Building a British Railway

The railways are one of the glories of British engineering, and their maintenance remains a Herculean task.

The Victorians left us with a network of stunning complexity, but the technology has changed beyond recognition. Even at the end of the Victorian age - as moving pictures arrived on the scene - engineers were grappling with the challenges of adapting a railway for the 20th century. Film cameras have witnessed every major development since then, from constructing locomotives to replacing bridges, to dieselisation and electrification. These films are a stunning record of the sheer effort and invention required to keep Britain on the rails.

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Snowdrift at Bleath GillSnowdrift at Bleath Gill

Documentary195510 mins Location: Bleathgill

Snowploughs are readied to rescue a snowbound train - in one of the most popular of all British Transport Films.

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Documentary195917 mins

This poetic Free Cinema documentary, filmed near Manchester, reflects on the changing world of the engineman.

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They Take the High RoadThey Take the High Road

Industry sponsored film196024 mins

Telling the story of four British Road Services drivers who lived and worked together for two years.

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Severn Valley RailwaySevern Valley Railway

Non-Fiction19767 mins Location: Bridgnorth

Is Chris Tarrant up to shovelling a ton and a half of coal to keep the fire burning and the steam up between Bridgnorth and Bewdley?

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Repairing Track After Mustard Gas AttackRepairing Track After Mustard Gas Attack

Industry sponsored film193945 minsSilent Location: Northampton

With the horrific effects of gas warfare still fresh in the memory, rubberised men – like extras from a 1950s British sci fi movie – prepare for more, with 1940s attention to detail.

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Railways - Derelict and PreservedRailways - Derelict and Preserved

Amateur film197533 minsSilent Location: Rainhill

Come and see Rocket 150, and visit a selection of railway locations, past and preserved.

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Wires over the BorderWires over the Border

Industry sponsored film197418 mins

An account, in human and non-technical terms, of the electrification of the West Coast main line railway from Crewe to Glasgow

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Margam Marshalling Yard - the system of automatic controlMargam Marshalling Yard - the system of automatic control

Industry sponsored film196120 mins Location: Margam

Skill, ingenuity and gravity, combined with a ‘hump’ or slope, have produced Europe’s first automated yard for organising thousands of railway wagons at Margam, Port Talbot.

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Reconstruction of Hill Street BirminghamReconstruction of Hill Street Birmingham

Industry sponsored film194953 minsSilent Location: Birmingham

An engineering feat: Second city civil engineers complete a new bridge to carry traffic over New Street's tangled railway intersections.

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Employees Leaving North Eastern Engine Works, Gateshead (1901)Employees Leaving North Eastern Engine Works, Gateshead (1901)

Non-Fiction19013 minsSilent Location: Gateshead

A tide of flat-capped rail factory workers is ushered past the camera after a day's work.

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Taunton Train YardTaunton Train Yard

News19750 minsSilent Location: Taunton

British Rail Class 35 no. 7017 Diesel Engine and the locomotive Vulcan await their fate at Taunton Train Yard

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Cardiff - trains, docks unloading/loadingCardiff - trains, docks unloading/loading

Home movie19472 minsSilent Location: Cardiff/Caerdydd

Dockers move timber, a signalman moves points: Chris Jenkins, amateur film-maker and proprietor of a Cardiff hair salon, tries his hand at filming an industrial landscape.

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The Official Film of the Railway CentenaryThe Official Film of the Railway Centenary

Non-Fiction192519 minsSilent Location: Darlington

A grand parade of locomotives to celebrate 100 years of railways and the world’s first passenger trains

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Minera 'Mineral'Minera 'Mineral'

Home movie196514 mins Location: Coedpoeth

Follow the journey of the empty ‘Mineral’ train (small, cheap wagons used to transport mine products) from Brymbo Steelworks to Minera (limestone) Quarry via Coedpoeth.

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Railway Scrapyard - BarryRailway Scrapyard - Barry

Home movie19818 mins Location: Barry/Barri

“Help”, “Save me”, “I need a home”, are the cries inscribed on the scrapped engines at Woodham Brothers Scrapyard, Barry. Other messages are warnings e.g. “Do not take parts!!”.

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Train TimeTrain Time

Documentary195230 mins

Examining a day in the life of what was then the busiest railway system in the world – British Railways.

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Assembling track at Chalk Lane Sidings, HullAssembling track at Chalk Lane Sidings, Hull

Non-Fiction195722 minsSilent Location: Hessle

This is a fascinating, and somewhat puzzling, film of railway workers assembling a large section of crossover track, apparently not in situ.

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Buffer Stop Tests at BradfordBuffer Stop Tests at Bradford

Industry sponsored film19457 minsSilent Location: Bradford

What with all the loose shunting, it isn’t surprising that buffer stops were given a gruelling examination, although both the buffers and the tests are rather unconvincing.

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Snow and FloodSnow and Flood

Industry sponsored film194717 minsSilent Location: Barras

Like a scene from Dr Zhivago, this train struggles through spectacular blizzards as gangs of men armed with shovels attempt to clear the 30 foot high snow drifts over the Pennines.

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Review 33rd Year No. 10Review 33rd Year No. 10

Cinemagazine198010 mins

Between the power station and the coal mine, British Rail runs a coal train service right around the clock

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Walton St. Xing - NewWalton St. Xing - New

Industry sponsored film19635 minsSilent Location: Kingston upon Hull

A time when milk floats were commonly seen on our roads, along with Ariel motorcycles, helmets with leather ear coverings and the local corner shop was advertised on a hoarding.

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Remodelling Church Fenton North JunctionRemodelling Church Fenton North Junction

Industry sponsored film194815 minsSilent Location: Church Fenton

With not a high vis vest in sight, dozens of men in overcoats, welding shovels and crowbars, seemingly just lolling around, get to work replacing large sections of railway track.

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Unloading Girders at Skelton BridgeUnloading Girders at Skelton Bridge

Industry sponsored film19306 minsSilent Location: Skelton

A workman balances on the edge of a swing bridge, some 80 foot above the Ouse, instructing the placement of a 680 ton girder. Is this an extension or just running repairs?

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Mining Review 6th Year No. 3Mining Review 6th Year No. 3

Cinemagazine19528 mins Location: Calverton

New colliery opens at Calverton in Nottinghamshire and a visit to Rugby Locomotive Testing Station

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Hartlepool Sleeper DepotHartlepool Sleeper Depot

Industry sponsored film195713 minsSilent Location: Hartlepool

The life of a railway sleeper is not an easy one, and here they get prepared for the rain, the snow and ice, and the thousands of tons of steel hurtling over them, day in day out.

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Documentary197413 mins Location: Goathland

Desolate stations, abandoned locos and derelict tracks under grey skies become transformed by dedicated volunteers, unmotivated by money, into a marvellous steam railway.

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Men on the MendMen on the Mend

Documentary195612 mins Location: Swindon

Injured British Rail employees are put on the railroad to health at Swindon Works

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Building a British Railway - Constructing the LocomotiveBuilding a British Railway - Constructing the Locomotive

Non-Fiction191112 minsSilent

Magnificent glimpses inside Crewe’s famous works - where a steam loco takes shape before our eyes

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Work Study and Tom HowardWork Study and Tom Howard

Documentary195820 minsSilent

Railwaymen learn to love work study in this fascinating training film.

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Brunel's Railway Today : Intercity Paddington-bristolBrunel's Railway Today : Intercity Paddington-bristol

198510 minsSilent

150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway: the official film

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Great Yarmouth Dockside RailwayGreat Yarmouth Dockside Railway

Amateur film19303 minsSilent Location: Great Yarmouth

There’s an obliging pose for the camera by a brawny and tattooed docker as his fellow workers push the freight along Yarmouth’s Rail Line.

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Railway Scenes - WilmslowRailway Scenes - Wilmslow

Amateur film195916 minsSilent Location: Wilmslow

From diesel to electrification - a miscellany of railway footage in Cheshire.

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Railways TodayRailways Today

Documentary194716 mins

Is nationalisation the answer to Britain's post-war railway problems? The Labour government thinks so.

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Land of InventionLand of Invention

Documentary194111 mins Location: Edinburgh

Scotland is celebrated as a crucible of the modern age in this profile of a "strange, restless, enquiring country"

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Diesel Power on British RailwaysDiesel Power on British Railways

Promotional19655 mins

A variety compilation of British Railways' first generation of diesel locomotives on display and in action.

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Railway Bridge across the ThamesRailway Bridge across the Thames

Documentary196830 mins Location: Victoria Sta

The Grosvenor Railway Bridge gets a 1960s upgrade while trains continue to thunder over it - an impressive engineering feat

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A Visit to Locomotive Works, CreweA Visit to Locomotive Works, Crewe

19136 minsSilent Location: Crewe

The lengthy process of building a Claughton class locomotive is shortened through the magic of moving image

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Careful CharlieCareful Charlie

Animation & Artists Moving Image19703 mins

Cartoon calamities are in store for the proper Charlie in this rail worker safety message, but there's serious advice too

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The Building of a Locomotive at CreweThe Building of a Locomotive at Crewe

Non-Fiction19207 minsSilent

A 1920 mistitled re-release of the construction of a Great Western Railway 'Star' Class locomotive at Swindon.

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Five in MillionsFive in Millions

Promotional197827 mins

From Cheshire to Cornwall, Lincoln to the Rhondda, a round-Britain tour via British Rail’s parcel service.

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Great Northern Railway Works at Doncaster (1901)Great Northern Railway Works at Doncaster (1901)

Documentary19006 minsSilent Location: Doncaster

Countless men, women and children spill out on to the screen from "The Plant" at the heart of the Yorkshire railway town.

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Mining Review 19th Year No. 11Mining Review 19th Year No. 11

196611 mins Location: Castleford

Coal touched all our lives, as this issue of the cinemagazine demonstrates with items on a miner's wife turned mayor, a Coal Board chess team and more.

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Employees Leaving Furness Railway Works, Barrow (1901)Employees Leaving Furness Railway Works, Barrow (1901)

Non-Fiction19011 minsSilent Location: Barrow-In-Furness

An all-male Edwardian crowd is filmed leaving work in the north western town.

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LNER Manufacture of Switches and CrossingsLNER Manufacture of Switches and Crossings

Non-Fiction19466 minsSilent Location: Gateshead

Despite the thousands of railway films, there must be few that show the detailed construction of sections of railway track inside a workshop just after the last war, as seen here.