Posts Tagged ‘dr beeching’

dr richard beeching, british railways board, reshaping of british railways, railway line closures

Dr Richard Beeching, former ICI director and first Chairman of the British Railways Board, holding his 1963 report The Reshaping of British Railways. Beeching had not been asked to look into the social and economic value of the railways, but to find the means to make the railways pay.

In March 1963, a report The Reshaping of British Railways written by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Rail, was published by the then British Railways Board. The report identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of railway line for closure, that is 55% of stations and 30% of route miles, with the objective of stemming the large losses being incurred during a period of increasing competition from road transport.

This was at a time when roads and cars were the future; rails and trains were the past. And it didn’t help that the Transport Minister in the Tory administration at the time, who had opened the first section of the M1 motorway in November 1959, and who appointed Beeching, was Ernest Marples. Marples was a businessman with rather too many fingers in an ever-meatier road construction pie, being previously managing director of the road construction firm Marples Ridgway. By the bye, even though his department was awarding road building contracts to his ‘old’ firm, he still held shares in the company until he was forced to sell them, but he sold them, in secret, to his wife. His political career came to a bizarre end in 1975 when pursued by the taxman, Marples did a flit to Monaco by the Night Ferry owing the Inland Revenue £10 million.

The cuts in the network were driven by a mistaken hypothesis: that cutting the network sufficiently would yield a ‘profitable railway’. But British Railways had little real information as to where its costs were actually being incurred; a large share of which were interest charges and a sizeable bureaucracy. Further, the branch lines that were closed had been feeder routes for the remaining main lines, and traffic on these lines fell disastrously. In the four years following the Beeching report, the route mileage of the railways fell from 14,000, to 11,000 in 1967 (though since 1950 about 3,100 miles had already been closed), but the cuts failed to achieve their objective, and BR’s losses continued to increase.

british railway network, dr richard beeching, railway line closures

This is what the BR network would have looked like by the 1980s, had a second phase of Beeching’s closures gone ahead. The faint lines are major through routes that would have closed. Creative Commons Licence/Cronholm144

Fresh thinking was urgently needed: how do you put the UK’s road and rail infrastructure on an equal financial footing and get long distance heavy freight traffic off the roads? However there was an anti-railway and pro-road culture amongst senior civil servants in the Department of Transport, which was headed by David Serpell, the Permanent Secretary. Reducing the costs of the railways by further cuts to the railway network were seen as the only answer. It was Serpell who much later in 1983 was to write an infamous report on railway finances for Margaret Thatcher, which included an infamous Option A, which would have cut the railway network to a mere 1,630 miles.

In 1968, Dr Stewart Joy, an Australian economist, was recruited to advise Barbara Castle, the Transport Minister in the Labour administration, on implementing a pro-rail policy of subsidising unprofitable railway lines. The Cambrian Coast Line which ran from Machynlleth in mid-Wales to Pwllheli in the north, and which had survived the Beeching cuts, had been selected as the first line to be looked at in a cost-benefit study of these unprofitable lines.

This is where Reginald Dawson, who in 1960 had been appointed a principal civil servant in the Ministry of Transport at the age of 38, comes into the story.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

calvert, varsity line, great central railway, east-west rail, hs2, high speed line

This little used railway line near Calvert in Buckinghamshire, is a vestige of the Varsity Line that used to run between Oxford and Cambridge. The Great Central Railway between London, Nottingham and Sheffield also used to cross over this line just before the road bridge, but that line was also closed and dismantled. But by 2017, the old Varsity track will be replaced by the East-West rail line between Oxford and Bedford, and by 2026, at this spot, HS2 will be diving under the new line and along the route of the Great Central Railway.

This is a very ordinary picture of a railway line near the village of Calvert in Buckinghamshire looking west towards Bicester in Oxfordshire. The line is used only by freight trains, currently one a day, carrying containerised household waste from Bath and Bristol, known as the ‘Avon Binliner’, to the nearby landfill site at Calvert, one of the largest in the country. This single track is all that remains of the once double tracked Oxford to Bletchley railway that was constructed by the Buckinghamshire Railway Company and which opened on 1 October 1850. The line later formed part of a cross-country line from Oxford via Bletchley and Bedford, to Cambridge, which came to be known as the Varsity Line. Although not listed in the original Beeching report, the line was closed to passengers at the end of 1967 with much of the line mothballed, though not dismantled.

The reinstatement of the line was first promoted by the East West Rail Consortium of local authorities and businesses in 1995, but this was rejected by the Strategic Rail Authority in 2001. Efforts to have the line re-opened continued for the next ten years, with innumerable reports prepared and cost-benefit surveys carried out.

east west rail link, varsity line, claydon

The East-West Rail Consortium organised a site visit in October 2012 to a mothballed section of the former Varsity Line near Claydon, Buckinghamshire. This followed the government’s announcement that East-West rail link scheme would go ahead.

In November 2011 however, the Government announced that the western section from Oxford to Bedford was to be constructed as part of a strategic rail link, East-West Rail (EWR). This would run between the electrified Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines, including the mothballed section between Claydon, just west of Calvert, and Newton Longville, near Bletchley. The new line, which would be twin tracked, and capable of speeds of 90 to 100 mph, will cost £400, with electrification, and completion is expected in 2017. In five years time then, the view of the line as above will be gone. But this is not the only change that is going to happen at this spot.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

A Great Eastern Railway carriage served as the waiting room at Ashdon Halt

A Great Eastern Railway carriage served as the waiting room at Ashdon Halt

A single track branch line of the Great Eastern Railway from Audley End to Bartlow via Saffron Walden, a distance of seven and a quarter miles, was opened in 1866. The line went through the village of Ashdon, five miles to the east of Saffron Walden. However, it wasn’t until 1911, following a local campaign that the residents of Ashdon were given a halt, with a platform constructed of raised earth and clinker with a front of old sleepers. In 1916, an old Great Eastern Railway carriage with a largely wooden body, was mounted on the platform as a waiting room.

Diesel railcar at Ashdon Halt

Diesel railcar at Ashdon Halt

From July 1958, the line was operated by railcars, which were carriages with built-in diesel engines. They were seen as a low-cost solution to keeping open lines with small numbers of passengers, but in 1963 the Beeching Report listed the line for closure. The line was closed to passengers the year after on 7 September 1964, and to freight three months later, and the track was lifted in 1968. Remarkably, the platform and ‘waiting room’ room are still largely intact.

Read Full Post »