Britain’s railway industr y entered World War Two in a position of strength, but it would face unprecedented challenges that would test rail companies, their staff and passengers to the limit

In the first half of the 20th Century, Britain’s railways were the nation’s backbone, a huge network enabling the movement of passengers and goods to every corner of the country. In 1939, the rail system had a route mileage of 19,131 – double that of today – along with 6,698 passenger stations, 6,908 goods stations and 581,401 members of staff.

Unlike today, travel was overwhelmingly cheap, reliable and popular. This golden age of steam, with its smart stations and characterful locomotives, had plenty of stylish allure missing from today’s functional network. So much so, crowds of trainspotting children would cluster on platforms and overhead bridges. It was a time when nearly every young lad dreamed of becoming a train driver.

At the end of the 1930s, the railways were instantly put on a war footing, a struggle that we can evaluate using rare artefacts and discover what price Britain’s railways paid in victory.

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