Brief overview of British rail history
The first British railway companies were established in the 1820s and 1830s. These began to amalgamate and merge together in the first decades of the 20th century.
In 1923 an Act amalgamated over 120 of the remaining companies together as the ‘big four’: the Great Western, London and North Eastern, London Midland and Scottish and Southern railway companies. A small number of companies - joint, London suburban and light railways - remained outside of the Act.
In 1948 the ‘big four’ were nationalised as British Railways, which was controlled by the British Transport Commission (BTC). The BTC was replaced with the British Railways Board in 1962.
Between 1994 and 1997 British Rail was privatised, with the track and infrastructure being passed to Railtrack (which in turn was replaced with the state regulated Network Rail in 2002), freight services sold outright and passenger services offered to private companies on a franchise basis.
Pensions and the railways
Railway companies were some of the earliest employers to offer pension schemes to their staff, although the companies’ complicated histories can mean that the records are difficult to trace.
Read about the history of railway pension schemes
More information on the location of railway pension scheme's archives
Please note that other than explanatory booklets for British Railways pension scheme (dated 1990 and 1991) and the Railways Pension Scheme (dated 1996-2001) in the Union Pensions Services collection (references LMA/4589/A/102 and LMA/4589/A/444) and a British Rail 'New Pensions Environment' pamphlet from the Information Brief series in the library collection (1988, Pamphlet 36.13/NEW), the Pensions Archive itself does not hold any records relating to railway pensions. Please see the link above for other organisations who hold relevant material.
A good deal of the information on this section of the website has come from Cliff Edwards’ book ‘Railway Records: A Guide to Sources’ (2001), which is available in the Information Area at London Metropolitan Archives (shelfmark Reference 60.3/EDW).