In May 1933 the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research assumed responsibility from the Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport for the direction and supervision of road research. Previously the department's establishments had carried out a certain amount of laboratory work in connection with road research, which at this date was mostly concerned with materials and methods of construction, for the ministry. It also took over from the ministry the Road Experimental Station which had been established at Harmondsworth in 1930, which was renamed the Road Research Laboratory. A Road Research Board was appointed for the purpose of advising generally on the conduct of road research by the department, in particular to prepare and submit an initial programme of research and thereafter annually a programme of work.
In 1939 work on kerbstones and flagstones and testing of road stones was taken over by the Road Research Laboratory from the National Physical Laboratory, and in 1943 work on road tar was taken over from the Chemical Research Laboratory.
During World War II, most of the Laboratory's resources were diverted initially to the engineering problems of civil defence and later to work for the Admiralty, Ministry of Aircraft Production, Ministry of Supply, Air Ministry and other government departments.
In 1945 the Laboratory was divided into a Materials and Construction Division at Harmondsworth and a Traffic and Safety Division to Langley. A third branch developed to deal with road and road transport problems in overseas territories, originating in the appointment of a colonial liaison officer in 1950. This post was later abolished following the establishment of a Colonial Road Research Section in 1955; this was subsequently renamed the Tropical Section, and its work was guided by a committee of the Colonial Research Council called the Committee on Colonial Road Research established in 1955 and renamed the Committee on Overseas Road Research in 1960. A Scottish Branch of the Laboratory was set up at Thorntonhall in 1949.
In 1965 responsibility for road research was returned to the Ministry of Transport; the laboratory was brought under the ministry's control, and the board and its committees were dissolved and replaced by an advisory Road Research Council. In 1966 the laboratory moved to Crowthorne, and in 1970 it was transferred to the Department of the Environment. The scope of the laboratory's work was broadened to cover transport systems and transport generally, and it was renamed the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 1972. When a separate Department of Transport was again created in 1976, the laboratory became a common service of the two departments until 1984 when it became solely part of the Department of Transport. In April 1992 the laboratory became an executive agency of the Department of Transport and was renamed the Transport Research Laboratory a year later.
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