Video – Horse-drawn to High Speed

Our amazing railway dates back more than 200 years – and it’s our job every day to keep it running safely for you.

How do we do that? By working with the past to innovate for the future …

Watch this video to find out more:

Horse power

Much of our historic railway dates from the Victorian era but did you know some of it was built during Georgian times? For instance, the Causey Arch – over the Causey Burn in County Durham – is considered the world’s first railway bridge.

Back then, the traffic over bridge bore no resemblance to the high-speed activity we see across Britain today. It was built between 1725 and 1726, according to charity the National Transport Trust, and carried more than 900 horse-drawn wagons each day, using the Tanfield Railway

Something much more like the railway as we know it today came later, in the form of The Stockton and Darlington Railway in County Durham, which opened on 27 September 1825. It’s widely considered to be the first railway to use passenger locomotives, making it the beginning of the modern network.

Its design came from ‘the father of the railways’, George Stephenson, who outlined his ground-breaking plans in a notebook that has become one of the world’s most historically important railway artefects, dated 1822.

The 21st century chapter

We’re proud custodians of such incredible historic infrastructure. We take great care to ensure it’s safe and suitable for your journeys, while working sensitively and within important rules and guidelines to preserve its features.

For example, many of our structures are listed because they’re of special architectural or historic interest considered and of national importance.

They include Grade I listed stations like Bristol Temple Meads and London King’s Cross. And other infrastructure like the Grade II listed Box Tunnel in Wiltshire and the Grade I listed Royal Border Bridge – the last link in completing a continuous railway line running between London and Edinburgh.

King's Cross station track works

We consult with experts and our archive of title deeds and original plans and drawings when planning work on such historically important structures. This means we can fully understand the nature of the infrastructure, how it was originally built and the appropriate materials to use during repairs and maintenance.

You can find out more about this work by stepping inside the Network Rail archive in this film.

Sensitive restorations

Severn Bridge Junction signal box with scaffolding, daytime

What does work look this like? Take a look at our refurbishment of the Edwardian Severn Bridge Junction – the world’s largest working mechanical signal box.

The 117-year-old, grade II listed building stands just outside Shrewsbury railway station – a vital link for passengers and freight travelling between the Wales and the Borders area and the rest of Britain.

We’ve worked with contractor MPH Construction since October to sensitively carry out £250,000 of improvements to Severn Bridge Junction and keep it running for the future.

The refurbishment project, partly funded by the Railway Heritage Trust, weather proofed the entire building. A conservation officer pre-approved all plans to ensure the building maintained its listed status.

In April last year, we completed our restoration of the Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire in time for the summer holidays.

Since November 2020, 100ft high scaffolding towers had moved across seven of the viaduct’s 24 arches to carry out masonry, drainage and repainting work. 

The £2.1m investment as part of the Great North Rail Project will secure the Grade II* listed structure’s future as both an historic landmark and vital railway link on the Settle-Carlisle railway line.

During this project, the latest laser and drone survey technology mapped every inch of the bridge for the first time, giving a detailed record of its condition so it can be closely monitored in future.

In 2018, we significantly improved your journeys into Liverpool Lime Street. Perhaps one of the project’s greatest achievements is that it carried out such work all within the confines of a Grade II listed building, without increasing the station’s footprint. Lime Street’s tunnels date back to the early 1800s, presenting difficult working conditions.

Furthermore, the station itself remained open during the upgrade for retailers and interstation passengers.

Find out more about how we carried out so much work at the historic station.