British Transport Commission


The Transport Act 1947 nationalised virtually all British transport, including the railways, waterways, and road haulage. These were transferred to a newly-created operating body, the British Transport Commission (BTC). The British Transport Commission began operations on 1st January 1948, under Chairman Sir (later Lord) Cyril Hurcomb. At this time, the British Transport Commission acquired the “Big Four” grouped railways, with virtually all minor railways as well, together with the London Passenger Transport Board. This automatically transferred the assets of the rail companies to BTC, including ships, ports, hotels, and investments in bus, coach, and haulage companies. Two bus companies, Tilling and Scottish Motor Traction, were soon added, as well as long-distance road hauliers. The Transport Act charged the British Transport Commission with the task of charged with “integrating” various forms of transport into single public service.

The British Transport Commission did not directly operate transport services. Operations were delegated to five separately appointed executives: Docks and Inland Waterways, Hotels, London Transport, Road Transport, and Railways. The Railways Executive operated under the name British Railways. In 1949, the Road Transport Executive was divided into two separate executives: Road Haulage and Road Passenger. The Commission exercised financial control over these Executives, and managed them through schemes of delegation.

The Commission attempted to fulfil its statutory duty to “integrate” public transport by introducing Area Schemes. These were designed to establish regional monopolies for road passenger transport, ports, and harbours. “Integration” was also to be promoted through Charges Schemes, in which the true costs of different modes of transport were to be reflected in the charges. This was designed to attract traffic to the most economic and efficient mode of transport.

The structure of Executives was dramatically altered by the Transport Act 1953, which abolished all Executives, with the exception of London Transport. Responsibility for the operation and maintenance of transport systems was delegated to the chief regional managers. The railways were reorganised into a system of area boards for each of its six regions. In September 1953, Sir Brian Robertson became Chairman. Disposal of the haulage fleet also began at this time, but a lack of buyers made this difficult.

Rising costs, industrial action and competition from road traffic meant that the British Transport Commission was in financial trouble by 1955. It sought relief from this by publishing The Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways, a plan which proposed an investment in the railways of £1,240m over fifteen years. The main features of this plan were the replacement of steam with electric and diesel traction, the electrification of principle routes, and the introduction of new coaching stock.

Despite the modernisation plan, the financial position of the British Transport Commission worsened. Two government reviews, in 1956 and 1959, concluded that the Commission was unwieldy and had an insufficiently commercial outlook.

Sir Brian Robertson retired in May 1961, and was replaced by Dr Richard Beeching.

The BTC was abolished by the Transport Act 1962. It was replaced with five new authorities that were answerable to the Minister of Transport: the British Railways Board, the British Transport Docks Board, the British Waterways Board, the London Transport Board, and the Transport Holding Company. Dr Beeching became chair of the British Railways Board.