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The Railways & Society: The Railways After the Second World War, 1945-1979 - CED00011M

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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: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Examine how Britain’s railways were operated in the Second World War and how this considerably influenced politicians’ views on how the industry should be organised after it.
  • Highlight the run-down state of the railway companies after the Second World War.
  • Explore long-running discussion, which stretches back to the 1870s, amongst politicians and the public regarding whether Britain’s railways should be nationalised.
  • Place the nationalisation of the railways in the context of the post-war Labour government’s aim of nationalising other industries.
  • Examine the organisation of British Railways after 1948 and demonstrate how, initially, the Railway. Executive, who ran the railways, clashed with the British Transport Commission, oversaw all of the nationalised transport industries.
  • Examine how competition from road transport was highly damaging to BR’s profit margins in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Discuss the technological and managerial facets of British Railways’ modernisation plan of 1955, and how and why it failed.
  • Look the reason Richard Beeching was appointed as chairman of the British Railways Board.
  • Discuss the background and formulation of Beeching’s report, and the driving rationale behind it.
  • Examine the effects of the report, objections to it, and how communities were affected by the withdrawal of railway services.
  • Explore the public perception of the legacy of the Beeching cuts, the extent to which this reflected reality, and what this says about British culture and identity.
  • Present, again, the on-going debates in political circles and in public about what the railways’ role in society and the economy should be.
  • Impress on the students the importance of discussing the Beeching report, which is an emotive subject, in an objective and analytical manner.
  • Offer opportunities for students to respond and comment on the arguments of previous scholars, as well as critique the opinions of their peers.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the background to the British railway industry’s nationalisation, particularly the importance of the state’s control of the railways in World War Two.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the challenges that British Railways faced and how the organisation attempted to respond to them technologically and managerially.
  • Understand the importance of studying emotive historical events analytically.
  • Show deeper understanding of the ideas discussed in the previous module regarding the role of the railways in Britain’s society and economy.
  • 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

  • Crompton, Gerald, “Good business for the nation: The railway nationalisation issue, 1921-47”, Journal of transport History, 20 (1999) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Gourvish, T.R., British Railways 1948-1973: A Business History, (Cambridge, 1986)
  • Loft, C., Reappraisal and reshaping: government and the railway problem 1951-64, Contemporary British History, 15 (2001) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Loft, Charles, Government, the Railways and the Modernization of Britain: Beeching’s Last Trains, (Abingdon, 2006) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • O’Hara, G, “What the electorate can be expected to swallow: Nationalisation, transnationalism and the shifting boundaries of the state in post-war Britain”, Business History, 51 (2009) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY

Recommended Reading

  • Buttle, Geoffrey William, “A signal failure? The organisation and management of British railways 1948-1964”, Unpublished doctoral thesis, (Durham University, 2008) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Dudley, Geoffrey and Jeremy Richardson, Why does policy change? : lessons from British transport policy 1945-99, London, 2015 – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Merriman, Pete, “Britain and "the Motorway Club The Effect of European and North American Motorway Construction on Attitudes in Britain, 1930-1960”, Transfers 2, 1 (2012). – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Quail, John, “Accountings Motive Power - the Vision and Reality for Management Accounting on the Nationalised Railways to 1959”, Accounting, Business & Financial History, 16 (2006) – 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.