Working with railway heritage

We work hard to develop the railway for the 21st century, while keeping an eye on preserving its built heritage.

Britain’s railway history

  • In 1825 the Stockton and Darlington railway opened. Designed for the movement of coal, passenger services ran on the Company’s rails but were pulled by horses.
  • In 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened – the world’s first intercity railway line. It delivered both passenger and freight services by steam locomotive from the start.
  • The ‘railway mania’ of the 1840s saw unprecedented investment in railway company shares, enabling the rapid development of railway lines. Many lines that make up today’s railway network were authorised for construction in this period.
  • Throughout the 19th century many aspects of today’s railway were established and standardised; the ‘standard gauge’ distance between tracks, signalling principles, electrified lines and timetabling.
  • In 1923 the main railway companies joined together to create the ‘Big Four’; London, Midland and Scottish Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, Great Western Railway and Southern Railway companies.
  • The railway played a significant role throughout both World Wars, enabling the rapid movement of troops and supplies, as well as supporting communities and industry at home.
  • In 1948, Britain’s railways were nationalised. With its focus on railway modernisation, plans included the electrification of key routes, replacing steam locomotives with diesel and electric and rationalising the network.
  • Between 1965 and 1994 the railway ran under the name ‘British Rail’, managing, operating and maintaining most aspects of the industry. British Rail introduced the famous ‘double arrow’ logo, which still identifies passenger railway services today.
  • 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 FTSE100. Passenger and freight services were offered on a franchise basis to private operating companies.
  • On 3 October 2002 Network Rail acquired Railtrack and became the owner and operator of the railway infrastructure. Without any shareholders, all profits are invested directly in railway improvements.
  • In 2014 Network Rail was reclassified as an arm’s length public sector body, with the commercial freedom to manage and develop Britain’s railway infrastructure. Our Board is responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Disposal of Redundant Assets

We recognise many Heritage Railways, community projects and charities rely on donations and good will to achieve their goals. Network Rail operates a Non-Monetary Bid request process to support these projects where possible.

Our Disposal of Redundant Assets Policy (NR/L2/SCO/306 and NR/L3/SCO/306) defines when and how. Both documents can be downloaded free-of-charge from our user-friendly Standards portal, which is available to all of Network Rail’s external contractors, suppliers and industry associates with a company registration number.

If you require access to our Standards portal, please complete the registration form (Microsoft Forms). If you have any queries about the registration form or the Standards Portal, please email

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