Railways of the Great War with Michael Portillo

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A Railway War Begins

Series 1 - Episode 1 A Railway War Begins



“World War One was a railway war,” announces Michael Portillo in the first episode of a week-long series. Railways, which by 1914 had become a powerful transport network, would play a key role on both sides of the war.

They were used to ship out munitions, supplies and millions of men, and to evacuate the wounded and keep the home front moving. Portillo does his usual good job of summarising big topics – and arguably there’s nothing bigger than the First World War.

Wandering through northern Europe he arrives at a tiny railway station in Luxembourg, the first point in Germany’s seizure of the network, and comes home to Southampton, where 90 trains a day deposited horses, bicycles, cars and troops at the dockside.


The former MP travels through Britain and Europe to examine the impact railways had on the First World War, revealing how they precipitated a mechanised conflict, defined how the conflict was fought and transported millions to the trenches. He begins in the French city of Metz on tracks built with war in mind, and discovers how Britain's railways coped with the challenge of sending thousands of troops to join the fight from Southampton.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Michael Portillo
Executive Producer John Comerford
Series Producer Alison Kreps