Article by Peter, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, Chair of Network Rail, in RAIL magazine, Sept 2023

Before the railway people and goods moved slowly. The nation travelled at the speed of a horse and carriage or canal boat. Goods were moved in small quantities. Communities were separated by the terrain, made even more challenging when canals froze, and paths became unpassable in the winter. Fast stagecoaches were unaffordable for the masses and towns all used different times on their clocks. The country and its economy were restricted by distance, time, income, geography, and the climate. This all changed when the railway came along.

On September 27th 1825 George Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1 hauled its first train of fare-paying passengers along the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It carried over 400 people in open top carriages, with more hanging on to the sides, along with coal, water, and even a live band. From that point on the world transformed, and everything began to speed up. It was a huge event, and a public holiday was declared in Darlington to celebrate the opening of the line, with people coming from all parts of the local area to witness what they knew to be a truly historical moment.

As the railway network spread it began to democratise mass transport. It connected people and new communities began to develop, while the economy – driven by technological innovation and the ability to move goods and people quickly – boomed. New towns like Middlesbrough and Swindon were created and existing towns like Derby and Crewe grew massively in size. This growth wasn’t just restricted to the UK, with similar booms happening around the world, such as in the United States where Los Angeles and Chicago benefited from their status as continental rail hubs and grew into huge metropolis’.

The railways have since become a part of popular culture and day to day life for many people around the world. They take us to amazing places, they commute us to work or to important life events, they provide a means for us to visit friends and families, and they have inspired inspirational works of literature, film, and art, for two centuries. Whether it’s the Hogwarts Express or the Orient Express most of us have a treasured memory or a story that involves a rail journey – either real or fictional. And, of course, they provide a vocation for many, and are the subject of enthusiasm for more – both of which constitute the readership of this magazine.

2025 is the 200th anniversary of this first passenger railway journey and the beginning of a global socio-economic boom maybe only rivalled by the spread of the internet. The rail industry intends to mark this occasion with a year-long national celebration which we are calling ‘Railway 200’.

‘Railway 200’ will be a series of events, activities, and programming, which will raise awareness of the anniversary amongst the public. It will give them the opportunity to go behind the scenes in the industry, both literally and figuratively, and will allow us to tell the story of the past, present, and perhaps most importantly, the future, of the railway.

Led by industry partners such as Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group, HS2, the Railway Industry Association, the Heritage Railway Association, the National Railway Museum, and the Community Rail Network; ‘Railway 200’ will encourage local and regional partners to deliver their own events which will be supported and promoted by a national team. It will also directly deliver a series of national projects such as exhibitions, commemorative products, and industry open days. All of which will be supported by a strong national brand, website, and social media activities.

It will give the industry an opportunity to celebrate our wonderful railway people. Those who have been on the frontlines of war and disease; the people that drive the trains, clean the stations, and maintain the track, as well as all those other jobs which are less visible but equally important and without which the railway would not operate. It will also provide a brilliant opportunity for the industry to showcase the diversity of the people working on the railway.

Perhaps the most important element of ‘Railway 200’ is legacy and the impact it can have beyond 2025. It is no secret that the industry is in a difficult place and that its fragmented nature makes it difficult to plan for the long term or to come to a single view of what needs to be done. The railway is a modern digital industry, and we are competing with organisations like Google, Apple, and Facebook for the next generation of bright young engineers and operators. ‘Railway 200’ gives us an opportunity to improve the image of the industry and to encourage people, young and old, to consider a career in rail.

To capitalise on this, ‘Railway 200’ has an ambition to deliver a large increase in apprenticeships and will facilitate significantly more meaningful interventions with young people in 2025. These will, where possible, be targeted at those socio-economic groups that are underrepresented or who need additional support, which will allow us to deliver positive social-value, and which will help to increase the diversity of the workforce and take advantage of all the benefits that brings.

One of the most exciting elements of the plans is the development of an exhibition train which will travel around the rail network and take ‘Railway 200’ to people across the length and breadth of Great Britain. Developed in partnership with the National Railway Museum and Porterbrook this train will consist of different exhibitions and interactive elements aimed at young people and their families and will help to raise awareness of the anniversary and the opportunities presented by careers in STEM. Operational plans are being developed but I hope as many of you as possible get the chance to visit this train at a station near you.

‘Railway 200’ is enthusiastically supported by the government with Huw Merriman MP, Rail Minister, saying that the anniversary is a chance to “show national pride in our railways and all that they have delivered – not just for this country but around the world”.

I agree with Huw and welcome government support; however, it is not possible, or desirable, for us to deliver this all centrally. We are looking for the wider railway community, and non-rail organisations, to support us in developing a diverse and exciting series of activities across the whole of the UK.

My call to action for you, and your organisations, is to consider what you can offer to the public in 2025 and beyond to excite and inspire a new generation of people. The central ‘Railway 200’ team will support you with branding and promotion and can work to help coordinate dates and social media, but we need the innovation and enthusiasm that only regional and local organisations and individuals can bring to create a tapestry of events in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We stand ready to work with you to deliver something inspiring in the anniversary year.

For those of you working in the rail industry you might want to consider what you could offer locally. For example, you may want to consider how to open your facilities to the public and show them what you do and how you do it, or you might want to do some school outreach and help to inspire the next generation. For those of you who are keen supporters of the railway but who might not work directly for it you may want to consider engaging with your local station, heritage railway, or local museum, about their plans for 2025 and how you might be able to support them as an enthusiastic ambassador for ‘Railway 200’.

‘Railway 200’ has also partnered with S&DR200 who are delivering a 9-month international festival developed right in the heart of where the first journey took place. Stockton on Tees, Darlington & Durham County Councils are planning some never to be forgotten moments that should help to excite people in the local area and beyond. Further information on local celebrations can be found at and I know that the team working on S&DR200 would be happy to discuss their plans.

We are also working with partners outside of the railway industry such as broadcasting organisations, theatre groups, and the National Archives to deliver programming and events that appeal to non-traditional demographics. This activity will be online, on TV, and in-person and we are dedicated to making all aspects of ‘Railway 200’ as accessible to the greatest number and range of people as possible.

2025 also marks 50 years since the opening of the National Railway Museum and 150 years since the founding of the Railway Industry Association and is the first of many forthcoming railway-related 200th anniversaries.

On a personal note, I am very excited by the opportunities presented by 2025 and what it represents for the country. Let’s work together to make ‘Railway 200’ the beginning of a celebration worthy of the industry and of the people who work in it, and let’s take the chance to help people fall back in love with the railway.