Buy a computer and by the time you unpack it and plug it in it is obsolescent. Back in 1985 BR commissioned the new All Purpose Ticket Issuing System (APTIS). And 18 years later, 1.5MB of bubble memory and all, it is still sitting there in booking offices, unmatched for speed and flexibility.
A victim of irrational over exuberance at conception, the Advanced Passenger Train so nearly succeeded. Cancellation followed a loss of nerve when the BR Board should have toughed out the media ridicule and given the P-Train the resources it needed.
BRUTE, LOVERs, RAVERs, TOPS, SPAMS: BR was the master of memorable acronyms that were easy to pronounce. How do you say IKF or NFRIP?
Pioneered by the Great Western, the Automatic Warning system was seen as nice-to-have, rather than essential, for most of BR's 46 years. After all, it was the driver's job to obey the signals.
Often dismissed as an ivory tower inhabited by PhD and Bar scientists, BR Research left an enduring legacy including the first real understanding of vehicle ride dynamics, high speed pantographs and the world's most successful computer based interlocking. But don't mention the Railbus. .
More than the bowler hat, the black gabardine raincoats worn by supervisors identified the hard men at the sharp-end who made the railway run.
Hero or villain? As BR Chairman Dr Richard Beeching undoubtedly cut too deeply, but he also sparked a revolution in operational thinking which created the modern railway – particularly in freight
At the end of the 1960s, Director of Design Walter Jowett produced two black-jacketed publications – ‘Locomotives for the 1970s' and ‘Diesel electric multiple unit trains'. The first was a missed opportunity but the second gave us IC125
Published in 1985, ‘Main-line locomotive renewal programme 1985-2009' forecast 850 new freight diesels, 390 passenger diesels and 260 electrics. Production would have peaked at over 100 locos a year in the 1990s. BR naiveté at its most extreme
Invariably retired military men, Chief Inspecting Officers brought authority, rigour, common sense and man management to accident investigation and safety regulation.
Unveiled in 1965, new train liveries, staff uniforms, station signage and even a new type face showed Britain it had a national railway.
Cancelled in 1974, partly because of the cost of the associated rail infrastructure in Kent, the dream was revived by Sir Peter Parker with his minimalist trains-only ‘mousehole' which lead on to greater things – at a price.
Even today, Clapham's fall-out lingers on. The 90 Recommendations from the resulting Hidden inquiry wrecked the signalling profession, inflating costs and timescales, raised false expectations of ATP and Mk 1 stock is still a problem.
It was a black day when Chief Engineers became Directors of Engineering. Chief Engineers led from the front and made things happen, Directors of Engineering sat at Board meetings and – directed.
When it came to uniforms BR never could get hats right. The 1965 pattern with its vaguely continental high crown was a gift to cartoonists.
Created in 1956, these guardians of the aesthetic sometimes confused styling with design and had lots of fun with front ends and liveries. But there were successes ranging from the XP64 coach interior to seats for multiple units.
Only two men backed Class 55 Deltic locomotives, English Electric Chairman Lord Nelson of Stafford who wanted to sell them and Gerry Fiennes (qv) who believed the East Coast must have them to remain competitive. By force of personality they got their way and the ECML had a worthy successor to the A4 Pacific
In 1962 the Deltics made 6hr the headline time for London-Edinburgh. Thirty years later it was down to 3hr 59min – the result of a continuous drive for, often minor, line speed improvements by Eastern Region civil engineers always looking forward to the next generation of traction.
Without the Painters, father and son, would the privatised freight companies have been so successful? Devotees of General Motors traction, they brought simple American technology to Britain and showcased the Class 59 on Foster Yeoman's 5000 tonne aggregate trains.
Perhaps the greatest loss to Health ‘n' Safety fascism was the disappearance of the communal pot of thick cut marmalade on breakfast tables in BR restaurant cars.
Modern Railways got the ultimate railway manager sacked when it published an excerpt from his unauthorised (by BR) biography in 1966. ‘I tried to run a railway' is still the definitive handbook of railway management – let's hope Alistair Darling's Review Team has a copy.
Fruit of the Beeching era, freightliner's intended market was domestic traffic. Better roads and lorries killed off this business model: the container's dominance of international freight created an even better one.
Inspired by McKinsey this early 1970s attempt to remove a layer of management was abandoned in 1975. It would have seen the five regions replaced with eight ‘territories'. Network Rail has just replaced its Regions with eight routes.
To this country house outside Watford , BR staff, from graduates on entry to promotion prospects, went for training. Resident lecturers were supported by senior railway managers and visiting experts. Its alumni make today's railway run.
Kitchen car design and restaurant car staffing was dominated by the need to serve the maximum number of breakfasts in a single sitting. Trenchermen could start with porridge, connoisseurs could choose real kippers. Only wimps eat scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.
Who can forget the photograph of a wood with a swathe of fallen trees felled by the storm of 198? marking a railway line? Local initiatives included buying up all the chain saws in a local DIY store. In retrospect it made an exciting break from the daily railway.
Launched only 20 years ago, Gatwick Express was improvisation on wheels, using electro diesel locomotives and existing coaches to provide a 15 minute interval service. Legend has it that during the 1987(?) election Margaret Thatcher's staff would phone to ask when the next train would leave for the airport. Answer ‘we will have a train ready for the PM in 15 minutes time'.
Designed for the days when managers had watch-chains and waistcoat fob pockets, the gold pass, which you kept in retirement, was one of the compensations for a life in public service. A plastic ID simply doesn't hack it.
When did InterCity services become homogenous? When did the marketing men decide that the Royal Scot and the Master Cutler were nothing special? And where did the winged thistle that adorned 1A16 and 1A23 go?
One of the strongest international brand names ever, first appeared on a daily Paddington Wolverhampton train – the Inter-City - in 1950. In 1966 it became the marketing brand for the WCML electrified service and would be poached by transport operators around the world. The hyphen went March 1985.
Saviour of InterCity. Still unmatched for ride and ambience. To crib the Jaguar car advertising slogan ‘grace, pace and space'.
After the Clapham accident in 1989, involving three trains, the wreckage was cleared and services reopened on the second morning. After the even worse accident at Harrow in 1952, the slow lines were open the next morning.
British Rail Engineering Ltd was the new name for the railway workshops. Having built traction and rolling stock at cost for the owner's engineers, BREL was commercially naïve, with no idea of real world costs or variation orders. When BR exposed BREL to competition in the 1980s, private companies had cut costs and quality to the bone to match the in-house builder. The original Mk 4 toilet refers.
Sir John Betjeman may have loved the smoky original, but the redevelopment redefined the modern station as cathedral.
Why did the Eastern, living on its wits with little money, excel, while the London Midland stagnated? After the 1966 electrification it seemed that a new era beckoned but the LM went back to waiting for the next great leap forward which, as in APT, never happed.
Did a five coach IC225 really average 112.8mile/h non stop between London and Edinburgh on 26 September 1991 ? Engineers and operators were heroes then.
Today, the double arrow identifies National Rail rather than British Rail. With the rest of the corporate identity it marked the end of the post war nationalisation period
As the press rolled up at Derby in 197? To see ATP-P roll out, parked in front of the Railway Technical Centre was this Leyland bus on a rail chassis. ‘Don't look at that', said the BR Press officer. APT was duly upstaged – the temporary aberration that led to the Pacers had begun.
Every year, BR's suppliers waited in eager anticipation for the end of the financial year, when money held back for contingences had to be spent or lost. Civils always seemed to do particularly well.
Devised by Gerry Fiennes (qv) in his bath Merry-Go-Round trains cut the cost of transporting coal from colliery to power station to a halfpenny a ton mile when BR was charging 4 (very old) pence. With the top loading, bottom dumping wagons perpetually rolling it was economic for runs of under 20 miles
Who ran the first commercial magnetically levitated vehicle? Britain of course. BR Research applied its ride dynamics expertise and air travellers hovered between Birmingham International and the Airport terminal until spares became unobtainable.
Rail freight press officers were the most eccentric. A coach on the back of a Speedlink service saw fish and chip suppers being handed up from the lineside somewhere in Yorkshire . Then there was the national press reporter who fell in the ornamental point in an Ostend motel .
The cheapest and lightest air conditioned coach in Europe when it was introduced. Soft of ride and tough in high energy accidents the Mk 3 has yet to be equalled. But why did only the build for Ireland get power doors?
An endless procession of young hopefuls on the way up and not so hopefuls on their last chance came to play trains. But only Barbara Castle took the job seriously enough to fire a BR Chairman.
As the family car transformed leisure travel, the Merry Maker trains fought a losing rearguard battle for the working class pound.
Instant coffee in a paper cup. Ugh.
With too much money, too soon after nationalisation, old school railwaymen wasted billions at today's prices recreating yesterday's railway for today. The Treasury never forgot those unused marshalling yards and unsuitable traction and rolling stock.
Oh how we laughed at Chris Green 's red lamp-posts and a Class 50 in red white and blue livery at the Launch of one railway for London in 1986. But the man meant it and Network SouthEast must rank as one of BR's greatest achievements.
BR's first-business driven rather than engineering-led train. Too much innovation and dual sourced procurement too clever by half. And heavier, not lighter, as expected. But current performance of the second generation Class 365 fleet justifies the concept.
Who ever thought up this opaque and uninspiring name for the final phase in the implementation of Bob Reid's business led railway? Organising for Quality could mean anything, but in the end meant nothing as staff promptly began disorganising for privatisation.
Ugly word for an ugly deed. When the time comes to restore the fourth track between Connington and Huntingdon, it will mean moving a lot of OHLE masts. Short-sighted vandalism
In the darkest times, BR's most inspirational Chairman was irrepressibly cheerful.
Has any line in Britain equalled the billiard table Great Western's Chief Civil Engineer created for IC125? Seen as profligate by some, his insistence on the highest quality track is the new orthodoxy.
A Scandinavian idea commercialised in Britain , the artfully bent steel rod became the BR standard for continuous welded rail and now comes in many varieties.
Suave stewards in white mess jackets. Dining cars with moveable chairs. The murmur to regular travellers that chef had prepared a steak and kidney pie that was not on the menu. Another world.
When we had the gall to complain about the ride on a press trip in an early Pacer, an affronted BR Director replied, ‘but they are at their worst on jointed track'. Thankfully Regional Railways saw the light and ordered real DMUs before too much damage was done.
Could BR procurement at Derby have bought cheap food in Tescos? Since a specification aimed at acquiring Class 59s resulted in a contract to Brush for 100 class 60S – probably not.
With the Department of Transport back checking investment approvals, BR had to get it right – and did more often than not with the ECML electrification the peak of professionalism.
He did it in Scotland , he did it in London . Chris Green 's philosophy was that when you were doing something new, if people saw something new immediately they would believe you meant it.
Wielding considerable technical, commercial and political power, Regional Managers were always ready to take on the centre. Only in the 1980s was their independence curbed.
One of the last LNER graduate trainees, joining the railway in 1947, Bob Reid was the consummate professional who had the rare good fortune to end his career as the right man, at the right place and at the right time. A hard taskmaster he got the best out of a team of powerful personalities.
For years any passenger service that wasn't London & the South East or InterCity was lumped under the pejorative ‘Other Provincial Services. Sectorisation saw the fleet replaced with DMUs and a new name – Provincial. When this became Regional Railways – Cinderella's makeover was complete.
Radio Electronic Token Block combined SSI (qv) with radio to cut the cost of signalling rural lines while maintaining safety.
One of the longest running freight services carried iron ore between Port Talbot and Llanwern services. At the start of the run was Stormy Bank a sustained climb the put heavy haul diesels to the test. Class 59s and 60s rulled in later years, but nothing matched tripled headed Class 37s for artistic impression
Yet another BR Research initiative which was widely disparaged in its early days. But as always Derby persisted and where would we be without this automated and industrialised version of measured shovel packing?
Embrace and suffocate was Sir Peter Parker's approach to threats to the railway. With some inspired leaking, the BR spin machine saw off this ‘super Beeching'.
BR was a pioneer of the factory made boxed sandwich, along with M&S and Boots. But is a BLT fusion with roasted peppers as satisfying as bread buttered while you wait, a slice of cheese and freshly sliced tomatoes? Or a bacon butty filled straight from the griddle?
GEC General Signal and Westinghouse wanted nothing to do with BR Research's safety validated electronic interlocking. Fortunately they were persuaded to commercialise what became the world's best selling electronic interlocking.
Bob Reid's business led railway would not have got off the ground without the talented, hard driving managers who came to the peak of their powers in the 1980s. The men themselves got the glory, but really it was a triumph for BR's management development programme which took them on as graduate trainees.
Just when received wisdom was that Pacers were all the regional railway could afford, West Midlands PTE and Metro-Cammell showed that the optimum replacement for a heritage DMU was a modern DMU and Regional Railways saw the opportunity. BREL got the bulk of the business but Met-Camm's 156 was the best of the breed.
Princess Margaret coming into Dover sideways in a gale. Spray everywhere, turbo-props howling. What on earth was BR doing running a cross-Channel hovercraft service?
It is amazing that the ferries and harbours were not sold until 1980. That there was only one bidder is less surprising
There were no half measures in BR's last attempt to make money out of wagon load traffic. In the end it failed, but not for lack of trying or investment in new rolling stock. Alas, the only profit came from the sale of the brand name.
Every spring Modern Railways would publish its timetable reviews. A faster headline time here, a more frequent service there. But gradually the Summer became just another season and journey times lengthened.
Remember Foster Yeoman's attempt to haul a 10,000 tonne train with two Class 59s? Remember the blistering acceleration leaving the Cross when pre-series Class 91s built up mileage hauling IC125s with the rear power car operational?
A day of free travel for Senior Railcard holders on Network SouthEast resulted in this memorable description of busy platforms.
BR was the first to identify the growing spending power of an ageing population and brought in the Senior Citizen's Railcard. Far from being a social service, its hard hearted aim was to part pensioners from their money.
Ultra-fine powdered snow that got in everywhere brought trains to a halt in 198? Terry Worrall was the railway manager who launched a 1000 wrong kinds of headline
BR Board 0 - public opinion 1. Even the railwayman sent to prepare the route for closure helped save it. And now no one dare close anything.
One of those enclaves that flourished because it was too small to register on the BR Board's radar. It provided a lot of people with a lot of fun – not least its management
North was north and south was south and never the twain could meet, until Chris Green created Network SouthEast and put his foot down. A minimum of new infrastructure meant new dual voltage trains were affordable and ridership grew as new journey opportunities were created.
Watch that 1970s Brit-thriller ‘Get Carter' and marvel at the tidy East Coast lineside. No shrubs, no weeds no piles of cut up rail. A tidy railway is an efficient railway.
Licenced from Southern Pacific in the USA in 1971, BR's total Operations Processing System brought the computer into the marshalling yard office. Shunters with hands like a bunch of bananas were among BR's first computer literate employees.
Senior men, brought up when you served a long apprenticeship as a fireman, gave quiet authority to the cab. Some could be cavalier with line speeds in the pursuit of right time.
You would have thought that a monolithic industry could have brought a uniform approach to passenger information on stations. While many technologies were tried PI never got much better than outstandingly average – and was often worse
Everything had to have a tie. Every project, every region, every business sector, every business sub sector, every depot, every new train. BR must have kept the bespoke ties industry in business
Was this the ultimate acronym? British Rail's universal trolley cluttered platforms, threatened life and limb when towed in rakes. Where did they all go?
Yet another aberration as the Great Western proved its greatness by being different. Justified on the spurious grounds that Western depots lacked the skills to handle electric transmissions, the hydraulics were a blind alley – but a beautifully styled one.
An undisputed technical and commercial triumph, the 1966 electrification took the emerging 25kV ac technology and made it work. BRB Chief Electrical Engineer Stanley Warder and LMR CM&EE Alec Emerson were the men behind the ‘sparks effect'.
One reason for the fiasco that was diesel traction under the 1955 Modernisation Plan was the mechanical engineers' obsession with building better steam locomotives than their forbears in the privatised railway. That the LMS, LNER and the Southern were all looking forward to dieselisation at Nationalisation seemed to have passed CME Robin Riddles by.
With this eight car rake of InterCity vehicles, the Design Panel (qv) trialled a range of ideas, from doors to seats, in passenger service. The seats went into the Mk 2 and other features would influence the Mk 3 coach.
Home of the electric multiple unit, York took the Mk 3 bodyshell, turned it into a cost effective 20m long people mover and churned out simple and reliable commuter trains. Come the Networker revolution and York added aluminium bodied DMUs to its product range. But with the collapse of demand in 1993, Derby or York had to close and York lacked political clout.
Known to railwaymen as ‘the Kremlin', the BR Board's headquarters in the former Grand Central hotel was a grim place to visit with its former glories painted over or boarded up and endless corridors of anonymous doors.
In an age of class numbers the Southern stubbornly retained its alpha-numerics. But 4SUB suited a prosaic slam door workhorse which pre-dated event the Mk 1s. Those bouncy, coil-sprung moquette clad seats may have been orthopaedically incorrect but they still felt comfortable
95-99 Readers' choice competition
In turn enthusiastic supporter, candid friend or severe critic, this magazine grew up with BR. In return the railway used these pages to fly kites, grind axes or pursue vendettas. For 34 years all BR life was there