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  • Our history

    In 2002 Network Rail took over as owner and operator of Britain’s railway infrastructure. This page shows the highlights in our history since then

  • What we’ve achieved since 2002

    When Network Rail took over the railway in England, Wales and Scotland, our mandate from government was to improve safety, reliability and efficiency on the network.

    Since 2002 we’ve almost halved the cost of running the railway, driven up its asset reliability to record levels, significantly improved train punctuality and made Britain’s railway the safest in Europe.

    Historical highlights

    Use the drop-down boxes to find out more about our history:

  • 2002 Network Rail takes over the railway

    In October 2002, Network Rail took over from Railtrack as the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure. Our company is run on a ‘not for dividend’ basis, which means that while we do make a profit, we don’t have shareholders. Instead, we reinvest our profits in improving the railway.

    2003 Renewing the railway infrastructure

    Despite the considerable amount of money spent on the railway during privatisation, the infrastructure had been starved of investment for many years. So in 2003 we began a massive, ongoing programme of renewing track, signals, power and telecoms equipment.

    2004 Bringing maintenance work in house

    The biggest single change during our first five years was bringing infrastructure maintenance in house. This almost doubled the size of our workforce and brought many benefits, including:

    • Standardised ways of carrying out tasks, with consistently applied high standards, rather than variation across different parts of the country.
    • Helping us to move from a ‘find and fix’ approach to infrastructure problems to one of ‘predict and prevent’, supported by new technology we introduced such as our high-speed measurement train
    • Continuous improvement in the safety of passengers and our workforce.
    • Significant economies of scale.

    2004 We open our first joint operations control centre

    In early 2004 we opened our first joint operations control centre at Waterloo Station, in partnership with train operator South West Trains. At the joint centre Network Rail staff work alongside the train operator’s staff on day-to-day decisions about incidents on the network. This improves the speed and quality of decision-making and so reduces associated delays for passengers. By 2015 we had opened nine more joint operations control centres – at Swindon, Romford, Derby, York, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Three Bridges and Cardiff.

    2005 Launch of the Network Rail apprenticeship scheme

    Since 2005 our award-winning advanced apprenticeship scheme has given more than 2,000 young people an intensive three-year training in one of five core areas of railway engineering: electrification and plant, overhead lines, signalling, telecoms, and track or off track.

    We also launched our leadership development programme in 2005, in partnership with Warwick University Business School.

    2005 Planning the railway’s future

    In 2005 Network Rail was made responsible for planning the future of Britain’s rail network. Until 2012 we did this principally through route utilisation strategies developed in partnership with the rest of the rail industry. In 2012 we introduced ourlong-term planning process, which builds on and replaces the route utilisation strategies approach.

    2006 New strategy to encourage rail freight

    In 2006 we published our Route Utilisation Strategy for developing the network to meet growing demand for rail freight in Britain. This included infrastructure enhancements on a number of our routes to accommodate the 9’6” ‘high cube’ containers that were becoming increasingly popular in the international freight industry.

    2006 Dramatic improvements in railway safety since 2001

    By 2006 the risk from signals passed at danger had fallen by 90% since 2001, bringing it to its lowest ever recorded level. This decrease was due largely to train protection and warning system (TPWS) introduced in 2003 and TPWS+ technology. By 2006 the number of broken rails was also an all-time low – one of the many benefits of us bringing maintenance work in house in 2004.

    2007 London St Pancras International opens

    Managed by Network Rail and owned by HS1, London St Pancras International opened in 2007 after a £800m redevelopment programme to make it the home of Eurostar and to expand its regional and intercity services. In addition to first-rate passenger facilities, the station offers a wide range of shops and restaurants in its beautifully restored Victorian Gothic interior. As well as being an important rail interchange and gateway to Europe, it has become a destination in its own right.

    2008 West Coast Main Line upgrade completed

    In 2008 we completed our upgrade of Britain’s busiest route - the West Coast Main Line connecting the major cities of London, Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Delivered on time and to budget, this was one of Europe’s largest rail engineering and construction projects. It enabled1,100 more trains to run a week and reduced journey times, with London to Glasgow taking 41 minutes less than in 2004.

    2009 Passenger train punctuality reaches record level

    By 2009 punctuality was at its highest level (90.6%) since records began in 1996. This was a significant improvement on the performance of both Railtrack and British Rail in their final years.

    2009 Thameslink Programme starts

    Our Thameslink programme, which is expected to be completed by 2018, is transforming north-south travel through London. The programme’s major projects include completely rebuilding Blackfriars and London Bridge stations, remodelling Farringdon station and building a new viaduct at Borough to double the number of tracks that can run out of London Bridge station.

    2012 Devolving operational responsibility to our routes

    The joint control centres we started to introduce in 2004 had shown the benefits of collaborating directly with train operating companies, particularly in improving punctuality. In 2012 we made our routes throughout England, Wales and Scotland responsible for their own day-to-day activities, so that they could work even more closely with the train operators.

    2012 New Blackfriars station opens

    The first to span the Thames, our new station at Blackfriars allows for longer trains, more frequent services and a quicker, easier connection for passengers between rail and underground.

    2012/13 Corporate responsibility in action

    In 2013 we relocated nearly 3,000 of our people to the Quadrant MK, our new national centre in Milton Keynes. One of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in Britain, the Quadrant is rated ‘Excellent’ using the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method.

    In 2012 we awarded EDF Energy a 10-year contract to supply low-carbon electricity to power the growing electrified rail network. We also started proactively publishing our data without a mandatory requirement to do so, as part of our commitment to transparency.

    2014 Network Rail is reclassified to the public sector

    On 1 September 2014 Network Rail was reclassified from the private sector to the public sector, becoming an arm’s length central government body. We retain the commercial and operational freedom to manage Britain’s railway infrastructure within regulatory and control frameworks.
  • 2015 and beyond – growing the railway

    Our priorities when we took over running the railway in 2002 were to improve safety and punctuality, and to reduce costs. These all remain as important as ever. But now the most urgent challenge we face is the need to increase the railway’s capacity.

    Rapid growth in passenger numbers

    Over the past 20 years passenger numbers have doubled – more than 4.5m people use the network every day. This is twice as many passengers as in the 1920s – when the network was more than twice its current size.

    Almost 1.7 billion passenger journeys are now made on our railway every year. That’s a third more journeys than five years ago and this growth is set to continue.

    Investment to meet increasing demand

    This ever-increasing demand on the railway means that congestion is a huge daily challenge, particularly at peak times of day. More trains are needed to help ease congestion, but there just isn’t enough space to run them on the existing network.

    This is why Network Rail is now carrying out the biggest railway investment programme since the Victorian era. Between 2014 and 2019, we are investing more than £25 billion in growing and expanding the railway infrastructure. Projects such as our Thameslink Programme, Reading redevelopment, Borders railway project and thousands of smaller projects will mean a bigger, better railway for the people and businesses that rely on it every day.

    Find out more about how we are growing the railway.