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The Railway Regulation Act 1844 was a Britishmarker Act of Parliament introduced as a means of providing a minimum standard for rail passenger travel.

The prior situation

Until that time there were three or more classes of carriage provided, with third class usually being no more than an open goods wagon, often without seats, sometimes referred to as "Stanhopes". During that year, a select committee had produced six reports on the railways, at the behest of the Board of Trade under its President, W.E.Gladstone.

Contents of the Act

These led to legislation entitled in full An Act to attach certain Conditions to the construction of future Railways authorised by any Act of the present or succeeding sessions of Parliament; and for other Purposes in relation to Railways, usually referred to, in short, as "Gladstone's Act" or the "1844 Railway Regulation Act".

The original bill had been far-reaching for its time - even proposing state ownership of the railways. Although nothing so revolutionary passed into law, it is mainly remembered for its provisions that:

  • One train with provision for carrying third-class passengers, should run on every line, every day, in each direction, stopping at every station.

* The fare should be 1d. (½p) per mile.

* Its average speed should not be less than .

* Third-class passengers should be protected from the weather and be provided with seats.

In return the railway operator was exempted from paying duty on third class passengers. The price was, in fact, not cheap for the ordinary working people of the day. An additional requirement however was that they should be allowed to take up to . of luggage with them, free of charge. It helped those who needed to move in search of work thus, as Smith points out, its benefit was to improve the labour supply.

Rail company reaction

The reaction of many railway companies was a grudging acceptance of the letter, if not the spirit of the legislation, and so they provided the minimum one train per day with facilities for third class passengers at a useless time of day such as very early in the morning or very late at night. These were the original Parliamentary trains. The reason for the reluctance was a fear of losing revenue if passengers who could afford to travel in second class switched to third class if facilities there became bearable.. Some companies continued to run more inferior third or fourth class trains in addition to the minimum standard parliamentary train.

It was the Midland Railway that broke the mould by providing three compartments, glazed windows and an oil lamp in the roof, though this caused much resentment amongst its competitors. Finally in 1875 the standard of third class was upgraded and second class was abolished - by simply relabelling the coaches. It is difficult to appreciate, in this day and age, the scandal this caused. It was suggested that the railway was encouraging the working class to have ideas above its station in life. Sir James Allport, general manager of the Midland Railway, in a speech said "If there is one part of my public life on which I look back with more satisfaction, it with reference to the boon we conferred on third-class travellers..."

In time all the other railways followed suit, and because they were legally obliged to provide third class, the oddity of first and third, but no second - except on boat trains, persisted into the twentieth century, until third class was eventually rebranded in 1956, and then further rebranded as 'standard' to remove negative associations.

See also Cheap Trains Act 1883.


  1. Smith, D.N., (1988) The Railway and its Passengers: A Social History Newton Abbott: David and Charles
  2. Ellis, Hamilton., (1965) Railway Carriages In The British Isles From 1830-1914


  • Ransom, P.J.G., (1990) The Victorian Railway and How It Evolved, London: Heinemann
  • Billson, P., (1996) Derby and the Midland Railway, Derby: Breedon Books

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