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Many railway lines were closed as a result of the Beeching Axe

The 'Beeching Axe' is an informal name for the British Government's attempt in the 1960s to reduce the cost[1] of running British Railways, the nationalised railway system in the United Kingdom. The name is that of the main author of The Reshaping of British Railways, Dr Richard Beeching. Although this report also proposed new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is remembered for recommending wholesale closure of what it considered little-used and unprofitable railway lines, the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of local stations on other lines which remained open.

The report was a reaction to significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to attract passengers and goods from the railways; losses which continued to bedevil British Railways despite the introduction of the railway Modernisation Plan of 1955.[2] Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future.

However, successive governments were more keen on the cost-saving elements of the report rather than those requiring investment. More than 4,000 miles of railway and 3,000 stations closed in the decade following the report, a reduction of 25 per cent of route miles and 50 per cent of stations. To this day in railway circles and among older people, particularly in parts of the country that suffered most from cuts, Beeching's name is still synonymous with mass closure of railways and loss of many local services.

Contents

Background

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Pre-Beeching closures

Although Dr Beeching is commonly associated with railway closures, a significant number of lines had actually closed before the 1960s, one of the earliest known being the closure of a section of the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway in 1851.

After growing rapidly in the 19th century, the British railway system reached its height in the years immediately before the First World War. In 1913 there were 23,440 route miles of railway.[3]

After the war, the railways began to face competition from other modes of transport such as buses, cars, road haulage and air travel. Due to this, a modest number of railway lines were closed during the 1920 and 1930s. Most of these early closures were of short suburban lines which had fallen victim to competition from buses and trams which offered a more frequent service. An example of this was the Harborne Line in Birmingham, which closed to passengers in 1934.

Also, a number of lines had been built by rival companies between the same places to compete with each other. With the grouping of railway companies in 1923, many of these duplicating lines became redundant and were closed. In total 1,264 miles of railway were closed to passengers between 1923 and 1939.[3]

With the onset of World War II, the railways gained a reprieve as they became essential to the war effort and were heavily used. By the time the railways were nationalised in 1948, they were in a substantially worn down condition, as little maintenance or investment was carried out during the war.

Early closures under British Railways

By the early 1950s, railway closures began again. The British Transport Commission (BTC) created the 'Branch Lines Committee' in 1949, with a remit to close the least used branch lines. Many of the most minor and little used lines were closed during this period. However some secondary cross country lines were closed as well such as the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in East Anglia, which was closed in 1959. In total 3,318 miles of railway were closed between 1948 and 1962.[3]

This period saw the beginnings of a closures protest movement led by the Railway Development Association, whose most famous member was the poet John Betjeman.[4 ]

Background to the Beeching Axe

By the early 1950s, economic recovery and the end of fuel rationing meant the pre-war trends of increasing competition for the railways reasserted themselves as more people could afford cars and road haulage could compete for freight. The railways struggled to adapt. Britain's railways had fallen behind other countries. In an attempt to catch up, the British Transport Commission (BTC) unveiled the Modernisation Plan in 1955, which proposed to spend more than £1,240 million on modernising the railways (£23.4 billion as of 2010)[5], replacing steam with diesel and electric locomotives. The plan promised to win back traffic and restore the railways to profit by 1962.[6] Much of the Modernisation Plan was approved.

Traffic on the railways remained fairly steady during the 1950s[7 ], however the economics of the railway network steadily deteriorated. This was largely due to costs such as labour rising faster than income.[4 ][7 ] Fares and freight charges were repeatedly frozen by the government in an attempt to control inflation and please the electorate.[4 ]

The result was that by 1955 income no longer covered operating costs, and the situation steadily worsened. Much of the money spent on the Modernisation Plan had been borrowed, and much was wasted. By the early 1960s the railways were in financial crisis. Operating losses increased to £68m in 1960, £87m in 1961, and £104m in 1962 (£1.6 billion as of 2010).[8][5] The BTC could no longer pay interest on borrowed money, which worsened the financial problem. The government lost patience and looked for radical solutions.

A timetable from 1963 showing the closure of a branch line and the suggested replacement bus service. This particular line closed at the start of 1963. The first closure after the publication of the Beeching report occurred in the autumn, to be followed by many more until the end of the decade.

In tune with the mood of the early 1960s, the transport minister in Harold Macmillan's Conservative government was Ernest Marples, director of a road-construction company (his two-thirds shareholding was divested to his wife while he was a minister to avoid potential conflict of interests).[9][10] Marples believed the future of transport lay with roads, that railways were a relic of the Victorian past.

An advisory group known as the Stedeford Committee after its chairman, Sir Ivan Stedeford, was set up to report on the state of British transport and provide recommendations. Also on the committee was Richard Beeching, at the time technical director of ICI. He was later, in 1961, appointed chairman of the new British Railways Board. Stedeford and Beeching clashed on matters related to the latter's proposals to prune the rail infrastructure. In spite of questions in Parliament, Sir Ivan's report was published only much later, and the proposals for the future of the railways that came to be known as the Beeching Plan were adopted by the government, resulting in the closure of a third of the rail network and the scrapping of a third of a million freight wagons.

Beeching believed railways should be a business and not a public service, and that if parts of the railway system did not pay their way — like some rural branch lines — they should close. His reasoning was that once unprofitable lines were closed, the remaining system would be restored to profitability.

Beeching I

A copy of The Reshaping of British Railways report, displayed beside the National Union of Railwaymen's response pamphlet.

When Beeching was chairman of British Railways he initiated a study of traffic flows on all the railway lines in the country.

This study took place during the week ending 23 April 1962, two weeks after Easter, and concluded that 30 per cent of miles carried just 1 per cent of passengers and freight, and half of all stations contributed just 2 per cent of income[4 ].

The report The Reshaping of British Railways[11] (or Beeching I report) of 27 March 1963 proposed that of Britain's 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of railway, 6,000 miles (9,700 km) of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should close. Further, many other rail lines should be kept open for freight only, and many lesser-used stations should close on lines that were to be kept open. The report was accepted by the Government.

At the time, the controversial report was called the Beeching Bombshell or the Beeching Axe by the press. It sparked an outcry from communities that would lose their rail services, many of which (especially in the case of rural communities) had no other public transport.

The government argued that many services could be provided more cheaply by buses, and promised that abandoned rail services would have their places taken by bus services.

A significant part of the report proposed that British Rail electrify some major main lines and adopt containerised freight traffic instead of outdated and uneconomic wagon-load traffic. Some of those plans were eventually adopted, however, such as the creation of the Freightliner concept and further electrification of the West Coast Main Line from Crewe to Glasgow in 1974. Additionally the staff terms and conditions were improved over time.

Rail closures by year

The remains of Rugby Central Station on the former Great Central Railway, one of many stations and lines that were closed under the Beeching Axe

At its peak in 1950, British Railway's system was around 21,000 miles (34,000 km) and 6,000 stations. By 1975, the system had shrunk to 12,000 miles (19,000 km) of track and 2,000 stations; it has remained roughly this size thereafter.

Closures of unremunerative lines had been ongoing throughout the 20th century. Numbers increased in the 1950s, as the Branchline Committee of BR also looked for uncontentious duplicated lines as candidates for closure. Approximately 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of line had already been closed between nationalisation and the publication of Beeching's report.[12] After publication, however, the closure process was accelerated markedly.

Year Total length closed
1950 150 miles (240 km)
1951 275 miles (443 km)
1952 300 miles (480 km)
1953 275 miles (443 km)
1954 to 1957 500 miles (800 km)
1958 150 miles (240 km)
1959 350 miles (560 km)
1960 175 miles (282 km)
1961 150 miles (240 km)
1962 780 miles (1,260 km)
Beeching report published
1963 324 miles (521 km)
1964 1,058 miles (1,703 km)
1965 600 miles (970 km)
1966 750 miles (1,210 km)
1967 300 miles (480 km)
1968 400 miles (640 km)
1969 250 miles (400 km)
1970 275 miles (443 km)
1971 23 miles (37 km)
1972 50 miles (80 km)
1973 35 miles (56 km)
1974 0 miles (0 km)

Recommendations not implemented

Not all the recommended closures were implemented; a number of lines were kept open for political reasons. For example, lines through the Scottish Highlands such as the Far North Line and the West Highland Line, although listed for closure, were kept open, in part because of pressure from the powerful Highland lobby[3]. The Central Wales Line was said to have been kept open because it passed through so many marginal constituencies that no-one dared to close it [3][4 ].

In addition, lines such as the Tamar Valley Line in Cornwall were kept open because the local roads were poor.

Some lines not recommended for closure were eventually closed, such as the Woodhead Line between Manchester and Sheffield in 1981, after the freight traffic, on which it had relied, declined.

Beeching II

The National network might have looked like this by the 1980s if the lines not proposed for development had actually closed (the network for development is shown in bold).

In February 1965, the British Railways Board issued a second, less well-known, report The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes,[13] widely known as Beeching II.

This report identified lines which were believed to justify large-scale investment to meet the likely demand over the next 20 years. Some railway supporters assumed that any other line would be closed sooner or later, although the report itself was careful to explain that no decision had been taken about them. ("The purpose of this study is to select routes for future intensive use, not to select lines for closure...")

As the map shows, if all the non-selected lines had eventually closed the railway network would have been reduced significantly. The length of the "primary routes" alone would have fallen from some 12,000km to just under 5000km. In Scotland only the central belt routes and the lines via Fife and Perth to Aberdeen might have survived, and apart from the Great Western Main Line as far as Swansea, there could have been no British Railways lines left in Wales at all.

As far as England was concerned, parts of Yorkshire and most of East Anglia and south west England would have been without railway services as well. Oxford would have kept its trains, but Cambridge would not. Many towns in south east England could also have lost their railways in theory, including places like Hastings and Eastbourne, although as the report also conceded that commuter routes would need "special consideration", major closures in the south east were probably the most unlikely of all.

Beeching II: Lines not selected for development

In the event, this report does not seem to have made any lasting impression on the recently-elected Labour government, and Beeching resigned from BR two months after it was published.

Major railway closures may have been considered afresh since Beeching's time, but apart from the brief ripple caused by the impotent Serpell Report in 1982, they have not been formally proposed again.

Changing attitudes and policies

It was in 1964 that a Labour government was elected under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. During the election campaign, Labour promised to halt the rail closures if elected. Once elected, however, they quickly backtracked on this promise, and the closures continued, at a faster rate than under the previous administration and until the end of the decade.

In 1965, Barbara Castle was appointed transport minister and she decided that at least 11,000 route miles (17,700 km) would be needed for the foreseeable future and that the railway system should be stabilised at around this size.

Towards the end of the 1960s it became increasingly clear that rail closures were not producing the promised savings or bringing the rail system out of deficit and were unlikely ever to do so[3]. Mrs. Castle also stipulated that some rail services that could not pay their way but had a valuable social role should be subsidised. However, by the time the legislation allowing this was introduced into the 1968 Transport Act, (Section 39 of this Act made provision for a subsidy to be paid by the Treasury for a three-year period) many of the services and railway lines that would have qualified and benefited from these subsidies had already been closed or removed, thus lessening the impact of the legislation. Nevertheless, a number of branch lines were saved by this legislation.

Aftermath

An abandoned stone bridge spans the route of a former branch line through Otley which was closed in 1965.
An overgrown viaduct across Lobb Ghyll in Yorkshire, built by the Midland Railway in 1888 and closed in 1965.

The closures failed in their main purpose of trying to restore the railways to profitability, with the promised savings failing to materialise. By closing almost a third of the rail network, Beeching managed to achieve a saving of just £30 million, whilst overall losses were running in excess of £100 million.[4 ] The shortfall arose mainly because the branch lines acted as feeders to the main lines and that feeder traffic was lost when the branches closed. This in turn meant less traffic and less income for the increasingly vulnerable main lines.

The assumption at the time was that car owners would drive to the nearest railhead (which was usually the junction where the closed branch line would otherwise have taken them) and continue their journey onwards by train, but in practice, having once left home in their cars, they used them for the whole journey. The same problem occurred with the movement of goods and freight—without branch lines, the railways lost a great deal of their ability to transport goods 'door to door.' Like the passenger model, it was assumed that lorries would pick up goods, transport them to the nearest railhead, where they would be taken across the country by train, unloaded onto another lorry and taken to their destination. However, the development of the motorway network, the advent of containerisation and the sheer economic costs of having two break-of-bulk points made long-distance road transport a more viable alternative.

Another reason for Beeching plan's not achieving any great savings is that many of the closed lines ran at only a small deficit, some lines such as the Sunderland to West Hartlepool line cost only £291 per mile to operate,[3], and so closing them made little difference to the overall deficit. Perhaps ironically, the busiest commuter routes have always lost the greatest amount of money, but even Beeching realised it would be a political and practical "disaster" to close them.[3][4 ]

The Beeching reports recommended against attempting to make loss-making lines profitable. The use of light railway concepts, already in use on some branch lines at the time of the report, was attacked by Beeching, who wrote: "The third suggestion, that rail buses should be substituted for trains, ignores the high cost of providing the route itself, and also ignores the fact that rail buses are more expensive vehicles than road buses." There is little in the Beeching report recommending general economies (in administration costs, working practices and so on). For example, a number of the stations that were closed were fully staffed eighteen hours a day, on lines which were controlled by multiple Victorian era signalboxes (again fully staffed, often throughout the day), and that reductions in operating costs could be made by reducing staff and removing redundant services whilst still enabling these stations to stay open. Such concepts have since been successfully utilised by British Rail and its successors on lesser-used lines that survived the axe (such as the East Suffolk Line from Ipswich to Lowestoft which survives as a "basic railway").[4 ].

In retrospect, many of the specific Beeching closures can be seen as very short-sighted, in that the routes would now be heavily used or even important trunk routes. The Settle-Carlisle Railway was threatened with closure, reprieved and now handles more traffic (both passenger and freight) than at any time in its history. The Great Central Main Line, the last trunk route built in Britain until the opening of High Speed 1 in 2007, was intended to provide a link to the north of England with a proposed Channel Tunnel. It was built to the wider Continental loading gauge and constructed to the same standards as a modern high speed line, with no level crossings and curves and gradients kept to an absolute minimum. This line closed in stages between 1966 and 1969 after just 60 years of service, 28 years before the opening of the Channel Tunnel rail link. Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1, there has been discussion about 'High Speed 2' linking the tunnel to the North of England and Scotland. However it would be difficult and expensive to construct as much of the former GCML route has been levelled or built on (see below).

Failures of bus-substitution

The "bustitution" policy which replaced rail services with buses also failed. In many cases the replacement bus services were far slower and less convenient than the train services they were meant to replace, resulting in them being extremely unpopular with the public.[4 ] Furthermore, replacement bus services often simply ran between the now disused station sites, some of which were remotely situated from the communities they purported to serve. For all these reasons, most of the replacement bus services only lasted a few years before they were removed due to a lack of patronage, thus effectively leaving large parts of the country without any means of public transport. In practice, this policy proved unsuccessful, as the travelling public never saw a bus service as a suitable replacement for a rail service.

Final closures under Beeching

The closures were brought to a halt in the early 1970s when it became apparent that they were not useful, that the benefit of the small amount of money saved by closing railways was outweighed by the congestion and pollution caused by increasing reliance on cars which followed, and also by the general public's hatred of the cuts. The 1973 oil crisis proved to be the final end of large scale railway closures, as it highlighted the problems of relying entirely upon oil dependent road transport.

One of the last major railway closures (and possibly one of the most controversial) resulting from the Beeching Axe was of the 98-mile long (158 km) Waverley Route main line between Carlisle, Hawick and Edinburgh, in 1969; plans have since been made in 2006 with the approval of the Scottish Parliament to re-open a significant section of this line. With a few exceptions, after the early 1970s proposals to close other lines were met with vociferous public opposition and were quietly shelved; this opposition stemmed from the public's experience of the many line closures during the main years of the cuts in the mid and late 1960s. Today, Britain's railways, like nearly every other railway system in the world, still run at a deficit and require subsidies.

Disposals of land and structures

Notwithstanding the positive environmental implications of a reopening, many of the areas along these routes have expanded and grown over the last 40 years. Where some lines were not profitable in 1963 (on a backdrop of falling passenger numbers and a rise in car use on uncongested roads) it has been posited that they could well be profitable now, or at least could have a desirable impact on reducing road congestion, pollution and congestion on the railway lines that have remained open, and thus be worth operating with a government subsidy. However, in many instances it would be prohibitively expensive for lines closed by the Beeching Axe to be reopened; although it was not stipulated in the report, since Beeching there has been a policy of disposing of surplus-to-requirements railway land. Therefore, many bridges, cuttings and embankments have been removed and the land sold off for development; closed station buildings on remaining lines have often been either demolished or sold. This is as much a criticism of the policy since the Beeching closures of the wholesale disposal of former railway land rather than the protection of trackbeds using a system similar to the US Rail Bank scheme for possible future use. Furthermore, many redundant structures remain (such as bridges over railways and drainage culverts) and require ongoing maintenance while providing zero benefit; the costs involved have not been "saved" by closing the line.

Serpell Report

In the early 1980s, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, the possibility of more Beeching-style cuts was raised again, briefly. In 1983 Sir David Serpell, a civil servant who had worked with Dr Beeching, compiled what became known as the Serpell Report[14] which set out a number of options. It is important to distinguish Beeching from Serpell: Beeching recommended closures and Serpell did not. However Serpell did allege that a profitable railway (if that was the aim) could only be achieved by closing much of what remained. The infamous "Option A" in this report was illustrated by a map of a truly vestigial system with, for example, no railways west of Bristol and none in Scotland apart from the central belt. This was much more than Beeching had ever dared to suggest. Serpell was shown to have some serious weaknesses, such as the closure of the Midland Main Line (a busy route for coal transport to power stations, and even the East Coast Main Line between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. The report met with fierce resistance from many quarters and, having lost credibility, it was quickly abandoned.

Track rationalisation

One effect of the Beeching closures which was not always immediately obvious was the single tracking of some formerly double track sections of line. One such instance is the section of line from Bicester to Princes Risborough, the latter was formally the junction of four separate lines at an important railway town. After the closure of the GCR and subsequent singling works, all of the stations on the line were reduced to just a single platform until the line was re-doubled by Chiltern Railways in the early part of the 21st century.

Another line which was singled was the Kyle of Lochalsh Line from Inverness to Dingwall which is now the major barrier to increasing the number of trains on the Far North Line from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. The West of England Main Line, formerly an express route from London to the South-West, was largely singled west of Salisbury and effectively reduced to a secondary cross-country line, since at national level it was viewed as duplicating the Great Western Main Line. Similarly some road schemes have had costs marginally reduced by requiring railway lines to be singled, such as the Shrewsbury to Chester Line from Chester to Wrexham General line which has a dual carriageway bridge on the A483 over the railway with only space for a single track. This now hampers frequency and timekeeping on the north-south Wales railway service.

Singling has caused capacity problems for lines that are today carrying a volume of passengers that are much greater than those during the time of the Beeching report. Traffic on the single-tracked Golden Valley Line between Kemble and Swindon and the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester has increased to the point where redoubling is being carried out. On the Cotswold line, there are now twice as many trains trying to run on the single track than in the 1960s after singling, and this route is also now being redoubled. Punctuality and reliability can be harder to achieve on single lines; delays are added to delays where trains have to wait for a passing train to clear a single line section. Finally, journey times are extended as waiting time and catch up time is added to the timetable. A journey from London to Worcester takes much longer today than in years gone by.

Reopenings

Since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, road traffic levels have grown significantly and in some areas this has become close to gridlock. Furthermore, in recent years there have been record levels of passengers on the railways. A modest number of the railway closures have therefore been reversed.

In addition a small but significant number of closed stations have reopened, and passenger services been restored on lines where they had been removed. Many of these were in the urban metropolitan counties where Passenger Transport Executives have a role in promoting local passenger rail use.

London

After studies instigated by the now-defunct Greater London Council, the Snow Hill tunnel, south of Farringdon station, was reopened for passenger use in 1988, providing a link between the Midland Main Line, from St Pancras station, and the former Southern Railway, via London Bridge station. This line, named Thameslink, now provides a north-south cross London rail link and it has been highly successful, providing a spine of service from Bedford to Brighton. Although its closure was not a Beeching cut, its success demonstrates the possibilities for rail expansion, in contradiction of Beeching's approach. Transport for London is restoring most of the section of line which once connected Broad Street and Dalston Junction, as part of its East London Railway project on the Overground network.

South East

Part of the Varsity Line (closed in 1967 but not mentioned by Beeching), the Oxford to Bicester Line was reopened in 1987 by the Network SouthEast sector of British Rail. Full re-opening of the Western section of the Varsity line looks likely to happen by 2028. The Chiltern Main Line was redoubled in 1998 between Princes Risborough and Aynho Junction. Chandler's Ford in Hampshire opened its new railway station in 2003, on the Romsey to Eastleigh link which had closed to passengers in 1969. Part of the London to Aylesbury Line was extended north along the former Great Central Main Line to a brand new station called Aylesbury Vale Parkway and opened in December 2008.

East Midlands

A notable reopening is the Robin Hood Line in Nottinghamshire, between Nottingham and Worksop via Mansfield, which reopened in the early 1990s. Previously Mansfield had been the largest town in Britain without a rail link. More immediate reopenings occurred on the Lincoln to Peterborough line. The section between Peterborough and Spalding closed to passengers on 5 October 1970 and re-opened on 7 June 1971. North of Spalding, Ruskington Station re-opened on 5 May 1975. Metheringham Station followed on 6 October 1975.

West Midlands

In the West Midlands a new Birmingham Snow Hill station was opened in 1987 to replace the earlier Snow Hill station. The tunnel underneath Birmingham city centre that served the station was also reopened, along with the line towards Kidderminster and Worcester. This introduced a new service between Birmingham and London, terminating at Marylebone. The former line from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton has been reopened as the Midland Metro tram system. The line from Coventry to Nuneaton was reopened to passengers in 1988. Despite the successful and potential re-opening of many rail routes as light-rail and metro lines, the concept is still under-threat due to the varying popularity of these schemes with successive governments. The WalsallHednesford line was reopened to passenger traffic in 1989 and extended to Rugeley in 1997. However, regular passenger services were terminated between Walsall and Wolverhampton in 2008 on cost and efficiency .

South Wales

Beeching saw South Wales as a declining industrial region. As a result, it lost the majority of its network. Since 1983 it has experienced a major rail revival, with 32 new stations such as Llanharan, and four lines reopened within 20 miles (32 km) of each other: AbercynonAberdare, BarryBridgend via Llantwit Major, Bridgend–Maesteg and the Ebbw Valley Line via Newbridge.

Scotland

In Scotland, the Edinburgh-Bathgate line, reopening in 1986, was the first success of a new policy introduced by the Thatcher government of experimental reopenings that would become permanent only if well-used. It was and did. Plans are now in hand to reopen the 15 mile section between Bathgate and Drumgelloch, which will restore the complete through route from Glasgow to Edinburgh via Bathgate. More recently, a four-mile (6.4 km) section of the Argyle Line was reopened in December 2005, serving Chatelherault, Merryton and Larkhall for the first time since 1968.

After several years of 'false' starts dating to the 1980s, the railway from Stirling to Alloa reopened on 19 May 2008, providing a passenger (and freight on to Kincardine) route once again after a 40 year gap. A 35-mile (56 km) stretch of the former Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Galashiels via Dalkeith is expected to be reopened in 2014 now that funding has been approved. The closure of the line in 1969 left the Scottish Borders area without any rail links. In 2007 there has been a campaign to open the East Fife Coast Line from Kirkcaldy to Leven and maybe even on to St Andrews.

Laurencekirk station on the mainline between Arbroath and Aberdeen was shut in 1967 but 42 years later in May 2009 it was reopened. This was the 77th new or reopened station in Scotland since 1970 - others include Gretna Green, Dyce and New Cumnock - all closed in the mid 1960s but reinstated.

Heritage railways

Part of the Midland line from Mangotsfield to Green Park has been re-opened as the Avon Valley Railway

Several lines have also reopened as heritage railways.

2009 report

In June 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies called for a number of lines to be reopened. A total of 14 new lines, with about 40 stations are involved.[15]

The lines involved, either wholly or in part, include:-

In popular culture

The BBC TV comedy series, Oh, Doctor Beeching!, which ran from 1995–1997, was set in a small fictional branch line railway station threatened with closure under the Beeching Axe.

British rock band I Like Trains wrote a song called The Beeching Report, criticising Beeching's reforms.

Flanders and Swann, writers and performers of satirical songs, wrote a lament for lines closed by the Beeching Axe entitled "Slow Train."

In the satirical magazine Private Eye, the column on railway issues, "Signal Failures", is written under the pseudonym "Dr. B. Ching" as a reference to the report.

See also

References

  1. ^ a term sometimes referred to as "Rationalisation"
  2. ^ The Railways Archive :: Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Railways
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h White, H.P. (1986) ''Forgotten Railways, ISBN 0-946537-13-5
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Henshaw, David (1994) The Great Railway Conspiracy, ISBN 0-948135-48-4
  5. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Measuring Worth: UK CPI.
  6. ^ Wolmar, Christian (2005) On the wrong Line, ISBN 1-85410-998-7
  7. ^ a b The Great Vanishing Railway - timmonet.co.uk
  8. ^ "British Railways Board history". The National Archives. http://www.ndad.nationalarchives.gov.uk/AH/37/detail.html. Retrieved 25 November 2006.  
  9. ^ UK public transport asset stripped to make way for death, pollution, stress and the profit that comes from a fixed market. Tearing up the Tracks
  10. ^ Other Marples Trading Companies
  11. ^ The Railways Archive :: The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 1: Report
  12. ^ Daniels, G. & Dench, L.A. (1975). Passengers No More. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0438-2
  13. ^ The Railways Archive :: The Development Of The Major Railway Trunk Routes 16 February 1965
  14. ^ The Railways Archive :: Railway Finances - Report of a Committee chaired by Sir David Serpell KCB CMG OBE
  15. ^ a b "Operators call for new rail lines". BBC News Online. 15 June 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8099912.stm. Retrieved 15 June 2009.  

Further reading

External links



The 'Beeching Axe' is an informal name for the British Government's attempt in the 1960s to reduce the cost[1] of running British Railways, the nationalised railway system in the United Kingdom. The name is that of the main author of The Reshaping of British Railways, Dr Richard Beeching. Although this report also proposed new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is remembered for recommending wholesale closure of what it considered little-used and unprofitable railway lines, the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of local stations on other lines which remained open.

The report was a reaction to significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to attract passengers and goods from the railways; losses which continued to bedevil British Railways despite the introduction of the railway Modernisation Plan of 1955.[2] Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future.

Successive governments were more keen on the cost-saving elements of the report rather than those requiring investment. More than 4,000 miles of railway and 3,000 stations closed in the decade following the report, a reduction of 25 per cent of route miles and 50 per cent of stations. To this day Beeching's name is unfavourably synonymous with mass closure of railways and loss of many local services. This is particularly so in parts of the country which suffered most from cuts.

Contents

Background

Pre-Beeching closures

Although Dr Beeching is commonly associated with railway closures, a significant number of lines had actually closed before the 1960s, one of the earliest known being the closure of a section of the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway in 1851.

After growing rapidly in the 19th century, the British railway system reached its height in the years immediately before the First World War. In 1913 there were 23,440 route miles of railway.[3]

After the war, the railways began to face competition from other modes of transport such as buses, cars, road haulage and air travel. Due to this, a modest number of railway lines were closed during the 1920 and 1930s. Most of these early closures were of the most marginal country branch lines such as the Charnwood Forest Railway, closed to passengers in 1931, and of short suburban lines which had fallen victim to competition from buses and trams which offered a more frequent service. An example of this was the Harborne Line in Birmingham, which closed to passengers in 1934.

Also, a number of lines had been built by rival companies between the same places to compete with each other. With the grouping of railway companies in 1923, many of these duplicating lines became redundant and were closed. In total 1,264 miles of railway were closed to passengers between 1923 and 1939.[3]

With the onset of World War II, the railways gained a reprieve as they became essential to the war effort and were heavily used. By the time the railways were nationalised in 1948, they were in a substantially worn down condition, as little maintenance or investment was carried out during the war.

Early closures under British Railways

By the early 1950s, railway closures began again. The British Transport Commission (BTC) created the 'Branch Lines Committee' in 1949, with a remit to close the least used branch lines. Many of the most minor and little used lines were closed during this period. However some secondary cross country lines were closed as well such as the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in East Anglia, which was closed in 1959. In total 3,318 miles of railway were closed between 1948 and 1962.[3]

This period saw the beginnings of a closures protest movement led by the Railway Development Association, whose most famous member was the poet John Betjeman.[4]

1955 modernisation

By the early 1950s, economic recovery and the end of fuel rationing meant the pre-war trends of increasing competition for the railways reasserted themselves as more people could afford cars and road haulage could compete for freight. The railways struggled to adapt. Britain's railways had fallen behind other countries. In an attempt to catch up, the British Transport Commission (BTC) unveiled the Modernisation Plan in 1955, which proposed to spend more than £1,240 million on modernising the railways (£24.2 billion as of 2011)[5], replacing steam with diesel and electric locomotives. The plan promised to win back traffic and restore the railways to profit by 1962.[6] Much of the Modernisation Plan was approved.

Traffic on the railways remained fairly steady during the 1950s,[7] however the economics of the railway network steadily deteriorated. This was largely due to costs such as labour rising faster than income.[4][7] Fares and freight charges were repeatedly frozen by the government in an attempt to control inflation and please the electorate.[4]

The result was that by 1955 income no longer covered operating costs, and the situation steadily worsened. Much of the money spent on the Modernisation Plan had been borrowed, and much was wasted. By the early 1960s the railways were in financial crisis. Operating losses increased to £68m in 1960, £87m in 1961, and £104m in 1962 (£1.65 billion as of 2011).[8][5] The BTC could no longer pay interest on borrowed money, which worsened the financial problem. The government lost patience and looked for radical solutions.

from 1963 showing the closure of a branch line and the suggested replacement bus service. This particular line closed at the start of 1963. The first closure after the publication of the Beeching report occurred in the autumn, to be followed by many more until the end of the decade.]]

In tune with the mood of the early 1960s, the transport minister in Harold Macmillan's Conservative government was Ernest Marples, director of a road-construction company (his two-thirds shareholding was divested to his wife while he was a minister to avoid potential conflict of interests).[9][10] Marples believed the future of transport lay with roads, that railways were a relic of the Victorian past.

An advisory group known as the Stedeford Committee after its chairman, Sir Ivan Stedeford, was set up to report on the state of British transport and provide recommendations. Also on the committee was Richard Beeching, at the time technical director of ICI. He was later, in 1961, appointed chairman of the new British Railways Board. Stedeford and Beeching clashed on matters related to the latter's proposals to prune the rail infrastructure. In spite of questions in Parliament, Sir Ivan's report was published only much later, and the proposals for the future of the railways that came to be known as the Beeching Plan were adopted by the government, resulting in the closure of a third of the rail network and the scrapping of a third of a million freight wagons.

Beeching believed railways should be a business and not a public service, and that if parts of the railway system did not pay their way — like some rural branch lines — they should close. His reasoning was that once unprofitable lines were closed, the remaining system would be restored to profitability.

Beeching I

's response pamphlet.]] When Beeching was chairman of British Railways he initiated a study of traffic flows on all the railway lines in the country.

This study took place during the week ending 23 April 1962, two weeks after Easter, and concluded that 30 per cent of miles carried just 1 per cent of passengers and freight, and half of all stations contributed just 2 per cent of income.[4]

The report The Reshaping of British Railways[11] (or Beeching I report) of 27 March 1963 proposed that of Britain's 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of railway, 6,000 miles (9,700 km) of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should close. Further, many other rail lines should be kept open for freight only, and many lesser-used stations should close on lines that were to be kept open. The report was accepted by the Government.

At the time, the controversial report was called the Beeching Bombshell or the Beeching Axe by the press. It sparked an outcry from communities that would lose their rail services, many of which (especially in the case of rural communities) had no other public transport.

The government argued that many services could be provided more cheaply by buses, and promised that abandoned rail services would have their places taken by bus services.

A significant part of the report proposed that British Rail electrify some major main lines and adopt containerised freight traffic instead of outdated and uneconomic wagon-load traffic. Some of those plans were eventually adopted, however, such as the creation of the Freightliner concept and further electrification of the West Coast Main Line from Crewe to Glasgow in 1974. Additionally the staff terms and conditions were improved over time.

Rail closures by year

on the former Great Central Railway, one of many stations and lines that were closed under the Beeching Axe]]

At its peak in 1950, British Railway's system was around 21,000 miles (34,000 km) and 6,000 stations. By 1975, the system had shrunk to 12,000 miles (19,000 km) of track and 2,000 stations; it has remained roughly this size thereafter.

Closures of unremunerative lines had been ongoing throughout the 20th century. Numbers increased in the 1950s, as the Branchline Committee of BR also looked for uncontentious duplicated lines as candidates for closure. Approximately 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of line had already been closed between nationalisation and the publication of Beeching's report.[12] After publication, however, the closure process was accelerated markedly.

Year Total length closed
1950 150 miles (240 km)
1951 275 miles (443 km)
1952 300 miles (480 km)
1953 275 miles (443 km)
1954 to 1957 500 miles (800 km)
1958 150 miles (240 km)
1959 350 miles (560 km)
1960 175 miles (282 km)
1961 150 miles (240 km)
1962 780 miles (1,260 km)
Beeching report published
1963 324 miles (521 km)
1964 1,058 miles (1,703 km)
1965 600 miles (970 km)
1966 750 miles (1,210 km)
1967 300 miles (480 km)
1968 400 miles (640 km)
1969 250 miles (400 km)
1970 275 miles (443 km)
1971 23 miles (37 km)
1972 50 miles (80 km)
1973 35 miles (56 km)
1974 0 miles (0 km)

Recommendations not implemented

Not all the recommended closures were implemented; a number of lines were kept open for political reasons. For example, lines through the Scottish Highlands such as the Far North Line and the West Highland Line, although listed for closure, were kept open, in part because of pressure from the powerful Highland lobby.[3] The Central Wales Line was said to have been kept open because it passed through so many marginal constituencies that no one dared to close it.[3][4]

In addition, lines such as the Tamar Valley Line in Cornwall were kept open because the local roads were poor.

Some lines not recommended for closure were eventually closed, such as the Woodhead Line between Manchester and Sheffield in 1981, after the freight traffic, on which it had relied, declined.

Beeching II

In February 1965, the British Railways Board issued a second, less well-known, report The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes,[13] informally known as Beeching II.

This report identified lines which were believed to justify large-scale investment to meet the likely demand over the next 20 years. Some railway supporters assumed that any other line would be closed sooner or later, although the report itself was careful to explain that no decision had been taken about them. ("The purpose of this study is to select routes for future intensive use, not to select lines for closure...")

As the map shows, if all the non-selected lines had eventually closed the railway network would have been reduced significantly. The length of the "primary routes" alone would have fallen from some 12,000 km to just under 5000 km. In Scotland only the central belt routes and the lines via Fife and Perth to Aberdeen might have survived, and apart from the Great Western Main Line as far as Swansea, there could have been no British Railways lines left in Wales at all.

As far as England was concerned, parts of Yorkshire and most of East Anglia and south west England would have been without railway services as well. Oxford would have kept its trains, but Cambridge would not. Many towns in south east England could also have lost their railways in theory, including places like Hastings and Eastbourne, although as the report also conceded that commuter routes would need "special consideration", major closures in the south east were probably the most unlikely of all.

Beeching II: Major lines not selected for development

In the event, this report does not seem to have made any lasting impression on the recently-elected Labour government, and Beeching resigned from BR two months after it was published.

Major railway closures may have been considered afresh since Beeching's time, but apart from the brief ripple caused by the impotent Serpell Report in 1982, they have not been formally proposed again.

Changing attitudes and policies

It was in 1964 that a Labour government was elected under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. During the election campaign, Labour promised to halt the rail closures if elected. Once elected, however, they quickly backtracked on this promise, and the closures continued, at a faster rate than under the previous administration and until the end of the decade.

In 1965, Barbara Castle was appointed transport minister and she decided that at least 11,000 route miles (17,700 km) would be needed for the foreseeable future and that the railway system should be stabilised at around this size.

Towards the end of the 1960s it became increasingly clear that rail closures were not producing the promised savings or bringing the rail system out of deficit and were unlikely ever to do so.[3] Mrs. Castle also stipulated that some rail services that could not pay their way but had a valuable social role should be subsidised. However, by the time the legislation allowing this was introduced into the 1968 Transport Act, (Section 39 of this Act made provision for a subsidy to be paid by the Treasury for a three-year period) many of the services and railway lines that would have qualified and benefited from these subsidies had already been closed or removed, thus lessening the impact of the legislation. Nevertheless, a number of branch lines were saved by this legislation.

Aftermath

which was closed in 1965.]]


The closures failed in their main purpose of trying to restore the railways to profitability, with the promised savings failing to materialise. By closing almost a third of the rail network, Beeching managed to achieve a saving of just £30 million, whilst overall losses were running in excess of £100 million.[4] The shortfall arose mainly because the branch lines acted as feeders to the main lines and that feeder traffic was lost when the branches closed. This in turn meant less traffic and less income for the increasingly vulnerable main lines.

The assumption at the time[citation needed] was that car owners would drive to the nearest railhead (which was usually the junction where the closed branch line would otherwise have taken them) and continue their journey onwards by train. In practice having left home in their cars people used them for the whole journey. The same problem occurred with the movement of goods and freight: without branch lines, the railways' ability to transport goods 'door to door' was dramatically reduced. Like the passenger model, it was assumed that lorries would pick up goods, transport them to the nearest railhead, where they would be taken across the country by train, unloaded onto another lorry and taken to their destination. However, the development of the motorway network, the advent of containerisation, improvements in road haulage vehicles, and the economic costs of having two break-of-bulk points all combined to make long-distance road transport a more viable alternative.

Another reason for Beeching plan's not achieving any great savings was that many of the closed lines ran at only a small deficit. Some lines such as the Sunderland to West Hartlepool line cost only £291 per mile to operate.[3] Closures of such small-scale loss making lines made little difference to the overall deficit. Perhaps ironically the busiest commuter routes had always lost the greatest amount of money, but even Beeching realised it would be impractical to close them.[3][4]

The Beeching reports recommended against attempts to make loss-making lines profitable. Changes to light railway services (already in use on some branch lines at the time of the report) were attacked by Beeching, who wrote: "The third suggestion, that rail buses should be substituted for trains, ignores the high cost of providing the route itself, and also ignores the fact that rail buses are more expensive vehicles than road buses." There is little in the Beeching report recommending general economies (in administration costs, working practices and so on). For example, a number of the stations that were closed were fully staffed eighteen hours a day, on lines controlled by multiple Victorian era signalboxes (again fully staffed, often throughout the day). Reductions in operating costs could have been made by reducing staff and removing redundant services on these lines whilst still enabling these stations to stay open. Such concepts have since been successfully utilised by British Rail and its successors on lesser-used lines that survived the axe (such as the East Suffolk Line from Ipswich to Lowestoft which survives as a "basic railway").[4] However such recommendations were absent from the Beeching reports.[citation needed]

In retrospect, many of the specific Beeching closures can be seen as very short-sighted. Many of the closed routes would now be heavily used, possibly even important trunk routes. The Settle-Carlisle Railway was threatened with closure, reprieved and now handles more traffic (both passenger and freight) than at any time in its history. The Great Central Main Line, the last trunk route built in Britain until the opening of High Speed 1 in 2007, was intended to provide a link to the north of England with a proposed Channel Tunnel. It was built to the wider Continental loading gauge and constructed to the same standards as a modern high speed line, with no level crossings and curves and gradients kept to an absolute minimum. This line closed in stages between 1966 and 1969 after just 60 years of service, 28 years before the eventual opening of the Channel Tunnel rail link. Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1, there has been discussion about 'High Speed 2' linking the tunnel to the North of England and Scotland. While this route would have been served by a simple extension of the closed line's original function, it would now be very difficult and expensive to construct as much of the former GCML route has been levelled or built on (see below).

Failures of bus-substitution

The "bustitution" policy which replaced rail services with buses also failed. In many cases the replacement bus services were far slower and less convenient than the train services they were meant to replace, resulting in them being extremely unpopular with the public.[4] Replacement bus services were often simply run between the (now disused) station sites, robbing the replacement service of any potential advantage over the closed rail service a bus service might have had. Most replacement bus services only lasted a few years before they were removed due to a lack of patronage[citation needed], leaving large parts of the country with no public transport service.

Final closures under Beeching

The closures were brought to a halt in the early 1970s when it became apparent that they were not useful. The small amount of money saved by closing railways was outweighed by the congestion and pollution caused by increasing reliance on cars which followed, and also by the general public unrest caused by the cuts. The 1973 oil crisis brought a final end of large scale railway closures, by highlighting the need for an energy efficient - and widespread – public transport network.

One of the last major railway closures (and possibly one of the most controversial) resulting from the Beeching Axe was of the 98-mile long (158 km) Waverley Route main line between Carlisle, Hawick and Edinburgh, in 1969. Plans have since been made in 2006 with the approval of the Scottish Parliament to re-open a significant section of this line. With a few exceptions, after the early 1970s proposals to close other lines were met with vociferous public opposition and were quietly shelved. This opposition likely stemmed from the public's experience of the many line closures during the main years of the cuts in the mid and late 1960s. Today, many of Britain's railways still run at a deficit and require subsidies.

Disposals of land and structures

Many of the areas along lines closed by the Beeching Axe have expanded and grown over the last 40 years. Where some lines were not profitable in 1963 (on a backdrop of falling passenger numbers and a rise in car use on uncongested roads) it seems likely that they could be profitable now.[citation needed] Many could certainly have a desirable impact on reducing road congestion and pollution, as well as relieving congestion on the railway lines that have remained open. However, in many instances it would be prohibitively expensive for these axed routes to be reopened.

Beeching's reports made no stipulation for the handling of land after line closures, however throughout the 20th century British Rail operated a policy of disposing land which was surplus to requirement as a source of income. Many bridges, cuttings and embankments have been removed from former lines and the land sold off for development. Closed station buildings on remaining lines have often been either demolished or sold. Increasing pressure on land use in the UK throughout the 20th century meant that protection of closed trackbeds as in larger countries (such as the US Rail Bank scheme which holds former railway land for possible future use) was not practical. Many redundant structures from closed lines remain, such as bridges over other lines and drainage culverts. These often require ongoing maintenance as part of the rail infrastructure while providing no benefit. In these cases the costs have not been saved by closing lines, demonstrating an aspect of the reports' short-sighted approach.

Track rationalisation

One effect of the Beeching closures was the reduction of some formerly double track sections of line to single tracks. An example being the section of line from Bicester to Princes Risborough. After the closure of the GCR and subsequent singling works, all of the stations on the remaining line were reduced to a single platform until the line was re-doubled by Chiltern Railways in the early part of the 21st century. Again this demonstrates inconsistencies in the rail rationalisation undertaken.

Another example is the Kyle of Lochalsh Line from Inverness to Dingwall. Reduced capacity on this line is now the major barrier to increasing the number of trains on the Far North Line from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. The West of England Main Line, formerly an express route from London to the South-West, was largely reduced to a single track west of Salisbury and effectively reduced to a secondary cross-country line, since at national level it was viewed as duplicating the Great Western Main Line. Some road schemes have been prioritised over existing rail lines requiring lines to be reduced to single tracks. The Shrewsbury to Chester Line from Chester to Wrexham General line has a dual carriageway bridge on the A483 over the railway where space was only left for a single track. This constraint on the network now hampers frequency and timekeeping on the north-south Wales railway service.

Capacity problems exist on some lines, many of which now carry much greater volumes of passengers than during the time of the report[citation needed]. Traffic on the single track Golden Valley Line between Kemble and Swindon and the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester has increased significantly and a dual track line is now being reinstated here. On the Cotswold line, there are now twice as many trains trying to run on the single track than in the 1960s after singling, this route is also now being reinstated as a dual track. Punctuality and reliability can be harder to achieve on single lines. Delays are compounded when trains have to wait for a passing train to clear a single line section. Journey times are extended as waiting time and catch up time is added to the timetable. A journey from London to Worcester takes much longer today than before rationalisation[citation needed], in spite of faster rolling stock.

Serpell Report

In the early 1980s, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, the possibility of more Beeching-style cuts was raised again, briefly. In 1983 Sir David Serpell, a civil servant who had worked with Dr Beeching, compiled what became known as the Serpell Report[14] which set out a number of options. It is important to distinguish Beeching from Serpell: Beeching recommended closures and Serpell did not. However Serpell did allege that a profitable railway (if that was the aim) could only be achieved by closing much of what remained. The infamous "Option A" in this report was illustrated by a map of a truly vestigial system with, for example, no railways west of Bristol and none in Scotland apart from the central belt. This was much more than Beeching had ever dared to suggest. Serpell was shown to have some serious weaknesses, such as the closure of the Midland Main Line (a busy route for coal transport to power stations), and even the East Coast Main Line between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh, part of the key London/Edinburgh link. The report met with fierce resistance from many quarters and, having lost credibility, it was quickly abandoned.

Reopenings

Since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, road traffic levels have grown significantly and in some areas this has become close to gridlock. Furthermore, in recent years there have been record levels of passengers on the railways. A modest number of the railway closures have therefore been reversed.

In addition a small but significant number of closed stations have reopened, and passenger services been restored on lines where they had been removed. Many of these were in the urban metropolitan counties where Passenger Transport Executives have a role in promoting local passenger rail use.

London

After studies instigated by the now-defunct Greater London Council, the Snow Hill tunnel, south of Farringdon station, was reopened for passenger use in 1988, providing a link between the Midland Main Line, from St Pancras station, and the former Southern Railway, via London Bridge station. This line, named Thameslink, now provides a north-south cross London rail link and it has been highly successful, providing a spine of service from Bedford to Brighton. Although its closure was not as a result of Beeching, its success demonstrates the possibilities for rail expansion, in contradiction of Beeching's approach. Since May 2010, Transport for London has restored most of the section of line which once connected Broad Street and Dalston Junction, as part of its East London Line project on the Overground network.

South East

Part of the Varsity Line (closed in 1967 but not mentioned by Beeching), the Oxford to Bicester Line was reopened in 1987 by the Network SouthEast sector of British Rail. Full re-opening of the Western section of the Varsity line looks likely to happen by 2028. The Chiltern Main Line was redoubled in two stages between 1998 and 2002 between Princes Risborough and Aynho Junction. Chandler's Ford in Hampshire opened its new railway station in 2003, on the Romsey to Eastleigh link which had closed to passengers in 1969. Part of the London to Aylesbury Line was extended north along the former Great Central Main Line to a brand new station called Aylesbury Vale Parkway which opened in December 2008.

East Midlands

A notable reopening is the Robin Hood Line in Nottinghamshire, between Nottingham and Worksop via Mansfield, which reopened in the early 1990s. Previously Mansfield had been the largest town in Britain without a rail link. More immediate reopenings occurred on the Lincoln to Peterborough line. The section between Peterborough and Spalding closed to passengers on 5 October 1970 and re-opened on 7 June 1971. North of Spalding, Ruskington Station re-opened on 5 May 1975. Metheringham Station followed on 6 October 1975.

West Midlands

In the West Midlands a new Birmingham Snow Hill station was opened in 1987 to replace the earlier Snow Hill station. The tunnel underneath Birmingham city centre that served the station was also reopened, along with the line towards Kidderminster and Worcester. This introduced a new service between Birmingham and London, terminating at Marylebone. The former line from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton has been reopened as the Midland Metro tram system. The line from Coventry to Nuneaton was reopened to passengers in 1988. Despite the successful and potential re-opening of many rail routes as light-rail and metro lines, the concept is still under-threat due to the varying popularity of these schemes with successive governments. The Walsall–Hednesford line was reopened to passenger traffic in 1989 and extended to Rugeley in 1997. However, regular passenger services were terminated between Walsall and Wolverhampton in 2008 on cost and efficiency grounds.

South Wales

Beeching saw South Wales as a declining industrial region. As a result, it lost the majority of its network. Since 1983 it has experienced a major rail revival, with 32 new stations such as Llanharan, and four lines reopened within 20 miles (32 km) of each other: Abercynon–Aberdare, Barry–Bridgend via Llantwit Major, Bridgend–Maesteg and the Ebbw Valley Railway via Newbridge.

Scotland

In Scotland, the Edinburgh-Bathgate line, reopened in 1986, was the first success of a new policy introduced by British Rail of experimental reopenings that would become permanent only if well-used. It was and did. Construction is underway to reopen the 15-mile section between Bathgate and Drumgelloch, which will restore the complete through route from Glasgow to Edinburgh via Bathgate. A four-mile (6.4 km) section of the Argyle Line was reopened in December 2005, serving Chatelherault, Merryton and Larkhall for the first time since 1968.

After several years of 'false' starts dating to the 1980s, the railway from Stirling to Alloa reopened on 19 May 2008, providing a passenger (and freight on to Kincardine) route once again after a 40 year gap. A 35-mile (56 km) stretch of the former Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Galashiels via Dalkeith is expected to be reopened in 2014 now that funding has been approved. The closure of the line in 1969 left the Scottish Borders area without any rail links. In 2007, a campaign was begun to open the East Fife Coast Line from Kirkcaldy to Leven and maybe even on to St Andrews.

Laurencekirk station on the mainline between Arbroath and Aberdeen was shut in 1967 but 42 years later in May 2009 it was reopened. This was the 77th new or reopened station in Scotland since 1970 - others include Gretna Green, Dyce and New Cumnock - all closed in the mid 1960s but reinstated.

Heritage railways

line from Mangotsfield to Green Park has been re-opened as the Avon Valley Railway]]

Several lines have also reopened as heritage railways.

2009 report

In June 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies called for a number of lines to be reopened. A total of 14 new lines, with about 40 stations are involved.[15]

The lines involved, either wholly or in part, include:-

In popular culture

The BBC TV comedy series, Oh, Doctor Beeching!, which ran from 1995–1997, was set in a small fictional branch line railway station threatened with closure under the Beeching Axe.

British rock band I Like Trains wrote a song called The Beeching Report, criticising Beeching's reforms.

Flanders and Swann, writers and performers of satirical songs, wrote a lament for lines closed by the Beeching Axe entitled "Slow Train".

In the satirical magazine Private Eye, the column on railway issues, "Signal Failures", is written under the pseudonym "Dr. B. Ching" as a reference to the report.

A BBC Four programme, 'Ian Hislop Goes Off the Rails' was written about the Beeching Report and its impact on the British railway network, and was first aired on 2 October 2008. It achieved the second highest audience to date for any BBC Four programme (and the highest for a documentary) with 1.3 million viewers. It made several claims about the Beeching Report, its conception, execution and aftermath; for instance, suggesting that Ernest Marples, then Minister for Transport, was a controversial figure who would not have survived in Government today, under Conflict of Interest rules alone.[citation needed] Eyewitnesses[who?] to the Beeching Report and the events as they unfolded described a bold and determined attempt to streamline and cut costs, marred by a lack of foresight and erratic judgements, hurriedly gathered and poorly collated research and perhaps reckless decision making.[citation needed] The programme claimed that a frantic public relations exercise was carried out to encourage the public to accept the changes, and that British Rail even hired the actor and comedian Tony Hancock to present the face of the Beeching cuts; even that he was alleged to have been paid the equivalent of half of Beeching's wage. The programme left the viewer with the feeling that the whole exercise, while not being a total failure, had not achieved its goals.[citation needed]

See also

References

  1. ^ a term sometimes referred to as "Rationalisation"
  2. ^ Garry Keenor. "Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Railways". The Railways Archive. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=23. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h White, H.P. (1986) ''Forgotten Railways, ISBN 0-946537-13-5
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Henshaw, David (1994) The Great Railway Conspiracy, ISBN 0-948135-48-4
  5. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Measuring Worth: UK CPI.
  6. ^ Wolmar, Christian (2005) On the wrong Line, ISBN 1-85410-998-7
  7. ^ a b The Great Vanishing Railway - timmonet.co.uk
  8. ^ "British Railways Board history". The National Archives. http://www.ndad.nationalarchives.gov.uk/AH/37/detail.html. Retrieved 25 November 2006. 
  9. ^ "UK public transport asset stripped to make way for death, pollution, stress and the profit that comes from a fixed market. Tearing up the Tracks". Bilderberg.org. http://www.bilderberg.org/railways.htm. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  10. ^ Other Marples Trading Companies[dead link]
  11. ^ Garry Keenor. "The Reshaping of British Railways - Part 1: Report". The Railways Archive. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=13. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  12. ^ Daniels, G. & Dench, L.A. (1975). Passengers No More. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0438-2
  13. ^ Garry Keenor. "The Development Of The Major Railway Trunk Routes 16 February 1965". The Railways Archive. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=14. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  14. ^ Garry Keenor. "Railway Finances - Report of a Committee chaired by Sir David Serpell KCB CMG OBE". The Railways Archive. http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docSummary.php?docID=29. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  15. ^ a b "Operators call for new rail lines". BBC News Online. 15 June 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8099912.stm. Retrieved 15 June 2009. 

Further reading

External links


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