and sea transport Former Parent British Transport Commission (until 1962), British Railways Board (since 1962)

British Railways (BR), which later traded as British Rail, ran most of the British railway system from the nationalisation of the 'Big Four' British railway companies in 1948 until privatisation in stages from 1994 to 1997.

This period of nationalisation saw massive changes in the railway network: steam traction was eliminated in favour of diesel and electric power, passengers replaced freight as the main source of business, and the network was severely rationalised.



Main article: History of rail transport in Great Britain 1948 - 1994
The original British Railways logo, used until 1965

The rail transport system in Great Britain developed during the 19th century. After the grouping of 1923 under the Railways Act 1921 there were four large railway companies, each dominating its own geographic area: the Great Western Railway (GWR), the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the Southern Railway (SR). The Transport Act 1947 made provision for the nationalisation of the network, as part of a policy of nationalising public services by Clement Attlee's Labour Government. British Railways came into existence as the business name of the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission (BTC) on 1 January 1948 when it took over the assets of the Big Four. [1] Though there were few initial changes to the service, usage increased and the network became profitable. Regeneration of track and stations was completed by 1954.

The National network would have looked like this by the 1980s if the Beeching Axe II plans had been implemented (all lines except those in bold would close)

In the same year, changes to the British Transport Commission, including the privatisation of road haulage,[2] ended the coordination of transport in the UK. Rail revenue fell and in 1955 the network again ceased to be profitable. The mid-1950s saw the rapid introduction of diesel and electric rolling stock, but the expected transfer back from road to rail did not occur and losses began to mount.[3]

The desire for profitability led to a major reduction in the network during the mid-1960s. Dr. Richard Beeching was given the task by the government of re-organising the railways ("the Beeching Axe").[4][5] This policy resulted in many branch lines and secondary routes being closed because they were deemed uneconomic. The closure of stations serving rural communities removed much feeder traffic from main line passenger services. The closure of many freight depots that had been used by larger industries such as coal and iron led to much freight transferring to road haulage. The closures were extremely unpopular with the general public at that time, and remain so today.

Passenger levels decreased steadily from the late fifties to late seventies.[6] Passenger services then experienced a renaissance with the introduction of the high-speed Intercity 125 trains in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[7] The 1980s saw severe cuts in government funding and above-inflation increases in fares, and the service became more cost-effective. Between 1994 and 1997, British Rail was privatised.[8] Ownership of the track and infrastructure passed to Railtrack; passenger operations were franchised to individual private sector operators (originally there were 25 franchises); and the freight services sold outright (six companies were set up, but five of these were sold to the same buyer).[9] The Conservative government under John Major claimed that privatisation would see an improvement in passenger services. Passenger levels have since increased to above the level they had been at in the late 1950s.[10]


The British Rail logo above Swindon station

The BR network, with the trunk routes of the West Coast Main Line, East Coast Main Line, Great Western Main Line and Midland Main Line, remains mostly unchanged since privatisation, with several branch line re-openings particularly in Scotland and Wales, where the control of the railway network is devolved from central government.

Successor companies

Following privatisation, British Rail's operations were divided up between a company that ran the infrastructure of the railway system, Railtrack, and various franchise-based companies that took over the running of rail services on a regional basis for a set number of years. The companies that took over passenger rail services include:

See also

UK Railways Portal


  1. ^ Her Majesty's Government (1947). Transport Act 1947. The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved on 2006-11-25.
  2. ^ Her Majesty's Government (1962). Transport Act 1962. The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved on 2006-11-25.
  3. ^ British Railways Board history. The National Archives. Retrieved on 2006-11-25.
  4. ^ British Transport Commission (1963). The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 1: Report. The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved on 2006-11-25.
  5. ^ British Transport Commission (1963). The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 2: Maps. The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved on 2006-11-25.
  6. ^ The UK Department for Transport (DfT), specifically Table 6.1 from Transport Statistics Great Britain 2006 (4MB PDF file)
  7. ^ Marsden, Colin J. (1983). British Rail 1983 Motive Power: Combined Volume. London: Ian Allen. ISBN 0-7110-1284-9
  8. ^ Her Majesty's Government (1903). Railways Act 1993. The Railways Archive. (originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office). Retrieved on 2006-11-26.
  9. ^ EWS Railway - Company History. Retrieved on 2006-11-26.
  10. ^ The UK Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), specifically Section 1.2 from National Rail Trends 2006-2007 Q1 (PDF file)

External links

Categories: British Rail | Railway companies of the United Kingdom | Former nationalised industries of the United Kingdom | Companies established in 1948Hidden categories: Articles with unsourced statements since May 2007 | All articles with unsourced statements

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