2023: A year in review on Britain’s railways

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HS2 scrapped, ticket office closures, rail strikes and Flying Scotsman’s centenary – it’s been quite the year. Join us as we take a look back over 2023’s biggest stories in the world of British railways.

We can’t quite believe it’s nearly the end of another year. It doesn’t seem long since the year began, but looking back at all the news from the last year has left us wondering how we fit so much in!

We’ve put together a month-by-month guide to this year on the rails – we haven’t covered everything, but these are the big stories from a tumultuous year.

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January

We started the year as we might end up finishing it, with the weather causing disruption. The West Coast Mainline was part-closed following flooding caused by extreme weather conditions at the end of 2022.

Of course, the rail strikes were still ongoing and causing their own disruptions, with no trains running between Scotland and England at all during a drivers strike on the 5th. Meanwhile, union leaders were reacting to the Government’s proposed strike legislation, which Mick Lynch called proof that the Government was losing the argument.

120 TransPennine Express services were cancelled in one day on the 19th, prompting calls for the operator to be nationalised. The Office of Rail and Road revealed that train cancellation figures had reached a new high.

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In more personal news for us at The Railway Hub, we also introduced Richard Clinnick as our new Rail Express editor in January, kicking off a brilliant new start for the magazine!

February

February was all about Flying Scotsman as the nation celebrated the locomotive’s centenary, including with dedicated stamps, coins, and a poem from Simon Armitage.

Meanwhile, strikes continued, with RMT rejecting another offer, and Mark Harper shared his plan to modernise the rail industry.

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In cuter news, this adorable puppy was rescued from the tracks by trainee driver Stefan Hug.

March

Buzz was in the air by March about a delay to HS2. At the beginning of March, it was announced that HS2 could be delayed as a cost-saving measure, and by the 9th Mark Harper confirmed that the Birmingham to Crewe leg would be delayed by two years

Other big news in March was the announcement of Derby as the future home of the Great British Railways HQ.

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Meanwhile, The Isle of Wight Steam Railway took home Top Railway of the Year at the Heritage Railways Association Awards, and Avanti West Coast received a short-term contract extension despite issues with reliability.

April

Trouble for heritage rail in April, as the Severn Valley Railway announced that its future was at risk and launched a £1.5 million Survival Fund and Orient Express announced plans to drop its UK leg due to Brexit border controls.

Meanwhile, operators readied for the coronation weekend by announcing plans for extra services.

May

On the coronation the weekend, the King recorded a special message to train passengers.

Famous faces such as Stephen Fry and artist Tracey Emin joined public figures and conservationists urging the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove to prevent a “grossly opportunistic” development of Liverpool Street station.

Meanwhile, Mark Harper announced that the TPE would be nationalised and rail bosses launched a competition to name Birmingham’s Raging Bull – Ozzy was the name chosen.

June

Flying Scotman continued its cenetenary tour in June, including visits to Cardiff and the North Yorkshire Moors, where a certain royal visitor had chance to take to the locomotive’s footplate.

In other news, Eurostar ran its final direct service to Disneyland Paris and the Snowdon Mountain Railway returned to the summit for the first time since the start of the pandemic following track upgrades.

Meanwhile, strikes continued up and down the network and rumours began to swirl of plans for the mass closure of railway ticket offices

July

Plans for the mass closure of ticket offices were announced in July as the government looked to save money post-pandemic. However, the plans were immediately opposed by many, arguing that closing ticket offices would exclude many who were not so able to access digital tickets.

More trouble for HS2 as boss Mark Thurston resigned and the project was branded unachievable by The Infrastructure and Projects Authority.

Meanwhile, strikes and overtime bans continued and the law on minimum service levels during strikes was given Royal Assent.

Waterloo Station celebrated its 175th anniversary with staff greeting passengers arriving at the station with a rendition of the ABBA hit!

August

Storm Antoni swept in with August, blowing down trees and blocking 100 miles of railway between Exeter and Penzance.

Reactions to the planned closure of ticket offices continued, with more than 460,000 responding to a consultation and many joining protests against the closure.

Sergeant Graham Saville tragically died after he was hit by a train while helping a distressed man on the tracks.

September

September was a busy month…

Rumours abound that there were plans to scrap HS2, although at this point ministers still insisted it was going ahead

Figures released in early September revealed that 44 percent of trains were delayed or cancelled in the first half of 2023, although reliability appeared to have improved since TransPennine Express was nationalised. Later in the month, Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry were handed contract renewals.

Meanwhile, Network Rail appeared in court over a fatal crash which killed three people in 2020 and admitted health and safety failings. It was fined £6.7m.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway celebrated its 50th anniversary and new research revealed that Heighington & Aycliffe Railway Station in County Durham was older than believed, making it the oldest railway station in the world.

And finally, at the end of September, Flying Scotsman was involved in a slow speed crash with another heritage train.

October

September may have been busy, but it was in October when it all really kicked off.

Probably the biggest news of the whole year was the cancellation of the Northern Leg of HS2, announced by the Prime Minister at the Tory conference in Manchester on the 3rd of October. It would be replaced by “Network North”, Sunak announced, which would involve a whole host of new projects. However, one of those projects quickly vanished from the list

The other dramatic news for October was the scrapping of plans to close railway station ticket offices, which came at the end of the month.

November

November was a month of disruptions, caused by extreme weather, spates of track faults, and strikes… but there also came a light at the end of the tunnel with the latter as RMT members accepted a deal to end their long-running strike action.

We also saw a draft bill to create Great British Railways included in the King’s Speech in November, despite concerns that the plan would be dropped.

And we got an exciting early look at Belfast’s new Grand Central Station, which is set to open next year.

December

It’s not over yet, and we all know things move fast in the railway world, and anything could happen before the year is out, but here are some of the biggest stories so far in December.

The Office of Rail and Road shared its annual statistics, revealing the most and least used railway stations in Britain, and we learned that thanks to the Elizabeth Line, Liverpool Street Station had dethroned Waterloo.

We saw more disruption caused by faults with overhead electric lines, including one instance where hundreds of passengers found themselves stranded aboard dark, cold trains for several hours at the beginning of the month.

Finally, we received the sad news that beloved railway cat and Senior Pest Controller at Huddersfield station Felix had passed away, aged 12.

What’s to come in 2024? Stick with The Railway Hub to be kept up to date with all of the latest news!


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