North British Railway

North British Railway
North British Railway Coat of Arms.jpg
NBR 1922.png
North British Railway in 1922
Dates of operation1844 (1844)–1923 (1923)
SuccessorLondon and North Eastern Railway
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length1,377 miles (2,216 km)

The North British Railway was a British railway company, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1844, with the intention of linking with English railways at Berwick. The line opened in 1846, and from the outset the Company followed a policy of expanding its geographical area, and competing with the Caledonian Railway in particular. In doing so it committed huge sums of money, and in doing so incurred shareholder disapproval that resulted in two chairmen leaving the company.

Nonetheless the Company successfully reached Carlisle, where it later made a partnership with the Midland Railway. It also linked from Edinburgh to Perth and Dundee, but for many years the journey involved a ferry crossing of the Forth and the Tay. Eventually the North British built the Tay Bridge, but the structure collapsed as a train was crossing in high wind. The company survived the setback and opened a second Tay Bridge, followed soon by the Forth Bridge, which together transformed the railway network north of Edinburgh.

Early on, mineral traffic became dominant and brought in much more revenue than the passenger services.

At the grouping of the railways in 1923, the North British Railway was the largest railway company in Scotland, and the fifth largest in the United Kingdom. In that year it became a constituent of the new London and North Eastern Railway.

First steps

Early railways in Scotland had been mainly involved with conveyance of minerals—chiefly coal and limestone in the earliest times—a short distance to a river or coastal harbour for onward transport. The opening of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (E&GR) in 1842 showed that a longer distance general purpose railway could be commercially successful.

During the construction of the E&GR, the money market had eased somewhat and a rapid development of long distance railways took place in England. Scottish promoters began to consider how central Scotland could be connected to the growing English network, and a Government commission was established to determine the approved route. It was assumed for some time that only a single route was commercially viable. The Commission, the Smith-Barlow Commission, deliberated for some time and presented an ambiguous report, and public opinion had moved on: numerous schemes for railways were proposed, not all of them practicable.

During this frenzy, a group of businesspeople formed the North British Railway Company to build a line from Edinburgh to Berwick (later named Berwick-on-Tweed with a branch to Haddington. They got their authorising Act of Parliament in 1844. The Newcastle and Berwick Railway was building its line, and in time they would form part of a through chain of railways between Edinburgh and London.[1][2]