Rail Freight in Great Britain - Rail Freight Nationalisation Era - B

Rail Freight in Great Britain - B

Rail Freight Nationalisation Era

Britain's railways were nationalised in 1947 including goods operations. Under the 1955 British Rail Modernisation Plan, massive investment was made in marshalling yards at a time when the use of small wagon load traffic with which they dealt was in steep decline. Railway freight services had been in steady decline since the 1930s, initially because of the loss of the manufacturing industry and then road haulage's cost advantage in combination with higher wages.

By 1959 it was realised that the Modernisation Plans were not working. The wagon load traffic lost £57 million on receipts of £105 million in 1961. Signal boxes would have to be staffed 24 hours a day in order to accept a limited amount of traffic. Even the most rural stations transported goods in the form of postal services, 3,368 stations generated only 4% of Royal Mail's receipts.

The Beeching cuts included a reduction in freight services, especially the marshalling yards, to concentrate on long distance bulk transport. In contrast to passenger services, they greatly modernised the goods sector, replacing inefficient wagons with containerised regional hubs. The industry today is very similar to Dr Beeching's vision half a century ago.

In the 1980s, British Rail was reorganised into "sectors" including four goods sectors:

  • Trainload Freight took trainload goods.
  • Railfreight Distribution took non-trainload goods.
  • Freightliner took intermodal traffic.
  • Rail Express Systems took parcel traffic.

The 1980s, however, also brought a huge down-turn in freight traffic, with the sector increasingly seen as irrelevant and without a future.

In 1986, quarrying company Foster Yeoman prompted a turnaround in the reliability of rail freight by obtaining permission to run its own locomotives, and importing the first four EMD class 59s. This design was developed into the class 66 which became widely used by EWS and other operators over a decade later.


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