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The Role of the Railways: Railways & Government,1900-1945 - CED00010M

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  • Department: Centre for Lifelong Learning
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Turner
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Examine changes in the relationship between the British railway companies and the state between 1905 and 1945, and how they were influenced by the actions of the industry's decision-makers, public opinion, traders and politicians
  • Discuss briefly the states limited involvement in the activities of the British railway industry before 1905
  • Demonstrate how and why the UK government increasingly came to enquire, via the Board of Trade, into railway companies safety policies.
  • Examine how traders concerns regarding the rates railways charged for the conveyance of goods eventually led to government placing increased controls over this issue.
  • Show how the unified control of Britain’s railways during World War One demonstrated to those in government that, perhaps, the rationalisation of over a hundred companies may improve the industry s efficiency, which possibly would lead to a reduction in rates
  • Present the debates at the time in political circles and in public around what the railways role in society and the economy should be
  • Analyse the development of the 1921 Railways Act and how this changed the structure of the British railway industry
  • Demonstrate how long-standing pieces of legislation and the Act limited the railways capacity to set their rates as they wished, denied them the ability to refuse traffic and the restricted the services they could provide
  • Explain how these factors led to their profitability declining in the inter-war years because they were unable to combat road competition effectively.
  • Demonstrate how the mobility of goods and people changed in the period.
  • Demonstrate how the railways responded managerially and technologically to their declining probability and the restrictions on their operating freedom.
  • Demonstrate how Britain’s railways were operated in the Second World War. [complete addition].
  • Continue to instruct the students on the appropriate academic skills for essay writing, such as critical analysis, argument, referencing, and research
  • Demonstrate the complexity and diversity of events in the past, and the range of problems involved in the interpretation of complex, ambiguous, conflicting and often incomplete material
  • Encourage students to think independently and develop their own viewpoints on a debated subject of study.

Module learning outcomes

By the conclusion of the module the student should be able to:

  • Demonstrate how and why the relationship between the railway companies and government changed between 1905 and 1945
  • Show how government policy was progressively dictated by the demands, concerns and interests of the general public and traders, rather than those of the railway companies
  • Demonstrate how the railways activities were increasingly controlled by government, and how such control influenced their profitability
  • Engage with the debate on the role of railways within Britain as to whether should they serve the public or their shareholders
  • Demonstrate research skills by engaging with both primary and secondary source material
  • Select and organise appropriate information effectively so as to develop coherent opinions and arguments
  • Consider and solve problems, including complex problems to which there is no single solution
  • Write work that is sustained offering a measured, convincing and scholarly argument.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

The tutor will give regular individual feedback throughout the module on work submitted.

The assessment feedback is as per the university’s guidelines with regard to timings.

Indicative reading

Reading lists, and the availability of texts/journals electronically, are subject to change: please check with Lifelong Learning/teaching staff before making any purchases prior to the start of the module.

Required Reading

  • Aldcroft, Derek H. British Railways in Transition, (London, 1968) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Aldcroft, Derek H., British Transport Since 1914: An economic history, (Newton Abbott, 1975) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Alderman, Geoffrey, The Railway Interest, (Leicester, 1973)
  • Cain, P.J., Railways 1870-1914: The maturity of the private system, in Freeman, Michael J. and
  • Crompton, Gerald, “A very poor bag of physical assets: the railway compensation issue 1921-47”, Accounting, Business & Financial History, 6 (2006) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Parris, Henry, Railways and Government, (London, 1965) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Scott, Peter, “Path Dependence and Britain's “Coal Wagon Problem”, Explorations in Economic History 30, no.3 (2001). – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Scott, Peter, “British Railways and the Challenge from Road Haulage: 1919–39,” Twentieth Century British History, 13, 2 (2002). – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY

Recommended Reading

  • Crompton, Gerald, W., “Squeezing the Pulpless Orange: Labour and Capital on the Railways in the Inter-War Years”, Business History, 31 (1989) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Crompton, Gerald, “The railway companies and the nationalisation issue, 1920-50”, in Millward, Robert and Singleton, John, The Political Economy of Nationalisation in Britain, 1920-1950, (Cambridge, 2002) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Edwards, Roy, “Divisional Train Control and the Emergence of Dynamic Capabilities: The Experience of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, c1923-c1939”, Management and Organizational History, (2011) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Pollins, Harold, Britain’s Railways: An Industrial History, (London, 1971) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.