For transport in Northern Ireland, see Rail transport in Ireland.

Template:Train topics The railway system in Great Britain is the oldest in the world, with the world's first locomotive-hauled public railway opening in 1825. As of 2006, it consists of Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff of standard gauge lines (the 16th largest in the world), of which Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff are electrified.[1] These lines are single, double or quadruple track. In addition, a number of narrow gauge lines operate in parts of the country. The British railway network is connected with that of continental Europe by an undersea rail link, the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994. Despite its track length, it is one of the busiest railways in Europe with 20% more train services than France, 60% more than Italy and more than Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Portugal and Norway combined.[2]

Historical overviewEdit

Main article: History of rail transport in Great Britain
File:GBR rail passenegers by year.gif

The system was originally built as a patchwork of local rail links operated by small private railway companies. Over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, these amalgamated or were bought by competitors until only a handful of larger companies remained (see railway mania). The entire network was brought under government control during the First World War and a number of advantages of amalgamation and planning were revealed. However, the government resisted calls for the nationalisation of the network (first proposed by William Ewart Gladstone as early as the 1830s). Instead, from 1 January 1923, almost all the remaining companies were grouped into the "big four", the Great Western Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway companies (there were also a number of other joint railways such as the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway and the Cheshire Lines Committee as well as special joint railways such as the Forth Bridge Railway, Ryde Pier Railway and at one time the East London Railway). The "Big Four" were joint-stock public companies and they continued to run the railway system until 31 December 1947.

The growth in road transport during the 1920s and 1930s greatly reduced revenue for the rail companies. Rail companies accused the government of favouring road haulage through the subsidised construction of roads. The railways entered a slow decline owing to a lack of investment and changes in transport policy and lifestyles. During the Second World War the companies' managements joined together, effectively forming one company. A maintenance backlog developed during the war and the private sector only had two years to deal with this after the war ended. After 1945, for both practical and ideological reasons, the government decided to bring the rail service into the public sector.

File:Beeching2 clear.svg

From the start of 1948, the "big four" were nationalised to form British Railways (latterly "British Rail") under the control of the British Transport Commission. Although BR was a single entity, it was divided into six (later five) regional authorities in accordance with the existing areas of operation. 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, ended the coordination of transport in Great Britain. 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.

The desire for profitability led to a major reduction in the network during the mid-1960s with ICI manager Dr. Richard Beeching given the task by the government of re-organising the railways. Many branch lines were closed because they were deemed uneconomic ("the Beeching Axe"), removing 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. Beeching was going to close all but the "major trunk routes" in the Beeching II report. This was never implemented by BR.

Passenger services experienced a renaissance with the introduction of high-speed inter-city trains in the 1970s. Passenger levels have fluctuated since this time, increasing during periods of economic growth and falling during recessions. The 1980s saw severe cuts in government funding and above-inflation increases in fares and the service became more cost-effective. In the early 1990s, the five geographical Regions were replaced by a Sector organisation, where passenger services were organised into Inter City, Network SouthEast and Other Provincial Services sectors. This new organisation showed promise of being a more efficient organisation of the railways but within a couple of years of its implementation the structure was fragmented by the privatisation process.

Railway operations were privatised during 1994-1997. Ownership of the track and infrastructure passed to Railtrack, whilst 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). The government claimed that privatisation would see an improvement in passenger services. Passenger levels have increased in the last decade to the level they had been at in the late-1940s.

The public image of rail travel was severely damaged following the series of significant accidents after privatisation. These included the Hatfield accident, caused by a rail fragmenting due to the development of microscopic cracks. Following the Hatfield accident, the rail infrastructure company Railtrack imposed over 1,200 emergency speed restrictions across its network and instigated an extremely costly nationwide track replacement programme. The consequent severe operational disruption to the national network and the company's spiralling costs set in motion the series of events which resulted in the ultimate collapse of the company and its replacement with Network Rail, a state-owned[citation needed], not-for-dividend company.

At the end of September 2003, the first part of High Speed 1, a high speed link to the Channel Tunnel and on to France and Belgium, was completed, significantly adding to the rail infrastructure of the country. The rest of the link, from north Kent to St Pancras railway station in London, opened in 2007. A major programme of remedial work on the West Coast Main Line started in 1997 and finished in 2009, far over budget (£10bn), many years late and still not bringing the line up to the standards originally proposed by Railtrack.

The pioneers

Early development

The Big Four

British Rail

1995 to date

See also: List of railway lines in Great Britain

Passenger servicesEdit


Passenger train services in Great Britain are, in the main, structured on the basis of regional franchises awarded by the Department for Transport (DfT) to Train Operating Companies. Some slight variations include Merseyrail where the franchise is awarded by Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive and ScotRail where the DfT awards on the advice of the Scottish Government. There were initially twenty-five such franchises, but the number of different operating companies is smaller as some firms, including First Group, National Express Group and Stagecoach Group, have more than one franchise. In addition, some franchises have since been combined. There are a number of local or specialised rail services operated on an 'open access' basis outside the franchise arrangements. Examples include the Heathrow Express and Hull Trains.

222017 EMT livery

A East Midlands Trains Class 222 Meridian at Derby. These trains are used for InterCity services in the East Midlands.

In the 2002–3 operating year, franchised services provided 976 million journeys totalling 24.7 billion passenger miles of travel, which was an increase over 1986–7 of 32% in journeys (from 738 million) and 29% in passenger miles (from 30.8 billion). On the other hand, taking a longer term view, the number of journeys in 2002–3 was lower than for the 1950–60 period. The passenger kilometres figure, after being a flat from 1965–1995, surpassed the 1947 figure for the first time in 1998 and continues to rise steeply.

The key index used to assess passenger train performance is the Public Performance Measure which combines figures for punctuality and reliability. Performance against this metric has been especially poor since mid-2000. From a base of 90% of trains arriving on time in 1998, the measure dipped to 75% in mid 2001 and, by the end of the 2002–3 period, had recovered to only 80%. However, as of September 2006, the PPM stands at 87.5% after a period of steady increases in the annual moving average since 2003.

File:170506 at Worcester Foregate.jpg

The real increase in rail fares, after accounting for inflation over the 1995–2004 period, was 4.7%. For some years, Britain has been said to have the highest rail fares in the world.[3] For example, the (discounted) annual season ticket from London to Brighton (standard 2nd class) as of January 2010 costs £3,280 for 54 miles whilst an annual DB (German) 100 BahnCard, which allows one year's travel on the entire German rail network, costs almost exactly the same (3800 Euros)

Average rolling stock age — thought to be an indicator of passenger comfort — fell slightly from the third quarter of 2001–2 to the third quarter of 2003–4, from 20.7 years old to 19.3 years old.

Although passengers rarely have cause to refer to either document, all travel is subject to the National Rail Conditions of Carriage and all tickets are valid subject to the rules set out in a number of so-called technical manuals, which are centrally produced for the network.

See also: List of UK Train Operating Companies

Template:British railway ticket machines (computerised)

Freight servicesEdit

There are four main freight operating companies, the largest of which is DB Schenker (formerly the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS)). There are also several smaller independent operators including Mendip Rail. Types of freight carried include intermodal — in essence containerised freight — and coal, metals, oil, and construction material. Freight services have been in steady decline since the 1950s, although the Department for Transport's Transport Ten Year Plan calls for an 80% increase in rail freight measured from a 2000–1 base.

Statistics on freight are specified in terms of the weight of freight lifted, and the net tonne kilometre, being freight weight multiplied by distance carried. 87 million tonnes of freight was lifted in the 2002–3 period, against 138 million tonnes in 1986–7, a decrease of 37%. 18.7 billion net tonne kilometres (11.4 billion net ton miles) of freight movement were recorded in 2002–3, against 16.6 billion (10.1 billion) in 1986–7, an increase of 13%.

A symbolic loss to the rail freight industry in Great Britain was the custom of the Royal Mail, which from 2004 discontinued use of its 49-train fleet, and switching to road haulage after a near 170-year-preference for trains. Mail trains had long been part of the tradition of the railways in Great Britain, not least because of the film Night Mail, for which W. H. Auden wrote the poem of the same name. Although Royal Mail suspended the Mail train in January 2004, this decision was reversed in December of the same year and Class 325s are now used on some routes including between London, Warrington and Scotland.

1995+ the amount of freight carried on the railways has increased sharply. The railways have become more reliable, and economical. Big Road hauliers such as Eddie Stobart LTD and WH Malcom move goods by rail Hauling supplies from ASDA and TESCO. Morrison also use rail freight, as do M&S and many more retailers. By the year 2015 rail-borne intermodal traffic is scheduled to double, and by 2030 the whole of rail freight is expected to double.

Freight trains in the UK are very fuel efficient compared to the road equivalent, there for the emissions released into the atmosphere is reduced, in fact, the average freight train is 70% more efficient than road transport. The heaviest freight train in the UK, is equivalent to 160 lorry loads.

UK freight trains are going to get heavier and bigger over the next few years to increase efficiency even more and to attract more freight onto rail.

Template:British freight operators

High-speed railEdit

File:WCML ECML Midlands.png
Main article: High-speed rail in the United Kingdom

High-speed rail (above 125 mph) was first introduced in Great Britain in the 1970s by British Rail. BR had pursued two development projects in parallel, the development of a tilting train technology, the 'Advanced Passenger Train' (APT), and development of a conventional high speed diesel train, the 'High Speed Train' (HST). The APT project was abandoned, but the HST design entered service as the British Rail Classes 253, 254 and 255 trains. The prototype HST, the British Rail Class 252, reached a world speed record for diesel trains of 143.2 mph, while the main fleet entered service limited to a service speed of 125 mph, and were introduced progressively on main lines across the country, with a rebranding of their services as the InterCity 125. With electrification of the East Coast Main Line, high speed rail in Great Britain was augmented with the introduction of the British Rail Class 91, intended for passenger service at up to 140 mph (225 km/h), and thus branded as the InterCity 225. The Class 91 units were designed for a maximum service speed of 140 mph, and running at this speed was trialled with a 'flashing green' signal aspect under the British signalling system. The trains were eventually limited to the same speed as the HST, to 125 mph, with higher speeds deemed to require Cab signalling, which as of 2010 was not in place on the normal British railway network (but was used on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link). A final attempt by the nationalised British Rail at High Speed Rail was the cancelled InterCity 250 project in the 1990s for the West Coast Main Line.

The first implementation of high speed rail up to 186 mph in regular passenger service in Great Britain was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now known as High Speed 1), when its first phase opened in 2003 linking the British end of the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone with Fawkham Junction in Kent. This is used by international only passenger trains for the Eurostar service, using British Rail Class 373 trains. The line was later extended all the way into London St Pancras in 2007.

Post privatisation, a plan to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to speeds of up to 140 mph with infrastructure improvements were finally abandoned, although the tilting train Class 390 Pendolino fleet designed for this maximum speed of service were still built and entered service in 2002, and operates limited to 125 mph. Other routes in the UK were upgraded with trains capable of top speeds of up to 125 mph running with the introduction between 2000 and 2005 of Class 180 Adelante DMUs and the Bombardier Voyager family of DEMUs (Classes 220, 221 and 222).

After the building of the first of a new British Rail Class 395 train fleet for use partly on High Speed 1 and parts of the rest of the UK rail network, the first domestic high speed running over 125 mph (to about 141.37 mph) begin in December 2009, including a special Olympic Javelin shuttle for the 2012 Olympics. These services are operated by the Southeastern franchise.

Following several studies and consultations on high speed rail, in 2009 the UK Government formally announced the High Speed 2 project, establishing a company to produce a feasibility study to examine route options and financing for a new high speed railway in the UK. This study began on the assumption that the route would be a new purpose built high speed line, from London to the West Midlands, via London Heathrow, relieving traffic on the West Coast Main Line, and would use conventional high speed rail technology as opposed to Maglev. The rolling stock would be capable of travelling on the existing Network Rail infrastructure if required.

For replacement of the domestic fleet of Intercity 125 and 225 trains on the existing national network, the Intercity Express Programme was announced. In February 2009 it was announced the preferred rolling stock option for this project was the Hitachi Super Express family of multiple units, expected to enter service in 2013. It was stated by Agility Trains, the consortium building the trains, that they would be capable of a maximum speed of 140 mph with "minor modifications", with the necessary signalling modifications required of the Network Rail infrastructure in Britain likely to come from the phased roll out of the Europe wide European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

As of August 2009 the speeds of the fastest trains operating in Great Britain capable of a top speed of over 125 mph were as follows:

Name Locomotive Class Type Max. Recorded Speed (mph (km/h)) Max. Design Speed (mph (km/h)) Max. Speed in service (mph (km/h))
Eurostar Class 373 EMU 209 (334.7) 186 (300) 186 (300)
Javelin Class 395 EMU 140 (225) 140 (225) 140 (225)
InterCity 225 Class 91 Electric Loco 162 (261) 140 (225) 125 (200)
Pendolino Class 390 EMU 145 (234)[4] 140 (225) 125 (200)
InterCity 125 Class 43 (HST) Diesel Loco 148 (238) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Adelante Class 180 DMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Voyager Class 220 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Super Voyager Class 221 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)
Meridian/Pioneer Class 222 DEMU 125 (200) 125 (200) 125 (200)

The fastest domestic railway journey in the UK is the non-stop East Coast service from London King's Cross to York, timetabled to complete the 188-mile journey in 1 hours 44 minutes, giving an average speed of 109 mph.[5]

Leasing servicesEdit


File:Class 47 railway locomotive - Fragonset Black livery - Virginia Water railway station - 280404.jpg

At the time of privatisation, the rolling stock of British Rail was sold either directly to the new operators, as in the case of the freight companies, or to the three ROSCOs (Rolling Stock Operating Companies) which lease or hire stock to passenger and freight train operators. Leasing is relatively commonplace in transport, since it enables operating companies to avoid the complication associated with raising sufficient capital to purchase assets; instead, assets are leased and paid for from ongoing revenue. Since 1994 there has been a growth in smaller spot-hire companies that provide rolling stock on short-term contracts. Many of these have grown thanks to the major selling-off of locomotives by the large freight operators, especially EWS.

Unlike other major players in the privatised railway system of Great Britain, the ROSCOs are not subject to close regulation by the economic regulatory authority. They were expected to compete with one another, and they do, although not in all respects.


Since privatisation in 1995, the ROSCOs have faced criticism from a number of quarters - including passenger train operating companies such as GNER, Arriva and FirstGroup - on the basis that they are acting as an oligopoly to keep lease prices higher than would be the case in a more competitive market. In 1998, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott asked Rail Regulator John Swift QC to investigate the operation of the market and make recommendations. It was believed by many at the time that Prescott favoured much closer regulation of the ROSCOs, perhaps bringing them into the net of contract-specific regulation, i.e. requiring every rolling stock lease to be individually approved by the Rail Regulator before it could be valid. Swift's report did not find major problems with the operation of what was then an infant market, and instead recommended that the ROSCOs sign up to voluntary, non-binding codes of practice in relation to their future behaviour. Prescott did not like this, but he did not have the legislative time allocation to do much about it. Swift's successor as Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor, agreed with Swift and the ROSCOs were happy to go along with codes of practice, coupled with the Rail Regulator's new powers to deal with abuse of dominance and anti-competitive behaviour under the Competition Act 1998. In establishing these codes, the Rail Regulator made it clear that he expected the ROSCOs to adhere to their spirit as well as their letter. The codes of practice were duly put in place and for the next five years the Rail Regulator received no complaints about ROSCO behaviour.

White paper 2004Edit

File:390029 'City of Stoke-on-Trent' at Birmingham New Street.JPG

In July 2004, to the surprise of many, the Department for Transport's White Paper on the future of the railways contained a statement that it was dissatisfied with the operation of the rolling stock leasing market and believed that there may have been excessive pricing on the part of the ROSCOs.

In June 2006, Gwyneth Dunwoody, the House of Commons Transport Committee chair, called for an investigation into the companies.[6] Transport commentator Christian Wolmar has asserted that the high cost of leasing is due to the way the franchises are distributed to the train operating companies. While the TOCs are negotiating for a franchise they have some freedom to propose different rolling stock options. It is only once they have won the franchise, however, that they start negotiating with the ROSCOs. The ROSCO will know the TOC's requirements and also knows that the TOC has to obtain a fixed mix of rolling stock which puts the train operating company at a disadvantage in its negotiations with the ROSCO. However, Wolmar considers it a mistake to blame the ROSCOs who are simply behaving in the way commercial companies always behave. Ultimately the problem for Wolmar is the system and that is down to the government who are not prepared to seek a more workable solution (On the Wrong Line 289).

Competition CommissionEdit

On 29 November 2006, following a June 2006 complaint by the Department for Transport alleging excessive pricing by the ROSCOs, the Office of Rail Regulation announced that it was minded to refer the operation of the market for passenger rolling stock to the Competition Commission, citing, amongst other factors, problems in the DfT's own franchising policy as responsible for what may be regarded as a dysfunctional market. ORR said it will consult the industry and the public on what to do, and will publish its decision in April 2007. If the ORR does refer the market to the Competition Commission, there may well be a hiatus in investment in new rolling stock whilst the ROSCOs and their parent companies wait to hear what return they will be allowed to make on their train fleets. This could have the unintended consequence of intensifying the problem of overcrowding on some routes because TOCs will be unable to lengthen their trains or acquire new ones if they need the ROSCOs to co-operate in their acquisition or financing. Some commentators have suggested that such an outcome would be detrimental to the public interest. This is especially striking since the National Audit Office, in its November 2006 report on the renewal and upgrade of the West Coast main line, said that the capacity of the trains and the network will be full in the next few years and advocated train lengthening as an important measure to cope with sharply higher passenger numbers.

The Competition Commission is now conducting an investigation (due to be completed on 25 April 2009) and published provisional findings [7] on 7 August 2008.

Leasing companies (ROSCO)Edit

  • Angel Trains - owned by a consortium of private equity investors, mainly comprising pension funds and insurance companies, and has 4,400 vehicles in the UK.
  • HSBC Rail - a lessor of domestic passenger rolling stock, owned by HSBC.
  • Porterbrook - leases some 3,500 locomotives, trains and freight wagons; owned by a consortium including Deutsche Bank, Lloyds TSB(who withdrew in Oct 2010) and BNP Paribas.

Template:British ROSCOs

In 2008, two further companies have come about to try and break into the leasing market:

Spot-hire companiesEdit

Template:British Rail Spot Hire Companies

Statutory frameworkEdit

See also: Structure of the rail industry in the United Kingdom

Railways in Great Britain are in the private sector. As such, they are not controlled by central government, although they are subject to economic and safety regulation by arms of government.

In 2006, using powers in the Railways Act 2005, the Department for Transport took over most of the functions of the now wound up Strategic Rail Authority. The DfT now itself runs competitions for the award of passenger rail franchises, and, once awarded, monitors and enforces the contracts with the private sector franchisees. Franchises specify the passenger rail services which are to be run and the quality and other conditions (for example, the cleanliness of trains, station facilities and opening hours, the punctuality and reliability of trains) which the operators have to meet. Some franchises receive subsidy from the DfT for doing so, and some are cash-positive, which means that the franchisee pays the DfT for the contract. Some franchises start life as subsidised and, over their life, move to being cash-positive.

The other regulatory authority for the privatised railway is the Office of Rail Regulation, which, following the Railways Act 2005, is the combined economic and safety regulator. It replaced the Rail Regulator on 5 July 2004. The Rail Safety and Standards Board still exists, however; established in 2003 on the recommendations of a public inquiry, it leads the industry's progress in health and safety matters.

The principal modern railway statutes are:

Local metro and other rail systemsEdit

Main article: Rapid transit in the United Kingdom

A number of towns and cities have rapid transit systems. Heavy rail underground technology is used in the London and Glasgow Underground systems. Light rail with underground sections in the city centre exist in Tyne and Wear and in the London Docklands. The light rail systems in Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Croydon and the Birmingham/Black Country use a combination of street running in the city centres and former conventional rail lines in the suburbs. Blackpool has the one remaining traditional tram system. Monorails, heritage tramways, miniature railways and funiculars also exist in several places. In addition, there are a number of heritage (mainly steam) standard and narrow gauge railways, and a few industrial railways and tramways. Some lines which appear to be heritage operations are actually part of the public transport network; the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent regularly transports schoolchildren.

Most major cities have some form of commuter rail network. These include Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

Railway stationsEdit

File:London Victoria Station frontage.jpg

Most railway stations in Great Britain date from the Victorian era and some are located on the edge of town and city centres. Major stations lie for the most part in large cities, typically with the largest conurbations (e.g. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester) boasting more than one main station. London is a major hub of the network, with 12 major main line terminuses forming a "ring" around the central area. Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Bristol and Reading, on the other hand, are major interchanges for many cross country journeys that do not involve London. However, some important railway junction stations lie in smaller cities and towns, for example York station, Crewe station and Ely station. Other places expanded into towns and cities because of the railway network. Swindon, for example, was little more than a village prior to the Great Western Railway choosing to site their locomotive works there. In many instances geography, politics or military considerations caused stations to originally be located further from the towns they served until, with time, these issues could be overcome (for example, Portsmouth had its original station at Gosport).

Template:Major UK railway stations

Railway industryEdit

Statutory authoritiesEdit

Network rail and signalling operationsEdit

Other national entitiesEdit

Regional entitiesEdit

See Passenger Transport Executive

See List of companies operating trains in the United Kingdom.

Freight railway companiesEdit

Open access operators and other non-franchised passenger operatorsEdit

Early railway companies (1820s–1840s)Edit

This is only the earliest of the main line openings: for a more comprehensive list of the hundreds of early railways see List of early British railway companies

Heritage and private railwaysEdit


Many lines closed by British Railways (including many closed during the Beeching cuts have been restored and re-opended as heritage railways. A few have been relaid as narrowgauge but the majority are standard gauge. Most deploy both steam and diesel locomotives for haulage. The majority of heritage railways are operated as tourist attractions and do not provide regular year-round train services. See also this list of British heritage and private railways.

Railway re-openingEdit

Several pressure groups are campaigning for the re-opening of closed railway lines in Great Britain. These include:

Since 1995, 27 new lines (totalling 199 track miles) and 68 stations had been opened, with 65 new station sites identified by Network Rail or government for possible construction.[14]

On 15 June 2009 the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) published the report Connecting Communities: Expanding Access to the Rail Network, detailing schemes around England where it believed there was a commercial business case for passenger network expansion. The published proposals involved the re-opening or new construction of 40 stations, serving communities with populations of over 15,000, including 14 schemes involving the re-opening or reconstruction of rail lines for passenger services. These schemes would be short lead time localised projects, to be completed in timescales ranging from 2 years 9 months to 6 years, once approved by local and regional governments, Network Rail and the Department for Transport, complementing existing long term national projects.[14][15]

Rail link(s) with adjacent countriesEdit

See alsoEdit





External linksEdit

Template:Commons category

Template:Rail transport in Europe

de:Schienenverkehr in Großbritannien

fr:Système ferroviaire britannique ja:イギリスの鉄道 no:Jernbane i Storbritannia

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.