What is the Hornby Era system and what does it mean?

The operation of the railway network in the United Kingdom has evolved greatly since the 1826 Liverpool & Manchester Railway Act, which engendered the ‘railway mania’ of the pioneering local regional companies in the Victorian era and their eventual consolidation that occurred towards the end of the19th century.  Then came the emergence of the ‘Big Four’, followed by Nationalisation, Sectorisation, Privatisation and finally, the modern day Franchising arrangements.

In an effort to clarify these changes for model railway enthusiasts, the model railway industry adopted an ‘Era’, or ‘Epoch’ system; the idea being to group models into a defined time bracket, so that locomotives, coaching and wagon stock could be reasonably grouped together.

The trouble with such a system is that as model ranges expand and evolve, boundaries between eras become blurred, a situation not helped by the national railway network changing greatly since the system was adopted during the 1990s.  Since 1995, motive power and rolling stock investment has increased, leading to new locomotives, coaches and wagons, while new Train Operating Companies have filled the void left by British Rail.

Traditional mineral freight has declined in some areas, while in others it has been resurrected, being joined by new types of freight movement.  Passenger numbers have increased to their highest ever numbers, leading to new coaching stock being developed, along with new multiple units that have been designed to operate on both diesel and electric power.

As a result, Hornby, in conjunction with other partners and competitors in the publishing and retail trades decided to adjust the era system they use.  The idea being that it clearly reflects the time periods covered, especially when taking into account the ‘grey’ areas that have arisen as one period blurs into the next.


The Hornby Model Railway Era system
The Hornby Model Railway Era system


The table below provides the full details, while the graphic at the beginning of the article illustrates more visually our system and the overlaps.

Era  Description Date range Example locomotive
1 Pioneering 1804-1869 Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’
2 Pre-Grouping 1870-1922 Peckett W4
3 Grouping 1923-1947 Wainwright H Class
4 Early British Railways 1948-1956 Gresley B17
5 Late British Railways 1956-1968 Standard 4MT
6 British Rail Pre-TOPS 1957-1971 Class 71
7 British Rail TOPS 1971-1986 Class 87
8 BR Sectorisation 1982-1997 Class 50
9 Privatisation 1996-2008 Class 67
10 Network Franchising 2006-2017 Class 60
11 Present Day 2014 on Hitachi IEP