Our history

A detailed look back at the history of railway policing and how British Transport Police was formed. This information was first provided by the British Transport Police History Group.

British Transport Police history

Between the wars

After the First World War many male officers returned to their former jobs. In 1919 the pay of all railway police was standardised and the Railway Police Federation was formed.

The 1921 Railways Act amalgamated more than one hundred separate railway systems (of which about 20 had organised police forces) into four groups:

  • The Great Western Railway (GWR)
  • The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER)
  • The London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS)
  • The Southern Railway (SR)

Each had its own police force controlled by a chief of police. These four forces were each split into a number of divisions headed by a superintendent, and divided into a number of divisional posts led by an inspector. Detectives worked with their uniformed colleagues at most locations. Many 'non-police' duties were retained however, with officers acting as crossing keepers or locking and sealing wagons.

During the General Strike of 1926 many members of the public volunteered to work on the railway to keep it moving, and the police issued them with identity cards. Special constables were again employed and with the threat of sabotage the railway policeman once again found himself walking the tracks to check for obstructions, the same duties as his predecessors nearly 100 years previously.
 
Second World War

During the last war the strength of the railway police doubled. With many men conscripted, special constables and women police were again employed and this time female officers were here to stay.
 
Virtually all officers were trained in the use of firearms and many carried them all the time. Bombing raids in cities took their toll and railway lines and stations received direct hits. In London, 79 underground stations were used as shelters. A bomb near Balham Station fractured a water main and 68 persons sheltering at the station were drowned. A direct hit on Bank station caused the death of 56 passengers. These were just two of the many incidents.
 
Large amounts of goods were carried by rail, and with rationing, thefts became a huge problem, aided by the many blackouts. Between 1941 and 1952 thefts on the railway actually exceeded the total number of other thefts reported by all the police forces in England and Wales combined.

Unification

During the war the railways were run by a railway executive committee who set up a police committee formed by each of the chiefs of police. This committee co-ordinated Britain's railway police and reported to the Railway Executive.
 
The requirements for training were recognised and in 1945 twelve experienced railway police officers from the four main companies attended a special home office course for police instructors. Their work subsequently led to the formation of the Police Training College which was set up in a former boy's school, St. Cross in Tadworth, Surrey in 1948.
 
The co-ordination of the railways during the war years worked well, and in 1947 the Transport Act created the British Transport Commission which unified the railway system.

On 1 January 1949 the British Transport Commission Police was created, formed from the four old railway police forces, canal police and several minor dock forces. The head of this new organisation was WB Richards who was known as Chief Officer (Police) British Transport Commission. He had six areas under him each led by a chief of police. At the time of re-organisation the police establishment consisted of 3,890 officers. The BTC Police was the second-largest police force in the country. At this time the London Transport Police consisted of just 100 officers, who amalgamated with the rest of the force in 1960.
 
The Transport Act 1949 repealed legislation relating to the railway police and from that year all members of the Transport Police were appointed by virtue of Section 53. The Act also laid down the jurisdiction of the Force and gave extra powers to stop and search not held by other forces.
 
The new force enjoyed better conditions of service, but pay was lower than that of the 'civil' police perhaps due to much non-police work still being done such as gate duties, and sealing and locking goods wagons.
 
In 1957, an arbitrator granted pay parity with the 'civil' police. This made such a large force even more expensive to run, and The British Transport Commission set up an inquiry to establish whether there was a need to maintain a separate police for the railway at all. The Maxwell-Johnson enquiry found that policing requirements for the railway could not be met by civil forces and that it was essential that a specialist police force was retained.
 
Improvements

Nearly 20 years later, BTP introduced new technology to assist in recording crime on the railway. A computer system was set up at Force Headquarters to record crime reports. BTP was the first Police Force in Britain to use a computer to report and record crime.
 
A marked increase in offences of violence on the railway (particularly on the Underground) led to a Working Conference being held in 1980. It was jointly chaired by the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport and the result of this conference was a government commitment for extra financial resources to provide better policing on the railways. An extra 100 officers were recruited for the Underground and mobile support units were established to combat vandalism and late night violence at well known trouble spots.
 
Two setbacks for the Force occurred in the mid 1980s with London Buses deciding not to use the British Transport Police in 1984, and the British Transport Docks Board making the same decision the following year.
 
Following major incidents in the late 1980s (particularly the Kings Cross fire in 1987), an officer was appointed to co-ordinate major incident training and British Transport Police has travelled the country giving this training to other forces and emergency services.
 
During the late 1980s BTP realised the benefits of recruiting civilians to take over many non-police roles previously done by police officers.
 
Reorganisation

On 1 April 1992, under Chief Constable Desmond O'Brien, BTP was reorganised and divided into eight areas, each led by an area commander. 'Officers in charge of police station' were appointed for each police station to manage policing requirements.
 

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