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A History of the British Railway


The British Railway network does not get the best possible press and never has done. Its history is rarely examined except when people want to say how much better things used to be. Yet the network does have a very interesting history and it is true to say that any story you hear about the railway, unless it involves ghosts or aliens, probably has some basis in fact. Quite often the story has to be changed to make it more believable. After all, who would believe that a railway station could be demolished in one Saturday morning? Or that one locomotive worked its last train with its boiler filled with porridge so it could work up enough steam pressure to move? Or that the answer to the question "Who was President of the United States when the first public railway ran?" is "No-one"?

This history is not complete; that would be impossible. It does not feature every funny story; that would also be impossible. It does not go into intricate depth at every possible opportunity; that would be boring. It probably also misses out your favourite event and is quite likely not as funny as you think it should be.

It also cannot be contained on one page and so has been divided into five:

Part 1

1758 to 1922

The Beginning - Early railways - Early disagreements - Subsequent disagreements - New railways - New speed records - New disagreements - A war

Picture: Prior to the Grouping, companies tended to build big railways because they could. This is Harringworth Viaduct on the Midland Railway's line between Kettering and Oakham via Corby. Note the train.

Part 2

1923 to 1947

Complexities of Grouping - Complexities of not being Grouped - Modernisation - New records - New races for the top - Mallard - Another war - Post-war

Picture: The top of the range Great Western express locomotive - a "King" class at Plymouth (North Road) with a railtour.

Part 3

1948 to 1994

How to Nationalise - Modernisation - Further Modernisation - The Modernisation Plan - Beeching - More Beeching - Post-Beeching - Into the '70s - Out of the '70s - Enter the '80s - More new trains - Finishing the '80s - Sectorisation

Picture: The provincial people-mover - a Sprinter. The doyenne of this highly successful design is seen in 2007.

Part 4

1994 to Now

Intricacies of privatisation - Finishing privatisation - Growth; problems with - Hatfield and Great Heck - Rebuilding privatisation - Reorganising privatisation - Improvements and successes - More reorganising - Enter the Germans - What has actually changed?

Picture: One major development since privatisation has been the almost total standardisation of goods locomotives on the Class 66. This is the 81st example.

Part 5

1948 to Now

Early preservation - The Talyllyn - Titfield and Ffestiniog - The Middleton - Beeching - Flying Scotsman - Early diesel preservation - Woodham's - More growth - Tornado - Today

Picture: Sir Haydn was the second steam locomotive to haul a train in preservation. She is now branded to resemble Skarloey Railway locomotive Sir Handel; the Thomas books have done a lot for preserved railways.

>>>Closure Pieces>>>

A look at those little mementoes to the stations and lines which were supposed to be closed in the 1960s. The survival rate amongst those proposed for closure is quite good.

Picture: Derelict rail infrastructure now litters the country, awaiting alternative uses or a Government willing to reverse the cuts. This bridge is on the former Newcastle Emlyn line in West Wales.

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Picture: The railway in its most expansive form - the station throat south of London Bridge as examples of Classes 376 (left) and 375 (right) pass in August 2009.

Last modified 20/07/11

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