British Rail

British 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."

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = British Railways/British Rail
fate = Privatised
successor = Principally Railtrack (infrastructure); members of ATOC (passenger); EWS and Freightliner (freight)
foundation = 1962 (previously a section of the BTC)
defunct = 2000
location = Great Britain and adjacent waters
industry = Land and sea transport
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. At first the trading brand of the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission, it became in 1962 an independent statutory corporation, the British Railways Board.

This period of nationalisation saw sweeping 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 one third of the network was axed.

The British Rail "double arrow logo" (see right) which represents direction of travel on a double track is now employed as a "generic" denoter of a railway station on public (non-operating company) street signs; it is therefore incorrect to claim that where this logo is seen it is a "relic from the past." The logo is still being used in new signs and is used by the train operating companies jointly as part of their National Rail brand; it is still also used on railway tickets.


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. [ cite web| url=| title=Transport Act 1947| author=Her Majesty's Government | year=1947| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25] 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. In the same year, changes to the British Transport Commission, including the privatisation of road haulage, [cite web| url=| title=Transport Act 1962| author=Her Majesty's Government | year=1962| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25] 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. [cite web |url= |title=British Railways Board history| accessdate=2006-11-25| publisher=The National Archives]

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 reorganising the railways ("the Beeching Axe"). [cite web| url=| title=The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 1: Report| author=British Transport Commission| year=1963| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25] [cite web| url=| title=The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 2: Maps| author=British Transport Commission| year=1963| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25 ] This policy resulted in many branch lines and secondary routes being closed because they were deemed uneconomical. The closure of stations serving rural communities removed much feeder traffic from mainline 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. Ironically some of those lines have recently been reopened with the startling growth of rail traffic following privatisation of the network.

Passenger levels decreased steadily from the late 1950s to late 1970s. [The UK [ Department for Transport] (DfT), specifically Table 6.1 from [ Transport Statistics Great Britain 2006] (4MB PDF file)] Passenger services then experienced a renaissance with the introduction of the high-speed Intercity 125 trains in the late 1970s and early 1980s.cite book |last=Marsden |first=Colin J. |title=British Rail 1983 Motive Power: Combined Volume |year=1983 |publisher=Ian Allen |location=London |id=ISBN 0-7110-1284-9] 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. [cite web| url=| title=Railways Act 1993| author=Her Majesty's Government | year=1903| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-26] 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). [cite web |url= |title=EWS Railway - Company History |accessdate=2006-11-26] 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. [The UK [ Office of Rail Regulation] (ORR), specifically Section 1.2 from [ National Rail Trends 2006-2007 Q1] (PDF file)]


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 reopenings particularly in Scotland and Wales, where the control of the railway network is devolved from central government.

In Wales the Welsh Assembly Government successfully supported the opening of the Vale of Glamorgan line between Barry and Bridgend in 2005 and the Ebbw Valley Line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff in 2008. Both of these lines had been axed in the Beeching cut.

Successor companies

Under the process of British Rail's privatisation, operations were split into more than 100 companies. The ownership and operation of the infrastructure of the railway system was taken over by Railtrack. The rolling stock was transferred to three private ROSCOs (ROlling Stock COmpanies). Passenger services were divided into 25 operating companies, which were let on a franchise basis for a set number of years, whilst freight services were sold off completely. Dozens of smaller engineering and maintenance companies were also created and sold off.

British Rail's passenger services came to an end upon the franchising of ScotRail; the final train that the company operated was a Railfreight Distribution freight train in Autumn 1997. The British Railways Board continued in existence as a corporation until early 2001, when it was replaced with the Strategic Rail Authority.

Since privatisation, the structure of the rail industry and number of companies has changed many times. Franchise-based companies that took over passenger rail services include:

*Midland Mainline superseded in 2007 by East Midlands Trains
*Great North Eastern Railway superseded in 2007 by National Express East Coast
*Virgin Trains (West Coast)
*Virgin CrossCountry superseded by CrossCountry in 2007
*Great Western Trains from 1998 First Great Western
*Wales and West becoming Wessex trains in 2001, after being broken up, and now ran by First Great Western
*Arriva Trains Northern (originally Northern Spirit superseded in 2004 by First TransPennine Express and Northern Rail)
*Arriva Trains Merseyside
*Arriva Trains Wales
*South West Trains
*Central Trains (Network West Midlands), divided between London Midland, Cross Country and East Midlands Trains in 2007

See also

*History of rail transport in Great Britain
*British Rail brand names
*British Rail corporate liveries
*British Rail flying saucer
*National Rail
*British Carriage and Wagon Numbering and Classification
*British Rail locomotive and multiple unit numbering and classification
*British Transport Police
*Gerry Fiennes
*List of British Rail classes
*List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom
*London Underground
*Glasgow Subway
*Liverpool Overhead Railway
*Steam locomotives of British Railways
*Sealink BR's sea division


External links

* [ British Railways Board history]
* [ BRB (Residuary) Ltd.]

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