- “The engines on the other railway aren't safe, now. Their controllers are cruel. They don't like engines anymore.”
- ―Percy, Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine
British Railways, later known as British Rail and on Sodor as "the Other Railway", is the railway company owned by the Government of the United Kingdom following the nationalisation of the "Big Four" railway companies (the LMS, LNER, SR, and GWR) in 1948. This company lasted from 1948 to 1997 when it was privatised and divided up into different companies. On the Island of Sodor the North Western Railway became part of British Railways and was known as the "North Western Region". However, it managed to keep much of its operating independence, which allowed it to avoid the effects of total dieselisation and the Beeching Axe. The only other Sudrian railway company operational at the time, the Skarloey Railway, was not absorbed into British Railways, although some other British narrow gauge lines did become part of it.
A report was published in December 1954 to bring the railway into the 20th century. Early action was the building of "Standard" classes of steam locomotives to replace ageing, pre-grouping era locomotives. In 1956 another report stated that modernisation would help reduce BR's budget problems. In this plan was the requirement to remove steam locomotives and replace them with diesel and electric locomotives; this led to the demise of British Mainline Steam by 1968. Only two parts of the BR network retained steam working after 1968, the North Western Region and the narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway, the latter becoming privatised in 1989.
The introduction of "Rail Blue" brought in the introduction of the new logo.
In the Railway Series
British Rail's biggest appearance in the series is in the form of diesel locomotives who come on trial, some of which misbehave, get embarrassed, fail, or are rude. This was not always the case however, as helpful diesels have also arrived over the years. These include Daisy, BoCo, Bear, the Works Diesel, and Pip and Emma, all of which are now owned by the North Western Railway.
Steam locomotives from other regions of British Railways have also appeared or transferred to Sodor over the years. Toby and Henrietta arrived from the Eastern Region in 1951, Duck from the Western Region in 1955, and Donald and Douglas transferring from the Scottish Region in 1959. The latter rescued Oliver, Isabel and Toad after being withdrawn by the Western Region in 1968, who were still sporting their BR livery. On occasion steam locomotives from other regions of BR made guest appearances, such as Jinty, Pug, and the Foreign Engine.
The first mention of the railway was in The Eight Famous Engines, when Gordon, Duck, and a foreign engine got into an argument over which station serves London (Each having never been on the other companies' lines, thought that theirs was the only station; when, in fact, there are over ten, thus leading to an argument over which station was in London; King's Cross, Paddington, or Euston).
The North Western Railway's main line connects with a BR line just over Vicarstown Bridge to the mainland. For many years the express was hauled by non-NWR engines from Barrow to London, but in recent years it has been worked by the NWR owned Pip and Emma throughout its journey.
In Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine, Percy thought that BR was being cruel to steam engines, as on the mainland they were being scrapped to make way for diesels. The Reverend W. Awdry noted this in the foreword, and cleared up the confusion that BR controllers actually supported the burgeoning preservation movement.
British Rail was privatised in 1997, and divided into over 20 different companies; none of these have ever been mentioned in the series. In most cases, the infrastructure (track, stations, etc.) was placed under the control of Railtrack, until Network Rail took over, with a few exceptions, such as Island Line on the Isle of Wight and the North Western Railway on the Island of Sodor. In both cases, the respective companies are responsible for both infrastructure and services.