The coming of the railways started it all

It is possible that the origins of industrial standards can be traced to the appearance of the railways.  Before the great railway boom in the 1840’s, markets for industrial supplies in the UK were local, and items could be supplied by local resources.  Once the railways appeared, facilities were available for transporting goods across the country, and production points starting appearing all over the country.

With products able to be obtained from all over Britain and beyond, the diversity of sizes and qualities of similar items made it hard for buyers to know what they were going to get.  Materials and components often did not match.  Alleviating these problems led to the creation of the Engineering Standards Committee – the forerunner of BSI!

Railway and Tram Committees formed

By the end of 1901, The Engineering Standards Committee was formed into four sections, two of which were the Locomotive and Railway Rolling Stock Committee, and Railway and Tramway Rails Committee

First rail and tram standards

The first tramway standard – British Engineering Standards Association No.2 – appeared in 1903, and cut the number of tramway rail sizes in common use from 75 to just 5.  

Standard No.5 soon followed – “Standard Locomotives for Indian Railways”.  The “India Office”, responsible for the purchase and shipment of UK government stores to India, offered support if the Committee would establish specifications for steam locomotives which could then be transferred between the various government-supported railways.  Afterward it was estimated that all of the material used in the construction of railway rolling stock for India was to British Standards.

Standards for bull-headed and flat-bottomed railway rails appeared in 1904, and a long running series of standards appeared in 1906 covering materials used in building railway rolling stock.

Signals, Electric Rail and Diesel

1914 saw the introduction of BS No.68 Resistance of Steel Conductor rails, the committee for development by then including the District Railways (now part of London Underground), various mainline railway companies and tramway associations.  The BS 456 Track-circuit Insulation Standard appeared in 1932.

BS 376 covering railway signalling symbols was released in 1930 and BS 429 on railway signalling lamps appeared in 1932.

The 1950’s and 60’s saw standards emerging for diesel locomotives as steam trains were phased out, including BS 3713  (Electrical Control Couplers for Diesel Locomotives and Diesel Multiple Unit Trains) and BS 3818 (Self-Sealing Fuelling Couplings for Diesel Locomotives and Cars). 

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to withdrawn railway and tram standards back to 1903, with many old standards covering signalling, steam trains, track, trolley poles and wiring. 
Members can view withdrawn standards without charge in Chiswick, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF. BSI members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.
To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at: or on +44 (0)20 8996 7004

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