Motorail (British Rail)

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British Rail - Motorail Logo.svg
Logo from 1966 to 1995.
Railway Station, Carlisle - - 508586.jpg
A Motorail service to Scotland at Carlisle in 1988
Stations called at28 (Not all were served in all years of operation.)
Parent companyBritish Rail
Dates of operation1955–1995
Successor1999–2005 First Great Western Night Riviera Motorail
Route map

This diagram is a guide: not all destinations
shown were served in all years of operation.

Fort William
Edinburgh Waverley
(Sutton Coldfield)
Worcester Shrub Hill
Fishguard Harbour
ferry/water interchange for ferries to Ireland
Cardiff Central
Bristol Temple Meads
(Kensington Olympia)
St Austell
Dover ferry/water interchange
for ferries to France
Newton Abbot
Exeter St Davids

Motorail was the brand name for British Rail's long-distance services that carried passengers and their cars, ultimately part of the InterCity sector.


The service had originated in June 1955 with the introduction of the Car-Sleeper Limited between London and Perth. The service operated between June and September conveying car and driver for £15 return, inclusive of sleeping berth.[1] In 1961 it was reported that over 50,000 cars had been transported and a new two-tier transporter was introduced to expand the capacity.[2]

The Motorail brand was introduced in 1966[3] with the opening of the Kensington Olympia Motorail terminal.[4]


Motorail operated from London to many places including Penzance, Plymouth, Fishguard Harbour, Brockenhurst, Carlisle, Edinburgh, Perth, Inverness and Fort William. A short-lived service from London to Glasgow was introduced in the early 1990s.

The service was popular at a time when long-distance travel by car involved long journey times, and additional services were introduced in 1972 between Stirling and Dover, London Kensington Olympia and Carmarthen and Birmingham and Inverness. An overnight service was also introduced between London Kensington and Carlisle to supplement the daytime service.[5]

A variety of rolling stock, both open and enclosed, was used. Many routes were operated with overnight sleeper services. The open double deck Cartic 4 was first used on a Kensington Olympia to Perth Motorail on 22 June 1966.[6] and last used in 1978.[7]


Usage on many routes had declined by the early 1990s. In 1989 the London to Stirling service was discontinued.[8] The services operated at a significant loss and the service ceased in 1995 when British Rail was privatised.[9]

First Great Western relaunched a service from London Paddington to Penzance as part of its Night Riviera overnight sleeper service in September 1999, with eight converted General Utility Vans but withdrew it at the end of summer 2005.[10][11]



  1. ^ "Motoring by rail". Worthing Herald. England. 25 March 1955. Retrieved 19 June 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  2. ^ "A London Newsletter". The Sphere. England. 19 August 1961. Retrieved 19 June 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  3. ^ "New Terminal for "Motorail"". Illustrated London News. England. 28 May 1966. Retrieved 19 June 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  4. ^ John Furnevel (20 July 2005). "West London Line | RAILSCOT Magazine". Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  5. ^ "News of the month". Railway World. Vol. 32, no. 379. Shepperton: Ian Allan Publishing. December 1971. p. 517.
  6. ^ Modern Railways September 1966 p. 468
  7. ^ Cartic-4 car carriers
  8. ^ "BR Motorail service pulls out of Stirling". The Herald (Glasgow). 8 February 1989. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  9. ^ Paul Routledge (1 January 1995). "Motorail to be axed in BR sell-off - News". The Independent. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  10. ^ FGW's first motorail train is a sell out Rail issue 362 28 July 1999 page 9
  11. ^ Farewell Motorail as FGW axes summer season operation Rail Express issue 121 June 2006 page 6

See also[edit]