British Railways (British Rail, or BR), was the standard-gauge (4ft 8½in or 1,435mm) mainline railway for Britain (the United Kingdom), between 1948 to 1997.

Post 1965 it was known as British Rail, a modernizing theme (similar to CP Rail and CN in Canada), but was from 1994 to 1997 and is no longer the primary UK Class 1 railway in the UK.


British Railways was formed to nationalise the "Big Four." This was LNER, GWR, SR and LMS. These companies each suffered from financial issues due to having a tough competition, lack of coverage, and tried monopolizing over one another. This was changed and fixed after World War II, with the Transport Act of 1947; in which the Big Four would be controlled by the government under the name British Railways. Then, there was the take over of the Big Four's assets by the British Transportation Commission on the 1st of January 1948. Things eventually declined. Such as: the loss of freight customers, and a huge decrease in freight traffic; and by 1955, British Railways recorded its first operating loss. In the end, the freight portion of BR was no longer necessary due to trucks taking over and having better coverage, and passenger trains being much more popular in the UK's crowded and distant cities. Hence, passenger travel being the main use of transportation from the 1950s until present day.

The report later known as the "Modernisation Plan" came into existence in December 1954. This was to make the railways in the UK safer, more reliable and cost efficient. Major parts of this were:

  • The removal of unnecessary lines that were mirrors of other lines, basically making some lines bigger while ripping up others and funneling the traffic into the new enlarged lines;
  • 'Dieselisation' and 'Electrification', when the steam locomotives where gradually replaced by diesel locomotives and/or electric locomotives.
  • Newer rolling stock to be built to make traveling safer, and nicer.

By 1968, there were no steam locomotives running on British Rail, as it was known after 1965.

In 1994, British Rail had come full circle. Because this was the start of privatization of BR, this continued gradually until 1997, and by 2000 British Rail no longer existed.


Unlike the US, the UK no longer relies on freight trains to deliver certain amounts of goods. Only certain minerals such as coal are delivered by various freight railway companies such as Freightliner.

BR originally planned on scrapping all its steam locomotives and rollingstock (such as the Flying Scotsman) before  preservation societies and government officials expressed interest in their historical value.

Long, 5-digit numbers were often used on most of the BR's early fleets of locomotives.

During the British imperialization in India and South Africa, many steam locomotives were built and exported to help both nations become more productive and modern by helping them built railway networks. Most of the exported steam locomotives were very simple and easier to drive compared to their original counter-parts. Hence, having limited speed, simple controls, and they ironically had less flaws.

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