UK model railway eras explained

17 May 2023
If you’re undecided on which railway era to model on your next layout, here we explain the key eras of railway history used when modelling.

What is the model railway era system?

Many layouts are built to a specific date in time, and the railway era system helps categorise the history and group products to a certain period of time when they were operational in real life – it is especially useful for modellers as it helps to quickly identify which time periods a particular model is designed to fit.

It starts from 1804, all the way up to present day. The eras are generally divided up around significant milestones on the railway and changes to operational companies or governmental control. 

The model railway era system is not a definitive log of history and there are many overlaps, it's better seen as a useful tool to help highlight the liveries and locomotives that ran during a specific time when modelling and signpost significant points of history for our real-life railways. 

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Why do some model railway era systems differ?

The era system has been adopted by most of the manufacturers and retailers in the UK, and it is very similar to the epoch system that is used in Europe, and has been for several years prior to our own introduction. 

However, the era system Bachmann and Hornby use are slightly different, with Hornby opting for an extended list of 11 eras (instead of the 9 Bachmann uses) to cover franchise changes during the privatization era. 

The dates are largely the same for both, below is the Hornby era system, which we refer to on World of Railways. 

Things to remember

  • Eras 1 and 2 are harder to model because of the lack of prototype information available and ready-to-run products, a lot of kit-bashing and scratch-building would be required to build a layout during this time
  • Although the eras are set to specific dates, it would have taken many years to complete a change of livery, so in the early years of an era, there would have been some crossover
  • Main line locomotives and coaches would have likely been changed first, while local branch stock may never have been fully updated

More useful guides

Still tied up with the model railway terminology? Visit our Glossary section by clicking here. 

Looking for trackplan inspiration? - Our guide explains all.

If you're thinking of tackling water on your layout? Our guide on how to model water here should be your first port of call. 

Need more advice? Take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.

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