26147578-D221-41F9-ABB7-6885ACDF18E59F891113-ECA4-4515-88FC-982D0EA7E7FACookie notification7FB51430-02DF-4280-A563-E7BFD99CA3FDF47A8801-4306-4881-9294-84749C550F38FF4A50A0-E663-4209-9CD3-74D9B638DE9A

Our history

Since 2002, we’ve been part of the latest chapter in the nearly 200-year history of Britain’s railway

  • 1825 saw the first passenger service using steam locomotives on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
    In 1830 George Stephenson opened the first regular passenger service in the world, linking Canterbury to the seaside town of Whitstable.
  • The 1840s were the biggest decade of railway growth. A complete network was laid down with the vast majority of towns and villages having a railway connection.
  • In 1883, the first electrified railway service was opened in Brighton.
  • During World War Two, Britain’s railways played a key role in the transportation of troops and evacuees around the country. The then ‘Big Four’ individual railway companies joined together to effectively become one organisation.
  • In 1948, Britain’s railways were nationalised to become British Railways.
  • From 1965 until 1994 the railway was run under the trading name of British Rail who operated and maintained all aspects of Britain’s railways – including the trains.
  • On 1 April 1994 Railtrack took control of Britain’s railway infrastructure as part of government legislation to privatise Britain’s railways. Railtrack was listed on the London Stock Exchange and the FTSE 100 list. Railtrack owned the infrastructure in the same way Network Rail does now, but maintenance and services were provided by local contractors.
  • On 3 October 2002 Network Rail replaced Railtrack making it the owners of Britain’s railway infrastructure.

Rail was invented in Britain

That’s why we’re so proud to be playing our part in its modern story, honouring this legacy while delivering a better railway for Britain’s future.

We’re committed to continuing the great success story of rail in Britain, following in the spirit of engineering inspiration, innovation and determination that underpins two centuries of history.

Celebrating rail heritage

From sleepers to stations, every part of our infrastructure has a story to tell. Much of what we look after today has a history that goes back to the very beginning of the railway.

Our Virtual Archive is a showcase and celebration of the heritage of today’s railway infrastructure. Here you can find out more about how the railway was built, some of the great figures and visionaries involved, as well as the history of the stations, bridges and viaducts that we look after today, viewing documents from the very earliest days of railway construction.