What was it ?
· The NER was a railway company formed on 31 July 1854 by a merger of principally 3 other railway companies: the York Newcastle and Berwick Railway (formed in 1847); the York and North Midland Railway (formed in 1836); the Leeds Northern Railway (renamed from Leeds and Thirsk, itself formed in 1845). The first two of these companies had already been built up by a number of take-overs and mergers.
· In due course the NER absorbed many other railways in the North East of England, until it had a virtual monopoly of railway transport covering a geographical area from the Humber in the south, to Leeds in the west, to Carlisle from Newcastle, to Berwick in the north. It was almost unique in having such a geographical dominance at this time as most other areas of England had multiple competing railway companies.
· Major companies absorbed by the NER included
o The pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway (formed in 1821), absorbed by the NER in 1863.
o The Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (formed in 1829), absorbed by the NER in 1862.
o The Blyth and Tyne Railway (formed 1852), absorbed by the NER in 1874.
o The Hull and Barnsley and West Riding Junction (formed in 1880), absorbed by the NER in 1922.
· After World War 1 the UK government, recognising the significant efficiency advantages that were obtained during the war by pooling all railway operations, decided to compel the railway companies to join together into 4 larger companies (known as the ‘Grouping’ of 1923). At this time the NER was absorbed into the East Coast group which became known as the London and North Eastern Railway (L&NER).
Why was it of interest ?
· It included some of the earliest examples in the world of what are now recognised as railway lines. Their commercial success was a large factor in why so many other railway companies were formed and lines built. In the 19th century the UK’s railways were a major reason for the UK’s world dominance in many industrial activities (eg shipbuilding), and a huge part of it’s national life changing people’s lifestyles and habits (eg commuting to work, holidays by the seaside). Many of the practices developed by the NER, and it’s constituent companies, became adopted by other railways.
· In the years leading up to the Grouping the NER was one of the largest railway companies in the UK, and indeed one of the largest companies in the UK. At Grouping it owned 1800 route miles of track, over 2,000 locomotives (including 13 electric), over 4,000 coaching stock vehicles (mainly passenger carriages), and 124,000 wagons. It’s services supported about 60 million passenger journeys per annum. The NER also had many spectacular bridges and viaducts on it’s lines, many of which remain today (e.g. Royal Border Bridge over the River Tweed, High Level Bridge over the River Tyne).
· Following the appointment of George Gibb as General Manager (1891-1906), the NER was one of the leading exponents in the UK of improved efficiency practices such as electrification (North Tyneside suburban lines electrified in 1904, Newport-Shildon freight line in 1916) and larger wagon sizes (eg 20 ton capacity coal wagons were introduced in 1903).
· The NER had about 600 passenger stations. Some of the largest, and most admired for their architectural features, included: York, Newcastle Central, Hull Paragon – all of which remain.
· It had substantial investments in railway-served docks such as those at Hull, Tyne Dock, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.
· The NER's route was, and remains, a key part of the East Coast Main Line. During the 19th Century ‘races to the north’, NER locomotives hauled the express trains between York and Edinburgh.
Maps of the NER system
Here's a selection of NER images
NER Class R, number 2019, crossing the High Level Bridge over the River Tyne.