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Copyright Statement & Fair Copying Declaration

XING Our latest book, "Locomotives and Railcars of the Egyptian State Railways 1852-2002", by Bill Atkin and Alan Clothier is now available. See our Publications page for details.XING

NEW Page on South American (Argentine) railway research
NEW See middle of the Reasearch page for links to biography pages for Royal Engineer officers.

© BORHT & the authors 1999-2023.


Probably the most important invention of the Second Millenium was the railway. This was the first form of rapid mass communication and made possible all of the industrial and political changes of the 20th century which have brought the peoples of the world closer together. For example, the then Argentine Ambassador to the UK, H.E. Mario Cámpora, at the launch of the book "British Railways in Argentina: 1860-1948" said that every child in Argentina is taught that the railways unified the country and that it was Britain which gave Argentina her railways.

The railway as we know it today was invented in Britain in the early part of the nineteenth century and Britain exported railways and railway equipment to virtually every country in the World. Those railways brought economic growth and political stability to the countries in which they were built. Edwin Arnold in 1865 said, "Railways may do for India what dynasties have never done... they may make India a nation" and they did.

British engineers built many times more miles of railway and overcame far greater civil engineering challenges abroad than here in Britain. Many of the railways were owned and financed by British companies, not only in the Empire, but elsewhere, especially in South America.

We lost most of this huge economic enterprise by the 1950's and have almost entirely forgotten it. A few firms continue to export equipment and our consulting engineers remain to the fore, but on nothing like the previous scale.

Since the 1960's, great efforts have been made to ensure the preservation of items of outstanding historical merit from our engineering and manufacturing industries. Although a great deal of energy has gone into preserving items built for home use, very little has been done to preserve some of our outstanding items for export and materials of a priceless nature are being lost.

The British Overseas Railways Historical Trust was formed in 1984 to bring this past aspect of Britain's greatness to the public attention as an example to present day engineers, industrialists and businessmen.

59 Garratt painting

EAR Class 59 Garratt
from a painting by Edwin Lambert

The Aims of the Trust

PS11 4-6-2 Photo

Argentine PS11 4-6-2 built by Armstrong Whitworth in 1930 (BORHT: H R Stones Collection)

  • To promote the study of the history of railways in the Commonwealth (excluding the UK).
  • To promote the study of the British contribution to railways in other parts of the world.
  • To locate and preserve any existing archive material and to make it available to researchers and historians.
  • To establish a museum to tell the story of Britain's remarkable contribution in giving railways to the world, which will contain a representative collection of export locomotives and rolling stock.
  • To create a library of relevant publications.
  • To work with other groups with similar aims.
The Trust has been set up as a registered charity to protect its collections.

All aspects of British overseas railways are covered, e.g. business history, engineering history, biography, equipment manufacturers and exporters, consultants, finance, politics. We also encourage modeling (primarily HO Scale).

The Trust's Achievements

To date the Trust's achievements include:
Assistance with the recovery of the following major items:
  • A GL class 4-8-2+2-8-4 Beyer Garratt for the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
  • An SPS 4-4-0 from Pakistan for the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
  • A Sentinel steam railcar unit from Egypt for a private group.
Publishing various books and the, now well established,
The British Overseas Railways Journal

Establishing an archive and library at Greenwich, which are available for research. The library now contains about 1,400 volumes.

Photo of SPS 4-4-0

SPS 3157 at MOSI in August 2009.
Photo: © Mostyn Lewis

Some of the bigger archive collections include:

  • an extensive archive of photographs and engineering drawings of the Benguela Railway
  • the photographic collection of the South African Railways and Harbours London office
  • the H R Stones collection of research papers, manuscripts and photographs of South American and British railways.
  • A collection of over 1000 engineering drawings of East African Railways and Harbours locomotives.
Photo of BORHT Reading Room

The Peter Thomason (Reading) Room at Greenwich
Photo © Dr Paul E Waters

More about the Trust


If you need any information or would like to help the Trust in its aims, please contact our Registered Office:-

Greenwich West Community & Arts Centre,
West Greenwich House,
141 Greenwich High Road,
SE10 8JA

How to find us

Download a membership application form

or come and meet us at our next event.

or email us at

Membership benefits include The British Overseas Railways Journal

Registered Charity No 290944 Company Limited by Guarantee No 1862659