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A Brief Summary of; Nationalisation in 1948

The Railway Executive was conscious that some lines on the (then very dense) network were unprofitable and hard to justify socially, and a programme of closures began almost immediately after nationalisation. However, the general financial position of BR became gradually poorer, until an operating loss was recorded in 1955. The Executive itself had been abolished in 1953 by the Conservative government, and control of BR transferred directly to the parent Commission. Other changes to the British Transport Commission at the same time included the return of road haulage to the private sector.

British Railways was divided into regions as follows:

Southern Region of British Railways

Western Region of British Railways

London Midland Region of British Railways

Eastern Region of British Railways

North Eastern Region of British Railways

Scottish Region of British Railways

The North Eastern Region was merged with the Eastern Region in 1967. In the 1980's, the regions were abolished and replaced by "business sectors", a process known as sectorisation.

The 1955 Modernisation Plan.

This report  known as the "Modernisation Plan" produced for political reasons and did not appear to be based on a detailed analysis was published in January 1955. It was intended to bring the railway system into the 20 th. century. The main aim was to increase speed, reliability, safety, and line capacity through a series of controlled measures that would make services much more attractive to passengers and freight operators to effectively recover traffic lost to the roads.


Important areas included:

Electrification of principal main lines, in the Eastern Region, Kent, Birmingham Liverpool/Manchester and Central Scotland.

Large-scale diesalisation to replace steam locomotives.

New passenger and freight rolling stock.

Re-signalling and track renewal.

New modern marshalling yards

The closure of an unspecified, but relatively small, number of lines.

The government appeared to endorse the 1955 programme (costing £1.2 billion), but did so largely for political reasons. This included the withdrawal of steam traction and its replacement by diesel (and some electric) locomotives.

Not all the modernisations would be effective at reducing costs. The desalination program gave contracts primarily to British suppliers, who had limited experience of diesel locomotive manufacture, and rushed commissioning based on an expectation of rapid electrification resulted in numbers of locomotives being developed with poor designs, and in the first instances with a lack of standardisation  resulting in costly updates to locomotives.

The marshalling yard building programme was a failure; based on a belief at the time in the continued viability of wagon load traffic in the face of increasingly effective road competition, and lacking effective forward planning or realistic assessments of future freight.

At the same time containerised freight was being developed which now is proving to be a better way forward with private companies such as;

D R S, Freightliner, D B Schenker Rail (Formally E W S) and firstGBRF proving that rail traffic in the UK is a  viable and cost effective way forward.


The rail transport system in Great Britain developed during the 19th century. After the grouping of 1923 under the Railways Act 1921 there were four large railway companies, each dominating its own geographic area: the Great Western Railway (GWR), the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the Southern Railway (SR). See mrep4u regional drawings section.

Nationalisation was subsequently carried out after World War II, under the 1947 Transport Act. This Act made provision for the nationalisation of the network, as part of a policy of nationalising public services by the current Labour Government of the period.


British Railways came into existence as the business name of the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission (BTC) on 1 January 1948 when it took over the assets of the Big Four Railway Companies.

There were also joint railways between the big four and a few light railways to consider.


Excluded from nationalisation were;

Industrial lines like the Oxfordshire Ironstone Railway.


Narrow-gauge railways, like the Ffestiniog Railway were also excluded, apart from three already owned by a company that was itself nationalised.

The London Underground; (publicly owned since 1933) was also nationalised, becoming the London Transport Executive of the British Transport Commission.


The Bicester Military Railway was already run by the government.


The  Liverpool Overhead Electric Railway was also excluded from nationalisation.

The 1955 Modernisation Plan Home