British Railway Eras

Published: 2016-10-26 - By: gdm
Last updated on: 2022-02-09
visibility: Public

The evolution of railways in the United Kingdom followed a distinctly different timeline than either the United States or Continental Europe. Similar to the NEM system for continental Europe, Bachmann Europe published this list of nine (9) "Eras" for Great Britain. It was extended lated by Hornby with Eras 10 and 11 to capture the most recent evolutions of the Railways in the UK. The eras listed below, as well as the short description, are the ones from Hornby.

The Hornby Model Railway Era system

Era Years Definition Short Description
1 1804 - 1869 Pioneering Covering the period from Trevithick’s first locomotive-hauled railway journey, through the rapid expansion and ‘railway-mania’ of the mid-Victorian era railway network.
2 1870 - 1922 Pre-Grouping A period of proliferation on Britain’s railways, as passenger numbers increased, the number of operating companies increased, and the system expanded to its zenith of 20,000 miles of track, but profits were falling, and regulation was required.
3 1923 - 1947 Grouping: The Big four
Following a period of government control of the railways during the First World War and in its aftermath, the myriad of operating companies were amalgamated into the ‘Big Four’ of the GWR, LMS, LNER and SR, plus a number of ‘joint railways’.
4 1948 - 1956 British Railways Early Crest The early period of railway nationalisation, under the control of the British Transport Council, saw the large-scale regeneration of the railway network and the move towards modernisation and is recognised by use of the Lion and Wheel logo.
5 1957 - 1966 British Railways Late Crest The later period of railway nationalisation covers the last years of mainline steam operation, as diesel haulage succeeded steam on Britain’s railways and is recognised by use of the Rampant Lion and Wheel logo.
6 1967 - 1971 British Railways Blue Pre TOPS British Railways’ quest for modernisation led to the hurried introduction of diesel and electric rolling stock, with many different designs of locomotives operating across the network; some more successfully than others.
7 1971 - 1982 British Railways Blue TOPS The British Rail ‘Blue’ period saw the railway network gradually recover from falling passenger levels and investment, and enter the era of InterCity high-speed rail travel.
8 1982 - 1997 British Railways Sectorisation Under British Rail’s sectorisation, the BR ‘Blue’ livery was phased out as the InterCity brand was relaunched and Network SouthEast and Regional Railways introduced, while freight operations were split into Trainload Freight, Railfreight Distribution and Rail Express Systems.
9 1996 - 2008 Initial Privatisation The privatisation of British Rail began in 1994 and was completed by 1997; passenger services being split up into 25 train operating units under the rolling stock companies Eversholt Rail Group, Angel Trains and Porterbrook, and freight services passing to EWS and Freightliner.
10 2006 - 2017 Network Franchising Passenger rail franchising in Great Britain was created by the Railways Act 1993 and involves franchises being awarded by the government to train operating companies (TOCs), through a process of competitive tendering, usually lasting for a minimum of seven years and covering a defined geographic area or service type.
11 2014 onwards Present Day Until late March 2020, the system of rail franchising was covered by a mixture of tender awarded franchises and directly operated railways, such as ScotRail, LNER, GWR and Avanti West Coast, but the system is currently suspended and under Government control.

The era information is provided merely as a guide for those people who may be new to the hobby and wish to purchase models from a similar period in time. It should not dissuade anyone from purchasing and enjoying any item that they simply find attractive or interesting.

In reality, many items of rolling stock remained painted in the liveries from previous era's for the duration of the following era. Those wishing to obtain more detailed information on specific running periods should consult either their local stockist or contact one of the many model railway clubs in your area listed under events and clubs.

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