The British rail network is one of the worlds oldest. During the 1970s and 1980s significant investments were made in upgrading lines and rolling stock. The high-speed trains (HST, Inter-City 125) of the mid-1970s routinely ran at speeds of 200 km/h (125 mph), demonstrating the feasibility and attractiveness of high-speed passenger service in Europe.
In the 1980s, electrified passenger service began on the West Coast Main Line, running at speeds of 225 km/h (140 mph). Express networks also expanded the use of containers on freight trains to meet competition from trucks.
The Railways Act of 1993 called for the nationally owned British Rail (BR) system to be split up and sold off to private operators.
By 1997 all operating railway functions were split up under a franchise system consisting of over 70 private companies. The infrastructure (such as the tracks, signals, and other permanent structures) is owned by Railtrack. Three major leasing companies took control of rolling-stock, and 25 other companies operate passenger trains. The bulk of BR s freight services was sold to the English, Welsh, and Scottish Railway (EWS), a unit of the U.S. operator Wisconsin Central. At the end of the 20th century, freight traffic revived and the EWS was buying new locomotives and cars to accommodate the upswing. EWS was also involved in cross-Channel freight services using the Channel Tunnel.