National Rail

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National Rail
Product type Public transport
Owner ATOC
Country United Kingdom
Introduced 1999
Related brands National Rail Enquiries
Markets United Kingdom
Previous owners British Rail

In Great Britain, National Rail is the trading name licensed for use by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), an unincorporated association whose membership consists of the passenger train operating companies (TOCs) of Great Britain that run the passenger services previously provided by the British Railways Board, from 1965 using the brand name British Rail). National Rail generally does not include services that do not have a BR history; this distinction is important because National Rail services share a ticketing structure and inter-availability that do not necessarily extend to other services. The name and the accompanying double arrow symbol are the intellectual property of the Secretary of State for Transport.[1]

The National Rail (NR) logo was introduced by ATOC in 1999, and was used on the Great Britain public timetable for the first time in the edition valid from 26 September in that year. Rules for its use are set out in the Corporate Identity Style Guidelines published by ATOC, available on its website.[2] The NR title is sometimes described as a "brand"[3] but according to ATOC manuals this is incorrect; this however is in conflict with the registration information for the name and logo as recorded by the UK Intellectual Property Office.[original research?] The 2000 guidelines said: 'It has not been designed as a brand or identity, but to explain to rail travellers that there is a National Railway network and material carrying this descriptor covers all passenger Train Companies.' Consistent use of the NR logo on signs and maps, however, points travellers to railway stations. As it was used by British Rail, the single operator before franchising, its use also maintains continuity and public familiarity; and it avoids the need to replace signage.

National Rail and Network Rail

Young Person railcard rail ticket from Wellington to Shrewsbury
Child Return from East Kilbride

National Rail should not be confused with Network Rail. National Rail is a title used to promote passenger railway services, and providing some harmonisation for passengers (e.g. tickets to all London Terminals), while Network Rail is the organisation owning and managing most of the fixed assets (tracks, signals etc.) of the railway network.

The two networks are generally coincident where passenger services are run. Most major Network Rail lines carry freight traffic and some lines are freight only. There are some scheduled passenger services on their own privately managed, non-Network Rail lines, for example Heathrow Express which also partly runs on Network Rail track and the London Underground also overlaps with Network Rail in places.

Train operating companies (TOCs)

About twenty privately owned train operating companies, each franchised for a defined term by government, operate passenger trains on the main rail network in Great Britain. ATOC is the trade association representing the TOCs and provides core services, including the provision of the National Rail Enquiries service. It also runs Rail Settlement Plan, which allocates ticket revenue to the various TOCs, and Rail Staff Travel, which manages travel facilities for railway staff. It does not compile the national timetable, which is the joint responsibility of the Office of Rail Regulation (allocation of paths) and Network Rail (timetable production and publication).

Design and marketing

Since the privatisation of British Rail there is no longer a single approach to design on railways in Great Britain. The look and feel of signage, liveries and marketing material is largely the preserve of the individual TOCs.

However, National Rail continues to use BR's famous double-arrow symbol, designed by Gerald Burney of the Design Research Unit. It has been incorporated in the National Rail logotype and is displayed on tickets, the National Rail website and other publicity. The trademark rights to the double arrow symbol remain state-owned, being vested in the Secretary of State for Transport.

The double arrow was already prescribed for indicating a "railway station".[4]

The lettering used in the National Rail logotype is a modified form of the typeface Sassoon Bold. Some train operating companies continue to use the former British Rail Rail Alphabet lettering to varying degrees in station signage, although its use is no longer universal; however it remains compulsory (under Railway Group Standards) for safety signage in trackside areas and is still common (although not universal) on rolling stock.

It is a common misconception that Rail Alphabet was also used for printed material, but with the exception of logos ("British Rail", etc.) this has never been the case. The British Rail typefaces of choice from 1965 were Helvetica and Univers, with others (particularly Frutiger) coming into use during the sectorisation period after 1983. TOCs may use what they like: examples include Futura (Stagecoach Group), Helvetica (FirstGroup and National Express), Frutiger (Arriva Trains Wales), Bliss (CrossCountry, an Arriva franchise but not branded as such), and a modified version of Precious by London Midland.

Although TOCs compete against each other for franchises, and for passengers on routes where more than one TOC operates, the strapline used with the National Rail logo is 'Britain's train companies working together'.

Other passenger rail operators in Great Britain

Several conurbations have their own metro or tram systems, most of which are not part of National Rail. These include the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway, Blackpool Tramway, London Tramlink, Glasgow Subway, Tyne and Wear Metro, Manchester Metrolink, Sheffield Supertram, Midland Metro and Nottingham Express Transit. On the other hand, the largely self-contained Merseyrail system is part of the National Rail network, and urban rail networks around Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and West Yorkshire consist entirely of National Rail services.

London Overground (LO) is a hybrid: its services are operated via a concession awarded by Transport for London, and are branded accordingly, but until 2010 all its routes used infrastructure owned by Network Rail. LO now also possesses some infrastructure in its own right, following the reopening of the former East London line of London Underground as the East London Railway of LO. Since all the previous LO routes were operated by National Rail franchise Silverlink until November 2007, they have continued to be shown in the National Rail timetable and are still considered to be a part of National Rail.

Heathrow Express and Eurostar are also not part of the National Rail network despite sharing of stations and routes (Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect only). Northern Ireland Railways was never part of British Rail, which was always confined to Great Britain, and therefore is not part of the National Rail network.

There are many privately owned or heritage railways in Great Britain which are not part of the National Rail network and mostly operate for heritage or pleasure purposes rather than as public transport.


National Rail services have a common ticketing structure inherited from British Rail. Through tickets are available between any pair of stations on the network, and can be bought from any station ticket office. Most tickets are inter-available between the services of all operators on routes appropriate to the journey being made. Operators on some routes offer operator-specific tickets that are cheaper than the inter-available ones.

Through tickets involving Heathrow Express and London Underground are also available. Oyster pay-as-you-go can be used on National Rail in Greater London from 2 January 2010.

Passengers without a valid ticket boarding a train at a station where ticket-buying facilities are available are required to pay the full Open Single or Return fare. On some services penalty fares apply - a ticketless passenger may be charged the greater of £20 or twice the full single fare to the next stop. Penalty Fares can be collected only by authorised Revenue Protection Inspectors, not by ordinary Guards.

National Rail distributes a number of technical manuals on which travel on the railways in Great Britain is based, such as the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, via their website.

Timetables and websites

Pocket timetables for individual operators or routes are available free at staffed stations. A complete National Rail Timetable with up to 3,000 pages was also available for purchase, but the last hard copy edition was published in May 2007. Complete timetables are still available in printed form from TSO (The Stationery Office) and also an independent publisher.[5]

A digital version of the full timetable is available as a pdf (portable document format) file without charge on the Network Rail website.[6] The National Rail Enquiries website, run by ATOC, includes a real-time journey planner, fares and live departure information.

See also


  1. trade mark EU001733575
  3. Even by ATOC themselves – see [1]: "National Rail is the collective brand for Britain's train companies working together"
  4. Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, Schedule 7
  5. Bradshaw-Mitchell’s Rail times
  6. Network Rail - Current Timetable

External links