Regional Railways
Regional railways logo.svg
Hugh Llewellyn regional railways sprinter 8737634707.jpg
156438 at Bristol Temple Meads, May 1989.
Franchise(s)Not subject to franchising
Main region(s)East Anglia, North West, North East, Wales, South West England
Other region(s)East Midlands, West Midlands, Scotland, Merseyside
Parent companyBritish Rail
Dates of operation1982–1997
SuccessorsCentral Trains, First North Western, Midland Mainline, Arriva Trains Merseyside, Wales & West, Valley Lines

Regional Railways was one of the three passenger sectors of British Rail created in 1982 that existed until 1997, two years after privatisation. The sector was originally called Provincial.

Regional Railways was the most subsidised (per passenger km) of the three sectors. Upon formation, its costs were four times its revenue.[1]

The sector was broken up into eight franchises during the privatisation of British Rail, and ceased to exist on 31 March 1997.


Upon sectorisation in 1982, three passenger sectors were created: InterCity, operating principal express services; London & South East (renamed Network SouthEast in 1986) operating commuter services in the London area; and Provincial (renamed Regional Railways in 1989) responsible for all other passenger services.[1] In the metropolitan counties, local services were managed by the Passenger Transport Executives.


158770 in Regional Railways Express livery at Blackpool North, 1998
158770 in Regional Railways Express livery at Blackpool North, 1998

Regional Railways inherited a diverse range of routes, comprising both express and local services. Expresses mainly ran to non-principal destinations or on less popular routes, such as Birmingham or Liverpool to Norwich, or Liverpool to Scarborough, and were chiefly operated by older locomotives and second-hand InterCity coaches. Later these services were operated by Sprinter units – mainly Class 158s on express services. There were also the internal Scottish Region local services and expresses, the latter including the Edinburgh-Glasgow push-pull service.[1]

Local services ran on both main lines and branch lines, and were often operated by first generation diesel multiple units dating back to the 1950s. Longer distance trains were often formed of older coaches and locomotives of Class 31, Class 40 and Class 45 which were of similar vintage.

Development of new rolling stock

In the early 1980s, large numbers of diesel multiple unit (DMU) and locomotive-hauled coaches were found to contain asbestos. Removing this would be a considerable cost and generating no extra revenue, which, coupled with the increasingly unreliable old locomotives and DMUs prompted BR to look for a new generation of diesel multiple units.

Regional Railway branding on a first generation DMU, number 122100
Regional Railway branding on a first generation DMU, number 122100

The prototype Class 210s, in service on a trial basis since 1981, were considered too expensive to be put into production, so BR looked elsewhere for new designs.[1]


The first, Pacers, used bus technology from the Leyland National, in classes numbered in the 14X range. Not long after introduction to service, large numbers of them suffered from a number of technical problems, particularly with their gearboxes. In Cornwall it was found that their long wheelbase caused intolerable squealing noises and high tyre wear on tight curves, and they quickly had to be replaced by the old DMUs.[1] The solution lay elsewhere, although after much modification, the Pacers eventually proved themselves in traffic.


150001 at St Pancras after a publicity run, 1985
150001 at St Pancras after a publicity run, 1985

BR needed something midway between the Pacers and the Class 210s. In 1984/1985, two experimental DMU designs were put into service: the British Rail Engineering Limited built Class 150 and Metro-Cammell built Class 151.[2] Both of these used hydraulic transmission and were less bus-like than the Pacers. After trials, the Class 150 was selected for production, entering service from 1987. Reliability was much improved by the new units, with depot visits being reduced from two or three times a week to fortnightly.[1]

The late 1980s and early 1990s also saw the development of secondary express services that complemented the mainline Intercity routes. Class 155 and Class 156 Sprinters were developed to replace locomotive-hauled trains on these services, their interiors being designed with longer distance journeys in mind. Key Scottish and Trans-Pennine routes were upgraded with new Class 158 Express Sprinters, while a network of 'Alphaline' services was introduced elsewhere in the country.

By the end of the 1980s, passenger numbers had increased and costs had been reduced to two-and-a-half times revenue.[1]


The British Rail Class 323 electric multiple units were built by Hunslet Transportation Projects between 1992 and 1995,[3] although mock-ups and prototypes were built and tested in 1990 and 1991.[4] Forty-three 3-car units were built for inner-suburban services in and around Birmingham and Manchester, including the Cross-City Line in the Birmingham area and services to the new Manchester Airport railway station.

Rolling Stock

Class Image Quantity Formation Notes
Locomotive Hauled Stock
Class 31
Diesel Locomotive
Class 37
30.07.93 Wigan Wallgate 37422 (12568287763).jpg
Class 47
Class 158 BREL Express DMU 158868 & Class 47 Brush Type 4 47706, Bristol Temple Meads 31.3.1994 Scans927 (10708557263).jpg
Mark 1
Regonal Mk 1 carrage at Crewe.png
Mark 2
5174 NLR 260108 d.adkins.jpg
Mark 3
05.06.82 Haymarket 47707 (6016240566).jpg
Diesel Multiple Units
Class 101
Class 101 Regional Railways DMU set 665, Stockport 18.9.1993 Scans846 (10657013393).jpg
35 2, 3 or 4
Class 117
BR class 117 L421.jpg
3 3
Class 121
Class 121 on the Colne Valley Railway - - 526079.jpg
26 1
Class 122 29
Class 142
96 2
Class 143
Class 143 "Pacer".jpg
Class 150
150001 pancras.jpg
137 2 or 3
Class 151
151001 Matlock.jpg
2 3 Both scrapped
Class 153
Jubilee Sidings, Norwich (16790041106) (cropped).jpg
70 1
Class 154
Steve Jones 154001 Derby 1987 5105189008.jpg
1 2 A converted class 150, converted back to a class 150.
Class 155
Class 155 303.jpg
Class 156
Class 156 DMU 156419.jpg
Class 158
Class 158 DMU 158819 to Portsmouth, Bristol Temple Meads 27.2.1993. (9922352786).jpg
182 2 or 3
Electric Multiple Units
Class 304
Class 304 304016 (6833411060).jpg
45 4 All scrapped
Class 305
Hugh llewelyn hugh llewelyn 305 515 (7850800162).jpg
3 or 4
Class 323
323 at Five Ways, Birmingham.jpg
43 3


Initially, many vehicles carried standard British Rail blue livery.

From 1986, Provincial adopted a version of the prototype Class 150 livery: aircraft blue over white, with a light blue stripe at waist level.[5] All new units, plus a few existing ones, such as selected Class 304 EMUs, received it. Some units and coaches received the livery with either ScotRail or Regional Railways branding.

The Class 158s, introduced in 1989, appeared in Express livery: dark grey window surrounds over light grey, with light and dark blue stripes at waist level. This colour scheme was also applied to some Class 156 units around privatisation.

The Class 323 EMUs introduced in 1994 appeared in the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (Centro) livery for the West Midlands based sets,[6] and the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) livery for Manchester-based sets.[7]

After privatisation, many vehicles continued to carry basic RR colour scheme, but with the addition of different branding, e.g. Central Trains.

The final British railway vehicle to carry Regional Railways livery was a Class 153, which was repainted in July 2008 into East Midlands Trains livery.

Split for privatisation

As part of the process of privatisation between 1994 and 1997, Regional Railways was split into several different shadow train operating units, which later became independent train operating companies:[8]

Train Operating Unit Routes
Anglia Railways Routes in East Anglia (combined with InterCity services in the region).
Cardiff Railway Company Urban 'Valley Lines' services around Cardiff, previously integrated within the South Wales and West division.
Central Trains Regional Railways' Central division, minus the services transferred to Anglia Railways and the Oxford to Worcester service. Covered the English Midlands and Mid Wales.
Merseyrail Electrics The network of electrified routes centred on Liverpool.
North West Regional Railways Routes in England's North West and in North Wales.
Regional Railways North East Routes in the North East of England.
ScotRail The vast majority of services within Scotland.
South Wales & West Railway A wide network of services centred on South Wales and the South West.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Thomas, David St John; Whitehouse, Patrick (1990). BR in the Eighties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-9854-7.
  2. ^ Morrison, Brian; et al. (1986). Motive Power Annual 1987. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-1635-6.
  3. ^ "Class 323 Electric Multiple Unit Traction Upgrade". Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  4. ^ "323 Data Sheets". Porterbrook. Archived from the original on 10 November 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  5. ^ Fox, Peter (1988). Locomotives and Coaching Stock 1989. Platform 5. ISBN 0-906579-93-7.
  6. ^ "Railways in Worcestershire". Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  7. ^ Stoke On Trent. Class 86 with a Birmingham to Manchester InterCity Cross Country service and a GMPTE liveried class 323233 in the bay with a stopping service from Manchester Piccadilly.
  8. ^ Knight, Steven, ed. (1997). "A comprehensive guide to Britain's new railway". Peterborough: EMAP Apex Publications. ISSN 1368-437X. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further reading