Published:26th July 2014
The UK rail system was reckoned to be at its high point in early Edwardian times and the summer timetable planned for 1914 showed that rail expansion was continuing.
The rail network was estimated as being 23,351 route miles at the end of 1911 and a few miles more by 1914 as expansion carried on, albeit slowly. Total track mileage was 54,576 miles including sidings. Even Jersey, Malta and the Isle of Man could boast a cumulative network of 68 miles all helping the World rail network reach just under 650,000 miles!
The UK rail network generated £127,199,570 total receipts in 1911 with trains operating 428,633,062 miles in total.
There were over 100 railway companies at this time and while some worked together conveying each others carriages, many were in direct competition running between the same two towns but on different routes.
The Caledonian Railway for example planned to introduce 17 Pullman carriages for the first time. These were to operate between Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen and between Edinburgh and Glasgow expresses. One Pullman Observation Car was to run between Glasgow Buchanan Street and Oban for tourists.
A new express connecting service was booked to run between Glasgow Central and Newcastle via Carlisle taking just under four hours, an hour faster than the previous timetable.
The Glasgow & South Western Railway arranged a circular tour using a train between Glasgow and Ayr and returning by steamer on the Clyde coast. Excursion steamers also linked Greenock, Rothesay and Largs with Glasgow trains.
The Great Northern Railway also served the Lincolnshire coast resorts with trains from Manchester to Skegness (taking four hours) and Mablethorpe running on Fridays and Saturdays from July. There were also through carriages from Leeds to these resorts for the high summer season.
The Great Central Railway (GCR) ran a tourist train in June 1914 on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays between Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. This was booked to run daily for the summer timetable from July.
They also ran an excursion train to Mablethorpe and Skegness from Sheffield from mid July when the summer services commenced. The other East Coast resorts of Lowestoft and Yarmouth were served by trains from Liverpool and Manchester.
The GCR also went west and north operating to the Cambrian coast with their ‘Tourist Express’ from Sheffield Victoria and Manchester Central and to Blackpool (Talbot Road) from Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Long distance passengers could travel direct on the 0820am from Manchester to Bristol, Taunton and Ilfracombe with a breakfast and Luncheon Car available.
Newcastle was linked with the Isle of Wight with a train departing at 0752am and calling at York, Nottingham, Leicester, Rugby, Oxford, Winchester, Southampton and Lymington. The return train left Bournemouth at 1120am and reached Newcastle at 10.16pm – a long trip!
East Anglian resorts were well served by the Great Eastern Railway with a 0823am breakfast car train from Liverpool Street to Norwich with connections to Clacton, Frinton, Cromer and Mundesley amongst other places. A similar luncheon car express departed at 130pm.
The Wash resorts such as Hunstanton were served by a luncheon car express departing at 1150am which returned as an evening dining train at 537pm.
The citizens of Dunstable were also not forgotten as their services were extended from Dunstable Church Street to the Dunstable LNWR station at this time!
The Great Western Railway was always busy at summer and they ran a ‘Devon & Cornwall Special’ running non-stop between Paddington (at 0930am) and Newton Abbot every Friday and Saturday. The more famous ‘Cornish Riviera Express’ also ran on Summer Sundays in 1914 leaving Paddington at 1030am arriving Penzance at 515pm. Connections to Guernsey were also provided by train and ferry via Penzance.
But it should not be forgotten that the Irish traffic was important to the GWR who ran trains to Fishguard and Birkenhead from Paddington connecting with sailings.
The smallest network was in the IOW which had several companies operating trains. They worked together to provide connections with the Solent ferry terminals at Cowes, Yarmouth and Ryde and 3rd class travel was available at a penny a mile!
The largest railway undertaking was claimed to be the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) and for example, they operated carriages from the south coast to the north Wales coast and between London and Glasgow, as far east as Cambridge via Bletchley and Oxford. The Sunny South Express ran to Brighton via Willesden Junction, a major interchange at this time.
Their ‘crack’ express was the ‘City to City’ express which took just two hours from Birmingham to Broad Street via Willesden Junction. It carried a typist in a special compartment for businessmen to have letters typed while on the move, a precursor to emails……!
The London & South Western Railway summer timetable always started early, in June due to the resorts and ports it served along the south coast.
The summer timetable saw direct services to Devon and Cornwall from Waterloo and many trains were limited to several destinations to avoid overcrowding. For example, the 12 noon service only carried passengers for East Devon and Exeter.
An evening ‘supper train’ ran at 1030pm from Waterloo to Southampton to connect with the overnight cross channel and Channel Island shipping services. Southampton daytime shipping services were served by a 930am train from Waterloo, 45 minutes later than the previous timetable.
The London Brighton & South Coast Railway included Pullman cars on a few of their Victoria to Portsmouth trains and on the Victoria to Newhaven boat train. It was now possible to travel between London and Paris in just eight hours and the ships were all fitted with wireless telegraphic equipment if needed.
The Midland Railway served Southend with a through carriage to Leicester via Bedford. Strange but true!
Theatre and circus trains
And of course at this time there were no large lorries and roads were far from ideal for travelling with loads or long distances, the railways had a travel monopoly for freight and passengers.
Theatre troups and circuses travelled around the country by train in specially constructed vehicles built in carriage works such as Wolverton, the UK’s largest at this time employing 5000 people.
These skills and assets were shortly to be turned from peace to wartime activities.
The 1914 summer timetable was implemented but did not run for long. War was declared on August 4th 1914 and it was all change.
Rail.co.uk will be taking a look at exactly what the Declaration of War meant to the UK rail network and companies.