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Topic section 2: Modernisation
In the twentieth century new challenges to the railways’ supremacy in urban areas emerged. Road travel became less
Picture: 1997-7059_HOR_F_3118s2embed.jpg
Trams in Manchester, about 1920.
Credit: National Railway Museum
 of an endurance test as surfaces improved and soon the development of vehicles powered by electricity or internal combustion engines offered viable alternatives to the steam locomotive.

Trams and buses offered convenient stops and cheaper fares, often subsidised by local authorities. The bus and the tram became t

Carriages were improved to win back customers...

he preferred means of urban transport and by 1910 twice as many people travelled on trams as by train. The railways were in retreat for the first time, and some passenger services were closed. Carriages were improved to win back customers, but the railways’ most effective response was to electrify suburban lines. Electric trains were faster and more reliable, and when they were introduced on Merseyside, Tyneside and around Manchester they sparked a major growth in suburban living.

Picture: 1997-7059_HOR_F_1262s2emebd.jpg
Electric locomotive and train at a station, 1913.
Credit: National Railway Museum

During the First World War the London & South Western Railway began electrifying lines from London’s most densely populated southern suburbs. Stung by criticism of the poor remaining steam operated services in the 1920s, its successor, the Southern Railway, expanded the programme. By the mid-1930s it operated the largest electrified suburban network in the world, and its regular services had effectively made suburbs of many towns on the south coast.

However, Britain’s other railway companies proved reluctant to invest in the huge costs of electrif
Picture: 1997-7404_BOX_5_403s2emebd.jpg
Liss Station, 1939.
Credit: National Railway Museum
ication. In the 1920s the London & North Eastern Railway chose the cut-price option of improving its suburban steam services, introducing the ‘Jazz trains’. And even when lines were electrified there was no uniform system. Different currents were used across the network, and power was transmitted through both rails and overhead wires.

When a nationwide electrification scheme was proposed in 1931 it was postponed because of high costs, the Depression and then war. Many of its recommendations weren’t implemented until the 1960s.

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The rise of suburbia
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Town planners created suburbs because people wanted to escape dirty and crowded cities. Railways also found they could make money from short journeys. Suburbia was advertised as pleasant and healthy, but it soon became a byword for uniformity and monotony.  > more

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Gridlock and congestion
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Railways found it hard to compete with cars, and the rail network was cut back. The roads are now heavily congested, but the trains are also crowded. Has the dream of suburban living made the journey to work a nightmare?  > more
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