History of rail transport in Great Britain 1948 - 1994

History of rail transport in Great Britain 1948 - 1994

"This article is part of a series on the History of rail transport in Great Britain"

The History of rail transport in Great Britain 1948 - 1994 covers the period when the British railway system was nationalised under British Rail (initially known as "British Railways"), until its eventual privatisation in 1994.

The 1940s: Nationalisation

The Transport Act 1947 nationalised nearly all forms of mass transport in Great Britain, and came into effect on January 1 1948. [ cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=67| 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] "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. A small number of independent light railways and industrial railways, which did not contribute significant mileage to the system, were not included in British Railways; nor were the London Underground and the Glasgow Underground, which were already public concerns, the Liverpool Overhead Railway, and non-railway-owned tramways. The Northern Counties Committee lines owned by the LMS were quickly sold to the Northern Ireland government, becoming part of the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) in 1949.

Under the BTC's Railway Executive, the railways were organised into six regions:
* Eastern Region (ER) — LNER lines south of Shaftholme Junction, Doncaster "(region later amalgamated with the North Eastern Region)"
* North Eastern Region (NER) — LNER lines in England north of Shaftholme Junction "(region later amalgamated with the Eastern Region)"
* London Midland Region (LMR) — LMS lines in England and Wales.
* Scottish Region (ScR) — LMS and LNER lines in Scotland
* Southern Region (SR) — Southern Railway lines
* Western Region (WR) — Great Western Railway lines

The 1950s: Modernisation

Before the war, the railway companies had formed a powerful political lobby group, but one effect of nationalisation was to effectively destroy this political influence (as they were owned by the government, they could hardly criticise its policies). Conversely the newly-privatised road haulage industry and motor interests were becoming increasingly powerful and influential over government transport policy. In the post-war world, lifestyles underwent radical changes, cars became affordable to the masses, new roads and motorways were built. The railways on the other hand entered the post-war world with technologies and operating practices which had changed little since the Victorian era.

In the immediate post-war period, most of the money spent on the railways went on clearing the enormous maintenance backlog inherited from the war effort. After that there was little left over for modernisation. The priority in the immediate aftermath of nationalisation was to repair wartime damage and clear the backlog of maintenance work.

At the start of the 1950s, British Railways were making a working profit, albeit a small one. However, Britain had fallen well behind the rest of Europe in terms of dieselisation and electrification of its railways. Further, under the Labour government there was a political incentive to avoid dieselisation because this would have meant a reduced demand for coal, which would have put miners out of work. The bureaucratic committee structure of the BTC and British Railways did not help matters: it slowed progress towards modernisation to a crawl.

Some pre-war capital investment schemes that had stopped upon the outbreak of hostilities were restarted (e.g. the Manchester-Sheffield-Wath electrification over the Woodhead route and the Great Eastern suburban electrification). The new BR regions to a large extent inherited the organisations, structures and ethos of their predecessor Big Four companies and continued to work with a large degree of autonomy, building new steam locomotives and rolling stock to their respective companies' pre-war designs. There were also significant differences in fixed-stock engineering standards and operating standards between the former companies. The BR network was powered almost exclusively by steam locomotives, often of pre-grouping vintage, with rolling stock of a similar vintage and all in a poor state of repair. Only the Southern Region with its large electrified suburban network in south London operated a significant number of non-steam-powered trains.

Rather than pursue other forms of motive power on a large scale, in 1951 a new range of BR standard steam locomotives was introduced, along with new standard passenger and freight rolling stock. Production of the various pre-nationalisation types ceased in favour of these. At the same time attempts were made to standardise other engineering standards and operating standards across the organisation wherever possible.

The Modernisation Plan

The modernisation plan [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=23| title=Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Rail| author=British Transport Commission| publisher=(Originally published by the British Transport Commission)|year=1954| work=The Railways Archive| accessdate=2006-11-25] was introduced in 1954, and intended to bring the railway system into the 20th century. A government White Paper produced in 1956 stated that modernisation would help eliminate BR's financial deficit by 1962. The aim was to increase speed, reliability, safety and line capacity, through a series of measures which would make services more attractive to passengers and freight operators, thus recovering traffic that was being lost to the roads. The important areas were:

* Electrification of principal main lines, in the Eastern Region, Kent, Birmingham and Central Scotland;
* Large-scale dieselisation to replace steam locomotives;
* New passenger and freight rolling stock;
* Resignalling and track renewal;
* Closure of small number of lines which were seen as unnecessary in a nationalised network, as they duplicated other lines.

However most railway historians now regard it as a costly failure and a missed opportunity. It failed to define what the railways were actually for; failed to take into account the impact that the motor car, road transport and a changing society would have upon the railway system; and attempted to perpetuate the railway system as it had been since the Victorian era, as if nothing had changed. The modernisation plan was hugely expensive, costing more than one billion pounds (over £18.1 billion in 2006 money), and failed to produce the hoped-for revival in rail traffic.

For example, massive investment was made in marshalling yards at a time when the small wagonload traffic which they dealt with was in steep decline and being lost rapidly to the roads. £85 million pounds (£1.54 billion in 2006 money) was spent on upgrading marshalling yards, many of which were closed only a few years later. The decline of wagonload traffic was exacerbated by the removal of some of BR's legal liabilities as a common carrier - in particular the requirement that general goods handling facilities must be offered at every station. This ended the tradition of having a general goods handling facility with associated rail infrastructure at practically every station, many of which were becoming under-utilised in the face of competition from road transport. However, this did have associated cost savings in staff and infrastructure, as well as causing a significant reduction in the numbers of slow stopping freight trains, which increased network capacity.

Another element of the modernisation plan was the replacement of steam haulage with diesel and electric traction. However the dieselisation plans were rushed, and many classes of diesel locomotive were hurried into full-scale production before their prototypes had been fully tested. Predictably enough it turned out to be an expensive fiasco. Many of the new diesels were chronically unreliable, some so much so that they had to be withdrawn from service after just a few months of use, at enormous cost. This affair did little to bolster British Railways' reputation with the public or the government. Theoretically, dieselisation would produce efficiency savings, because diesel locomotives were less labour-intensive than steam. However, the unreliability of many of the new diesels wiped out much of the potential savings.

The failure of the Modernisation Plan led to a distrust of BR's financial planning abilities by the Treasury which was to dog BR for the rest of its existence.


The Modernisation Plan called for significant suburban and main-line electrification. Despite investment in two 1.5kV DC overhead schemes only a few years earlier, outside the Southern Region this was mostly done with the new standard 25 kV AC overhead line equipment (OLE), leaving these two older systems obsolescent.

In the Eastern region the plan called for electrification of many routes to this standard. These included the London, Tilbury and Southend (LTS) line; suburban lines out of London Liverpool Street, recently partially electrified on the 1.5kV DC system, were upgraded initially to a mix of 6.25kV AC and 25kV AC OLE and extended. The London Kings Cross suburban lines were electrified at 25kV AC in the 1970s.

In the Scottish region electrification of large parts of the Glasgow Suburban was called for again at 25 kV AC OLE, which would over time grow into a large system.

In the Southern Region the already extensive third rail system was called to be extended to the Kent Coast.

In addition to the suburban electrification, main line electrification was called for, starting with the West Coast Main Line. This was done in stages from 1959 to 1974, initially connecting Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool to London, and going on to Glasgow.

The continuing electrification program of the 1980s which saw the electrification of the East Coast Main Line, London St Pancras suburban system and further extension of the Southern Region network can be seen as a direct extension of this plan.

Other events

Two serious crashes, the Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash in 1952 (in which 112 people died), and the Lewisham rail crash in 1957 (in which 90 people died) lead to the introduction of the Automatic Warning System across the network.

In 1958 the region boundaries were redrawn to make them geographical rather than based on pre-nationalisation ownership. Former LMS lines in Yorkshire were transferred from the London Midland to the Eastern and North Eastern region: the London Midland region gained the former Great Central Railway lines outside Yorkshire and Lincolnshire from the Eastern Region in return. Former LMS lines in the south-west of the country, including the northern section of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, were transferred to the Western region.

Some routes were closed during the 1950s to take account of changing transport patterns and to remove obvious route duplication. For instance, in East Anglia most of the former Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway was closed in 1959; long-distance passenger trains on the former Great Central Railway main line ended in 1960 as a prelude to its later closure. However, the route closures were just a small taste of what was to come.

The 1960s: Rationalisation

The Beeching reports

By 1960, the railway's performance was low, with a deficit of £68m. This increased to £87m in 1961, and still further to £104m in 1962 cite web |url=http://www.ndad.nationalarchives.gov.uk/AH/37/detail.html |title=British Railways Board history| accessdate=2006-11-25| publisher=The National Archives] (£1.88 billion in 2006 money). Under the Transport Act, 1962 [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=116| 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] , Harold Macmillan's Conservative government dissolved the British Transport Commission, and created the British Railways Board to take over its railway duties from 1 January 1963.

The railway's huge deficit meant that the government's patience with them ran out. In 1962 the transport minister Ernest Marples appointed Richard Beeching as head of British Railways with a brief to cut the spiralling losses. His report "The Reshaping of British Railways" issued in 1963, concluded that much of the railway network carried little traffic and should be closed down. [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=13| 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=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=35| 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 ] His report proposed a massive closures programme which would involve 5,000 miles of track, and 2,363 small stations being closed, which came to be known as the "Beeching axe". The report also proposed that British Rail electrify some major main lines and adopt containerized freight traffic instead of outdated and uneconomic wagon-load traffic.

The closures recommended by the report were mostly implemented. They peaked in the mid 1960s and continued until the early 1970s. By 1975, the system had shrunk to 12,000 miles (19 000 km) of track and 2000 stations. The closures failed to produce the hoped for savings, or to restore the railways to profitability.

In 1965, Dr. Beeching issued a second, less well-known, report "The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes", widely known as "Beeching II", which singled out lines that were believed to be worthy of continued large-scale investment. [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=14| title=The Development Of The Major Railway Trunk Routes| author=British Transport Commission| year=1965| month=February| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25 ] . It proposed that all railway lines other than major inter-city routes and important commuter lines around big cities had little future and would eventually close. If the report had been implemented, the railway system would have been cut to just 7,000 miles (11,250 km), leaving Britain with little more than a skeletal railway system, with large parts of the country entirely devoid of railways.

Modernisation continues

The late 1950s to the end of the 1960s saw first a reduction, then the final withdrawal of Britain's fleet of steam locomotives. Mass withdrawals of older classes started towards the end of the 1950s, with many of the pre-grouping companies' engines being scrapped. BR built its last steam engine at Swindon in 1960. Withdrawals of newer steam engines started in the early 1960s, some of which had been built to modern post-war designs and were less than ten years old. During this period many new designs of diesel locomotive and multiple unit were introduced to replace steam trains. The greater availability and reliability of these new trains, coupled with the need for fewer locomotives and less rolling stock caused by the Beeching line closures, meant that the BR fleet reduced significantly. Main-line diesel locomotives were arriving in large numbers in the first few years of the decade, and in early 1966 the Western Region was the first region to have no steam locomotives; other regions quickly followed suit, with the last pocket of steam traction being withdrawn from the North-West of England in August 1968. The short narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway at Aberystwyth in Wales was the only exception: it was still steam-operated on its sale by BR in 1989. Pre-nationalisation rolling stock was withdrawn as BR standard stock became available, the majority had gone by the end of the 1960s.

s, now characteristic of British railways, were added to the fronts of diesel and electric locomotives and multiple units in order to increase the safety of track workers.

The Transport Act 1962 converted British Railways from being the trade name of a BTC activity to a separate public corporation, as the British Railways Board. As the last steam locomotives were withdrawn, the corporation's public name was re-branded in 1965 as British Rail (see British Rail brand names for a full history). This re-branding introduced the double-arrow logo to represent the industry as a whole; the standardised typeface (known as "Rail Alphabet") used for all communications and signs; and the "BR blue" livery, which was applied to nearly all locomotives and rolling stock.

In 1967 the North Eastern region was folded into the Eastern region.

The 1970s : HST and APT

The 1970s saw British Rail successfully introduced high speed diesel train services, as well as major resignalling projects designed to increase operational efficiency. In 1976 the InterCity 125 High Speed Train (HST)was introduced on some services, and the InterCity brand was adopted. This created an increase in passengers using the railways and improved British Rail's finances. British Rail also started development of the world's first tilting train - the Advanced Passenger Train (APT). However, lack of money, political pressure, and the launch of the prototype into passenger service before technical problems were fully overcome lead to the project being cancelled in the early 1980s. The major engineering works of BR were split-off into a separate company, "British Rail Engineering Limited" (BREL), in 1970. This was subsequently split further, becoming British Rail Maintenance Limited (BRML), whose ownership was retained by British Rail; and British Rail Engineering (1988) Limited, which was prepared for privatisation. The latter went through a series of owners, mergers and take-overs, and now resides with Canadian transport company Bombardier. In 1973, the TOPS computer system for managing locomotives and rolling stock owned by a rail system, was introduced. Hauled rolling stock continued to carry numbers in a separate series. The adoption of the TOPS system made for some changes in the way the railway system in Britain worked. Hitherto, locomotives were numbered in three different series. Steam locomotives carried unadorned numbers up to five digits long. Diesel locomotives carried four-digit numbers prefixed with a letter 'D', and electric locomotives with a letter 'E'. Thus, up to three locomotives could carry the same number. TOPS could not handle this, and it also required similar locomotives to be numbered in a consecutive series in terms of classification, in order that they might be treated together as a group.

The Intercity 125 High Speed Train

The InterCity 125 was planned as a stop gap measure, meant to fill until electrification was spread across all main lines, and the Advanced Passenger Train (APT) was in service. Research had begun for the tilting but it was not possible to predict when the APT would enter service. The HST applied what had been learned so far to traditional technology - a parallel project to the APT development, based on conventional principles but incorporating the newly discovered knowledge of wheel/rail interaction and suspension design. The class holds the world record for diesel traction, achieving 148.4 mph (238 km/h) with a shortened set running speed trials between Darlington and York. Unlike the APT, the InterCity 125 was an outstanding success, and is still in widespread use in 2008.

The HST was introduced from 1976 on the Great Western Main Line between London, Oxford, Reading, Dicot Parkway, Swindon and Bristol/South Wales, at a time when the maximum speed of British trains was 100 mph (160 km/h). [cite web| url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/4/newsid_2486000/2486817.stm| title=4 October 1976: New train speeds into service|accessdate=2006-11-25| work=BBC On This Day] A radical update of the standard BR livery was complemented by the 'InterCity 125' branding which also appeared on timetables and promotional literature. By May 1977 the full complement was in service on the GWML and they completely replaced locomotive hauled trains on the Bristol / South Wales routes.

Production continued, allowing the Intercity 125s to take over routes on the East Coast Main Line from 1977. They soon displaced the Deltics to lesser workings and reduced the journey time to Edinburgh by up to an hour. The HSTs also took over routes on other West of England services from 1979, Cross-Country express trains from 1981 and finally the Midland Main Line services. 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 increased speed and rapid acceleration and deceleration slashed journey times around the country. BR enjoyed a boom in patronage on the routes operated by the HSTs, and InterCity's profits jumped accordingly - with cross-subsidisation in turn safeguarding the future of remaining rural routes which had been under threat of closure since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

The Advanced Passenger Train

British Rail developed the world's first tilting train - The Advanced Passenger Train (APT). The object of the tilt was to minimise the discomfort to passengers caused by taking the curves of the West Coast Main Line at high speed. The APT also included hydrokinetic brakes, which enabled the train to stop from 150mph within existing signal spacings. [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=87| title=Tomorrow's Train, Today| author=British Railways Board | year=1980| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(Originally published by the British Railways Board) | pages=18 |accessdate=2006-11-25 (Promotional leaflet)]

The introduction into service of the Advanced Passenger Train was to be a three-stage project. Phase 1, the development of an experimental APT (APT-E), was completed. The APT-E used a gas turbine-electric locomotive, the only multiple unit so powered that was used by British Rail. It was formed of two power cars (numbers PC1 and PC2), initially with nothing between them, and later two trailer cars (TC1 and TC2). [cite web |url=http://www.old-dalby.com/apt-e.htm |title=E Train| work=The Old Dalby Test Track ] . The cars were made of aluminium to reduce the weight of the unit, and were articulated. The use of a gas turbine was dropped from development, due to excessive noise of the turbine and the high fuel costs of the late 1970s. [cite web |url=http://www.northeast.railfan.net/pro_faq2.html#turbine |title= Diesel-Electric Engine Operation - NE Rails|accessdate=2006-11-26] . The APT-E first ran on 25 July 1971. The train drivers' union, ASLEF black-listed the train due to the use of a single driver. The train was moved to the works at Derby (with the aid of a locomotive inspector). This triggered a one day strike by ASLEF that cost BR more than the research budget for the entire year. cite web |url=http://www.apt-p.com/APTWithHindsight.htm|title= APT - With Hindsight|accessdate=2006-11-26|author=Alan Wickens|work=Prototype Advanced Passenger Train (APT-P.com)] .

Phase 2, the introduction of three prototype trains (APT-P) into revenue service on the Glasgow - London route, did occur. Originally, there were to have been eight APT-P sets running, with minimal differences between them and the main fleet. However, financial constraints lead to only three being authorised, after two years of discussion by the British Railways Board. The cost was split equally between the Board and the Ministry of Transport. After these delays, considerable pressure grew to put the APT-P into revenue-service before they were fully ready. This inevitably lead to high-profile failures as a result of technical problems.

These failures lead to the trains being withdrawn from service while the problems were ironed out. However, by this time, managerial and political support has evaporated. Consequently, phase 3, the introduction of the Squadron fleet (APT-S), did not occur, and the project was ended in 1982.

Although the APT never properly entered service, the experience gained enabled the construction of other high speed trains. The APT powercar technology was imported without the tilt into the design of the Class 91 locomotives, and the tilting technology was incorporated into Italian State Railway's "Pendolino" trains, which first entered service in 1987.

The 1980s : Sectorisation

In the 1980s the regions of BR were abolished and the system sectorised into five sectors. The passenger sectors were InterCity (express services), Network SouthEast (London commuter services) and Regional Railways (regional services). Trainload Freight took trainload freight, Railfreight Distribution took non-trainload freight, Freightliner took intermodal traffic and Rail Express Systems took parcels traffic. The maintenance and remaining engineering works were split off into a new company, BRML (British Rail Maintenance Limited). The new sectors were further subdivided into divisions. This ended the "BR blue" period as new liveries were adopted gradually. Infrastructure remained the responsibility of the Regions until the "Organisation for Quality" initiative in 1991, when this too was transferred to the sectors.

In the early 1980s, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, the possibility of more Beeching-style cuts was raised again briefly. In 1983 Sir David Serpell, a civil servant who had worked with Dr Beeching, compiled what became known as the Serpell Report which called for more rail closures. [cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=29| title=Railway Finances - Report of a Committee chaired by Sir David Serpell KCB CMG OBE| author=Department of Transport | year=1982| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25] The report was met with fierce resistance from many quarters, and it was quickly abandoned.

The rolling stock of BR was becoming increasingly obsolete and near the end of its life. An attempt at a cheap DMU replacement was made with the "Pacers" - essentially modified bus bodies placed upon a fixed wheel freight wagon wheelbase, which met with customer dissatisfaction. However more successful stock such as the 'Sprinters' DMU and Networkers (DMUs and EMUs) were introduced.

To considerable surprise the Thatcher government, which had been perceived as anti-rail, carried out the electrification of the East Coast Main Line from 1985, with the work completed in 1990. At a regional level, the New Network SouthEast introduced extensive new stock, in the form of Networkers (DMUs and EMUs). It also conducted numerous electrification projects; including the Midland Main Line to Bedford ("Bedpan"), and the Southern 750 V DC system reached Hastings and Weymouth. Thameslink, a service that connected the northern and southern halves of London's suburban network, was introduced via the re-opened Snow Hill tunnel in 1988. The Chiltern Main Line was extensively modernised to open up an additional link between London (Marylebone) and Birmingham Snow Hill Station. The service was successfully launched in 1987.

Clapham Junction accident

In 1988, the Clapham Junction rail crash killed 35 people when three commuter trains collided, the worst railway accident in Britain in 30 years. The recommendations of the subsequent inquiry had far-reaching effects.

The inquiry was chaired by QC Anthony Hidden, and published a report in September 1989. [ cite web| url=http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=36| title=Investigation into the Clapham Junction Railway AccidentAct| author=Anthony Hidden (QC) | year=1989| work=The Railways Archive| publisher=(Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office)| accessdate=2006-11-25] It found that the direct cause of the disaster was sloppy work practices in which an old wire, incorrectly left in place after rewiring work and still connected at the supply end, created a false feed to a signal relay, thereby causing its signal to show green when it should have shown red. A contributing technical factor was the lack of double switching in the signal relay circuits, which would have prevented a single false feed causing an accident.

The inquiry recommended the introduction of the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, although it is not certain this would have prevented accident. (ATP guards against driver error, not installation error). Following the Clapham Junction accident and two other fatal accidents in early 1989, British Rail was keen to implement the ATP system across the entire British railway network. However, the cost (estimated at over £1bn) was baulked at by the Conservative government, who were preparing the company for privatisation. In the end, two different proprietary systems were trialled, TBL on the Great Western Main Line and SELCAB on the Chiltern Main Line, but neither system was rolled-out across the network. Today, all First Great Western's HSTs are fitted with ATP, and are not permitted to carry passengers unless the system is functioning.

The accident also highlighted the relatively poor crashworthiness of the rolling stock, which was all of BR's Mark 1 design, dating from 1950. The carriages' superstructures detached from their underframes on impact and disintegrated in the collision. Following the inquiry's recommendations, the use of Mark 1 stock ended on the main line, and their use on low-speed commuter lines was gradually phased out. (Although some Mark 1 -based multiple units were still around as late as 2005, some 17 years later.)

The 1990s: Privatisation

The first half of the 1990s were dominated by the privatisation of British Rail by the government of John Major. The privatisation was the result of the Railways Act 1993, and the operations of the British Railways Board (BRB) were broken up and sold off. (Some "non-core" parts of the BRB's operations, such as its hotels, had already been sold-off by the administration of Margaret Thatcher as early as the first years of the 1980s.)

In 1990 Margaret Thatcher was replaced by John Major as Prime Minister. The Thatcher administration had already sold off nearly all the former state-owned industries, apart from the national rail network. In its manifesto for the 1992 General Election the Conservatives included a commitment to privatise the railways, but were not specific about details. They unexpectedly won the election on 9 April 1992, and consequently had to develop a plan to carry out the privatisation before the Railways Bill was published the next year. The management of British Rail strongly advocated privatisation as one entity, a British Rail PLC in effect. John Major favoured the resurrection of something like the "Big Four" companies that had existed before 1948. The Treasury advocated the creation of seven, later 25, passenger railway franchises as a way of maximising revenue. The Treasury view prevailed.

A follow on from the Chiltern Main Line upgrade was to be the nationwide roll-out of the Automatic Train Protection system, which helped prevent accidents caused by SPADs. However, privatisation intervened and this plan was abandoned. A lack of resources also led to the cancellation during the planning stage of other major infrastructure refurbishment projects, including Crossrail, which would have seen an east-west line through London, and the InterCity 250 upgrade to the West Coast Main Line.

The Railways Bill established a complex structure for the rail industry. British Rail - owned and paid for by the British public - was broken up and given away to private companies, splitting the strusture into over 100 separate companies. There were some regulatory mechanisms: contracts for the use of railway facilities must be approved or directed by the Office of Rail Regulation, although some facilities are exempt from this requirement. Contracts between the principal passenger train operators and the state are called "franchise agreements", which specify minimum service levels, and the amount of subsidy / premium to be paid over the course of the franchise. Franchises were first the responsibility of the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF), then its successor the Strategic Rail Authority and now with the Secretary of State for Transport. Initially, British Rail was broken up into various units frequently based on its own organisational sectors, still controlled by the British Railways Board, but which were sold off over the next few years.

The passage of the Railways Bill was controversial. The public was opposed to rail privatisation and there was much lobbying against the Bill. The Labour Party was implacably opposed to it and promised to renationalise the railways when they got back into office as and when resources allowed.

The Railways Bill became the Railways Act 1993 on 5 November 1993, and the organisational structure dictated by it came into effect on 1 April 1994.


Wilson, David C. Forward! The Revolution in the Lives of the Footplatemen 1962 - 1996:Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1996. ISBN 0-7509-1144-1
*cite book|last=Henshaw|first=David|title=The Great Railway Conspiracy: The Fall and Rise of Britain's Railways Since the 1950s|year=1994|edition=2nd ed.|publisher=Leading Edge Press|location=Hawes, North Yorkshire|id=ISBN 0-9481-3530-1

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