History of rail transport in Great Britain 1995 to date

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

The period from 1995 covers the history following the privatisation of British Rail. During this period, passenger volumes grew rapidly,[1] although there were public concerns about the scale of subsidies.

Reform under the Labour government (1997-2010)[edit]

The Labour government (elected in 1997 after the majority of the privatisation process had been completed) did not completely reverse the railway privatisation of the previous administration. Initially it left the new structure largely in place, however its main innovation in the early years was the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), initially in shadow form until the Transport Act 2000 received Royal Assent.

In the wake of the Hatfield rail crash in 2000, Railtrack entered into financial meltdown and the industry was in deep crisis. Labour refused to continue to bail out Railtrack and the company was put into Railway Administration in 2001 and a new company, Network Rail emerged to replace Railtrack in 2002. Network Rail is a nominally private "not for dividend" company. However, its borrowing is backed by the government (which allowed better interest rates on loans), so its status is a confusing one.

The Strategic Rail Authority lasted just five years. Following the passing of the Railways Act 2005, its business was wound up and its functions transferred to the Department for Transport Rail Group and the Office for Rail Regulation. [2] Further changes have followed, which has seen the government take back a greater degree of control but the early demise of the SRA suggests that the right formula for the long-term health of the rail industry has not yet been agreed.

Another important development occurred in the aftermath of the Potters Bar accident in May 2002 when a commuter train derailed (coincidentally on the same stretch of the East Coast Main Line as Hatfield) due to poorly maintained points. This resulted in Network Rail taking all track maintenance back in house and the industry went on to enjoy the longest period in modern times without a fatal accident due to industry error. This came to an end in February 2007 when a Virgin Pendolino derailed near Grayrigg in Cumbria, killing one person. The cause of the accident was identical to that in Potters Bar nearly five years earlier - once again calling into question Network Rail's maintenance procedures.

Following Gordon Brown's appointment as Prime Minister in 2007, Andrew Adonis was appointed Transport Secretary. He immediately began work on plans for a new high-speed route between London and Birmingham (later known as High Speed 2), which would augment the West Coast Main Line. Adonis also announced plans to electrify the Great Western Main Line from London as far as Swansea, as well as infill electrification schemes in the North West of England to remove diesel traction from certain key routes. Late in 2009, the InterCity East Coast franchise collapsed for the second time in three years when incumbent operator National Express East Coast (NXEC) proved unable to meet its financial obligations. Adonis transferred the franchise to the state-owned Directly Operated Railways to operate the route under its East Coast subsidiary.

Reform under the Coalition government (2010-present)[edit]

After the 2010 General Election, the new Conservative led Coalition largely continued Labour's rail policies largely unaltered, continuing support for the High Speed 2 scheme and further developing plans for the route, although great debate still rages over the scheme's benefits and costs. Whilst initially showing scepticism towards the electrification schemes of the Great Western route, later gave the project its backing and work began formally in 2012. Plans were also mooted to electrify the remainder of the Midland Main Line.

In 2012, the franchising system once again came under intense criticism when FirstGroup successfully ousted Virgin Trains as operator of the InterCity West Coast franchise. Virgin initially pursued a judicial review against the decision, citing the fact that First's bid was even more ambitious than the one which had scuttled National Express East Coast less than three years earlier. Before the review took place however, newly installed Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the entire bidding process for the franchise and granted Virgin an extension to its contract when "severe technical flaws" were discovered in the original bidding competition.

Much debate continues however over annual fare increases.

Current developments[edit]

The British railway system continues to be developed. Contemporary projects include:

  • High Speed 1, a project to construct a 67-mile high-speed rail line from London to the British end of the Channel Tunnel, and involving a great deal of complex civil engineering including a 1404-yard bridge over the River Medway, a 2-mile tunnel under the Thames near Dartford, a 2-mile tunnel through the North Downs, 12-mile twin tunnels running into central London, a major new railway station extension to St Pancras Station in London, and a complex redesign and rebuild of the King's Cross St Pancras tube station. The southern phase 1 of the project opened in September 2003, and northern phase 2 opened in November 2007.
  • The West Coast Main Line upgrade is a long-term project covering a series of technical aspects. Improvements include the four-tracking (from three) of the Trent Valley (a bypass of the West Midlands), redesigning the layout of several junction/station e.g. Rugby and other associated work to increase line speed. This culminated in tilting trains at 125 mph being extended to Glasgow in 2005. Work continues and the cost overruns of the programme are infamous - attributed to wide scope of programme (the promise to Virgin to build a 140 mph railway which would require moving block signalling) and poor project management by the defunct Railtrack.
  • The Thameslink Programme, formerly known as 'Thameslink 2000' is underway as the government formally approves the project. The project includes the lengthening of platforms, station remodelling, new railway infrastructure (e.g. viaducts) and additional rolling stock, which will allow First Capital Connect to expand their Thameslink services further north and south.
  • Scotland
    • The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway, a rare 13 mile (21 km) extension to the network, to the north of the Firth of Forth in Scotland. A Bill for the railway was passed by the Scottish Parliament and received Royal Assent in August 2004. Work commenced in September 2005, with services running by Spring 2008. The line re-establishes a railway decommissioned in 1983; the new line will provide passenger connections to Glasgow, and freight links between the site of Kincardine power station, now used as a loading point for coal from open-cast sites, to avoid heavy traffic through Kincardine, and Longannet power station, and the coal terminals at Hunterston Deep Water Port. There has been recent doubt about the project as Longannet power station was due to close in 2015, and would have been operating for reduced hours before then, to meet emissions targets. However the present shortage of generating capacity has caused this to be reviewed, and full operation of the power station will continue. The passenger part of the scheme, from Stirling to Alloa was in any case secure, and the Scottish Parliament appear to be in favour of passenger services being extended to Rosyth, which is an important ferry terminal. This could possibly result in passenger stations serving the communities of Clackmannan, Kincardine, and Culross or Valleyfield, and through trains once more from Stirling to Dunfermline.
    • A short extension of the Glasgow-Hamilton-Motherwell, which once again links Larkhall to the railway network after 40 years. Larkhall has for some time been the largest town in Scotland without a railway station. The new £35m line follows an existing formation, and services to Larkhall railway station resumed on 12 December 2005.[2] The new section of route is electrified and is served with trains from Dalmuir, via Glasgow Central Low Level, with connections from other northern suburbs of Glasgow such as Milngavie.
    • The Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link was completed in December 2010, work having started in June 2007. The Airdrie-Bathgate project was quite extensive insofar as it included double track electrification, the present remnant of the line from just outside Edinburgh to Bathgate having been largely singled some time ago.
    • The Glasgow Airport Rail Link was given the final go ahead by the Scottish Parliament in December 2006 but the project was scrapped by the new SNP minority government in September 2009. A new 1.5 mile spur was to be built onto the existing Inverclyde route. An element of the project that did go ahead was upgrading the Glasgow Central - Paisley line to triple track to increase capacity on the Ayrshire and Inverclyde routes. This work was completed in 2012.
    • A proposal for re-opening of the Waverley Route from Edinburgh to the Borders has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. This plan falls slightly short of what some people want, such as certain intermediate stations and longer passing loops, to allow more communities to be served while maintaining or improving the end to end timings.
  • Wales
    • The Welsh Assembly Government re-opened the Vale of Glamorgan Line between Barry and Bridgend in 2005, re-opened the Ebbw Valley Line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff and proposes to extend the line into Newport in the future. The Assembly Government is also looking into opening the Hirwaun to Aberdare route in the Cynon Valley.

Present locomotives and rolling stock[edit]

Diesel locomotives[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
20903 at Doncaster Ron Hann.jpg 20 21 Euro Cargo Rail
31128 'Charybdis' at Bristol Temple Meads.JPG
37038 at Crewe Works.jpg
City of Bristol Class 43 locomotive 01.jpg
47818 at Cambridge.JPG
56303 Kingsthorpe Fresh Air Express.jpg
57304 'Gordon Tracy' at Crewe.jpg
59001 'Yeoman Endeavour' at Doncaster Works.JPG
60068 by Castleton East Junction.jpg
66108 at Didcot.JPG
67017 'Arrow' at Plymouth.JPG
Freightliner class 70 number 70001 leaves Claycross Tunnel.jpg
70 (diesel)
73201 at Woking.jpg

a BR Class 73 is an electro-diesel locomotive which allows electrified and non electrified route workings.

Electric locomotives[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
86613 and 86610 at Ipswich.JPG
90049 at Ipswich.JPG
91101 at Kings Cross.jpg
92001 'Victor Hugo' at Crewe Works.jpg
73201 at Woking.jpg
EuroTunnel Class 09 Number 9825.jpg
Eurotunnel Class 9

a BR Class 73 is an electro-diesel locomotive which allows electrified and non electrified route workings.

Diesel multiple units[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
142041 Northern Rail Castleton East Jcn.jpg


150246 at Plymouth.JPG
156427 at Carlisle.JPG
158798 at Doncaster.JPG


Chiltern train at Kidderminster.jpg


170433 at Edinburgh Waverley.JPG


175111 'Brief Encounter' at Crewe.jpg
180110 at Bath Spa.JPG
185103 at Castleton East Junction.jpg
Virgin trains 221113 glasgow.jpg


AC electric multiple units[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
314212 at Patterton.jpg


317655 at Cambridge.JPG


321901 at Doncaster.JPG


323225 at Manchester Piccadilly.JPG
Train at Ilkley.JPG


British Rail Class 334 005.jpg
350240 Birmingham New Street.jpg
357036 at Southend Central.jpg
360111 at Ipswich.jpg
FirstCapitalConnect Unit365505.jpg
379001 at Norwich 8 January 2011.jpg


380101 at Glasgow Central.jpg
390029 'City of Stoke-on-Trent' at Birmingham New Street.JPG

Dual AC/DC electric multiple units[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
313203 at Brighton.jpg


319003 x London St Pancras.JPG
350120 Rugeley 2010-06-22.JPG
Unit 378149 at Crystal Palace.JPG


Unit 395008 at Ebbsfleet International.JPG

DC electric multiple units[edit]

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
BBC South Today at London Waterloo.jpg


SWT Class 455 refurbished.jpg
456006 at East Dulwich.jpg
8030 at London Waterloo.JPG
460007 at London Victoria.jpg
Southeastern 465002 at Lewisham 22 February 2011.jpg


507011 Liverpool South Parkway.jpg



Image Model Operator(s) Image Model Operator(s)
Mk 2F TSO 6035 at Carlisle.JPG
British Rail Mk 3 42199 at Kings Cross.jpg
British Rail Mark 4 De-Branded.jpg
British Rail Mark 3A SLEP 10590 at Penzane.JPG
BR Mk III Sleeper

Details of withdrawn locomotives and rolling stock : See article Withdrawn British Rail stock


  1. ^ "Growth of 6.9% in 2010 takes demand for rail travel to new high levels". Association of Train Operating Companies. February 2011. Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  2. ^ [1]

External links[edit]