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History of rail transport in Great Britain 1995 to date

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Title: History of rail transport in Great Britain 1995 to date  
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Language: English
Subject: History of rail transport in Great Britain, Leeds and Selby Railway, Rail transport in Great Britain, History of rail transport in Great Britain to 1830, History of rail transport in Great Britain 1923–1947
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

History of rail transport in Great Britain 1995 to date

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

Rail Passengers in Great Britain from 1829-2014

The period from 1995 covers the history following the privatisation of British Rail. During this period, passenger volumes have grown rapidly,[1] safety has improved,[2][3] and subsidies per journey have fallen. However, there is debate as to whether this is due to privatisation or better government regulation. See Impact of privatisation for more information. During this period, High Speed 1 and the West Coast Main Line upgrade were completed and more projects are currently under construction.

Rail Subsidies 1986-2015

Overall Government support to the rail industry has risen, as shown in the graph, although spend per journey has decreased, with the government providing a net total of £4.8 billion in 2014-15. This is down to increased investment (including £1.1 billion for Crossrail) as the railways now cover 99% of their operating costs, as opposed to making a £2 billion loss in the first full year of rail franchising.[4][5] However, this masks great regional variation, with "funding varying from £1.88 per passenger journey in England, to £7.77 per journey in Scotland, and £9.18 per journey in Wales".[6]

Due to the increase in passenger numbers and the prospect of high speed rail both within Great Britain and connecting to Europe, this period has been called the start of a new Golden Age of rail travel.[7][8] However quickly increasing passenger numbers have meant many trains are very crowded at peak times.[9] Peak-time fares have increased by over 200% (since privatisation) to deter people from travelling at these times,[10] whereas the price of advance tickets has halved in the same period.[11]


  • Government policy 1
    • Reform under the Labour government (1997-2010) 1.1
    • Reform under the Coalition government (2010-present) 1.2
  • Infrastructure projects 2
    • Completed projects 2.1
    • Current developments 2.2
  • Present locomotives and rolling stock 3
    • Diesel locomotives 3.1
    • Electric locomotives 3.2
    • Diesel multiple units 3.3
    • AC electric multiple units 3.4
    • Dual AC/DC electric multiple units 3.5
    • DC electric multiple units 3.6
    • Coaches 3.7
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Government policy

Reform under the Labour government (1997-2010)

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. [3] 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)

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.

Infrastructure projects

Completed projects

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 was a long-term project covering a series of technical aspects. Improvements included 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. 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.
  • 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.[12] 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 35-mile section of the Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders has been rebuilt by the Scottish Parliament, which reopened on 6 September 2015. This project, also known as the Borders Railway, restored rail services to communities which have lacked access to the National Rail network since the Beeching cuts.
  • Wales
    • The Welsh Assembly Government re-opened the Vale of Glamorgan Line between Barry and Bridgend in 2005 and the Ebbw Valley Line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.

Current developments

  • High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned[13][14] high-speed railway which will initially link the cities of London and Birmingham, followed by further extension to North West England and Yorkshire. Construction of the first phase of HS2 is set to begin in 2017 with an indicated opening date of 2026, while completion of the entire network is expected in 2033. Phase one of HS2 will run between London Euston and the proposed new Birmingham Curzon Street station. Phase two will create two branch lines: a western section to Manchester Piccadilly, and an eastern section to the proposed Leeds New Lane station via the East Midlands Hub (serving Derby, Nottingham and Leicester) and Meadowhall Interchange (serving Sheffield).
  • 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.
  • The Northern Hub is a rail project across Northern England aimed at stimulating economic growth by increasing train services, reducing journey times and electrifying lines between the major cities and towns in the north.[15] The project was announced as the Manchester Hub, entailing a series of upgrades to cut journey times between cities in Northern England by alleviating rail bottlenecks around Manchester.[16][17] Central to the project is the resolution of rail bottlenecks around Manchester city centre allowing more capacity and faster journey times between the northern cities. The construction of two through platforms at Piccadilly will allow 14 trains per hour as against 10. Manchester Victoria station is being modernised to become the east-west rail interchange in northern England. Trains from the north east to Manchester Airport will use a new section of railway, the £85 million Ordsall Chord, between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road to access Manchester Piccadilly and continue to the airport without the need to reverse at Piccadilly and without conflicting movements at the station throat. Services from Liverpool to Leeds and beyond will be diverted from the Cheshire Lines route via Warrington Central and Manchester Piccadilly to the electrified line via Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Victoria.
  • On the Great Western Main Line, Network Rail plans to spend £5 billion[18] on modernising the GWML and its South Wales branch plus other associated lines like the North Cotswolds[19] which was completed in 2011. The modernisation plans were announced at separate times but their development time-scales overlap each other to represent a comprehensive modernisation plan for the Great Western and its associated lines during the second decade of the 21st century. The modernisation includes: electrification, resignalling, new rolling stock and station upgrades. According to Network Rail, the modernisation started in June 2010 and will end in 2017.[20]
  • Crossrail is a 118-kilometre (73-mile) railway line under construction in London and its environs. It is expected to begin full operation in 2019 with a new east-west route across Greater London. Work began in 2009 on the central section of the line—a new tunnel through central London—and connections to existing lines that will become part of Crossrail.[21] Crossrail's aim is to provide a high-frequency commuter/suburban passenger service that will link parts of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, via central London, to Essex and South East London.
  • Scotland
  • Wales
    • The Welsh Assembly Government proposes to extend the line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff 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

Diesel locomotives

Image Class Operator(s)
Class 08
Class 08 Db Schenker

Riviera Trains

Great Western Railway

Class 20
Class 20 Direct Rail Services

Harry Needle Railroad Company

GB Railfreight

Class 31
Class 31 Devon & Cornwall Railways
Class 33
Class 33 West Coast Railways
Class 37
Class 37 Colas Rail

Direct Rail Services

West Coast Railways

Class 43
Class 43 Great Western Railway

Virgin Trains East Coast

East Midlands Trains

Cross Country Trains

Class 47
Class 47 Direct Rail Services

West Coast Railway

Riviera Trains

Colas Rail


Class 56
Class 56 Colas Rail

UK Rail Leasing

Devon & Cornwall Railways

Class 57
Class 57 Direct Rail Services

West Coast Railways
Great Western Railway

Class 59
Class 59 DB Schenker

GB Railfreight
Mendip Rail

Class 60
Class 60 Colas Rail

DB Schenker

Class 66
Class 66 Colas Rail

DB Schenker
Direct Rail Services
GB Railfreight

Class 67
Class 67 DB Schenker
Class 68
Class 68 Direct Rail Services

Chiltern Railways

Class 70
Class 70 Freightliner

Colas Rail

Class 73
Class 73* GB Railfreight

Network Rail

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

Electric locomotives

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)
Eurotunnel Class 9

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

Diesel multiple units

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)









AC electric multiple units

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)









Dual AC/DC electric multiple units

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)





DC electric multiple units

Image Class Operator(s) Image Class Operator(s)






Image Model Operator(s) Image Model Operator(s)
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".  
  2. ^ "NATIONAL RAIL TRENDS 2009-10 YEARBOOK" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  3. ^ "Railway safety statistical report 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  4. ^ Office of Rail Regulation: 2014-15 Annual Statistical Release Rail Finance
  5. ^ "Dataset on industry finances and performance 1997-98 – 2013-14" (PDF). 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Beanland, Christopher (10 July 2014). "Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age". The Independent (London). 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Massey, Ray (10 September 2014). "Cattle truck UK: More than half of train passengers forced to stand". Daily Mail (London). 
  10. ^ Have train fares gone up or down since British Rail?, BBC News, 22 January 2013
  11. ^
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ "HS2: Phase one of high-speed rail line gets go-ahead". BBC News. 10 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "Go-ahead given to new railway". Department for Transport. January 2012. 
  15. ^ "Northern Hub". Northern Hub. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "Northern Hub Technical Study" (PDF). Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "The Northern Way - Manchester Hub Phase 1" (PDF). Northern Way. April 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 8)" (PDF). Network Rail. 
  19. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 7)" (PDF). Network Rail. 
  20. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 13 timeline)" (PDF). Network Rail. 
  21. ^ Thomas, Nathalie (26 August 2013). "Going underground on Crossrail: A 40-year project is taking shape". The Telegraph (London). 

External links

  • National Rail Trends Yearbook 2006/07
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