Rail Transport in Great Britain - A

Rail Transport in Great Britain - A
The railway system in Great Britain is the oldest railway system in history. The first locomotive-hauled public railway opened in 1825, which was followed by an era of rapid expansion. Most of the track is managed by Network Rail, which in 2017 had a network of 15,811 kilometres (9,824 mi) of standard-gauge lines, of which 5,374 kilometres (3,339 mi) were electrified.
These lines range from single to quadruple track or more. In addition, some cities have separate metro, light rail and tram systems (including the extensive and historic London Underground). There are also many private railways (some of them narrow-gauge), which are primarily short lines for tourists. The main rail network is connected with that of continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1 (originally the Channel Tunnel Rail Link), which fully opened in 1994 and 2007 respectively.
In 2019, there were 1.738 billion journeys on the National Rail network, making the British network the fifth most used in the world (Great Britain ranks 23rd in world population). Unlike a number of other countries, rail travel in the United Kingdom has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with passenger numbers approaching their highest ever level (see usage figures below).
This has coincided with the privatisation of British Rail, but the cause of this increase is unclear. The growth is partly attributed to a shift away from private motoring due to growing road congestion and increasing petrol prices, but also to the overall increase in travel due to affluence. Passenger journeys in Britain grew by 88% over the period 1997–98 to 2014 as compared to 62% in Germany, 41% in France and 16% in Spain.
The United Kingdom is a member of the International Union of Railways (UIC). The UIC country code for United Kingdom is 70. The UK has the 17th largest railway network in the world, despite many lines having closed in the 20th century, due to the Beeching cuts, it remains one of the densest networks.
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, as well as representing more than 20% of all passenger journeys in Europe. The rail industry employs 115,000 people and supports another 250,000 through its supply chain.
After the initial period of rapid expansion following the first public railways in the early 19th century, from about 1900 onwards the network suffered from gradual attrition, and more severe rationalisation in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the network has again been growing since the 1980s.
The UK was ranked eighth among national European rail systems in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index for intensity of use, quality of service and safety performance. To cope with increasing passenger numbers, there is a large programme of upgrades to the network, including Thameslink, Crossrail, electrification of lines, in-cab signalling, new inter-city trains and new high-speed lines.
Historical Overview
According to historians David Brandon and Alan Brooke, the railways brought into being our modern world:
They stimulated demand for building materials, coal, iron and, later, steel. Excelling in the bulk movement of coal, they provided the fuel for the furnaces of industry and for domestic fireplaces. Millions of people were able to travel who had scarcely ever travelled before. Railways enabled mail, newspapers, periodicals and cheap literature to be distributed easily, quickly and cheaply allowing a much wider and faster dissemination of ideas and information. They had a significant impact on improving diet.... and enabled a proportionately smaller agricultural industry was able to feed a much larger urban population....They employed huge quantities of labour both directly and indirectly.
They helped Britain to become the ‘Workshop of the World’ by reducing transport costs not only of raw materials but of finished goods, large amounts of which were exported....Today's global corporations originated with the great limited liability railway companies....By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, there was scarcely any person living in Britain whose life had not been altered in some way by the coming of the railways. Railways contributed to the transformation of Britain from a rural to a predominantly urban society.
The railways started with the local isolated wooden wagonways in 1560s using horses. These wagonways then spread, particularly in mining areas. The system was later built as a patchwork of local lines 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.
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 19th century Prime Minister William 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 World War II, 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.
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 railway 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 commissioned by the government under Ernest Marples with reorganising the railways. Many branch lines (and a number of main lines) were closed because they were deemed uneconomic ("the Beeching Axe" of 1963), removing much feeder traffic from main line passenger services. In the second Beeching report of 1965, only the "major trunk routes" were selected for large-scale investment, leading many to speculate the rest of the network would eventually be closed. This was never implemented by BR.
Passenger services experienced a renaissance with the introduction of the InterCity 125 trains in the 1970s. Passenger levels fluctuated since then, increasing during periods of economic growth and falling during recessions. The 1980s saw severe cuts in government funding and above-inflation increases in fares, In the early 1990s, the five geographical Regions were replaced by a Sectored organisation, in which passenger services were organised into InterCity, Network SouthEast and Regional Railways sectors.
Rail Transport in Great Britain Overview
Infrastructure Company: Network Rail (until 2024)
Major Operators:
National Rail franchisees
Independent operators
State-owned operators
Ridership: 1.738 billion (2019/20)
Passenger km: 66.8 km (41.5 mi) billion (2019/20)
System Length Total: 15,811 km (9,824 mi)
Electrified: 5,374 km (3,339 mi)
No. Stations: 2,576
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