Railways in Great Britain
Page last modified 15/3/2019
Click here for events relating to London Underground.
Railway opening, closing, dates have been moved to the maps being published on Bookshop, UK changes.
See also Rail Travel rest of world, for tunnels, rail disasters, socio-economic effects of the railways
Other rail events
Rail / station locations
Urban metro systems
End of steam
10/2002, Network Rail was created to replace the former Railtrack. Shareholders were offered £2.50 a share; some considered this inadequate and sued the Government in a class action. After several years of litigation the sharehoilders lost.
7/10/2001. Railtrack went into receivership.
5/2001, Railtrack posted losses of £534 million. Between January and September 2001 its share price fell from £9.25 to £2.80.
1996, Railtrack was privatised, the shares being floated at £3.80 each.
5/2/1996, The first privately-run trains for nearly 50 years ran on British Railways. South West Trains and Great Western won the first franchises; under the 1993 Railway Act. A third franchise, London Tilbury and Southend, was cancelled amidst allegations of ticketing fraud. British Railways had been nationalised on 1/1/1948.
1994, British Rail was broken up, whilst still remaining in public ownership, under the Railways Act 1993. 25 operating companies were formed to run the trains whilst a single organisation, Railtrack, had overall management of the track and signalling systems, bridges tunnels, level crossings, etc.
22/1/1993. The UK government announced plans for privatising British Rail. Passenger services were to be franchised out to up to 40 different operators, who would hold the franchises for 5 years of more. There was Labour, and some Tory, opposition, and investors were wary of large losses in the rail industry.
1/5/1987, Electrification of the Kings Cross (London) line reached as far north as Peterborough.
1986, The Romford to Upminister line was electrified.
30/6/1986, Broad Street Station, London, closed to make way for the new Broadgate Development.
7/10/1983, The Bricklayers Arms goods depot line closed completely. General goods traffic had ceased on 17/6/1962 but the site had operated as a parcels depot from 1969.
1981, British Rail introduced the Advanced Passenger Train (APT). It could cruise at 125 mph and had a top speed of 158 mph. Tilting suspension meant it could take rail curves at high speed. However the APT, in service between London and Glasgow, was plagued by technical problems and kept nreaking down. By 1982 the APT was acknowledged as a failure.
4/10/1976, The first Inter-City 125 mph train service began in Britain. Their top speed was 143 mph.
25/9/1976. British Rail’s new High Speed Train reached 125 mph.
14/10/1968, The new Euston Station in London was opened by the Queen. Work had begun in 1963.
11/8/1968, The last main line passenger steam train ran on British Railways. Called the Fifteen Guinea Special, it ran from Manchester to Carlisle.
3/8/1968, The last scheduled normal service steam train ran on British Railways. It ran from Preston to Liverpool.
21/6/1965, The UK government announced that the Broad Street to Richmond railway service, earmarked for closure by Beeching, would be reprieved.
27/3/1963, Beeching published his report, recommending extensive cuts to the UK rail network. He proposed closing a quarter of the rail network, closing 2,128 stations, scrapping 8,000 rail coaches, and axing 67,700 jobs. There would be no rail service north of Inverness, and most branch lines in north and central Wales and the West Country would close.
6/11/1961. The Fenchurch Street (London) lines saw their first electric services (peak hours only). A full electric service began on 18/6/1962.
1/6/1961, Dr Richard Beeching was appointed by the Conservative Minister for Transport, Marples, as Chairman Designate of the British Railways Board.
21/11/1960, The Chingford branch, London, was electrified.
8/10/1960, Sheffield closed its tram system, the last major city on the UK to have trams. Sheffield had 60 trams at this time. See 1902.
11/4/1960, The178 acre railway marshalling yard at Margam, south Wales, opened.
3/1960, The UK had 621 trams, as against 4,600 in 3/1950.
15/12/1958. The last steam locomotive was made at Crewe. This was the 7,331st locomotive made at Crewe.
3/6/1958, British Railways re-designated Third Class accommodation as Second Class.
14/9/1957, The last Liverpool tram ran. It was the 6a, from the Pier Head to Bowring Park, full of civic dignitaries.
30/12/1956 The last passenger train ran on the Liverpool Overhead Railway. Although the line was busy, major repairs were found to be needed to the overhead section and there was no money for this. The line was losing traffic to electric trams and motor buses.
11/6/1956, The railway from Shenfield to Chelmsford was electrified.
3/6/1956. British Rail abolished third class travel, to conform with Continental practice.
6/7/1952. London’s last tram ran. The last tram ended its journey at New Cross depot after a five-mile journey from Woolwich. The Mayor of Deptford took over the controls for the last few yards into the depot. Souvenir hunters overran the tram and soon virtually stripped it.
1949, Britain had 32,911 km route miles of railway, of which 1,488 km was electrified.
26/9/1949, The railway from Liverpool Street, London, to Shenfield, was electrified.
1/1/1948. Britain’s railways were nationalised.
1938, Britain had 33,906 km route miles railway, of which 1,450 km was electrified.
3/7/1938, The Mallard achieved a world record speed for a steam locomotive, 126 mph, southbound between Grantham and Peterborough at Stoke Bank.
4//7/1937, The line to Farnham was electrified.
29/5/1937, Southern railways electrification reached Portsmouth, from Waterloo.
3/1/1937, The lines from Surbiton to Fuildford and Farnham were electrified.
12/10/1936, A London to Paris through train service began.
1935, The Glasgow subway was electrified.
30/12/1932, The London to Brighton railway was electrified.
12/9/1932. The ‘World’s fastest train’, the Cheltenham Flyer, completed the journey between Swindon and Paddington (GWR) in 65 minutes, an average speed of 71.3 mph.
5/7/1932. The first electric express train ran from London Bridge to Three Bridges, Sussex.
6/6/1932. The GWR (Great Western Railway) set a new rail speed record of 81.6 mph between Swindon and Paddington.
16/4/1932. The last electric tram ran in Luton.
6/7/1930, The railway from Staines to Windsor was electrified.
16/5/1930, Tilbury Riverside station was opened, east of London. In an era of ocean liner travel, before jet aircraft, there was considerable passenger maritime traffic here; during 1955, 500 liners docked at Tilbury. However as liner traffic declined the station saw less useage and was closed in 1993.
3/3/1929, The southern branch line from Tooting to Wimbledon was closed to passengers, see 1/10/1868. It closed to goods traffic on 5/8/1968. The northern branch line, Streatham to Wimbledon via Haydons Lane, was electrified y.
25/3/1928, The Purley to Caterham railway was electrified.
11/7/1927. The LNER (London and North Eastern Railway) inaugurated a non-stop service between London and Newcastle on Tyne. On 1/5/1928 the LNER inaugurated the longest non-stop train service in the world, from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh, 392 ½ miles. The 392 mile journey took 7 hours, 27 minutes.
24/4/1924. Train ferry service between Harwich and Zeebrugge was opened by King George V.
24/2/1923, The Flying Scotsman train began scheduled 4-hour services between Kings Cross, London, and Edinburgh, at a record 100 mph.
21/3/1922. Queen Mary opened the new Waterloo Station, London.
15/8/1921. Government control of Britain’s railways ended.
20/11/1916, Railway electrification from London Waterloo reached Claygate.
25/10/1915, The railway between London Waterloo and East Putney was electrified.
9/4/1904, A train ran from Plymouth to London non-stop in less than 4 ½ hours, a record speed.
1898, The Great Central London Main Line Railway opened, running south from Annesley (Nottingham) to Marylebone. Marylebone Railway Station, London, was opened by the President of the Board of Trade. This was the last main line railway, the Great Central Railway(GCR), to be built into London until the HS1 Channel Tunnel link opened. The GCR had originally been the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, but changed its name in 1897 represeent its new London Line. The GCR suffered from its London route passing through the sparsely populated areas of Buckinghamshire, unlike other routes which served large towns such as Luton and Peterborough. Meanwhile the Metropolitan Railway competed with the GCR for commuter traffic from Amersham and Harrow. The GCR route was seen as largely duplicating the more successful Midlands Railway line into St Pancras.
The 37-acre site for Marylebone Station had to be cleared of many houses and small businesses. 507 houses occupied by 3,073 people of the ‘labouring classes’ were demolished and the inhabitants moved to new accommodation, the six storey blocks of Wharncliffe Gardens off St Johns Wood Road. Marylebone was intended to have 8 platforms but initially only 4 were built due to lack of finances by the GCR.
20/5/1892, The last broad gauge train left Paddington at 5.00 pm for Plymouth. The engine returned to Paddington with the last up train early the next morning.
1886, Blackfriars Station, London (known as St Pauls until 1937) opened.
1881, The Northampton loop line was opened. Previously the London to Birmingham line had by-passed Northampton because descending into and out of Northampton in the Nene Valley would have necessitated gradients beyond what 1840s locomotives could have coped with.
1/6/1874, Pullman carriages were introduced in Britain, by the Midland Railway, running between London and Bradford.
1/3/1874, Holborn Viaduct railway station opened.
2/2/1874, Liverpool Street Station, London, opened, replacing an earlier terminus at Shoreditch.
2/4/1873, British trains were fitted with toilets, but only in sleeping cars.
1872, Iron rails were rapidly being replaced by steel ones, which lasted 30x longer. In 1872 the North Eastern Railway only used iron rails at points and crossings, and by 1877 had ceased to order any iron rails at all.
14/12/1871, Henry Hudson, British railway developer, died. He was a speculative capitalist based in York, and financed the East Coast Line and the North Midland Railway. He was eventually disgraced for financial fiddling.
3/5/1869, The Great Western opened a goods station below Smithfield Market, connected to Paddington via the Metropolitan Line.
1/10/1868, (1) In London, St Pancras Station, terminus of the Midland Railway, was formally opened. The platform level had to be 20 feet above street level to accommodate the rail crossing of the Regents Canal; the cellars below the platforms were designed for beer storage by the brewers of Burton on Trent. The line from Bedford via Luton and St Albans to St Pancras opened.
1/9/1866, Cannon Street railway station, London, was opened.
1865, Finsbury Park (London) good depot opened. The York carriage and wagon building works opened.
1/5/1864, Charing Cross, London, fully opened, for all rail journeys.
11/1/1864, Charing Cross Station, London, was officially opened (for local train journeys).
1/7/1861, On the GNR Kings Cross railway, a station 2 ¾ miles north of Kings Cross called Hornsey Wood opened. By 1867 this station was busy as it was the junction for Edgware trains; in 1869 Hornsey Wood became a public park, Finsbury Park, and the station was also renamed Finsbury Park.
23/3/1861. London’s first tramcars began operating from Bayswater.
1/10/1860, Victoria station, London, opened.
30/8/1860. First tram in England ran, at Birkenhead, Liverpool.
12/10/1859, Robert Stephenson, English railway and civil engineer, died in London.
15/9/1859. The railway engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel died at Westminster. He was born on 9/4/1806, in Portsmouth.
7/1859, The Caterham Railway Company went bankrupt, and its Purley to Caterham line was taken over by the South Eastern Railway.
17/12/1858, The Geologists Association, London was formed. The newly constructed railway cuttings and tunnels had stimulated the science.
29/5/1854, Paddington Station, London, was opened.
14/10/1852 Kings Cross Station, London, opened. The former terminus had been ½ mile north, between Copenhagen and Gasworks Tunnels, at Maiden Lane, see 7/8/1850. Kings Cross stands on the site of a former fever and smallpox hospital.
12/12/1849, Sir Marc Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the Thames Tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe, died in London aged 80.
12/8/1848, George Stephenson, the engineer who built the first modern railway in 1825, from Stockton to Darlington, died at Tapton, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
13/7/1848, The first train arrived at London’s new Waterloo Station, from Southampton, see 1/7/1848.
1/7/1848, Waterloo Station, London, was completed. Previously, trains had terminated at Nine Elms, 2 ¾ miles south-west, and rail passengers took a steamboat to The City. See 13/7/1848.
31/12/1846, Conclusion of the ‘Year of the Railway mania’. An unprecedented 272 Railway Acts were passed for lines in Britain.
31/8/1846, The Surrey Iron Railway, Wandsworth to Croydon, closed; it was dismantled in 1848.
6/8/1845, In the UK the Gauge Commission opened. It decided in favour of standard gauge, 4’ 8 ½”, with exception for the Great Western Railway.
1844, The Eastern Counties Railway converted from broad to standard gauge. Traffic was maintained by single-line working.
1/5/1844, The Bricklayer’s Arms railway terminus opened in south London, for passengers from Kent wishing to access the West End. The South eastern Railway was faced with excessive charges to use the terminus at London Bridge.. However it was unpopular with passengers and became a goods terminus from 1/1852.
13/6/1842. Queen Victoria travelled by train for the first time, from Slough to Paddington, with Prince Albert. She was accompanied by the railway engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
1841, First edition of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide.
11/9/1841. The railway commuter age began when the London to Brighton commuter express train began a regular service, taking 105 minutes.
2/8/1841, Fenchurch Street Station, London, opened, when the London and Blackwall Railway was extended westwards from the Minories.
25/10/1839. Bradshaw’s Railway Companion became the first national railway timetable published.
5/7/1839, The London Bridge terminus of the London and Croydon railway opened.
1838, The Surrey Iron Railway closed between Croydon and Merstham.
12/1838, Ealing Broadway station, then known as ‘Ealing’, opened.
20/7/1837. Euston railway station, London, opened. Trains ran to Boxmoor. The station, with two 136 metre long platforms, replaced an earlier terminus at Chalk Farm. Euston Grove was formerly an area of vegetable gardens for London.
14/12/1836, London Bridge Station, London’s first railway station, opened. Trains ran to Greenwich. Revenue was augmented by letting out the railway arches as commercial premises.
20/4/1836, The Festiniog Railway, gauge 1 ft 11 ½ inches, opened for slate traffic. It was the first public narrow guage railway in the world. It was horse drawn until steam was introduced in 1863. Passenger services began on 6/1/1865.
1834, The London and Southampton Railway Company was incorporated. However on 4/6/1839 it changed its name to the London and South Western RaIlway.
1833, Early experiments with locomotives in the UK showed that an engine which coild haul 67 tons on a level track could only haul 15 tons on a 1:100 gradient. Therefore most of Britain’s main lines, which were built early on, were built using major earthworks to keep the lines as level as possible.
4/5/1833. A level-crossing accident on the Leicester and Swannington railway lead to the locomotive Samson being fitted with the first ‘steam trumpet’.
22/4/1833, Richard Trevithick, engineer and pioneer of the steam locomotive, died in Dartford, Kent.
11/11/1830, Mail was first carried by railway, on the newly-opened Liverpool to Manchester line.
15/9/1830. At the official opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, MP William Huskisson stepped from a train to shake hands with the Duke of Wellington and was run over. He died the same night. This was Britain’s first railway casualty. The line had cost £40,000 a mile to build (nearly £4,000,000 in 2015 prices).
15/9/1830, The first true main line railway opened in Britain, between Manchester and Liverpool (via Rainhill and Glazebury). It was the first to be operated by steam throughout, with no reliance on horsepower. By modern standards, speed on this line was slow; the 38 ile journey was scheduled to take 2 hours six minutes, an average speed of 18mph. See roads for average speeds by coach travel at this time.
3/5/1830. The UK’s first passenger steam railway opened, from Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. The line supplanted earlier plans for a canal on this route.
6/10/1829. Trials began at Rainhill near Liverpool for a locomotive to use on the Liverpool to Manchester railway. The winner was Stephenson’s Rocket.
1826, The Springwell Colliery to River Tyne railway opened.
10/1826, The Portland Railway opened, to carry stone from the Isle of Portland quarries. The line closed in October 1939.
27/9/1825. Stockton and Darlington railway opened. Built by George Stephenson, the 27-mile route received Parliamentary approval in 1821. Stephenson’s locomotive Active weighed 8 tons and could travel at 12 to 16 mph. The locomotive was later renamed Locomotion No.1.
23/10/1820, John Birkinshaw of the Bedlington iron works was granted a patent for his rolled rails.
7/8/1820, The Kington to New Radnor railway opened (tramway).
1/5/1820, The Titley to Eardisley railway opened (tramway).
19/8/1819, James Watt, Scottish engineer, inventor of the steam engine (patented 1769), died in Heathfield Hall near Birmingham aged 83.
13/4/1819, The Mansfield and Pinxton railway opened. It was taken over by the Midland Railway in 1848, adapted for steam traction, and reopened on 9/10/1849.
27/7/1814, George Stephenson’s first locomotive, Blucher, began work at tge Killingworth Colliery wagonway.
25/7/1814. The engineer George Stephenson tested his first steam locomotive at Killingworth Colliery. This ‘steam boiler on wheels’, hauling coal out of the colliery on rails, was a forerunner of the steam railway locomotives of the later 19th century.
12/8/1812. Steam locomotion began on the Middleton railway, the first commercial use of steam locomotives.
25/3/1807. The Swansea and Mumbles Railway opened. It was a horse drawn service until steam traction took over in 1877. It was the first rail service open to the fare-paying public.
9/4/1806, The engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born in Portsmouth. He was the son of Marc Isambard Brunel, a refugee from the French Revolution.
24/7/1805, The Croydon and Merstham railway opened.
29/6/1804. The first passenger railway opened, from Swansea to Oystermouth. Horse drawn goods traffic began on the 7 ½ mile route from April 1806.
21/2/1804. Richard Trevithick demonstrated a self-powered steam locomotive on the Penydarran tramroad near Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales. The weight of the locomotive, loaded with 10 tons of pig iron, cracked the cast iron rails, and the line went back to pony haulage for the next 30 years, but the steam rail locomotive age had begun.
16/10/1803, Robert Stephenson, English civil engineer, was born in Willington Quay, Northumberland, the son of the famous George Stephenson.
26/7/1803, The Surrey Iron Railway opened, from Wandsworth to Croydon.
24/3/1802, Vivian and Trevithick patented a steam locomotive that could operate on road or rail.
29/7/1801. George Bradshaw, English publisher and originator of the railway timetables, was born near Pendleton, Manchester. He died of cholera in Norway in 1853.
9/6/1781, George Stephenson, inventor of The Rocket, was born in Wylam on Tyne, near Newcastle. He was the son of a colliery engine-keeper.
8/6/1772, Robert Stevenson, engineer, was born.
13/4/1771. Engineer and railway pioneer Richard Trevithick was born, at Illogan near Redruth, Cornwall.
25/4/1769, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, British engineer, was born in Hacqueville near Rouen, France.
1767, First recorded use of iron rails in Britain, at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire. Wooden wheels wore out quickly, and iron wheels wore out wooden rails fast too.
9/6/1758, The first line sanctioned by Parliament opened in Britain. This was the Leeds to Middleton line.
1738, Iron, rather than wooden, rails were in use in mines in Cumbria. By 1767 such rails were being used at Coalbrookdale, and by 1776 they were in use at Sheffield.
19/1/1736, The Scottish engineer and inventor James Watt was born in Greenock.
5/8/1729, Thomas Newcomen, who invented the first atmospheric steam engine in 1705, died in London.
3/9/1728, Birth of Matthew Boulton, who invented the modern steam engine along with James Watt.
1727, The world’s first railway bridge, known as Causey Arch, was built near Tanfield, County Durham, England.
14/6/1699, Thomas Savery demonstrated his first steam engine to the Royal Society. See also science, 1698.
1673, The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens investigated the possibility that the explosive power of gunpowder could be harnessed to drive engines. He constructed a cylinder in which the gunpowder was ignited; most of the hot gases escaped, and upon cooling a partial vacuum was created, dragging down a piston. The lateral back-and-forward motion produced might, Huygens proposed, be used as a water pump or even to drive a vehicle. In fact it proved both hazardous and impractical to recharge the cylinder with gunpowder at each stroke. However this design inspired the use of water expanding to steam as the driving agent. Effectively this engine was the ancestor of both the railway steam engine and, ultimately, the internal combustion engine used today by motor cars and lorries. Leonardo da Vinci also proposed a ‘gunpowder engine’ as early as 1508.
1671, The first section of the Tanfield Wagonway was in use in Durham, England.
1604, First wagon way in Britain , built in the East Midlands by Huntington Beaumont to transport coal to the river Trent.
1550, A narrow guage mine railway in Alsace was illustrated in the work Cosmographae Universalis, by Sebastian Munster. Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer) illustrated and derscribed mine rail trucks in his 1556 work De Re Metallica. By the end of the 16th century the use of rail transport in mines had become widespread in Central Europe; by this time such technology was also in use in England, introduced from Germany.
1430, A mine railway in Germany was the first recorded railway.
3000 BC. The Greeks began to use grooves carved in stone to move heavy loads on wagons.