The Age of Public Railways

From 1812 to the present day

This map charts the route of every public railway line in Great Britain and when it first opened to passengers. The railways first began in the 1700s, as independent lines designed to carry minerals from mines. The first passenger railway appeared in 1807, but it wasn’t until 1830 when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened, that the concept of a primarily public railway was realised.

During the great Railway Mania in the 1840s, railways covered the Great Britain — what you see today is only a third of the size of the old network.

Notes about the map

The age of each line is determined as when a railway first opened along the same alignment.

The map covers all National Rail routes with scheduled services. It doesn't show heritage lines, closed lines, lines without a scheduled service, or freight-only lines.

The darker urban areas date from the present day, while the prominence of place names date from 1861. I wanted to show what a huge impact the railways had on the people of the UK, and the place names pay homage to some of the great railway towns, like York, Darlington, Liverpool and Manchester.

Cities are classed accordingly to their 1861 populations:

  • Regional Capitals: 200,000+
  • Cities: 100,000-200,000

  • Major Towns: 40,000–100,000

  • Towns: 0-40,000

If you'd like to find out more, a full list of sources is available.

Get this as a poster

I've made a print of this map, so you can enjoy it face-to-face. This is a big map, it'll come in A0.

If you're not looking to buy right now, that's ok, enjoy my website for as long as you want.

About the print

This A0 map charts the route of every public railway line in Great Britain and when it first opened to passengers. From 1812 to 2020, this map shows every public railway that still exists. Each line has been plotted, dated and coloured. Over 20 additional facts can be found throughout the poster.

Fast and free shipping to anywhere within the UK. I can ship internationally too.

Additional info about the map:

Printed in A0, it measures 1,189 mm tall x 841 mm wide — this is a large poster.

Produced by a small independent printing company in the South of England, the map comes with a durable semi-gloss finish. The poster is for indoor use only.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch. My email is at the bottom of the page.

Railway Facts

The UK has the greatest railway history in the world, and it comes with plenty of stories. I've collected the facts below in the process of researching this map, each is numbered from north to south.

The Dark Secret

1
on map

The Loch nan Uamh Viaduct holds a dark secret. During construction, a horse on top of the viaduct stumbled and fell inside one of the concrete piers, dragging its cart with it. Work went on, and the viaduct was completed with the dead horse entombed inside of it.

Further reading
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Film Location

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on map

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is famous for featuring in four Harry Potter films. Its curved appearance, with 21 arches makes it the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland.

Further reading
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Second Time Lucky

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on map

The Tay Bridge is the longest railway bridge in Great Britain, at 2.2 miles / 3.5 km. It is second bridge to have been built here, the first having collapsed only 18 months after opening.

Further reading
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Scotland's Newest Line

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on map

Originally known as the Waverley Route, this line ran from Edinburgh to Carlisle. It was controversially closed in 1969. An extended campaign brought part of the route into service again, with the 2015 reopening being the largest ever in the UK, and the longest new railway in Scotland since the 1901 opening of the West Highland Line.

Further reading
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The Oldest Line On The Map

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on map

The Kilmarnock and Troon Railway is the oldest still used alignment on Great Britain's national rail network. It opened as a toll railway, where the public could pay a fee to put their wagons and horse on the rails. Passengers were conveyed along parts of the railway before it was completed - the first accident occurred in 1811. In 1816, it was the first railway in Scotland to trial a steam engine.

Further reading
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Revolutionary Travel

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on map

The railways had a huge impact on travelling. In 1830 a stagecoach journey on turnpike roads from London to Newcastle took 35 hours. By the 1900s, railways brought the travel time down to only seven hours.

Further reading
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Britain's Least Used Station

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on map

Redcar British Steel is the least used station in Britain, with only 40 passengers using it in the 2017–18 period. The public station is situated on private land, so while passengers can alight from trains here, they can't actually leave the station.

Further reading
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The First Big Success

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on map

The Stockton and Darlington Railway, engineered by George Stephenson, is  famous. It was the first public railway to regularly use steam locomotives, and paved the way for the operation of today's railways. When it first opened, trains ran at 8mph / 13kph, and it could take two hours to get from Darlington to Stockton. Just outside Darlington, the Skerne bridge, built in 1825 is the oldest railway bridge still in use today.

Further reading
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Mine For The Taking

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on map

When coal was discovered north of Selby, it was found to be more economical to build a new diversion than it was to avoid mining underneath underneath the existing route. This new diversion is part of the East Coast Main Line.

Further reading
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The World’s Busiest Station

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on map

With 14 platforms, Blackpool Central was once the busiest station in the world. Opening in 1863, it remained in use until 1964, when the land was reused for property development. Today, Blackpool is served by two smaller stations, and the former route into the town is now a motorway.

Further reading
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Standard Gauge

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on map

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was also engineered by George Stephenson. He used the same 4ft 8in (1,422mm) gauge as his previous project, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, but added ½ inch to allow for movement on the curves. The success of this railway meant Stephenson and his son were employed on many other larger railway projects – the standard gauge, at 4ft 8½in (1,435mm) was born.

Further reading
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The Oldest Station

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on map

Broad Green is the oldest passenger railway station in the world still in use. Having opened on Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, the station still exists on the same site today.

Further reading
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The Shortest Journey

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on map

Wrexham to Wrexham Central is the shortest end-to-end train journey (from terminus to terminus) in the UK, taking only 2 minutes to complete it in full.

Further reading
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Speed Record

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on map

The Mallard set the world speed record for steam locomotives at 
126 mph / 203 kph on the 3 July 1938. It has not been beaten since.

Further reading
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Close Call

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on map

During the 1960s many rural lines like the Heart of Wales Line were considered for closure in the Beeching Report. This line was reportedly saved because it ran through six marginal constituencies.

Further reading
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Broad Gauge

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on map

The first of the broad gauge lines were built in 1838. The Great Western Railway were proponents of broad gauge, and their network across the south west of Britain reached its furthest extent in the 1860s.

Further reading
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Not in my Back Yard

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on map

Eton College provided considerable opposition before Windsor was opened. The college was convinced that the arrival of the railway would lead their boys astray.

Further reading
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Speedy Services

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on map

By 1843 passenger trains were starting to speed up. The fastest train at this time was scheduled to run at 36 mph / 58 kph, from London to Bishops Stortford.

Further reading
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A Short Lived Line

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on map

The St Ives Bay Line was the last line in the UK to be built to broad gauge standards. It was converted to standard gauge only 15 years later.

Further reading
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All Change Please

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on map

The Last Broad Gauge Service from Truro

By 1892 the last broad gauge lines were in the far South West, and there was a great need to connect them to the rest of the standard gauge network. A mass-effort was planned to replace the last 177 miles / 285 km of broad gauge around Plymouth and Falmouth. The last train ran in the early hours on Saturday 21 May 1892. As soon as it passed, over 4,000 workers converted the lines, and the last of the broad gauge was removed. Normal services were resumed on Monday 23 May, just two days later.

Further reading
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Underground Island

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on map

The Island Line has the oldest rolling stock in the UK: the London Underground 1938 stock. Getting replacements is complicated by the tunnels leading out of Ryde. The low clearance is much smaller than on the rest of the UK's network, and only the smallest of trains can fit through safely.

Further reading
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Blowing off Steam

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on map

As the railways were built by competing companies - there was strong competition and tensions often ran high. When the LSWR line to Havant opened in 1858, they tried to run their trains through to Portsmouth on another company's line. The first LSWR train ran under the cover of darkness, but found its path blocked at Havant where rails were removed, and other trains positioned to block a route through. With their rivals, the LBSCR, calling more men and engines for backup, the LSWR had to retreat. The companies issues weren't resolved for another two years.

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