Ipswich Transport Museum
Preserving the transport heritage of Ipswich since 1965, and now supported by the Friends of the Ipswich Transport Museum. The Ipswich Transport Museum is a Registered Charity No. 276626 and an Accredited Museum, number RD890.
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Local Railways

Britannia during EUR 150
Britannia during the EUR 150 Celebrations in 1996

Before The Railways Came

Railways speeded up the movement of goods as well as people. They also drastically reduced the cost of moving goods such as coal.

Before the advent of the railway Ipswich received most goods by water at its port. However, to move those goods elsewhere in Suffolk was difficult and costly, with one exception - Stowmarket. The river Gipping had been canalised and barges could travel through Needham Market to Stowmarket.

In all other cases the pack horse or cart moving over rough tracks was the only means of moving goods. The railways changed that and it is easy to see why every market town in Suffolk wanted a connection to the railway network.

Railways had the transport market more or less to themselves until the first World War. The introduction of cheap mass produced road trucks for military use, coupled with the training of thousands of men to drive them, produced another transport revolution as significant as the coming of the railways in the first place.

Eastern Union Railway

The Eastern Counties Railway had opened a line from London to Colchester on 29th March 1843 but were making little progress in extending it northwards.

A group of Ipswich people led by John Chevalier Cobbold (of the local brewing family) obtained an Act of Parliament on 19th July 1844 authorising the Eastern Union Railway to be built from Colchester to Ipswich. The line was opened to goods traffic on 1st June 1846, with a full official opening 10 days later.

An extension to Bury was built by the nominally independent Ipswich and Bury Railway but this was absorbed by the E.U.R. as from 9th July 1847.

An extension to Norwich was opened on 12th December 1849, initially to a separate Victoria station, but linked to Thorpe as from 8th September 1851.

An agreement for joint working with the Eastern Counties Railway came into effect as from 7th August 1854 and the company finally lost its independence when the Great Eastern Railway was formed in 1862.

Great Eastern Railway

The Great Eastern Railway was formed on the 1st July 1862 by the amalgamation of the Eastern Counties, the East Anglian, the Newmarket, Eastern Union and Norfolk Railway Companies.

It created a virtual private monopoly of railway operation throughout East Anglia which was only breached by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway in the south and the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway in the north.

Always financially insecure, it nevertheless continued to serve its mixture of London suburbs and rural East Anglia rather well, despite the lack of heavy freight traffic. Train services and facilities were gradually improved and the company benefited from a loyal workforce. The locomotives produced by the Great Eastern Railway were generally sound and long lived, many surviving until the 1960s.

The Great Eastern Railway was absorbed into the London and North Eastern Railway on 1st January 1923, ending 61 years of relative stability in local railways.

London & North Eastern Railway

The London and North Eastern Railway was formed by the amalgamation of the Great Northern, Great Central, Great Eastern, North Eastern, North British and Great North of Scotland railways.

The new company inherited a railway network run down from the demands of the First World War and, apart from the North Eastern Railway, a network that was financially weak. This was to hinder progress for all 25 years of the company's existence.

However, the new company did attempt to raise speeds and was successful in introducing streamlined express trains. In East Anglia, one such train was run, named the "East Anglian" and operated by one of two streamlined engines.

The Second World War brought more heavy wear and tear, with reduced maintenance. East Anglia became one huge airfield, mainly supplied by rail. After the war all of Britain's railways were nationalised, to become British Railways. The L.N.E.R. lasted exactly 25 years, one of the shorter lived operators of local railways.

British Railways

British Railways came into being on 1st January 1948. Locally the railways became part of Eastern Region, which roughly incorporated the former Great Eastern, Great Northern and Great Central railways.

The new organisation soon developed a new express steam locomotive, which was exhibited at the Festival of Britain in 1951. A fleet of these fine engines, known as "Britannias", was allocated to Stratford and Norwich to handle the express train services.

Later, in 1959, Ipswich became the first main line locomotive depot to be converted to diesel operation. Around the same time management of the local railways was delegated to a "Great Eastern Line" team, with the slogan "Progress....with Great Eastern".

The 1980s saw electrification of the main line through Ipswich to Norwich. Anticipating privatisation, BR operations were separated out into sectors, each concentrating on a particular area of work. On the passenger side this resulted in three different parts of BR operating into Ipswich: Inter-City working the Norwich expresses, Regional Railways working local services north and west of Ipswich, and Network South East running commuter services south of the town.


Britain's railways were privatized in the 1990s and passenger services to Ipswich split between two operators, First Great Eastern (running the former NSE commuter services out of Liverpool Street) and Anglia Railways, which took over the Inter-City services to Norwich and the local services around Ipswich previously run by Regional Railways. A second round of franchising saw all Ipswich passenger services controlled by a single operator from April 2004. The large transport operator National Express gained this new franchise and initially ran services under the "ONE" brand. From 2007, however, National Express has introduced a standardised identity for all its operations in the U.K. and the "ONE" branding was phased out.

In February 2012, Abellio (a Dutch company) assumed the local passenger franchise.

Freight Trains

Although traditional freight flows on our local railways have declined dramatically, the growth of Felixstowe as a container port has seen an equally dramatic boom in more modern freight operations. These were also privatized in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, the company Freightliner dominates in our area but other operators such as GBrF, EWS (now DB Schenke) and DRS add variety to a vibrant local scene.