Issue Date: 19/08/2010
Issue Name: Great British Railways - British Rail
Producer: Buckingham Covers
British Railways was formed under the 1947 Transport Act and was a combination of the previous 'Big Four' rail companies. Our cover features a classic painting by Terence Cuneo of the Evening Star, the last steam locomitve built for British Railway. The postmark is specially designed, depicting one of the orignial British Railways crests and is posmarked at Swindon. This cover is available signed by Carole Cuneo.
The British rail transport system developed during the 19th century and comprised of many independent lines each being promoted by a private company. During the First World War all the railways were brought under government control and after the war was over, economic pressure forced many railways into decline. The government took action and at the time the political mood was not in favour of state ownership, instead the railways were amalgamated into four main companies - Southern Railway, Great Western Railway, London & North Eastern Railway and London, Midland & Scottish Railway.
The Second World War took an even greater toll on the country’s rail network and the state of the national economy in general. The reality of the situation was that after the ravages of the war the British railway system was worn out, resulting in the nationalisation of the railways under the Transport Act 1947, British Railways had arrived.
The 1950s were financially difficult for British Railways and although modernisation was planned, by the 1960s it was evident that many of the rural railways were no longer necessary and would have to be shut down. The result of this realisation was the rather infamous Beeching Report of 1963, which is still controversial to this day. Its proposals were dramatic; a third of all passenger services and more than 4000 out of 7000 stations would close.
British Railways was relaunched with the new image of British Rail and a mood for modernisation. By the end of the 1960s steam had been phased out in favour of diesel and electric traction. By the 1970s it was evident that the current passenger stock was painfully outdated for the increasingly discerning traveller and led to two projects as a result. The Advanced Passenger Train (APT) and the High Speed Train (HST). Due to its ‘off the shelf’ technology HST was preferred over APT and went on to become one of the most successful and popular passenger trains of all time, with some thirty year old sets still clocking up millions of revenue miles a day.
The 1980s was another bad time for the railways with huge downturns in bulk freight traffic, pressure to reduce government funding and above-inflation increases to fares the future of British Rail was uncertain. Radical action was necessary and by the 1990s steps were put in place to privatise the railways. The operation had many critics and was not without difficulty but the result to the end user in terms of improved service and reliability as well as better trains are now beginning to be seen.
1994 saw the official opening of the Channel Tunnel, making the railways of Britain truly part of the European network for the first time. Now, in the 21st Century, railways are back in favour as a mode of transport, largely on account of their "green" credentials. A new phase of modernisation is in hand for other major routes. The next few years promise to be exciting times for observers of the railway scene in Great Britain.
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Carole Cuneo is the youngest daughter of Terence Cuneo CVO OBE RGI (1907-1996).