InterCity Rail in Britain – A Landmark Paper – 25 Years On


No, this is not about the integrated services across the UK today – since there is no InterCity Rail in 2018, but it is almost 25 years ago to the day, that Chris Green, Managing Director of BR’s InterCity sector gave a speech to the Royal Society on 23rd June 1993.

InterCity logoIn 1993 this was the sector of British Rail that received no subsidies from Government, but disappeared on the fragmentation of the rail industry that occurred following the implementation of the EU Directive for separation of operations from infrastructure. That the UK chose the worst possible way to achieve this, still causes repercussions today – and the apparent ‘infighting’ between Network Rail, Northern Rail, and Govia Thameslink, etc.

Chris green made an interesting statement in his early paragraphs in this speech:

“We should be clear from the beginning that it is now government policy to cease operating a national Intercity passenger network and to fragment the services into seven train companies from April 1994. A nationalised Railtrack organisation is being created to own and maintain railway infrastructure from 1994.”

That the plan was for 7 – yes, 7 – different train operators to run the services that were in the 1990 to 1994 period operated as a single entity seems in itself a rash policy.  Has it worked – either in terms of passenger receipts, economies driven through inter-company competition, providing new rolling stock and services?  Well the answer is mostly no, but it certainly added complexity to train travel on long distance services and connecting feeder/secondary lines.

Today there are actually 10, although some of these, such as West and East Midlands Trains, and Hull Trains operate more regional services, they do run over metals that were previously InterCity territory.  In 2018, 25 years after Chris Green’s Royal Society presentation, these are essentially where the services were divvied up between:

  1. Caledonian Sleeper
  2. Cross Country
  3. East Midlands Trains
  4. Great Western
  5. Hull Trains
  6. South Western Railway
  7. Transpennine Express
  8. Virgin Trains (East Coast)
  9. Virgin Trains (West Coast)
  10. West Midlands Trains

In that same paper, he (Chris Green) goes on to suggest that high-speed rail would have a good future, whoever the owner may be:

“This paper will argue that high speed rail services have a good future in the UK regardlessof ownership. This springs from the growing congestion in all other forms of transport and the benefits that rail offers for inter-urban journeys in the 150-300 mile zones.”

In 1993 when this speech and paper was delivered, the East Coast Main Line had only recently been completely electrified, the Channel Tunnel or HS1 was yet to appear, and the West Coast Main Line was scheduled for a major overhaul.  HSTs or InterCity 125s were running the principal services on the former GWR main line into South Wales and up to Birmingham, and locomotive hauled Mark III and IV stock was the order of the day.

gec076 copyAt the time, there was little by way of a concrete plan for future high-speed trains, but the paper presented highlighted some optimistic proposals for 250 km/hr running on major routes out of Kings Cross and Paddington.  This was alongside the belief that there would be through running between the Channel Tunnel and regional destinations like Manchester or Birmingham, whilst plans existed for an “InterCity 250” train.  This would operate on the straighter sections of existing main line out of Kings Cross and Paddington – alas it failed to materialise.

The recognition that it was possible to achieve performance improvements on existing tracks, brought back the tilting technoogy proposals from APT, which appeared almost a decade later in the shape of the “Pendolino”.   Was this just a watered down version of British Rail’s own “InterCity 225” train?

This idea of “faster on existing tracks” provided some interesting commentary too:

“It seems financially and environmentally unlikely that Britain will build a major new railway through its industrial heart. Were it to do so, it would undoubtedly connect Manchester, Birmingham, London and the Channel Tunnel with a 480km/h (300mph) high speed passenger link offering radical improvements in journey times such as Manchester-London in 1 1/2 hours. The London- Folkestone link is the only part which is likely to be built.”

Well that was an interesting prediction!  One of British Rail’s most senior personnel suggesting that a new railway through the industrial heart of England might not be built – 20+ years before the whole HS2 debates!  According to his understanding, it seems at that time at least, a new railway would need a minimum of 20 million passengers to justify its construction, using these examples of inter city journeys:


Elsewhere in the paper the number of cars and car journeys was addressed, alongside airport movements, with some interesting actual and estimated figures:

car ownership

From today’s figures from the ONS, cars on the road in 2000 was actually 24.4 million, and by 2010, had risen to 28.4 million, and last year 31.2 million.  So a couple of years to go, to achieve the estim,ates from 1991 – but not a bad effort.  As was recognised in this paper, the competition for passengers from road transport in particular was particularly strong.  The competition between the train operators in the 21st Century has made it much more difficult to achieve either economic, or environmentally sustainable transport.  Integration between the modes of land transport is unlikely to be achieved, whilst rail transport nationally, alongside regional bus services will continue to suffer without a much more radical approach in policy.

Chris Green’s conclusion in this paper/speech is published in full below.  It seems, especially considering the current rail chaos/crisis in the North, and recent franchising fiascos, let alone Heathrow, Britain is further from resolving these key rail transport issues than ever.


If you have access to this paper, it is well worth a read, if only to compare what might have been, with what we have today.


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