The first British Car-Sleeper Limited train ran between London and Perth in June 1955, as a development of an existing overnight train. Over the next six years, dedicated motorists-only trains were quickly introduced on many new routes throughout Britain.
By the early 1960s, motorists could reach the north of Scotland by trains from London and much of England, while Devon and Cornwall were served by trains from London, Sheffield and Newcastle. Some routes were covered by daytime services – branded Car Carrier – saving the additional expense of sleeper carriages.
In 1965, British Railways became British Rail under the now-familiar double arrow logo and all vehicular train services became branded as ‘Motorail’ soon afterwards.
The next ten years would be Motorail’s heyday as rolling stock continued to improve, as did services onboard.
In 1966, a dedicated Motorail terminal opened at Kensington Olympia for the majority of London services.
Paddington continued to use side-access flat wagons for the West Country, but Olympia’s ramps allowed loading over the buffers onto the new double-decker “Cartic” wagons that were being introduced elsewhere for the bulk shipment of new cars.
Effectively consisting of two distinct trains, the Motorial train was amongst the longest on the railways. Passenger and car sections were generally loaded separately and then coupled together just before departure.
At holiday destinations, Motorail facilities were typically inserted into existing railway stations, which made for some tricky road and rail manoeuvres on platforms not originally designed for car access nor such long trains.
At major setting-off points – including Reading, Sutton Coldfield (for Birmingham) and Newton-Le-Willows (for Liverpool) – more accessible terminals were built outside city centres.
The Motorail network truly covered the length and breadth of Britain, connecting major population centres throughout England, Scotland and Wales with each other and with holiday destinations from Cornwall to the far north of Scotland.
The economic case for Motorail disappeared rapidly as the motorway network expanded and better-performing cars cut motoring times drastically. As a result, routes began to close from 1975
With privatisation on the horizon, the last Motorail train ran in May 1995, although First Great Western briefly revived the idea in 1999 by adding car-carrying vans to the Paddington-Penzance sleeper (the service was withdrawn after six loss-making years).