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British railway system

The British railway system is the oldest in the world. It consists of almost 17,000 km of track.

Since 2002, the tracks and other infrastructure are the responsibility of Network Rail, a non-profit organisation.

Table of contents
1 Train Operating Companies
2 National Framework
3 Channel Tunnel
4 Underground Railways
5 Heritage and Private Railways
6 Major stations
7 History In Brief
8 See also

Train Operating Companies

The trains are operated by 26 companies mainly on a regional franchise basis.

See List of UK Train Operating Companies

National Framework

The Strategic Rail Authority is, within its statutory framework, the strategic planning, and coordinating body for the rail industry and the guardian of passenger and freight interests.

The official regulator is the Office of the Rail Regulator. It has fined a number of operators for failing to provide adequate or accurate ticketing information. The funding and development body is the Strategic Rail Authority, an 'arms-length' governmental organisation operating under Directions and Guidance from the Secretaries of State for Transport.

Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel connects England to France. At the end of September 2003 the first part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was completed, avoiding local commuter lines which had caused delays. Trains can now go through parts of Kent at 180mph, cutting the journey time from London to Paris to two hours twenty minutes. The rest of the link, from north Kent to St Pancras railway station in London, is planned to open in 2007.

Underground Railways

A few places also have metro systems:

Heritage and Private Railways

There are also a number of heritage and private railways - see
List of British heritage and private railways.

Major stations

Major UK railway stations include:

History In Brief

The British railway network is the oldest locomotive-drawn railway system in the world. Great feats of engineering were performed in its creation. Examples from the
Victorian era are the building of the Forth Rail Bridge, or the replacement of 177 miles of broad gauge rail with standard gauge in a single weekend from May 21, 1892. However, mighty engineering feats are not a thing of the past. An example is the building of the Channel tunnel for the link to the Continental railway systems, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from London to the tunnel. Track replacements take considerably longer, however.

The system was originally built as a patchwork of local rail links 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 (see railway mania).

From January 1 1923 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. These were joint stock public companies and they continued to run the railway system until December 31 1947, although nearly bankrupt as a result of the Second World War. From the first moment of the following year, they were nationalised and amalgamated to form British Railways (latterly "British Rail"). During the next fifty years the railways entered a slow decline owing to a lack of investment and changes in transport policy and lifestyles. A major reduction in the network occurred during the mid-1960s after chairman Richard Beeching's review of the railway network (also known as the "Beeching axe"). Many branch lines, particularly rural lines serving communities which relied heavily on their local railways, were closed at that time and this also had the effect of removing a lot of the feeder traffic from the main lines, particularly freight traffic. This move was extremely unpopular at the time, and remains so today.

In the mid 1990s it was decided to privatise British Rail. The track and infrastructure was devolved to a company called Railtrack, whilst ticketing and passenger and freight operations were sold off to individual operators.

The government claimed that privatisation would see an improvement in passenger services: however, the opposite is generally accepted to be true. There were more fatal accidents (particularly the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster and the Hatfield rail crash). Passengers lost confidence in the safety of rail travel.

After the Hatfield crash, speed limits were drastically reduced throughout Britain and train travel was seriously disrupted for months. Railtrack came close to bankruptcy due to the enormous cost of additional safety measures and was effectively re-nationalised, when ownership of the railway system was transferred to non-profit organisation Network Rail on October 3, 2002.

For a more detailed history see History of the British railway system

List of historic British railway companies

Early railway companies (1820s-1840s)

Pre-Grouping (1923)

Grouping (1923 - 1947)

The Big Four

Nationalisation (1947 - 1996)

Privatisation (1996-)

See also