From 1812 to the present day
How old are Great Britain's public railways? Quite old, by international standards. 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 took until 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.
This interative map charts the route of every public railway line in Great Britain, along with opening (and reopening) dates.
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:
If you'd like to find out more, a full list of sources is available.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stuart Wilding, The Jacobite Express - geograph-3677281-by-Stuart-Wilding, CC BY-SA 2.0
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.
Edinburgh : National Library of Scotland, Fallen girders, Tay Bridge., Out Of Copyright
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ben Brooksbank, St Ives station panorama geograph-3987952-by-Ben-Brooksbank, CC BY-SA 2.0
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.
Until 2021, the Island Line had 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 smaller trains can fit through safely. Today, newer former London Underground trains serve the line.
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.