- Railways Act 1921
The Railways Act of 1921, also known as the Grouping Act, was an enactment by the British government of
David Lloyd Georgeintended to stem the losses being made by many of the country's 120 railway companies, move the railways away from internal competition, and to retain some of the benefits which the country had derived from a government-controlled railway during and after the Great Warof 1914-1918.
The British railway system had been built up by more than 100 railway companies, large and small, and often, particularly locally, in competition with each other. The parallel railways of the East Midlands, and the "war" between the South Eastern Railway and the
London, Brighton and South Coast Railwayat Hastings were examples of such local competition.
World War Ithe railways were under state control, which continued until 1921. Complete nationalisationhad been considered, and the 1921 Act is sometimes considered as a precursor to that, but the concept was rejected; nationalisation was subsequently carried out after World War II, under the Transport Act 1947.
The final act largely followed proposals set out in a June 1920
white paper, "Outline of Proposals as to the Future Organisation of Transport Undertakings in Great Britain and their Relation to the State". [cite hansard | url=http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1920/aug/03/the-state-and-the-railways | house= House of Lords| date=3 August 1920 | column_start=711 | column_end=713 ]
Aims of the Act
After consideration of the Railways Bill it was decided that the Scottish companies, originally destined to be a separate group, would be included with the Midland/North Western and Eastern groups respectively, in order that the three main Anglo-Scottish trunk routes should each be owned by one company for its full length: the
West Coast Main Lineand the Midland Main Lineby the former group, and the East Coast Main Lineby the latter.
The opening paragraph of the Railways Act 1921 states:
With a view to the reorganisation and more efficient and economical working of the railway system of Great Britain railways shall be formed into groups in accordance with the provisions of this Act, and the principal railway companies in each group shall be amalgamated, and other companies absorbed in manner provided by this Act.
The Act took effect on
1 January 1923. By that date most of the mergers had taken place, some from the previous year. The "Railway Magazine" in its issue of February 1923 dubbed the new companies as "The Big Four of the New Railway Era".
These "Big Four" were:
London, Midland and Scottish Railway(LMS)
Great Western Railway(GWR)
London and North Eastern Railway(LNER)
* Southern Railway (SR)
See also a list of railway companies involved in the 1923 grouping.
Lines outside of the Act
A number of lines remained outside the "Big Four"; many operated as
joint railways. Examples include the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway (M&GN) between the LMS and the LNER in eastern England, the largest of the joint railways; the second largest was the Cheshire Lines Committee, also LMS/LNER; and the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway(S&DJ) between the LMS and the SR in south-western England, perhaps the most famous of the joint railways.
Other exempted railways were
light railwaysauthorised under the Light Railways Act 1896, and similar lines; although some such lines still chose to join the Groups. Those lines staying independent were principally those under the influence of Colonel Stephens, who had been instrumental in securing the necessary exemption.
* [http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=65 View the text of the Act]
* [http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/irs/irshome/features/readings/archive/grouping.htm Some historical opinion articles from the University of York]
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