British Rail

It’s still there, on every one of the train tickets that you buy in the UK, in case you hadn’t noticed. BR_TicketThe double-locking arrow of the logo that personified British Rail. British Rail was the government-owned railway system that happily (if not always efficiently) ran our railways from 1 January 1948.

In 1994, under John Major’s Conservative government, the ownership and operation of British Rail passed to a variety of private companies.

The Railtrack company would be the infrastructure owner, maintaining the track, signalling, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and most of the stations. Newly created rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs) got all of the actual trains. The train operating companies (TOCs) would lease and then operate those trains. The TOCs won the right to do this through the process of franchising. They bid to run a franchise, usually hoping to win through offering the lowest cost.

Sounds like… the potential for a lot of things to go wrong.

Things did.

On 17 October 2000, a train bound for Leeds was travelling along the East Coast Main Line at around 115 miles per hour when it came off the rails just south of Hatfield station. Four passengers died.

The cause of the accident was a cracked rail that fractured as the train passed over it.

In the Office of Rail Regulation’s final report on Hatfield, the investigators pointed out that, since privatisation, Railtrack had lost the engineering knowledge of former British Rail staff. The people working on the ground maintaining the infrastructure simply didn’t know what they were looking for.

The Hatfield crash proved to be Railtrack’s undoing. In 2002, most of Railtrack’s operations came back to the state in the form of the non-profit company Network Rail.

In June 2018, rail services on the East Coast Main Line also came back under government control, after Stagecoach and Virgin Trains ran into trouble with the franchise. This was the third time the East Coast Main Line franchise had collapsed.

Labour has a policy of taking the entire rail system back into public ownership.

Renationalisation is also popular with the public.

The travelling populace is fed up with the strikes, the fare increases, and the “totally unsatisfactory levels of service” (and that last is according to the government itself).

Perhaps some prophetic person kept the British Rail logo on all the tickets and signs because they knew that, one day, after all the Arrivas and Abellios, it would be back.



There’s the British Rail logo

2 thoughts on “British Rail

  1. I don’t think we’ll get British Rail back but I’d be glad to see the back of all these companies. The train operating companies are all state owned — just not by our state!


  2. I don’t think we’ll get British Rail back, either, but all these train companies make it look like the model of efficiency in comparison.


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