Regional Railways

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Regional Railways
Regional railways logo.svg
150231 'King Edmund' at Cambridge.jpg
Franchise(s): Not subject to franchising
Main region(s): East Anglia, North West, North East, Wales
Other region(s): East Midlands, West Midlands, Scotland, Merseyside
Parent company: British Rail
153311 at Lincoln Central on 17 November 2007. After over a decade, 153311 has finally been re-liveried into East Midlands Trains colours.

Regional Railways was one of the three passenger sectors of British Rail created in 1982 that existed until 1996, two years after privatisation. The sector was originally called Provincial.

Regional Railways was the most subsidised (per passenger km) of the three sectors. Upon formation, its costs were four times its revenue.[1]

The sector was broken up into 8 franchises during the privatisation of British Rail, and ceased to exist on 31 March 1997.


Upon sectorisation in 1982, three passenger sectors were created: InterCity, operating principal express services; London & South East (renamed Network SouthEast in 1986) operating commuter services in the London area; and Provincial (renamed Regional Railways in 1989) responsible for all other passenger services.[1] In the metropolitan counties local services were managed by the Passenger Transport Executives.


Regional Railways inherited a diverse range of routes, comprising both express and local services. Expresses mainly ran to non-principal destinations or on less popular routes, such as Birmingham or Liverpool to Norwich or Liverpool to Scarborough, and were chiefly operated by older locomotives and second-hand InterCity coaches. Later these services were operated by Sprinter units - mainly Class 158s on express services. There were also the internal Scottish Region local services and expresses, the latter including the Edinburgh-Glasgow push-pull service.[1]

Local services ran on both main lines and branch lines, and were often operated by first generation diesel multiple units dating back to the 1950s. Longer distance trains often formed of older coaches and locomotives of Class 31, Class 40 and Class 45 which were of similar vintage.

Development of new rolling stock[edit]

In the early 1980s, large numbers of diesel multiple unit (DMU) and locomotive-hauled coaches were found to contain asbestos. Removing this would be a considerable cost and generating no extra revenue, which, coupled with the increasingly unreliabile old locomotives and DMUs prompted BR to look for a new generation of diesel multiple units.

Regional Railway branding on a first generation DMU, number 122100

The prototype Class 210s, in service on a trial basis since 1981, were considered too expensive to be put into production, so BR looked elsewhere for new designs.[1]


The first, Pacers, used bus technology from the Leyland National, in classes numbered in the 14X range. Not long after introduction to service large numbers of them suffered from a number of technical problems, particularly with their gearboxes. In Cornwall it was found that their long wheelbase caused intolerable squealing noises and high tyre wear on tight curves, and they quickly had to be replaced by the old DMUs.[1] The solution obviously lay elsewhere, although after much modification, the Pacers eventually proved themselves in traffic.


150001 at St Pancras after a publicity run, 1985

BR ideally needed something midway between the Pacers and the Class 210s. In 1984/1985, two experimental DMU designs were put into service: the BREL Class 150 and Metro-Cammell Class 151.[2] Both of these used hydraulic transmission and were less bus-like than the Pacers. After trials, the Class 150 was selected for production, entering service from 1987. Reliability was much improved by the new units, with depot visits being reduced from two or three times a week to fortnightly.[1]

The late 1980s and early 1990s also saw the development of secondary express services that complemented the mainline Intercity routes. Class 155 and Class 156 Sprinters were developed to replace locomotive-hauled trains on these services; their interiors being designed with longer distance journeys in mind. In particular, key Scottish and Transpennine routes were upgraded with new Class 158 Express Sprinters, while a network of 'Alphaline' services was introduced elsewhere in the country.

By the end of the 1980s, passenger numbers had increased and costs had been reduced to two-and-a-half times revenue.[1]


A picture of both a green preserved and a blue and white BR regional railways Mark 1 carriages in Crewe during 2000

From 1986, Provincial adopted a version of the prototype Class 150 livery: "aircraft" blue over white, with a light blue stripe at waist level.[3] All new units, plus a few existing ones, such as selected Class 304 EMUs, received it. Some units and coaches received the livery with either "ScotRail" or "Trans-Pennine" branding.

The Class 158s, introduced in 1989, appeared in "Express" livery: dark grey window surrounds over light grey, with light and dark blue stripes at waist level. This colour scheme was also applied to some Class 156 units around privatisation.

The final British railway vehicle to carry Regional Railways livery was a Class 153, which was repainted in July 2008 into East Midlands Trains livery. However, the Class 158 units operated by State Railway of Thailand carried Regional Railways livery until they were refurbished in 2011.

A Class 158 operated by State Railway of Thailand which is painted in Regional Railways livery

Split for privatisation[edit]

Regional Railways signage at Manchester Victoria in 2014

As part of the process of privatisation between 1994 and 1997, Regional Railways was split into several different shadow train operating units, which later became independent train operating companies:[4]

A Central Trains Class 156 DMU at Coventry in 2000. It is still in the old BR livery, but has a Central Trains name tag on it.
A First North Western Class 156 at Romiley Junction station, near Manchester, in the year 2001. It is in its former Regional Railways North West livery.
Train Operating Unit Routes
Anglia Railways Routes in East Anglia (combined with InterCity services in the region).
Cardiff Railway Company Urban 'Valley Lines' services around Cardiff, previously integrated within the South Wales and West division.
Central Trains Regional Railways' Central division, minus the services transferred to Anglia Railways and the Oxford to Worcester service. Covered the English Midlands and Mid Wales.
Merseyrail Electrics The network of electrified routes centred on Liverpool.
North West Regional Railways Routes in England's North West and in North Wales.
Regional Railways North East Routes in the North East of England.
ScotRail The vast majority of services within Scotland.
South Wales & West Railway A wide network of services centred on South Wales and the South West.

In popular culture[edit]

F.C. United of Manchester's "Regional Railways Firm" takes its name from the operator.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Thomas, David St John; Whitehouse, Patrick (1990). BR in the Eighties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9854-7. 
  2. ^ Morrison, Brian; et al. (1986). Motive Power Annual 1987. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-1635-6. 
  3. ^ Fox, Peter (1988). Locomotives and Coaching Stock 1989. Platform 5. ISBN 0-906579-93-7. 
  4. ^ Knight, Steven, ed. (1997). "A comprehensive guide to Britain's new railway". Peterborough: EMAP Apex Publications. ISSN 1368-437X. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]