On what routes did the Big Four Rail Companies Compete?

Titfield

Member
Joined
26 Jun 2013
Messages
552
I am trying to find out on what routes did the Big Four Rail Companies compete after the 1923 Grouping?

How did they compete (frequency, fares, aggressive marketing)?

TIA
 
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

pdeaves

Established Member
Joined
14 Sep 2014
Messages
4,276
Location
Gateway to the South West
Do you mean 'same line of rails' competition, or 'between certain settlements' competition? The analogy today being Stockport-Manchester Piccadilly for the former and London to Birmingham (West Coast vs Chiltern) for the latter.
 

Titfield

Member
Joined
26 Jun 2013
Messages
552
Thank you,

The "between certain settlements" competition so, as you say, London to Birmingham or another example London to Exeter.
 

LNW-GW Joint

Veteran Member
Joined
22 Feb 2011
Messages
16,030
Location
Mold, Clwyd
Pre-grouping, the competition was on many lines between the private companies.
At the same time there were many cartels, companies agreeing to the same fares and freight rates between key points, with pooled revenue split by agreement.
Grouping into the Big 4 removed some of the competition, particularly on local lines.

As an example London-Manchester originally had 4 competitors (LNWR, Midland, GC, GN), but grouping reduced that to 2: (LMS/LNER, though still via 4 routes).
Other examples of competing services were:
London-Manchester/Liverpool
London-Glasgow/Edinburgh (and beyond)
London-Leeds/West Riding
London-Birmingham-Wolverhampton (-Shrewsbury-Chester-Birkenhead)
London-Weymouth/Devon/Cornwall
and regional lines like: Liverpool-Manchester, Manchester-Sheffield, Derby-Nottingham

There were regional monopolies of course, eg in the south-east (Southern) and north-east/Anglia (LNER), and in much of Wales (GWR).
The LMS dominated a big swathe of the midlands and north-west.
In most areas, railway geography really determined which service was best - some routes were just better than others.

I'm not sure there was much real competition, as normal fares were based on mileage.
Some timetables seem to have been drawn up jointly, with alternate departures for each company (via different routes).
The main differentiator seems to have been timetable convenience, on-board service, and maybe punctuality.
Few of the services above were aimed at day-trip passengers, taking too long for a return trip.
There and back in a day was often not really feasible (except apparently from Downton Abbey in North Yorks!).
Overnight services were more of a thing though, with significant railway-owned ferry services to Ireland (north and south) and the continent.
Commuting was much more localised than it is now, except on the Southern whose electric network was expanding fast.
There was no airline competition of course, and road transport was slow and very localised; car ownership was low.
It took BR 15 years to make any real changes to the setup (Beeching and the "no duplicate routes" policy from 1963).
 
Last edited:

30907

Veteran Member
Joined
30 Sep 2012
Messages
11,824
Location
Airedale
A very good question! To add to LNW-GW Joint's extensive reply, there were significant "pooling" (revenue sharing) agreements between supposed competitors, which reduced uneconomic competition and led to working economies.
For example, the SR and GWR had an agreement for Exeter and beyond - which led to the SR abandoning plans to double the middle section of the North Devon line and to limit speeds on the Okehampton-Plymouth route (both probably sensible moves economically). Don't ask me for the T and Cs.

That didn't stop them going for PR/marketing initiatives - advertising their best trains, new rolling stock, faster services etc. (ironically, the GW "Cheltenham Flyer" was on a route where there was virtually no competition!).
The LMS/LNE competed for Anglo-Scottish traffic once the 1890s agreement to keep journey times at 8 hours lapsed - speed records, new stock - but in terms of actual finance I doubt it was significant.
Bear in mind that they were all targeting the well-off motorist...
 
Joined
11 Jan 2015
Messages
392
As mentioned above the Southern became a regional monopoly in 1923: any competition was pre Grouping or for the South Eastern Railway vs London Chatham and Dover Railway pre their merger in 1900. In terms of locations Tunbridge Wells, Dover, Canterbury, Epsom would be candidates, and within what is now Greater London, places such as Penge, Catford, Crystal Palace where the London Brighton and South Coast and the South Eastern and Chatham butted up against each other.
 

daodao

Established Member
Joined
6 Feb 2016
Messages
1,854
Location
Dunham/Bowdon
I am trying to find out on what routes did the Big Four Rail Companies compete after the 1923 Grouping?

How did they compete (frequency, fares, aggressive marketing)?

TIA
It is not as simple as you might think, given the continuing existence post 1923 of the "joint" railway companies, with part-ownership from different members of the big 4. Locally, these included the CLC (Cheshire Lines Committee) and MSJ&A (Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham) railways. Other such companies were the M&GN (Midland and Great Northern) and S&D (Somerset & Dorset). The CLC provided significant competition to the LMS (London, Midland & Scottish) railway on the key Manchester to Liverpool and Chester routes. These 2 competing routes have survived, albeit no longer as the principal routes between these cities, but virtually all the other ex-joint railway lines no longer exist as part of the national rail network.
 

LNW-GW Joint

Veteran Member
Joined
22 Feb 2011
Messages
16,030
Location
Mold, Clwyd
It is not as simple as you might think, given the continuing existence post 1923 of the "joint" railway companies, with part-ownership from different members of the big 4. Locally, these included the CLC (Cheshire Lines Committee) and MSJ&A (Manchester, South Junction & Altrincham) railways. Other such companies were the M&GN (Midland and Great Northern) and S&D (Somerset & Dorset). The CLC provided significant competition to the LMS (London, Midland & Scottish) railway on the key Manchester to Liverpool and Chester routes. These 2 competing routes have survived, albeit no longer as the principal routes between these cities, but virtually all the other ex-joint railway lines no longer exist as part of the national rail network.
Just to add that while the LNWR(LMS)/GWR competed strongly between London and Birmingham, they happily worked together on a large joint network on their borders.
This mainly covered Hereford-Shrewsbury and branches, and Birkenhead-Chester-Warrington and branches.
In particular the "north and west" main line Crewe-Hereford-Newport-Severn Tunnel-Bristol was operated pretty much as a single railway.
BR eventually decided to route these trains (bar Crewe-Cardiff) via Birmingham as part of Cross-Country.

On the CLC example (2/3 LNER, 1/3 LMS), there were something like 5 routes between Manchester and Liverpool, all LMS bar the CLC route (Manchester Central-Liverpool Central).
The CLC was by far the most punctual route with the most frequent trains, so got most of the business.
That situation has only recently been changed, with the Chat Moss (LNWR) route being electrified and with the fastest trains.

It's worth noting that recent changes in railway (Network Rail) operational boundaries have extracted the MML from the "LMS" group and put it in the "LNER" group.
The "Eastern Region" now starts as soon as you are off the WCML at Stoke and Nuneaton, something that would have been unthinkable in the "Big 4" era.
Similarly the "Western" now starts just outside Crewe.
These boundaries are about to be formalised in the Regional structure of GBR.
 
Last edited:

Bevan Price

Established Member
Joined
22 Apr 2010
Messages
5,760
Just to add that while the LNWR(LMS)/GWR competed strongly between London and Birmingham, they happily worked together on a large joint network on their borders.
This mainly covered Hereford-Shrewsbury and branches, and Birkenhead-Chester-Warrington and branches.
In particular the "north and west" main line Crewe-Hereford-Newport-Severn Tunnel-Bristol was operated pretty much as a single railway.
BR eventually decided to route these trains (bar Crewe-Cardiff) via Birmingham as part of Cross-Country.

On the CLC example (2/3 LNER, 1/2 LMS), there were something like 5 routes between Manchester and Liverpool, all LMS bar the CLC route (Manchester Central-Liverpool Central).
The CLC was by far the most punctual route with the most frequent trains, so got most of the business.
That situation has only recently been changed, with the Chat Moss (LNWR) route being electrified and with the fastest trains.

It's worth noting that recent changes in railway (Network Rail) operational boundaries have extracted the MML from the "LMS" group and put it in the "LNER" group.
The "Eastern Region" now starts as soon as you are off the WCML at Stoke and Nuneaton, something that would have been unthinkable in the "Big 4" era.
Similarly the "Western" now starts just outside Crewe.
These boundaries are about to be formalised in the Regional structure of GBR.
The "North and West" was effectively a single railway; south/west of Shrewsbury it was jointly owned by GWR and LNWR (later LMSR), as were Chester to Birkenhead & Warrington, with GWR having running powers to Manchester Exchange.
 

4COR

Member
Joined
30 Jan 2019
Messages
130
or another example London to Exeter.
Similarly for the GWR and Southern: there is London - Reading.

But this is an interesting one given many years prior to grouping, the GWR, SER and LSWR all did the same journey from different London Termini, until there came an agreement to fix fares and share fares in 1858 (ref: Branch Lines of Berkshire) - so not so much in competition!
 

Taunton

Established Member
Joined
1 Aug 2013
Messages
6,532
For many of the "competitive" flows passenger traffic was less significant than freight, and much of this remained competitive until nationalisation, and to an extent even after that. The onetime Midland Railway had been the leader in this, with competitive freight service from London to Bristol (via Leicester/Birmingham) or London to Cambridge (via Kettering) etc. There were many others. If your London loading point was say Tilbury Docks it was commonly far quicker to route wholly on one company than have it sat in exchange sidings with another company.

Freight rates charges were standardised and regulated, based on the mileage of the shortest route regardless of that actually taken. For interchanged traffic it was divided based on the mileages actually done. Thus with the Tilbury to Bristol example, if the charge for a wagon was say £20, based on the direct mileage via Swindon, if sent this way the LMS would get say £4 and the GWR £16. But if routed on the LMS via Leicester, not only might it be quicker, as the LMS ran such a through freight service, but they got to keep the whole £20. Freight salesmen were adept at routing via their home company as much as possible.

The Somerset & Dorset, joint LMS/SR, was kept going by among other things the substantial freight traffic to the south-west on SR points, much of which originated on the LMS. Instead of handing over to the GWR at Bristol it was cumbersomely routed via reversing at Bath, over the Mendips to Templecombe, then on the Southern onwards. The classic was coal from South Wales to Ilfracombe gas works, from where the colliery (on an LMS penetrating line in South Wales) might even be just visible with binoculars from Ilfracombe. Charged via the Severn Tunnel mileage, such wagons were typically routed on the LMS from Swansea via Shrewsbury, Stafford, Birmingham, Bath, Templecombe, Exeter, and finally Ilfracombe, keeping the revenue out of the hands of the GWR. It was only when the S&D was transferred to the Western Region around 1960 that such nonsenses were ended, commonly accompanied by comments that the WR had rerouted the S&D traffic out of "spite", where in fact it was common sense.
 
Last edited:

4COR

Member
Joined
30 Jan 2019
Messages
130
Very interesting stuff - while the retention of business and profit makes much sense, the routings are utterly bonkers when viewed from a present time!
 
Joined
23 Dec 2014
Messages
851
Very interesting stuff - while the retention of business and profit makes much sense, the routings are utterly bonkers when viewed from a present time!
Having said that, the routing of some of today's freight flows can appear at times strange due, amongst other things, to a general dislike of running-round en route or gauging issues, particularly with container traffic.
 

4COR

Member
Joined
30 Jan 2019
Messages
130
Having said that, the routing of some of today's freight flows can appear at times strange due, amongst other things, to a general dislike of running-round en route or gauging issues, particularly with container traffic.
Fair point, though some difference between routing through necessity/convenience of paths/not running round and routing a convoluted route just to get a bigger wedge of the charges! Going the long way in the old days via the S&D I presume doesn't solve any gauging issues...
 

S&CLER

Member
Joined
11 Jan 2020
Messages
567
Location
southport
For many of the "competitive" flows passenger traffic was less significant than freight, and much of this remained competitive until nationalisation, and to an extent even after that. The onetime Midland Railway had been the leader in this, with competitive freight service from London to Bristol (via Leicester/Birmingham) or London to Cambridge (via Kettering) etc. There were many others. If your London loading point was say Tilbury Docks it was commonly far quicker to route wholly on one company than have it sat in exchange sidings with another company.

Freight rates charges were standardised and regulated, based on the mileage of the shortest route regardless of that actually taken. For interchanged traffic it was divided based on the mileages actually done. Thus with the Tilbury to Bristol example, if the charge for a wagon was say £20, based on the direct mileage via Swindon, if sent this way the LMS would get say £4 and the GWR £16. But if routed on the LMS via Leicester, not only might it be quicker, as the LMS ran such a through freight service, but they got to keep the whole £20. Freight salesmen were adept at routing via their home company as much as possible.

The Somerset & Dorset, joint LMS/SR, was kept going by among other things the substantial freight traffic to the south-west on SR points, much of which originated on the LMS. Instead of handing over to the GWR at Bristol it was cumbersomely routed via reversing at Bath, over the Mendips to Templecombe, then on the Southern onwards. The classic was coal from South Wales to Ilfracombe gas works, from where the colliery (on an LMS penetrating line in South Wales) might even be just visible with binoculars from Ilfracombe. Charged via the Severn Tunnel mileage, such wagons were typically routed on the LMS from Swansea via Shrewsbury, Stafford, Birmingham, Bath, Templecombe, Exeter, and finally Ilfracombe, keeping the revenue out of the hands of the GWR. It was only when the S&D was transferred to the Western Region around 1960 that such nonsenses were ended, commonly accompanied by comments that the WR had rerouted the S&D traffic out of "spite", where in fact it was common sense.
I believe the Midland also ran freight, especially perishables such as bananas, from Bristol to London via Broom Jn and the S&MJ, a shorter route than via Birmingham and Leicester, but still very circuitous compared with the GW main line.
I think it is also true that some of the earlier pre-Grouping sillinesses were forcibly removed when the railways were under government control in the first world war; e.g. the Hincaster to Arnside branch was finally put to its intended use of conveying coking coal from Tebay to Barrow instead of a reversal at Carnforth.
 

LNW-GW Joint

Veteran Member
Joined
22 Feb 2011
Messages
16,030
Location
Mold, Clwyd
It's worth mentioning that the Forth Bridge was originally funded jointly by the North British (35%), Midland (30%), Great Northern (17.5) and North Eastern (17.5) railways (ie more English that Scottish!).
At grouping that became 70% LNER and 30% LMS.
So although it was squarely in NB/LNER territory, and built to take traffic from the Caledonian, the Midland/LMS was part owner and had rights to use it.
The Midland's interest came from its use of the North British route from Carlisle to Edinburgh.
 

Calthrop

Established Member
Joined
6 Dec 2015
Messages
2,407
I believe the Midland also ran freight, especially perishables such as bananas, from Bristol to London via Broom Jn and the S&MJ, a shorter route than via Birmingham and Leicester, but still very circuitous compared with the GW main line.

I seem to remember reading that the above manoeuvre came into being post-Grouping: with both former Midland, and S&MJ, in the LMS; the Broom south curve being constructed, to cut out the need for reversal there -- though I might well have that wrong.

I've always rather liked the circumstance of pre-Grouping companies which were rivals, sometimes to the point of actual hatred: nonetheless in some instances, having jointly-owned and -run lines. LNW and GW on the Welsh Borders / in Wales, mentioned upthread; but perhaps their rivalry further east, was a bit tepid anyway? "Folklore" at any rate, suggests inter-company animosity being particularly strong in Scotland -- Caledonian versus North British, and Caledonian versus G&SW -- however, the Caledonian had trackage jointly, with each of the other two; seemingly running of same was achieved without actual bloodshed.
 
Joined
23 Dec 2014
Messages
851
I seem to remember reading that the above manoeuvre came into being post-Grouping: with both former Midland, and S&MJ, in the LMS; the Broom south curve being constructed, to cut out the need for reversal there -- though I might well have that wrong.
Yes, opened during WW2 to provided more operational flexibility
 

Grecian 1998

Member
Joined
27 Oct 2019
Messages
217
Location
Bristol
I don't think there was that much competition for passenger traffic by 1923. Passengers would usually take the fastest route and by then one route or the other would have pulled ahead.

Routes where there was genuine competition for passenger traffic of some variety:

GWR v SR

London - Exeter, but not really London - Plymouth (the GWR held the advantage after the Athelney cut-off opened and the Salisbury disaster of 1906).

London - Weymouth. This was as much for the Channel Island traffic as anything else.

Whilst both these routes were very much tourist orientated, this was of some significance during the summer given that in 1923 only the very rich could afford a) cars b) foreign holidays.

GWR v LMS

London - Birmingham - Wolverhampton

Whilst there were plenty of places served by both the GWR and LMS - Oxford, Gloucester, Swansea, Chester amongst others - usually one company or the other had dominance for passenger traffic.

LMS - LNER

Probably the most famous example of competition was London - Scotland over the WCML and ECML. Prior to grouping, the Midland routes from London to Glasgow and Edinburgh had never been able to compete with the WCML and ECML on speed and tried instead to offer a more luxurious journey than their competitors. The Great Central (later LNER) had taken a similar approach to competition with the Midland (later LMS) for London - Leicester / Nottingham / Sheffield traffic.

London - Scotland competition OTOH was the catalyst for numerous speed records being broken in the next 16 years, culminating in Mallard's record in 1939.

I'm not sure there was every any real competition for cross-country holiday traffic. I suspect as most journeys would be lengthy, and timetables were far from clock-face or consistent in frequency, that most passengers would choose whatever was the most direct journey for their needs.

Ultimately freight was more profitable than passenger traffic for the GWR, LMS and LNER. As has been set out above, it was also mostly less time-sensitive, so could be routed in the most profitable manner.
 

Taunton

Established Member
Joined
1 Aug 2013
Messages
6,532
Ultimately freight was more profitable than passenger traffic for the GWR, LMS and LNER. As has been set out above, it was also mostly less time-sensitive, so could be routed in the most profitable manner.
There were some variances. Apparently at the grouping, the Great North of Scotland, which had no contact point with other LNER constituents, while linking to the LMS at both ends, was nevertheless assigned to the former so the perishable fish traffic from Peterhead/Fraserburgh, about their only worthwhile originating freight, could be readily taken forward to LNER destinations, as the onetime East Coast constituents (NBR/NER/GNR) had long made a better job of this than the Caley/LNWR. An LMS dockside freight salesman, if the GNoS had gone the other way, would have routed it by their own company.

Freight customers, if sufficiently wise to the detail, could actually stipulate the freight route, but if so it was just pushed into the exchange sidings at the linking point, the receiving railway company had no idea it was coming until it turned up, and was only then up to them to start organising getting it moved on.

Avonmouth was the principal UK port for the import of bananas (well, it had to be somewhere). Little known is that what is nowadays known as the Severn Beach line was actually a joint GWR/Midland line, with a direct connection to the latter's route out of Bristol through the northern suburbs, and a surprising proportion of the freight traffic, even into BR days, went this way. Both companies had freight salesmen at Avonmouth and both maintained stocks of the special steam-heated banana vans there. Real competition through to London, Birmingham, Manchester (the GWR via Chester), etc.

For traffic that nevertheless had to be interchanged, cutting out the "middleman" was well practiced. Already mentioned was using the S&D to link LMS and SR, cutting out the GWR. Likewise much LNER-GWR freight went by the GC line, Banbury and onwards, cutting out the LMS on the obvious direct route.
 

ChiefPlanner

Established Member
Joined
6 Sep 2011
Messages
6,802
Location
Herts
I found a magnificent file dating from 1870 in Kew regarding the Midland in South Wales and the extreme keeness to find traffic other than coal (and there was plenty of it) - the file goes through to 1920 or so- typewritten notes from about 1890.

One of their least successful "won" flows was Swansea landed fish for Birmingham - which they routed via Brecon , Hereford , Worcester and Brum getting as much MR mileage as possible - the fish was only good enough for soup alas.
 

Top