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Remembered Today:

Pre war military railway investment

David Filsell

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Can any one point me toward details of formal pre Great War planning and investment to improve/expand rail lines  to Southern English ports to ensure efficient transport of troops and logistical support in the event of British troops being transported to France in the event of war I reveal reading of such planning a long time ago and its highly favourable consequences. However I just cannot remember where or when, although the efficient embarkation of the BEF is often subject of praise. Certainly, since reading the about the planning I have seen any further information or writing on the subject since.

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How about the Railway Executive Committee papers  held at the N/A. They may contain the original pre war War Railway Council papers that was formed in 1896 to advise the Government on military railway matters. 

 One of the objectives was to determine where extra sidings , platforms and loading facilities might be required. 


Hope this is a starting point.


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David, this doesn't directly answer your question, but from my notes:


The prewar establishment of barracks and camping-sites on Salisbury Plain led to some rail improvements, not least the Amesbury & Military Camp Light Railway and the Tidworth Branch. Pressure from the War Office during the Boer War and the need for rail access to Tidworth led to improvements being made at Wolfhall Junction (one mile south east of Savernake Stations), where the Midland & South Western Junction Railway crossed the Great Western Railway; the £1,000 costs were shared equally between the two companies, the new arrangements being brought into use on July 28, 1902. The MSWJR was a useful link to Tidworth, albeit a single-track one, from the West Midlands, but heavy GWR traffic to Salisbury Plain from Wales, the West Country and the Midlands had to run over MSWJR track from Wolfhall to Ludgershall, where so many troops bound for the Plain de-trained. The MSWJR was to become a vital rail route to Southampton during the Great War.


A report in The Times, August 9, 1913, p5, refers to "mobilisation sidings" at "Bulford Sling", suggesting that these were part of advance planning for troop deployments in the event of war.


In September 1916 a loop and junction between the MSWJR and London & South Western Railway at Red Post, near Andover,  were installed at a cost of £5,131, paid for by the War Office,which would sell it back at the end of government-controlled control of the railways, each company paying half of the expense.


On mobilisation for the Great War the LSWR provided 38 special trains to convey the Home Counties Brigade of Territorials from Amesbury to its home stations between 10.20pm on August 3, 1914 and 3.30pm on August 5; 14,00 officers and men, 1,387 horses, 310 tons of luggage, 78 guns, 211 vehicles and 222 cycles were transported. (Edwin A Pratt, British Railways and the Great War, Selwyn & Blount, London 1921). (During the fortnight of mobilisation 632 special troop trains ran over GWR lines, including 186 to return Territorials from their summer camps, plus 41 trains containing Admiralty coal and 149 with petrol, oil and other supplies. Ordinary services were maintained, only excursion trains being cancelled. By the end of August 2,470 specials had run over GWR lines.)








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Many thanks. I recall that the work was on the rail lines from London and the creation of extra sidings for loading and unloading troops and equipment - but damn all else!

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You need Alan Earnshaw's Britain's Railways at War, 1914-1918, Atlantic Transport Publishers, 1990. 


This has an excellent account which shows preparations being made in a small way as early as 1860. Progress continued in fits and starts with the Engineer and Railway Volunteer Staff Corps being formed in 1865 its purpose being "to direct the skilled labour and of railway transport to the purpose of national defence, and for the preparing , in time of peace, a system on which duties should be conducted. " 


In 1896 the Army Railway Council was established by the War Office which included six railway managers, four from England and one each from Ireland and Scotland. This organisation was to give general advice to the government on railway matters, draw up mobilzation timetables and determine the location of extra platforms and loading facilities amongst other things. In 1903 the title of the committee was changed to the War Railway Council and the mobilisation time tables were looked at anew.  A sub-group of this committee was formed "to devise a strategy for provisioning London  and the south east during times of war with continental Europe." The group comprised of the general managers of LNWR. GWR,LSWR,GNR, GCR and Midland.  Another key group, formed in November 1912, was the Railway Transport Executive which acted as consultative body and consisted of both railway management and state officials. They took part in the 1913 mobilsation exercises. Whilst this does not answer the question of finance it would be fair to say that the railways were well prepared when mobilisation came.


For those who have some spare time at their next visit to TNA it would be worthwhile looking at the few railway mobilisation timetables that exist, they are a masterpiece of planning.  The document references can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/y79krs9n.





Edited by Terry_Reeves
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Thank you, most helpful. The only reference which I have read - my lost reference - told of improvements made to the London - south coast port lines to ensure speedy deployment and rail line/siding capacity. I knew of the efficiency of the initial BEF deployment to France, but have never seen any detailed analysis of the pre event planning on any works about the 1914 event.

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Perhaps there might be something in the online books (click on the titles)


British Railways and the War, by F. A. McKenzie 1917 Archive.org


British Railways and the Great War ; organisation, efforts, difficulties and achievements by Edwin A Pratt 1921. Volume I, Volume II Archive.org

The rise of rail-power in war and conquest, 1833-1914, with a bibliography by Edwin A Pratt 1915 Archive.org




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  • 1 year later...

Im probably a little late to this post but another good book, Im reading it currently, is by Edwin Pratt and called


British Railways and the Great War vol 1 and 2



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