It depended on freight from heavy industry in Yorkshire, the north east of England and Scotland, and its revenue was reduced by the economic depression for much of the early part of its existence. In a bid to improve financial efficiency, staffing levels reduced from 207,500 in 1924 to 175,800 in 1937. For investment to retain freight traffic, new marshalling yards were built in Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, and Hull in Yorkshire to attempt to retain freight traffic.
Sir Ralph Wedgwood introduced a Traffic Apprenticeship Scheme to attract graduates, train young managers and provide supervision by assistant general manager Robert Bell for career planning. The company adopted a regional managerial system, with general managers based in London, York and Edinburgh, and for a short time, Aberdeen.
For passenger services, Sir Nigel Gresley, the Chief Mechanical Engineer built new powerful locomotives and new coaches. Later developments such as the streamlined Silver Jubilee train of 1935 were exploited by the LNER publicity department, and embedded the non-stop London to Edinburgh services such as the Flying Scotsman in the public imagination. The crowning glory of this time was the world record speed of 126 miles per hour (203 km/h) achieved on a test run by LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard.
In 1929, the LNER chose the typeface Gill Sans as the standard typeface for the company. Soon it appeared on every facet of the company's identity, from metal locomotive nameplates and hand-painted station signage to printed restaurant car menus, timetables and advertising posters. The LNER promoted their rebranding by offering Eric Gill a footplate ride on the Flying Scotsman express service; he also painted for it a signboard in the style of Gill Sans, which survives in the collection of the St Bride Library.Gill Sans was retained by the Railway Executive in 1949 and was the official typeface until British Rail replaced it in the mid 1960s with Rail Alphabet.
Continental shipping services were provided from Harwich Parkeston Quay.
The company took up the offer in 1933 of government loans at low interest rates and electrified the lines from Manchester to Sheffield and Wath yard, and also commuter lines in the London suburban area.
The LNER inherited:
8 canals, including the Ashton, Chesterfield, Macclesfield, Nottingham & Grantham, Peak Forest
A 49% stake in the haulage firm Mutter, Howey & Co. Ltd.
It took shares in a large number of bus companies, including for a time a majority stake in United Automobile Services Ltd. In Halifax and Sheffield, it participated in Joint Omnibus Committees with the LMS and the Corporation.
The most common liveries were lined apple green on passenger locomotives (much lighter and brighter than the green used by the Great Western Railway) and unlined black on freight locomotives, both with gold lettering. Passenger carriages were generally varnished teak (wood) finish; the few metal-panelled coaches were painted to represent teak.
Some special trains and A4 Pacificlocomotives were painted differently, including silver-grey and garter blue.
The LNER covered quite an extensive area of Britain, from London through East Anglia, the East Midlands and Yorkshire to the north east of England and Scotland. The 1923 grouping meant that former rivals within the LNER had to work together. The task of creating an instantly recognisable public image went to William M. Teasdale, the first advertising manager. Teasdale was influenced by the philosophies and policies of Frank Pick, who controlled the style and content of the London Underground's widely acclaimed poster advertising. Teasdale did not confine his artists within strict guidelines but allowed them a free hand. William Barribal designed a series of bold Art Deco posters in the 1920s and 1930s. When Teasdale was promoted to Assistant General Manager, this philosophy was carried on by Cecil Dandridge who succeeded him and was the Advertising Manager until nationalisation in 1948. Dandridge was largely responsible for the adoption of the Gill Sans typeface, later adopted by British Railways.
The LNER was a very industrial company: hauling more than a third of Britain's coal, it derived two thirds of its income from freight. Despite this, the main image presented was one of glamour, of fast trains and sophisticated destinations. Advertising was highly sophisticated and advanced compared with those of its rivals. Teasdale and Dandridge commissioned top graphic designers and poster artists such as Tom Purvis to promote its services and encourage the public to visit the holiday destinations of the east coast in the summer.
A4 Pacific Mallard, world speed record holder for steam traction
Sir Nigel Gresley was the first CME and held the post for most of the LNER's existence, and thus he had the greatest effect on the company. He came to the LNER via the Great Northern Railway, where he was CME. He was noted for his "Big Engine" policy, and is best remembered for his large express passenger locomotives, many times the holder of the world speed record for steam locomotives. LNER Class A44-6-2Pacific locomotive Mallard holds the record to this day. Gresley died in office in 1941.
Edward Thompson's short reign (1941–1946) was a controversial one. A noted detractor of Gresley even before his elevation to the post of CME, there are those who interpret many of his actions as being motivated by dislike of his predecessor. Against this Gresley's designs had their flaws as well as their brilliance. His record is best served by his solid and dependable freight and mixed-traffic locomotives built under and for wartime conditions. He retired in 1946.
Arthur Peppercorn's career was cut short by nationalisation and he was CME for only 18 months. In this short period and in an atmosphere of reconstruction rather than great new endeavours, his only notable designs were the A1 and A2 Pacific express passenger locomotives, most completed after nationalisation. Peppercorn was a student and admirer of Gresley and his locomotives combined the classic lines of Gresley's with the reliability and solidity they never quite achieved.
The company was nationalised in 1948 along with the rest of the railway companies of Great Britain to form British Railways. It continued to exist as a legal entity for nearly two more years, being formally wound up on 23 December 1949.
On the privatisation of British Rail in 1996, the franchise to run long distance express trains on the East Coast Main Line was won by Sea Containers Ltd, who named the new operating company Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), a name and initials deliberately chosen to echo the LNER.
On 7 August 1926, an electric multiple unit overran signals and collided with a freight train at Manors station, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland. The accident was caused by the driver tying down the controller with a handkerchief. When he leant out of the train he struck an overbridge and was killed. The train continued moving until the collision.
On 30 August 1926, a passenger train collided with a charabanc on a level crossing at Naworth, Cumberland due to errors by the crossing keeper and a lack of interlocking between the signals and gates. Nine people are killed.
On 27 June 1928, an excursion train collided with a parcels train that was being shunted at Darlington, County Durham. Twenty-five people were killed and 45 were injured.
On 9 June 1929, a steam railcar overran signals and collided with an excursion train at Marshgate Junction, Doncaster, Yorkshire.
On 4 October 1929, a freight train departed against a danger signal at Tottenham, London, and then stopped foul of a junction where the crew abandoned the locomotive. An express passenger train collided with it and derailed.
On 17 January 1931, a newspaper train departed from Thorpe-le-Soken station, Essex against signals and collided head-on with a light engine at Great Holland. Two people were killed and two were seriously injured.
On 27 May 1931, a passenger train overran signals and collided head-on with another at Fakenham East station, Norfolk. One person was killed and fifteen were injured.
On 2 June 1944, WD Austerity 2-8-0 locomotive No. 7337 was hauling a freight train which caught fire as it approached Soham, Cambridgeshire. The train comprised wagons carrying bombs. The train was divided behind the burning wagon, with the front portion being taken forward with the intention of isolating the wagon in open countryside. Its cargo detonated at Soham station, killing the fireman and the Soham signalman and injuring the trains' driver and guard. Soham station was severely damaged, but the line was re-opened within eighteen hours. For their actions, Benjamin Gimbert and James Nightall were awarded George Crosses.
In July 1944, a passenger train was derailed at Pannal Junction by points that were half-open.
On 5 January 1946, a freight train became divided on the East Coast Main Line in County Durham. The front section was brought to a stand but the rear section crashed into it. The wreckage fouled signal cables, giving a false clear signal to a passenger train on the opposite line which then crashed into the wreckage. Ten people were killed.
On 10 February 1946, a passenger train crashed at Potters Bar, Hertfordshire due to a signalman's error. The wreckage fouled signal cables, giving a false clear to an express passenger train which then ran into the wreckage. A third passenger train then collided with the wreckage. Two people were killed.
On 2 January 1947, a passenger train overran signals and ran into the rear of another at Gidea Park, Essex. Seven people were killed, 45 were hospitalised.
On 9 August 1947, a passenger train ran into the rear of another at Darlington, County Durham due to a signalman's error. Twenty-one people were killed and 188 were injured.