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The Scope of the “RailRef” Line Identity System

Signal Fact 43

Automatic signalling debuted on the North Eastern Railway with the Hall system in 1905.

Named after the inventor, track circuits were employed but the signals were operated by carbonic gas with electrically operated gas valves.

The RailRef system is intended to document the extents of every railway operated anywhere in the British Isles. Boundaries between railways in the lists of codes are determined solely by operational responsibility.

Acts of Parliaments

An Act of Parliament on 19 August 1921 decreed that the majority of the railway companies of England, Scotland and Wales should be merged into four larger ones commonly referred to as “The Big Four”. This gave birth to three new companies who became operational from 1 January 1923 with a fourth existing company gaining much new territory.

These four were then merged together as British Railways from 1 January 1948. The Transport Act, 1947 that created British Railways and the rest of the nationalised transport infrastructure also brought some, but not all, the small railway companies that remained independent of the amalgamations wrought by the 1921 Act.

A further Act of Parliament on 13 April 1933 brought the London Underground railways together under the umbrella of the London Passenger Transport Board.

In Ireland, the Free State Government passed an Act on 23 July 1924 amalgamating the railway companies operating wholly within the 26 Counties into the Great Southern Railways, which came into being on 1 January 1925.

Which companies are included?

Companies that 'escaped' involvement in any of the three Acts or first commenced operations at later date are included in the system as are the companies operating in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and other smaller offshore islands generally regarded as being part of the British Isles. Also included are the companies operating in Northern Ireland and those operating across the border between the two parts of Ireland.

Railway companies fall into one of three groups ...

Group 1 Railway companies that provided day to day public services for the carriage of passengers or goods, usually both, and were doing so when the relevant Railway Act became law. Several other companies are listed in these acts because they had legal existence at the time of enactment but were not operating services because such service provision responsibility had passed to others. This latter group of companies have their lines included with the company that actually operated them on a day to day basis.
Group 2 Industrial and Private railways that carried goods on their own behalf, including some that operated passenger services for their own employees, and controlled their lines by means of a signalling system.
Group 1 and 2 companies are allocated two letter codes as explained on our page about building a RailRef code. All lines known to be operated by the company are listed, including their industrial, dock and harbour railways and those lines where construction work commenced or was completed but never opened to traffic.
Group 3 Smaller Industrial and Private railways and significant private sidings connected to one of the lines in groups 1 or 2, brought together for convenience in 'county' lists. Companies in this group will not have two letter codes allocated unless they are found to be extensive enough to warrant such an allocation.

Lines now operated by “Heritage Railways” are included in the lists of the relevant former operator.

Companies Allocated Two Letter Codes (Groups 1 and 2)

Companies in England, Scotland and Wales allocated two letter codes are generally those operating trains in August 1921, prior to the amalgamations and take-overs during 1922 consequent on, or in anticipation of, the 1921 Railway Act's implementation on 1 January 1923. Lines operated by companies that had ceased to have independent existence or operate trains before August 1921 are included within the company that owned or operated them in August 1921, as are lines operated on behalf of nominally independent companies.

Companies listed for Ireland, both north and south, allocated two letter codes are generally those operating trains in July 1924, prior to the amalgamation that created the Great Southern Railway. Lines operated by companies that had ceased to have independent existence before then are included within the company that owned or operated them at that time, as are several lines shown as 'absorbed companies' in the 1924 Act.

Allocation of Lines to Companies

Lines are allocated to the list of the company that was the day to day operator of the line immediately prior to the Acts of 1921, 1924 or 1933 as appropriate (see above).

Joint Lines are allocated to the Joint Company that was the day to day operator of the line and are also included in the lists of each of the owning companies. Where no Joint Company is involved joint lines are simply listed in the list of each of the parties to the joint arrangement. Joint lines are denoted as such by the use of blue rather than black for the Line Description.

Lines and connections built after the Acts are placed to the most appropriate pre-grouping / pre-amalgamation company list. These later built lines are only regarded as 'joint' if such status still applied at the time of their opening even if the line has been placed in a Joint Company list.

In the lists of codes, links are provided to allow easy navigation from one Line Code to another at junctions and across breaks in longer main lines.

Locations and mileages shown in the listings are intended to give an overall guide to the scope of each Line Code and assist identifying the lines in published railway atlases. They are not intended to be a complete list! You can read more on the subject of milepost mileages by following this link.

As at September 2011 the Line Codes listed are believed to be substantially complete in respect of main and signalled lines. Please be aware that some minor branches and siding complexes have yet to be fully identified and added to the lists.

If you think there is anything missing, or you have information to add, please email the webmaster who will welcome additional information for this page.

Lines excluded from the RailRef system


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