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The UK Railways Portal

The United Kingdom has two major rail networks: the network in Great Britain, a standard gauge network; and the Northern Ireland network, a 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) gauge network (which, together with the Republic of Ireland network forms a single, unified network in Ireland).

The railway network in Great Britain consists of approximately 10,000 miles of track and serves around 2,500 stations. The railway infrastructure is owned and operated by Network Rail while passenger services and all but 17 stations are operated by a total of 26 privately owned train operating companies (Network Rail directly operate the remaining 17 principal stations). The Irish network is naturally much smaller, with just 300 miles of track in Northern Ireland and around 1,400 miles of track in the Republic of Ireland, less than half of the original total of 3,600 miles of track. There are also 1,200 miles of private 3 ft (914 mm) gauge narrow gauge railways used for transporting peat by Bord na Móna, a company of the Irish government.

In 2005/2006 there were over 1 billion passenger journeys in Great Britain, the largest number since 1959, and during 2005/6 Network Rail will have spent approximately £5.1 billion on the routine maintenance and upgrading of the network. Network Rail continues to spend the equivalent of £14 million every day on maintenance and upgrading of the network.

In Ireland, the rail network has arguably suffered from much more serious under-investment than its mainland counterpart and passenger numbers are often negligible on some routes, however the two railway companies on the island have recently spent considerable sums upgrading track and rolling stock.


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21C1 35001 Channel Packet.jpg
The SR Merchant Navy Class, also known as Bulleid Pacifics, Spam Cans or Packets, was a class of air-smoothed 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotives designed for the Southern Railway of the United Kingdom by Oliver Bulleid. The Pacific design was chosen in preference to several others proposed by Bulleid. The first members of the class were constructed during the Second World War, and the last of the 30 locomotives in 1949.

Incorporating a number of new developments in British steam locomotive technology, the design of the Packets was among the first to use welding in the construction process; this enabled easier fabrication of components during the austerity of the war and post-war economies. The locomotives featured thermic syphons and Bulleid's controversial, innovative chain-driven valve gear. The class members were named after the Merchant Navy shipping lines involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, and latterly those which used Southampton Docks, an astute publicity masterstroke by the Southern Railway, which operated Southampton Docks during the period.


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Manchester Piccadilly railway station from the footbridge.jpg
Credit: Richard Kelly

Manchester Piccadilly station, known locally as just Piccadilly, is the principal railway station of Manchester in England, and lies on the Manchester loop of the West Coast Main Line. It serves intercity routes to London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Cardiff Central and the south, Glasgow Central, and routes throughout the north of England. Operated by Network Rail, it is the largest and busiest of the five city centre railway stations in Central Manchester/Salford, the others being Manchester Victoria, Salford Central, Deansgate and Manchester Oxford Road. It is the fourth busiest major station in the United Kingdom outside London for footfall (visitor numbers) and the busiest in England outside London for passenger usage. ( more...)


Did you know...

DYK question mark
  • ...that most of the Thomas The Tank Engine characters are based on genuine British Rail locomotives, and that Thomas is based on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's E2 0-6-0 locomotive?
  • ...that there are ten stations where the train operator responsible for the management of the station has no services calling at that station?
  • ...that there is a total of 262 million journey and fare combinations on the British railway network?

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