ailways were the dot coms of the early and mid-Victorian era, and financing them provided the primary impetus for developing the modern stock market and the notion of limited liabilty for investors. With financing readily available, British railways seemingly sprung up throughout the nineteenth century to connect any two points on the map. Victorian entrepreneurs obtained financing, constructed the right-of-way, laid track, and purchased rolling stock, which they often had painted in distinctive, even garish, colors. Sooner or later -- and some few railways lasted very long as independent entities -- these first railway companies disappeared into larger ones, consolidating and merging as gatherings of smaller railways formed larger entities that were in turn swallowed up in even larger companies.
For example, the London and North Eastern Railway formed "three main companies and a few subsidiary companies in East Anglia and West Yorkshire." As H. C Casserley explains,
The Great Northern Railway founded in 1846 was an amalgamation of the London and York and the Direct Northern railways, but did not reach London until 1850, King's Cross Station being opened two years later.
The Great Central Railway started as the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, itself formed of the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester, the Grimsby and Sheffield Junction, the Sheffield and Lincolnshire, and the Manchester and Lincolnshire Union railways. Further extensions followed the amalgamation in 1849. Connection was made with the Great Northern at Retford in 1857, giving access to London, whilst Liverpool was reached six years later. The railway was renamed the Great Central in 1898, when the line from Annesley, via Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby to Quainton Road on the Metropolitan Railway, was opened.
The Great Eastern Railway began as the Eastern Counties Railway, a motley collection of many small railways in East Anglia, of which the Northern and Eastern was the most important, for it extended the scope of the railway towards Cambridge. Norwich was reached in 1849, but Liverpool Street Station in London was not opened until 1874, Shoreditch and Bishopsgate stations having previously been London termini. [37-38]
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway
In a similar manner, seven large — and 27 small — lines joined to form the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. The following were the seven most important:
- the Midland Railway
- the London and North Western Railway
- the Highland Railway
- the Caledonian Railway
- the Glasgow and South Western Railway
- the Furness Railway
- the North Stafford.
Each of these in turn was the result a a previous amalgamation of smaller railways. Thus, the London and North Western Railway was created in 1846 when the London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway joined the Manchester and Birmingham Railway. It extended to Carlisle in 1846 and to Holyhead (for passengers making their way across the water to Ireland) in 1850. Although amalgamation was the rule, some lines, like the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, remained independent from 1838, the year it opened, until the second decade of the twentieth century, when it mereged with the the London and North Western Railway.
According to E. C. Casserley, the Midland Railway was formed in 1844 "by the amalgamation of three still earlier lines: the North Midland, the Midland Counties, and the Birmingham and Derby railways; and it thus had a very important system in the Midland counties, from which it did not finally reach London at St. Pancras Station until 1868." The Midland "reached Bristol in 1844, Manchester in 1868, Liverpool and Carlisle in 1875," but didn't acquire the Belfast and Northern Counties system in Ireland until 1903 and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway until nine years later. In the days before the automobile, some of the small railways were crucial to the regions they crossed and connected. Thus, the Indian-red locomotives of the Furness Railway carried trains not only to important industrial cities, such as Barrow-in-Furness, but also (to Ruskin's dislike) through the Lake District of Cumberland.
One of the railways in Scotland antedated the steam engine: the Kilmarnock and Troon Railway, which began in 1821, using horses for motive power, eventually became part of the Glasgow & South-Western Railway, one of the most important railway lines in Scotland. The main seven were
- the CaledonianRailway
- the Glasgow & South-Western Railway
- the Highland Railway
- the North British Railway
- the Great North of Scotland Railway
Various railways connected to provide a route from London up either coast:
In the Northeast, at Aberdeen, the North British linked up with the Great North of Scotland, and further north still, the Highland Railway carried the crimson-red engines and coaches of the L.M.S. up as far as Wick and Thurso in the extreme North of Scotland, whilst the Glasgow and South Western Railway linked Glasgow with Carlisle, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Ayr and Dumfries.
The North British Railway began in 1844 principally to connect Berwick and Edinburgh, but upon its completion in 1846 a railway line connected Edinburgh and London ("via Rugby, Leicester, Sheffield and York"), and service began between the two capitols in 1850. In 1852 the North British reached to Glasgow, in 1862 Fifeshire, Perth and Dundee, and in 1865 Carlisle. The famous Tay (1878) and Forth (1880) bridges made possible to travel by rail to Aberdeen without changing trains (148).
The Great Western Railway
The Great Western Railway, which "had a long and very chequered history, . . . began with the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1835 for a line from London to Bristol which was finally opened throughout in 1841" (221). By 1867 the 1,500 miles of seven-foot-one-inch broad guage tracks of the Great Western Railway stretched as far north as Chester "via Oxford, Birmingham and Wolverhampton;" eventually, all these miles of tracks were converted to standard gauge (4 ft. 8 in.) by 1892. The Great Western's routes requires some of the most maginificent feats of Victorian Engineering.
In 1859 the River Tamar was crossed by that amazing masterpiece of Isambard Kingdom Brunel -- the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash, thereby effecting a connection with the Cornwall Railway and a route through to Penzance the following year.
In South Wales, Swansea was reached in 1850, and some two years later Brunel's bridge at Chepstow made it possible to send through trains from London; whilst in 1886 the seven-mile Severn tunnel was at last opened after some ten years' struggle with flooding and terrific engineering difficulties, and thus shortened the route between the Metropolis and South Wales. 
In Wales the Great Western Railway had several subsidiaries, of which the largest was Cambrian Railways with its "295 miles of tracks spreading across the mountainous country of middle and North Wales." The Cambrian Railways began in 1859, but the Taff Vale Railway, which served Welsh coalfields, began service in 1840, almost twenty years earlier, its tracks never measuring much more than one hundred or so miles "around Merthyr, Rhondda and Pontypridd, in South Wales." Among the smallest of the subsidiary lines were the Barry (47 miles of track) and Rhymney (only 38) railways. 
Casserley, H. C. The Observer's Book of Railway Locomotives in Great Britain. rev. ed. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co., 1957.
Last modified 11 September 2004