British Railway Information Sources

Peter Chapman



George Ottley mapped the literature in A bibliography of British railway history (1965) and continued and enhanced the work in the first and second supplements (1988 and 1998). The Railway and Canal Historical Society publishes an annual Bibliography as a supplement to its Journal (more information at

A discography of recorded Railway sounds on vinyl has been created by Ian McDonald: British Railways on Vinyl: 1931 to 1989 (2013)


David Spaven and Julian Holland produced Mapping the railways : the journey of Britain’s railways through maps from 1819 to the present day (2011), whilst Mark Ovenden compiled Great Railway Maps of the World (2015) and, with Mike Ashworth, Transit Maps of the World: Expanded and Updated Edition of the World’s First Collection of Every Urban Train Map on Earth (2015).

Highly recommended is Stuart Baker’s Rail Atlas Great Britain and Ireland (2015) – now in its 14th edition – and the 2 volume magus opus The Railways of Great Britain a historical atlas : at a scale of 1 inch to 1 mile by M H Cobb – sadly out of print and very difficult to track down second-hand. 


Prolific railway author Julian Holland wrote The Times History of Britain’s Railways(2015), An A-Z of Famous Express Trains(2013), and Amazing and Extraordinary Railway Facts(2011) and the follow-up More … (2012)

An early 20th century worldview of the development of railways has recently been reissued: Frederick A. Talbot The Railway Conquest of the World (1911). The author of the forward to the 2015 reprint, Christian Wolmar, has written (amongst many books) The Iron Road: The Illustrated History of Railways (2014) and Fire and Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain (2008). The importance of the railways to the Victorians is explored by Mark Casson in The world’s first railway system : enterprise, competition, and regulation on the railway network in Victorian Britain (2009).

Simon Bradley’s The Railways: Nation, Network, and People (2015) was the Sunday Times History Book of the Year in 2015. Tanya Jackson’s British Rail: The Nation’s Railway (2013) reviews what was good and not so good about the nationalised railway operation in the UK. Chris Austin and Richard Faulkner’s Holding the Line: How Britain’s railways were saved (2013) is a detailed account of post-war government policy towards the railways in Britain. Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late (2010) is a readable and affectionate tribute to the place of the railway in Britain’s psyche.

Rolling Stock

Robert Pritchard continues the recording of British Rolling Stock initiated by Ian Allan: Locomotives 2016: Including Pool Codes and Locomotives Awaiting Disposal (2015) along with companion volumes for coaching stock, electric multiple units, and diesel multiple units. Along with Peter Hall he has recorded the Preserved Locomotives of British Railways (2014).

Comprehensive coverage of the rolling stock being used throughout the world can be found in Jane’s World Railways Yearbook (2015)

Information on ‘historic’ rolling stock is best traced through the publications of the individual societies which seek to preserve and develop our knowledge of the Big Four railway companies (predecessors to British Rail), and to the many pre-1921 companies which were amalgamated at the Grouping. A good example of the wealth of information to be found is the Publications list of the Great Northern Railway Society


Clinker’s register of closed passenger stations and goods depots in England, Scotland and Wales, 1830-1977 and its subsequent Supplements remains an invaluable printed resource. Useful in locating the stations is Railway Atlas Then and Now (2015) by Paul Smith and Keith Turner, and one from my early days of railway enthusiasm, British Railways Pre-Grouping Atlas & Gazetteer (2015) – now in its 6th revised edition…

English Heritage has published The English Railway Station (2014) by academic Steven Parissien which covers the ‘architectural development and social history of the British (sic) railway station’.

A quirky view of the c150 ‘request’ stops on the British network can be found in Dixe WillsTiny Stations (2014)

Track and signalling

English Heritage has also published a report on the remaining historic signal boxes owned by Network Rail: Railway Signal Boxes: A Review (2012) – authored by John Minnis. The Friends of the National Railway Museum have published The history and development of railway signalling in the British Isles (2014); a subject also

covered byTwo Centuries of Railway Signalling (2008) by Geoffrey Kitchenside and Alan Williams.

Current signal boxes and signalling is covered in the Signalling Atlas and Signal Box Directory, Great Britain and Ireland (2010) by Peter Kay (maps by David Allen).

The classic account of the consequences of failure (and the lessons learnt) is L T C Rolt’s Red for Danger (2009).

The ‘permanent way ‘ of the railway is the provenance of the Permanent Way Institution. Understanding Track Engineering (2015) is one of the Institution’s many essential works.

Track gradients of the British main line railways as they existed prior to nationalisation is the subject of Gradients of the British Main Line Railways (2016). Current track layouts can be found in the five volume Quail Track Diagrams published by TRACKmaps.

Timetables and Tickets

Surprisingly perhaps, a printed version of the national rail timetable for Great Britain is still published: Rail Times for Great Britain (Middleton Press). The ‘working timetable’ – ie the times to which the trains actually run – can be downloaded at

Timetables from 1839 to the current day can be accessed at the National Railway MuseumSearch Engine facility:

For more adventurous rail travellers, the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable was essential until it ceased publication in August 2013. Fortunately, the compilers of the Timetable have continued to publish in print independently: European Rail Timetable (

British Railway Tickets (2011) by Jan Dobrzynski is a useful introduction whilst Railway tickets, timetables & handbills (1986) by Maurice Bray is more detailed. However, the source for world-wide illumination is the Journal of the Transport Ticket Society (

Railways in culture

The eight volume Railway Journeys in Art is the ‘definitive collection of British railway posters which showcases some of the greatest collections of railway posters to be found anywhere in the world’. Compiled by Richard Furness, the work is based on the collection at the National Railway Museum.

John Huntley wrote Railways on the Screen in 1993. Glyn Horton has produced Horton’s guide to Britain’s railways in feature films (2009). Those of us of a certain age will remember the work of British Transport Films. A commemoration of 40 years of the Unit, Moving Images, was written by John Reed in 1990.

The impact of the railway upon American popular culture is the subject of Wayne Erbsen’s short book Railroad Fever – Songs, Jokes & Train Lore (2011). Also available is Long steel rail : the railroad in American folksong (2000) byNorm and David Cohen.

The railway anthology (2014) edited by Deborah Manleycarries writings on railways by over 50 literary figures, whilst Trains, literature, and culture : reading/writing the rails (2012) by Steven D. Spaldingis a series of papers on the impact of railways on American and European literature. Finally, Andrew Dow’s Dow’s dictionary of railway quotations (2006) contains over 3,400 quotations from more than 1,300 writers and speakers from around the world.

Model Railways

Many readers of Refer will have grown up with Tri-ang or Hornby model railways. Pat Hammond has written a three volume work on the company – Tri-ang Hornby:… – and worked with Ian Harrison on Hornby : the official illustrated history (2002).

For a historical view from Germany, the 1938 Miniature railways : a survey of passenger-carrying miniature railways with an appendix on manned model shipsby Dr Walter Strauss was re-published in 1988.

Finding additional resources

The National Railway MuseumSearch Engine publishes an invaluable series of Resource Packs:

With thanks to David Langton and Karen Baker

Peter is grateful to fellow railway book enthusiasts David and Karen. Naturally, any errors are his responsibility alone


Refer 32 (1) Spring 2016


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