Big Four (British railway companies)

Big Four (British Railway Companies)

Big Four (British railway companies)

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The Big Four was a name used to describe the four largest railway companies in the United Kingdom in the period 1923-1947. The name was coined by the Railway Magazine in its issue of February 1923: "The Big Four of the New Railway Era".

The Big Four were:

The companies were formed as a result of the Railways Act 1921, in a process known as "The Grouping" (of the railways), which came into effect on 1 January 1923.

On 1 January 1948 the companies were nationalised to form British Railways as a result of the Transport Act 1947.


The three larger companies relied heavily on freight (especially coal) and long-distance passenger traffic. The Southern Railway, in contrast, was predominantly a passenger railway, which, despite its small size, carried more than a quarter of the UK's total passenger traffic. This was because the area covered by the railway included many of the dense commuter lines around London, as well as some of the most densely populated parts of the country. It responded to this geography by pursuing a vigorous policy of electrification.

The GWR was the only company to retain its pre-grouping identity, which it duly imposed on all that it absorbed. However, the other three found that past influences remained strong. The Southern's management remained decentralised, respecting the three...
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