The Importance of Passenger Traffic
The LNWR was the largest and most important railway in Britain
of the pre-grouping period (before 1923). At the time, it was Britain’s most
busy and diverse railway system. It served the backbone of the country, providing the main
routes between the four most important cities in England – London, Birmingham,
Liverpool and Manchester, and linked the key industrial areas of London, the West Midlands,
Lancashire, the Liverpool docks, Yorkshire and South Wales.
It ran the important routes to Scotland via Carlisle and to Ireland via Holyhead and via Fleetwood, and linked North and Central Wales with England and South Wales and the West of England. LNWR and West Coast Joint Stock carriages, built at the LNWR carriage works at Wolverton , were seen not only on its own lines but as far afield as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Gourock, Inverness, Aberdeen, Oban, Stranraer, Newcastle, York, Hull, Harwich, Brighton, Eastbourne, Southampton, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Penzance, Aberystwyth and Pembroke Dock.
At its peak, it ran a route mileage of more than 1,500 miles, and styled itself, unchallenged, ‘The Premier Line’. In 1913, just before World War I, it employed 111,000 people. For decades, it remained the largest joint stock company in the world.
Passenger trains were always more glamorous than goods traffic, although they contributed less than half to profits. People noticed passenger trains, and the romantic steam locomotives that hauled them. Every little boy wanted to be a steam driver when he grew up. And the coaches the engines hauled were beautiful: the carriages in Edwardian and Victorian days were built with elegance and style. Even the lowliest third-class suburban stock carried the beautiful and elegant LNW livery, while the most magnificent coaches produced by the carriage works at Wolverton were opulent vehicles decorated with almost breathtaking artistry.
Before the onset of road competition, railways had a much greater penetration into society than we see today. They were the visible symbol everywhere of the Industrial Revolution in an economy that was then largely agricultural, but changing fast. The scale of the operation required to run the railways can be seen from the almost military nature of their organisation, for in early days the Army was the only existing structure of comparable size.