It will not have escaped many people’s notice that 2013 is a significant year for the railways in London, marking the 150th anniversary of the first Underground line. This year – and indeed this month – are also highly significant though for a rather less joyous reason. For in March 1963 a small book of around 150 pages was published by the British Railways Board. Its official title was The Reshaping of British Railways. Inevitably, however, it became known by the name of the man who headed British Railways at the time. An industrial chemist who had previously headed ICI, he was “on loan” from that organisation with a remit to sort out the problem of the railways. That man was Dr Richard Beeching, and this was “The Beeching Report.”

For many, Dr Beeching will always be the bogeyman. For those wishing to be more objective though, there are, fortunately, various publications that look back more critically and more objectively at both the man and the report, which arguably changed the face of rural Britain. It is also easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to be critical at the damage done without taking into account how the world was at the time. It must not be forgotten that at the end of the day this was a government decision made in a democratic country, and for those keen to blame the Conservative Transport Minister Ernest Marples, a rather dubious character of questionable ethics, it must also be remembered that most closures (some of which went beyond those recommended by Beeching) actually happened when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister – and his role in all this is one of considerable debate.

Given the impact that the Beeching Report had on the railways of the UK, this anniversary seems a good opportunity to take a more detailed look at what it actually contained, and more specifically how it affected London.

The Two Beeching Reports

Although often forgotten, it needs to be borne in mind that there were two reports produced by Dr Beeching. The first, that which came as a bit of a bombshell and proposed a large number of station and route closures, is the one highlighted above. One can imagine it took the country a long time to get over the shock. It was probably just a big a shock then when the second report, rather euphemistically called The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes called for a drastic pruning of many main routes that people assumed were safe. In this article, we’ll focus on the first and more (in)famous of those reports.

Setting the Scene

After WW2, Britain’s railways found themselves in a terrible state. The run-down railways, and indeed road freight, were nationalised in 1948. This put them in the charge of the British Transport Commission, which was generally perceived to be too large an organisation and one that was lacking in focus. Indeed the BTC did not appear to have any clear objective – it was as if the objective had been nationalisation itself and no-one had thought much beyond that. There seemed to be an assumption that it would pay its way and, unlike the previous railway companies (and ICI), it was not concerned with paying its shareholders a profit. It would appear to be very difficult to deduce on what basis it would have concluded that a railway should remain open or not or on what basis new schemes should be introduced.

At the time of Beeching, economics was also not the refined art it is today. Cost Benefit Analysis was not a new concept, but it was not in common use in Britain (indeed the approval of the Victoria line was one of the first projects to benefit from CBA). It thus probably would not have occurred to Marples, or indeed many other people, that the roads generated no income and so effectively could only be justified on this basis – and if that was true for the roads, then why not the railways as well?

A Masterpiece of Clear Logical Thinking

Like many works that become notorious and condemned, it is probable that few critics have actually read the report. This is a mistake as although one can fault some of the assumptions it makes, the report is also a masterpiece of logic, clearly explained, and pulls no punches as to the state of railway finances and the hopeless disparity of some of its loss making services. Indeed the first page of the report rather nicely highlights the situation that Beeching had found himself facing – it apologizes for the time taken in presenting its findings, but blames the fact that the financial figures necessary to form any basis of a sensible decision were just not available.

One of the most quoted statistics from the Beeching report is that “one third of the route mileage carries only 1 per cent of the total passenger miles”. The report also goes on to say that “one half the total route mileage carries about 4 per cent of the total traffic miles”. Elsewhere, it points out that the least used 50% of stations did not even generate sufficient revenue to cover the running costs of the station itself, let alone contribute to other expenses.

Interestingly, despite this and a lot of discussion of alternatives in other places, it does not seem to suggest a drastic saving by leaving stations unstaffed. This is likely because the report seemed to demonstrate that if a service could be sufficiently catered for by a “rail bus,” then the contribution to track costs would be so small it would be bound to be uneconomic anyway.

The issue of suburban services

From a London perspective, one of the areas of great interest in the report is its discussion of railways in the suburbs. Under the title “suburban services” is the statement:

To a greater or lesser degree, the pattern of life in all these areas is dependant upon continued operation of the suburban rail services, and to the life of London they are essential. It is, therefore, unthinkable to most people that these services should be closed, but there that is no reason why they should be provided below cost.

It’s an intriguing statement, but unfortunately this does seem to be one place where the report is not as clear as it should be. The obvious interpretation is perhaps that Beeching expected railways to pay their way and that the passenger should be charged more. This would seem consistent with the brutally harsh analysis that precedes it, but it’s possible that the report anticipated the British Railways Board receiving full payment from whatever source to cover costs, with no cross-subsidy of services – something which it must have known would be totally unattainable due to the few services, if any, that made a profit.

London Services

It’s not just in the discussion of suburban services that London comes up. Indeed the report contains an entire section dedicated to the capital. This contains a logically presented explanation of why suburban services in London will inevitably be uneconomic. It describes the awfulness of the overcrowded peak hour services “where passengers suffer extreme discomfort” and the solution to this is proposed in its usual no-nonsense style:

This is a situation that must be of very real concern to the public, as well as the railways, and it cannot be in the best interests of either to restrict fares to the low levels at which they are presently controlled.

If any sentence could highlight the real problem of the time then it is this. Full marks to Richard Beeching for making it quite clear as to the basis for his proposed action in suburban areas. What the report fails to do, however, is to make the case for fares to be subsidised, or indeed for transport to be improved, even if it is known it would make a loss – certainly the case with the Victoria Line being constructed at the time. It would arguably not be until the era of the the politically-savvy chairman Peter Parker that the importance of this approach would be appreciated, and the cause of investing in the railway for the benefit of the whole metropolis would be championed.

The section on London clearly highlights that thinking on a commercial basis was still very much the order of the day, rather than it being the duty of the British Railways Board to consider what was good for the country, or the capital:

There is also another feature which is important from a commercial point of view. The rail system is capable of drawing passengers travelling daily to London from distances up to a hundred miles, and has ample spare capacity for doing so beyond a radius of about 20 miles. It is, therefore, in the railways’ interest to foster the growth of this longer distance traffic to achieve higher utilisation of the route system as a whole, but this development is itself restricted by the congestion of shorter distance traffic at the London end.

The paragraph above highlights a recurring theme of the report that ties into this viewpoint. Long distance traffic is profitable, short distance isn’t. It also makes you wonder if this was a serious proposal, or a veiled threat to the government. Subsidise our suburban traffic – or we will ditch it and follow the money.

Although the results of the Beeching Report have sometimes been presented as inevitable, there is in fact a small but critical paragraph that could have offered salvation and a way forward in urban areas based less on a purely commercial approach. When looking at the role of railways outside of London  it suggests the following:

The right solution is most likely to be found by “Total Social Benefit Studies” of the kind which are now being explored by the Ministry of Transport and British Railways jointly. In cases of the type under consideration it may be cheaper to subsidise the railways than to bear the other cost burdens which will arise if they are closed. If this happens, however, there should be no feeling that the railways are being propped up by such a subsidy because of a commercial failure.

Bizarrely, however, the report never seemed to make the connection that this logic should also apply to the metropolis itself.

It seems a strange omission, but perhaps a partial answer for it can be found in a discussion of suburban services outside London. Much is made of the fact that the railways are competing against municipal bus companies who are either council owned or subsidised. The implication is that it may be cheaper to pay the relatively small loss the railway makes instead of abandoning the railway which would implicitly lead to more subsidies for buses. Such a situation would not occur in London and probably, even in 1963, it was recognised that it would be wholly impractical to replace rail services in London with buses.

It does seem with hindsight, however, absolutely inexplicable that the report does not put forward a case as to why fares in London should be subsidised. If that was a step too far, then at least a precedent had been set with the Victoria Line and an argument could be make for capital works improvements to be paid for. The only sensible conclusion for the difference between London and the provinces is that in the case of the provinces an argument could be made to show that a subsidy could actually save the national or local government money – especially if the buses and trains were part of an integrated co-operative system. In London there was no such opportunity. Indeed there was probably also a feeling that the suggestion of a permanent subsidy – for that is how it would be perceived – would not go down well with a government that was trying to reduce the amount it was paying for the railways.

A Product of Its Time

When it comes to London the Beeching report really does its best to highlight the problem of suburban rail services (and of paying for them), and in this it is probably fair to say it succeeded. By and large it did this in a clear style that the layman could understand. As it covered all aspects of the economics of the railway, not just passenger traffic, for the entire country though, it spent little time looking at potential solutions for London. Indeed one is left with the impression that even Dr Beeching felt defeated on this subject:

It should be clearly recognised that the problem presented by the London suburban rail services is not one that the railways can solve alone. Their problem is part of the whole problem of London congestion, and measures which would improve their situation, such as the staggering of hours and dispersal of employment to the periphery of the metropolitan area, are beyond their power and responsibility. Also, unless the control of fares in the London Traffic Area is exercised with more regard to the true nature of the problem, the position will be further worsened by the continued suppression of normal economic forces.

The end of the paragraph above is telling. To Beeching it was the suppression of “normal economic forces” that was at least part of the problem. In this he was arguably right in that it it was this suppression which caused the British Transport Commission not to keep a tight rein on things. It suggests, though, that he still nurtured the idea that a city’s transport system could be run on the basis of normal economic forces. History has demonstrated that while that is occasionally possible in places such as Hong Kong, it is generally unattainable and, in fact, undesirable even if it is.

That this was not obvious to Beeching then may seem strange to us now, but it is important to remember that the Beeching Report was as much a product of its time as it was of its author.

It is worth remembering that, in some ways, it is possible to compartmentalise the transport scene in London since the start of the 20th century into four phases:

  • The Age of Expansion: The initial free-for-all of private investment for the purpose of making a profit, marking the creation and explosive expansion of the original railways.
  • The Golden Age: A period dominated by London Transport and the “Big Four” taking a centrally organised approach in the days when few people had a car. It worked, so long as enough income came in to cover costs.
  • The Decline: The post WW2 years up to the end of the century when public transport was generally perceived as a “problem.” It was never going to pay its way, but the advances in economic modelling that would justify its subsidy in the overall economic interest of the city had not been developed.
  • The Silver Age: A period marked by the creation of the GLA and Transport for London. The start of a period where London’s transport was finally placed on a sound economic basis and its true value understood. Although financial prudence is expected, there is no expectation that transport will directly pay its way.

Looking at the report from within that most recent phase naturally colours our perception of its findings, but the Beeching Report was published deep in the heart of that long, third phase. With that in mind, its conclusions are perhaps more understandable, even if they seem wrong to us now. It is perhaps no surprise that when it came to the situation in London, the report could effectively find no solution. Indeed even if it had then it seems unlikely that the world, or at least the British Government, would have been ready for it.

Ultimately, the Beeching Report is a far more complex document than it is sometimes presented, and the reasons for the conclusions that it reaches are perhaps more understandable when they are considered in the context of the time – even if those conclusions can now be disputed.

Was Beeching really a “bad man”, or just a decent man trying to do a very difficult and unpleasant job simply because of his predecessors failure to do their job properly? Whatever Beeching was, he was not duplicitous and on that basis he behaved far more honourably than many politicians of the day appear to have done. Whatever coverage the Report’s anniversary receives in the coming months this, and the fact that the report is a far more complex document than it might first seem, deserve to be remembered.

Next we will take a look at the direct impact the Report ultimately had on London. It may surprise you.

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There are 134 comments on this article
  1. Anonymous says:

    Loss of the whole of the North London Line (someone can confirm it was for freight as well) was convenient. It fitted in very well with the Ringway motorway schemes, where Ringway One would have used the NLL route, with the M1 extended south to meet it at West Hampstead.

    Someone has made a video of that pro-road, anti-railway period. There are two “Unfinished London” videos,

  2. swirlythingy says:

    However much you try to rehabilitate Beeching, and however much you try to blame it all on ‘society’, there is no getting away from the fact that some of the accounting tricks employed to force through line closures, and to concoct the economic case for closing them in the first place, were just plain dishonest by any era’s standards.

    The survey in April 1961, from which Beeching’s headline figures were derived, was a particularly notorious example of statistical fiddling. For example, it counted passenger figures only by the number of tickets bought at the station, ignoring any tickets to said station bought elsewhere. It was also conducted at the quietest possible time of the year he could think of.

    Some interesting links here:

  3. Ian Sergeant says:

    There is actually evidence (I can’t remember where I saw it, CBRD perhaps?) of intentions to bring the M1 as far south as Marble Arch. How naive people were 50 years ago. The closure of the rural railways by Marples, Beeching and their successors may have been understandable, but permission for encroachment on to many of those routes by building over the years is unforgivable and extremely short sighted. Anyone looking at the expansion of road traffic since the war in the early 60s should have been able to predict that by now we would be needing many of those routes to be reopened.

  4. Slugabed says:

    I saw a television interview with Beeching in the 70s(?) in which he stated (and it is hinted at in his apologia mentioned in your article) that when he arrived at BR he asked how much it cost to transport 1ton of freight (or 1 passenger) per mile,and how much was being charged,and how the relationship between these figures had been arrived at.
    This is the basis of financial control in large companies (such as the one from which he came)
    Customers/passengers were charged according to rates set in a “big book” of ancient origin whose prices were simply bumped up a bit each year (in those days before scary inflation).
    Clearly this was madness,and if he sorted that mess out then good for him.
    BUT coming from ICI as he did,I suspect he had no inkling of the complex interrelationships inherent in running a railway,and applied a simplistic solution (which,no doubt delighted his political masters who may have chosen him for that very reason).
    It should be remembered as well,that the Wilson Govy also continued with the Motorway Programme,and that the Ringways were a GLC scheme not a Government one,though naturally there would have been a lot of co-operation.
    The Ringway scheme was fatally wounded by public reaction around 1970 and killed off by OPEC in 1973…

  5. Greg Tingey says:

    One or two corrections (perhaps)
    Beeching was deliberately put into the job as a hatchet-man by his boss – Beeching may have been honest – but Marples was a complete crook – to the point that he died in exile (Malta I think?) … because the Tax-man wanted serious words, in court, with him ….
    He also had a huge personal interest in M-way construction (Marples Ridgeway)

    It has been said (& I agree) that one third of the “Beeching” closures should never have been built in the first place, one third could & should have been saved, & one third were borderline cases.
    There was no serious attempt to save money by rationalisation or simplify operations IIRC – I was in my last two years of school & @ University when all this happened, & shall we say the debate was vigorous?
    Closing lines to save rebuilding one small bridge (Maldon) or to make a M-way construction (Leigh) cheaper were paticular cases that I remember.
    Also closing vital “connecting” links ( Exetr-Plymoth via Okehampton / Ripon / Lincolnshire Coast / GC & Midland rationalisation – GC route is faster … / Skipton-Colne etc) were closed in great haste

  6. Alan Griffiths says:

    Not sure I make you entirely right, slugabed.
    1) Christian Wolmar’s criticisms, a few months ago, were not of all closures or of closing dulicated main lines, but of poor of attention to detail in closing branches. He thought around a third of those closed should have been kept.
    2) Interralationships are quite complicated in the chemical industry. Easy to say that internal pricing should be at world market prices, but when very little of an intermediate product is actually traded, what does the world market price actually mean (wrote Sir John Harvey Jones)?

  7. Slugabed says:

    Alan Griffiths
    7:27pm 10/03
    I’m sorry but I’m not sure what your first sentence means.

    I drew the conclusion that Beeching,with the best will in the world (which,for reasons you describe cannot be said of his bosses) could not identify the true effect of closing one line or another,nor could he draw up a comprehensive programme of rationalisation which may have saved many lines which actual railwaymen knew to be useful (L&SWR to Plymouth,as you say,but also Horsham to Shoreham,allegedly closed on the basis of a £5,000pa loss based on the surveys Swirlythingy refers to) because he lacked any real data,and also lacked the railway background to sort the wheat from the chaff….
    Incidentally (and I’m sure I don’t need to tell Greg this) closures on spurious grounds continued into the 80s….the Staines West branch,which would now be so eminently useful,was,I was told as I rode the last passenger train to travel it,closed because they couldn’t be bothered to build a bridge to carry the M25 over it.
    However,it does seem that,very slowly,after 60 years out of favour,railways are finding their place once more.
    Perhaps someone should tell the DfT?

  8. Anon 2 says:

    I have always thought that the real crime resulting from Beeching was the indecent haste to destroy the closed parts of the network thus ensuring no reversal in policy. Of course this outlook has not been restricted to the railways, it is a particularly well developed trait in British politicians. Whereas Germany mothballed its coal pits we bulldozed ours’. The Americans store surplus aircraft, we cut up multi-billion pound Nimrods. Then, of course, there was Blue Streak, TSR”, APT, Aircraft carriers, Harriers…….

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s very hard to have a laser like focus about Beeching, several overlapping events meant that no-one was really sure what was happening, for example people talk of us being the ‘workshop of the world’ forgetting that we had an Empire, if anything the Empire made industry lazy, once the Empire went, an industry that served the Empire had to find new markets – and it didn’t, think about the struggle of manufactures of steam locomotives to build diesels – yet North America already had around 20 years experience – and once the market was free in this country, where did the diesel locomotives come from? Containerisation – just as new marshalling yards were being built to handle wagon load traffic, the shipping container was introduced, World War 2 – this camouflaged the decline, and also gave Government a ‘big solution’ attitude after the war – so there were large housing estates, the NHS, railway ‘modernisation’, Nuclear Power, road schemes – big & small – most of the one way systems in London date from the 1960’s – it wasn’t until the 1970’s and the GN electrification was the first true ‘modernisation’ of the railway occurred – and the foundations for this were laid in the 1960’s on the ECML with fixed train formations, standardised timings & stopping patterns – there was no inkling of long distance commuting at that time. There are parallels with the internet, back in the 1980’s the Evening Standard was a gold mine (due to small ads etc.), yet thanks to the internet I think the title was sold for £1 – the next thing is 3-D printing – if I can print items, does stuff still need to be imported in containers?

  10. Malcolm says:

    This question of how much it costs to transport one ton or one passenger per mile, and NO-ONE COULD GIVE HIM AN ANSWER. As a big businessman, he may have been surprised at this, or as a salesman he may have chosen to feign surprise. But actually, of course, there is no answer. Or there might be one, but it is quite meaningless. The average human has less than two legs.

    Which passenger, the extra one on a crowded commuter train that forces the operator to buy another train? Or someone at a quiet time taking a seat that would have been going anyway? Which mile, on a jam-packed route, or elsewhere. Which ton – the ton of fish needing to be taken in special smelly wagons, and fast, or the ton of stone which can be taken at the operator’s best time?

    Nowadays, airlines are the best at charging the highest price that they can manage without turning the customer away. Yield management, I think they call it. But railways had it (since Victorian times, I think) with “what the traffic will bear”. None of it based on any simplistic answer to Beeching’s simple (but wrong) question.

  11. Walthamstow Writer says:

    An interesting article. I don’t know all the minutiae of the Beeching Report but I am aware of things like the shoddy data collection process, the slip shod decision making, nasty politics and the ensuing furore as communities were ripped away from the railway network. What is interesting that, even decades on, countries the world over that have extensive rail networks are still closing lines (Eastern Europe being the prime example) despite all of today’s alleged analytical sophistication. And elsewhere we have the complete opposite with new railway revolutions underway in places like India, China and parts of South America. And that’s main lines – metros, trams and urban “commuter” lines are a different story again. There seems to be no great argument about boring things like subsidies – good public transport is simply an absolute imperative to sustain economic activity and stop people choking to death.

    I note the reference to Hong Kong – that has two advantages in terms of “making money”. Firstly, extremely high population density and secondly, development rights over stations and depots. These help to sustain revenues and tip the business into profit. The MTR also has the advantage of being very efficient, not having the burden of decades old industrial relations problems and also employing effective asset management techniques.

    It is obviously very easy to be wise after the event but we really did make some really stupid decisions in closing down parts of the network that we did. It is quite telling to note that the criticism laid at Beeching’s door about not understanding railways and having a “simple” business view of the railway was, in a similar fashion, repeated when Bob Horton and later Gerald Corbett led Railtrack, Railtrack was viewed as a property business with some pesky bits of metal and signals as a side business which was “doing well” provided shedloads of cash were shoveled to shareholders. That simplistic view of what to do with a railway and sweating the assets got us to a different form of tragedy with our rail network.

  12. Pedantic of Purley says:


    The survey in April 1961, from which Beeching’s headline figures were derived, was a particularly notorious example of statistical fiddling. For example, it counted passenger figures only by the number of tickets bought at the station, ignoring any tickets to said station bought elsewhere.
    Could you provide a reference for this? In any case, if true, it is not really statistical fiddling in the sense of trying to make the numbers appear less good than they are. If a particular station has its passenger numbers mistakenly understated there must be an equivalent overstated value elsewhere. It would not impact on the number of stations that need closing – at worst it might mean that some stations close when they should not have done so and equally some stations remain open when they should not have done so.

    It was also conducted at the quietest possible time of the year he could think of.
    To quote the good doctor

    The traffic surveys, which were made in great detail, extended over only one week, the week ending on 23rd April, 1961, because it was impossible to continue the massive recording effort involved for a longer period. It was realised, therefore, that conclusions about some streams of traffic and about some parts of the system which are affected by seasonal changes could not be based firmly on the traffic surveys alone. Subject to this limitation, however, there can be little doubt about the general reliability of the picture revealed.

    Personally I would have thought April would have been a good “typical” month. In general February is recognised as the “quietest” month by the retail trade – and that is not just because it has fewer days. I think you are also being very unfair in this comment and I would emphasise the point that I believe that a lot of criticisms made are done by people who have not actually read the report. Yes April is quieter than June to September. Q. How do we know? A. Because the report supplies us with the details!

    Total passenger traffic during the months of June to September, in 1961, exceeded the average for the remaining eight months of the year by 18 per cent, 47 per cent in July, 43 per cent in August and 21 per cent in September. Ten years earlier corresponding figures were 48 per cent in June, 96 per cent in July, 87 per cent in August and 44 per cent in September, which shows how the summer peak has diminished … and the trend is likely to continue

    This is followed by an explanation of why extreme peaks are actually highly unprofitable as they require a lot of resources that are not used for most of the year.

    Whatever accusations you can make against Beeching he was not sneaky and, as I said, not duplicitous.

    No-one can be right or wrong on this because it is all conjecture. I don’t disagree with your opinion of Marples but at the end of the day I don’t really think it would have made much difference who the Minister of Transport was. I suspect a lot more branch lines were actually closed by Barbara Castle, egged on by the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, than Marples ever did.


    I believe the relevant act required   the British Railways Board to propose loss making lines for closure even though the loss was small. I think I remember reading that Padstow lost its railway connection despite showing a deficit of just £9,000 per annum.

    @ Anon 2

    Yes. One of the big criticisms I would make is that Beeching did not suggest what to do with the closed lines and failed to make the point that it would be wise to protect the route (the tracks and buildings don’t matter) where practical in case circumstances change. Also closing a line does not necessarily result in savings. If, for example, there is an expensive to maintain viaduct then it either has to be demolished at great expense (and not possible if listed) or maintained whilst at the same time there is no income coming in.

    @Walthamstow Writer

    I tend to agree with what you write (that is practically always the case) but would make the point that if Dr Beeching had more time he would probably have done a better job. Time was not on his side. I totally agree about Railtrack which was a property company that was saddled with an obligation to provide a working railway for TOCs and FOCs. If Beeching could be criticised in the same way it would be that he saw profits by running a few long-distance routes for passenger trains and block freight trains and regarded stopping trains, little branch lines and wagon-load freight as nuisances that sucked money out of the system and generated little income.

    Shoddy data collection continues to this day – and I am not talking about the ORR figures. A criticism of Beeching over the Oxford-Cambridge line was that Beeching wanted to close the intermediate stations but opponents claimed the survey was done in the school holidays which skewed the result because there were a lot of schoolchildren using the line. No doubt Beeching would regard schoolchildren as undesirable as they occupied a seat but only paid half-fare. Following on from that Beeching gets blamed for the line’s closure – something he never suggested and probably would not want as it would have been an ideal route avoiding London for his liner trains (trainload freight).

    More recently objectors at the Croxley Rail Link made much of the fact that passenger counts for usage of Watford (Met) station for the purposes of the statement of case were done in an exam period when a lot of the children at the local school (who form a large proportion of the number of people who use the line) were doing exams and only turning up on days that they actually had an exam. These counts were done by a reputable firm of railway consultants who really should have known better.

  13. Slugabed says:

    1:48 11/03
    Yes you are right about the survey,but so is Swirlythingy
    Imagine a simple “Trunk and branch” railway system…I could give the L&SWR as an example.
    Now look at the number of tickets bought from Waterloo….millions a year perhaps.
    Now look at the number of tickets bought at,say,Sidmouth.A small town,a bit of local traffic,occasional journeys further afield,but very few in comparison.
    BUT the crucial point is that in Summer the trains to Sidmouth could be packed.
    None of the passengers bought their tickets in Sidmouth,many of them may have bought their tickets at Waterloo,but none of the traffic is attributed to Sidmouth,even though they are going there.
    This doesn’t mean that Sidmouth is a little-used station,deserving of closure,just that he methodology is so crude that its traffic does not show up.

  14. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Yes, Slugabed. I totally agree. I didn’t labour the point in the article because it was primarily meant to be about London. In London this would probably only apply to the London terminals. It is probably less true nowadays than in 1963 but I suspect that Cannon Street sold very few tickets and generated very little income compared to the costs of running the station.

    I was so surprised by Swirlythingy’s suggestion that this happened and that is why I asked for a reference to it. It would be so crass. I could well believe it was done to show the general point about more than half the stations not even covering their running costs but won’t believe this was the basis for closure of an individual line until someone gives me evidence to convince me otherwise. There are route specific examples quoted in the report where the average number of passengers per train is given. I always understood that massive passenger surveys were carried out and the figures were not produced solely on the basis of ticket sales. Maybe someone could clarify this point?

  15. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Oh. And Holborn Viaduct then and Blackfriars nowadays of course. Blackfriars National Rail has two ticket offices – one on the north bank and one on the south one. Has anyone ever witessed someone actually purchasing a ticket at the new station at Blackfriars?

  16. timbeau says:

    I don’t have the references to hand, but the infamous April survey is well documented – and unnecessary, as the railways still kept a record not only of where tickets were sold, but also of the destinations on those tickets. (This was a legacy of the pre-nationalisationarrangments, when an army of clerks in the railway Clearing House had to calculate the apportionment of revenue for any ticket which involved travel by two or more companies – plus ca change…..)

    The loss of so many duplicate routes is indicative of the attitude at the time that the railways were not essential. In Beeching’s previous job at ICI (where, incidentally, he was a good friend of my great-uncle), if a production line needs maintenance you just suspended production and closed the line down for as long as necessary. (You can, of course, stockpile the product in advance). In an essential service industry, you build in redundancy – all major nodes in the National Grid are fed from two independant power lines, there are multiple possible routings for telephone calls, etc. But if the service is not essential, you don’t need that redundancy.
    (The French improve their motorway system by building another on a parallel route – we do it by widening an existing one: easier to get planning consent, but if it is closed by an accident we lose 100% of the capacity whilst the French only lose 50%)

  17. Slugabed says:

    9:47am 11/03
    With the usual Wiki-caveat:

  18. Fandroid says:

    I’m with the view that Beeching was a product of his time and that hindsight tells us that he made mistakes (as has every person who has been brave enough to make a decision or try to plan for the future). As PoP points out the atmosphere/mentality of decline continued for almost another 40 years, so he wasn’t someone on the brink of a changing world that would bring the railways miraculously back to life.

    The Sidmouth example raised by one commenter highlights one of the problems Beeching spotted. Massive traffic for the 6 weeks of the school holidays! What about the other 46 weeks? Places like Blackpool had acres of carriage sidings filled with idle ‘spare’ stock. Economically disastrous.

    Beeching was absolutely right to ask the question about the cost of a ton of freight or a single passenger. Those who say ‘it’s all too complicated’ are just abdicating responsibility. If the railways were making huge losses, then the taxpayers were handing over large sums to subsidise them. If the railways and the government couldn’t say roughly what each line was costing (and earning), then it wouldn’t have clue about how to make things run more efficiently. It was that sudden focus on the economic realities that meant that the future BR boards learnt how to run the railway efficiently and to make rational cases for investment and re-openings.

    Although it was a tragedy that later governments did not make more effort to preserve routes, there are hundreds of communities around Britain who are very glad to a have a bypass utilising some of those old railway tracks.

  19. Pedantic of Purley says:


    Well it does seem to be true then. I know the line in question well having walked and cycled down the trackbed once or twice. However, even if the higher figures mentioned in the article were used I would have thought that this rural line would have already been hopelessly uneconomic – and this was during a period when car usage instead of railways was rapidly increasing. Singling the track was suggested but this costs money and doesn’t produce savings unless done when the track was due to be replaced anyway. Remember the Bromley North branch is still double track.

    I think one very valid point in the Wikipedia article is the insidious effect of the Beeching Report and the way services were often (not always) run down once proposed for closure as the line would have appeared to have been regarded as an already a lost case.

    Note that it was actually Barbara Castle who gave final consent for closure for this line after an earlier TUCC enquiry.

    Again the report goes into quite some detail of the costs of a typical passenger branch line to try and establish a ball-park break-even costs. It provides the figures it works on and considers the consequences at different passenger levels. Its conclusion: “Where there is no other traffic, routes carrying up to 17,000 passengers per week may barely pay their way”. So passenger traffic on the Steyning line would have probably had to be around 50% higher than the usage figures claimed by the objectors just to break even.

  20. Twopenny Tube says:

    Fandroid @ 10:40: “Although it was a tragedy that later governments did not make more effort to preserve routes, there are hundreds of communities around Britain who are very glad to a have a bypass utilising some of those old railway tracks.”
    Maybe, but who can say how many of those bypasses would have been needed if more railway routes had survived. Perhaps a more sophisticated (and co-ordinated) approach to the issues of freight distribution etc would have been needed, rather than the short term pragmatism. Wider issues have been touched on above, such as the general economy, industry etc. and longer time frames were perhaps called for, and more ‘joined-up-thinking’, for instance, to set the economic and social ‘cost’ of closures against the costs and savings equations examined on a case by case basis.

  21. swirlythingy says:


    I did provide a reference. In fact, I provided two. Have you read them yet?

  22. @swirlything

    No. I started to but rapidly felt if I continued I would lose the will to live.

    The first article which was very long, practically a book, started off as a massive whinge unsupported by facts. The facts may have come later but recently I have read too many dull opinionated items that I felt clearly have either been written by someone who either never read the report themselves or decided to form their own conclusion regardless of the contents.

    The second article from Hansard took us into familiar ground of the heavily used summer services which Beeching went to great pains to explain why they were uneconomic as Fandroid has pointed out. Also it must be obvious to anyone who has used trains in the far north of Scotland they are hopelessly uneconomic but are a community lifeline – and are very untypical. The arguments on both sides are well established and repeated ad nauseum.

    Sorry but I have spend quite enough time reading about Beeching in the past few weeks and those two items did nothing to keep my attention span which is growing shorter by the day.

  23. answer=42 says:

    The premise of the article is that:
    …Indeed the BTC did not appear to have any clear objective – it was as if the objective had been nationalisation itself and no-one had thought much beyond that. There seemed to be an assumption that it would pay its way and, unlike the previous railway companies (and ICI), it was not concerned with paying its shareholders a profit.

    Actually, this was not the case. A 1948 Nationalised Industries Act (or similar name) laid out the financial foundations for the nationalised industries, on profitability and on the return on investment. Nationalised industries were to at least break even ‘taking one year with another’ (I do remember that bit). The rate of return on new investment was to be comparable with private sector companies undertaking low-risk projects. The idea was that the ‘commanding heights’ of industry were basically profitable but that actual profits would be hard to come by during post-war construction. This Act led to an improvement in the financial controls in the coal industry at least – there was a shortage of accountants for a while as the National Coal Board hired them all. Maybe the pre-war Railways Clearing House made the situation different on the railways. The legislation remained in place until 1966 or a little later, when Barbara Castle tightened up the rules (doing what should have been done in the first place, 20 years later).

    So the legislation was explicitly based on the idea that parts of the railways would be sufficiently profitable to produce a return on investment and provide for the cross-subsidisation of loss-making lines that would stay open. Of course, there were line closures during the 1950s but at a much slower rate than later. And there must have been lines that obviously no longer (or ever had) any use.

    When the British Transport Executive was abolished around 1951, not only was the British Railways Board given its independence, the regional boards were given real power. Which they used to do things differently from the other regions, with consequences that lasted for decades.

    On this basis, the 1955 Modernisation Plan was launched. I think we all know the various and multiple disasters that this led to. Underlying it was a complete misunderstanding of how both passenger and freight transport had changed since the war. In the middle were the Regions, each trying to do things their way. And on top, perhaps, was a smattering of corruption (e.g. why did the North British Locomotive Company keep getting orders, despite the lack of evidence that it knew how to build diesel or electric locomotives that worked?).

    After that disaster, in the face of ever increasing car ownership, road traffic and undeniably falling railway usage, how easy it was to send for the Doctor to perform railway surgery. Of any sort.

    Please live up to your user name. By the time Barbara Castle arrived on the scene, Beeching had already been fired. Just check the closures that took place after her appointment.

  24. timbeau says:


    “Places like Blackpool had acres of carriage sidings filled with idle ‘spare’ stock. Economically disastrous”.

    But again this depended on what statistics you used – assuming the storage space is available, the actual cost of stabling the stock is minimal. But their accounting methods assumed stock used on six Saturdays a year cost as much to maintain as stock in use every day. (Indeed, their withdrawal had the perverse effect of increasing the average maintenance cost per carriage!)

    The BRB were quite happy to use line-specific costs to justify closure when it suited them – “this line will cost eleventy zillion pounds to maintain this year” , and let people assume that’s a typical annual average for that line: but it may be beacuse a one-hundred year old structure is due for replacement, and will then be good for another hundred years.

    Also, no allowance was made for the potential for cutting costs, some of which were already in train (unintentional pun, but too good not to use!) – such as dmus (instant reduction of 33% in traincrew needed, not to mention reduced maintenance costs for both track and train), and paytrains (reducing, perhaps to zero, the staffing costs of wayside stations)

    “If, for example, there is an expensive to maintain viaduct then it either has to be demolished at great expense (and not possible if listed) or maintained whilst at the same time there is no income coming in”.

    Not so – the fallacy in this argument is to assume that a disused viaduct needs to be maintained to the same standard as one which is still in use. As was pointed out when the S&C was proposed for closure, the Ribblehead Viaduct would probably last for centuries after closure with no attention at all – the work required on it would only be neccesary if you insisted on running trains across it.

  25. John says:

    @Pedantic 01.48

    Could you provide a reference for this?

    Yes – have a look at the Steyning Line by James Buckman. The method used was to collect tickets from passengers at a number of stations during a single week. The statistics only took account of the station at which the ticket was issued. This method was to the disadvantage of coastal towns (Lyme Regis, Brightlingsea etc) and interchanges (Verney Jcn, Seaton Jcn).

    Personally I would have thought April would have been a good “typical” month.

    April, and particularly that week in April, was probably the worst month that could have been chosen. It coincided with half-term and the off-season holiday period after Easter. Travel from London commuter stations wouldn’t have been too badly affected, hence the survival of the Woodside line.

    Whatever accusations you can make against Beeching he was not sneaky and, as I said, not duplicitous.

    Beeching may himself not have been duplicitous or sneaky but he was operating in an environment which was dishonest and specifically set up with the intention to minimise public involvement or reaction:

    – Beeching was part of the Stedeford Committee whose report still has not been made public almost 60 years on.
    – Beeching was very cosy with Lord and Lady Marples (Dick Hardy’s book) and swallowed BR’s figures whole.
    – The files on Beeching closures at the PRO are filled with newspaper cuttings and little else.
    – The DoT actively colluded with BR to rig closure decisions, often in order to facilitate road schemes (Lewes-Uckfield, Staines) and to run down lines by stealth (GCML).
    – The decision-making process with regard to closure was utterly opaque: the Transport Users Consultative Committees which were supposed to hear the line closure cases had their powers removed by 1962, leaving the MoT to decide itself.

    One of the big criticisms I would make is that Beeching did not suggest what to do with the closed lines

    For Beeching, as for many in govt at the time, the railways were old hat, relics of the Victorian age which had to be removed with the minimum of fuss. Cars would serve all our transport needs in the future. He quite frankly couldn’t care less about what happened post-closure and certainly didn’t envisage reopening. I’m pretty sure that the Oxted Line only remained open beyond Sanderstead because he lived in East Grinstead.

    There is a youtube clip somewhere with an interview from the 1970s where Beeching says that he regrets not having closed the East Coast Main Line beyond Berwick – even after the oil crisis!

  26. Guano says:

    London suburban rail services had originally made money through the sale of land to developers; the rail services increased the value of the land drastically by allowing its conversion to housing from agriculture. Thirty to forty years later the railways were stuck with providing a service that required expensive assets that were used only a few hours a day while the income from land sales had dried up. I doubt whether the losses on London suburban services were less than on some lines that were closed; however the political ramifications of closure of London suburban services would have been much more complex.

  27. Fandroid says:

    Those of us who grew up in those years remember what the prevailing aspirations were. Most working people were really keen to buy a car as soon as they could afford it. My dad was no exception. Up to when he bought his first (a pre-war Riley I think) in the late 1950s, he always went on holiday by train. After that he never used a train (nor bus again) again. And both bus and train services through our village were always good – despite our station being (unsuccessfully) listed for closure by Beeching.

    My dad was not unusual. In those times, the car was the future. Being a good trainspotter, I never lost my interest in travelling by train, but also did a huge mileage in cars (and by hitchhiking!). I’m sure that simple story was repeated all over the UK. Beeching could justifiably be said to have saved the railways, by putting their future on a rational basis in an age of very rapidly increasing car ownership and usage.

    We have a remarkably dense network of railways remaining. There are even duplicate routes to everywhere but the extremities (three London to Birmingham!).

  28. answer=42 says:

    “Places like Blackpool had acres of carriage sidings filled with idle ‘spare’ stock. Economically disastrous”.

    I think timbeau has hit the nail on the head with this quotation. The ‘spare’ stock was, to an extent, a sunk cost. A halfway decent manager would have recognised this situation and worked the assets, provided that variable costs (that ticket survey again) were covered.

    I don’t think there are any grounds for saying that any Minister would have performed the same as Marples did. Apart from the corruption thing, within five years Labour had introduced an explicit subsidy regime for loss-making regional services.

  29. Fandroid says:

    I’m not sure my ‘acres of carriage sidings’ point was directly relevant, but it did attempt to illustrate the situation where Sidmouth could not be seen as a lost opportunity simply because of its summer holiday traffic. I’m not sure I would want to travel in a carriage that had been stored outside throughout the autumn, winter and spring (some of the ones I did travel in smelled as if they had been). No-one would have found the capital to replace those carriages once they had rotted beyond use.

    One place close by where bus substitution did work was Lyme Regis. The connecting buses at Axminster did an excellent job serving the whole town, whereas the railway only got to the high bit on the Uplyme side. (However, just recently, First Bus managed to foul the connections up!).

  30. John Bull says:

    That Ecologics article that Swirly linked to is quite good actually (this one), although it does lead the reader a bit in places (Repeatedly using the phrase “Nazi Germany” rather than just “Germany” when talking about autobahns is a rather unnecessary call-to-emotion).

    Broadly speaking, Pedantic’s thoughts on Beeching do largely coincide with my own. I think its very dangerous to judge both him, and the report, outside of their time.

    That said, I also think Marples and the Ministry men had it in for the railways and we’re utterly determined to oversee a wholesale dismantling of the network. Beeching was writing honestly (at least to his knowledge) but was lifted from the Stedeford Committee to write the report precisely because they knew exactly the kind of report he would write. Marples stacked the deck.

    I do wonder, by the way, whether future generations of railway managers and historians will look back on PPP and Franchising with the same sense of “what on EARTH was going on there” that we currently apply to Beeching.

  31. swirlythingy says:

    Although many of the points made in the Ecologics article have now been independently restated by other commenters, if you don’t have time to read all of it, a good place to start is a little over halfway down, from the line reading, “Here it suffices to note four general issues with the report.” Footnote 30 is worth a look too.

    The author recommends an essay in the Journal of Industrial Economics* by one D.L. Munby, critiquing the report, written contemporaneously with the report itself (thus uninfluenced by the changes in economists’ opinions since the 1960s which Pedantic feels are so important).

    * Paywalled, sigh. 43 dollars for one article, you what? I hate journal publishers.

  32. Fandroid says:

    I was going to shut up! However, I had to read the link to the Ecologics article and respond. I suspect that Marples was a total rogue, and that the efforts of the roads lobby did make a difference. However, seen from from own family’s experience ( see earlier post) I am sure they were all pushing at an open door. Now we know that unlimited car use is a curse. In those days it was seen as the gateway to freedom, especially for the working classes (the author only adds them in as an afterthought!). One-stop door-to door road freight must have seemed miraculous leap forward to those running a business.

    If Marples (plus Beeching) hadn’t done it, someone else would have a few years later.

  33. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ PoP 0148 – I understand that Beeching had a deadline imposed by the politicians but he could have asked for more time given the sheer scale of the task. He could have asked for more time once his report had been examined and subjected to criticism (albeit subjective criticism by those trying to keep their rail services). The reality is that decisions were delayed because of the scale of opposition and the analysis had to be done again in some instances.

    He is villified because he paid more attention to obeying the politicians than properly defending the railways. I accept that his was a political appointment and it’s easy for me to sit and pontificate 50 years on but later Chairmen of BR took a more balanced view of trying to keep the railways viable while living within the constraints imposed by politicians. In short they tried to maintain the network and were rather better at delivering investment that brought more passengers and revenue. I know Beeching had some ideas but few of those brought success – hardly a surprise given whatever justification he might have developed was inevitably built on “shifting sands” because of all of the turmoil caused by the closures programme. I can’t imagine British Railways had a clue what revenue they would earn or how much money they needed to run services during the early 60s.

    Trying to be fair you have to wonder if we would necessarily do a better job of understanding costs and revenues. Ticketing is now much more complex and in London the Travelcard plus rail only seasons would complicate matters. PAYG would give a bit of visibility of specific journeys but journey patterns are so complex and so interlinked these days that a modern day Beeching would struggle. The McNulty report also shows that the cost side of things is not that much better known. At the LA Transport Committee Roger Evans challenged Geoff Hobbs about the “accuracy” of TfL’s modelling because Mr Evans cited Kings Cross Tube still needing “one way systems” at peak times despite huge investment. Mr Hobbs did his best to explain that the models were as “sensible” (my phrase) as was practical but external decisions can still undermine sensible assumptions.

    I am slightly shocked that consultants cocked up analysis at Watford Met as there should be an absolute wealth of data from ticket machines, Oyster journey records, ticket gate data etc. I don’t know if the S Stock “weighs itself” like the Cl 378s do but that could be another source too. When I worked for LU I could pull down revenue and ticket gate data via the intranet within seconds and that was via standard reports. People with special access would get to the source data. The most recent London closures were, of course, to do with the former Cross Country services that trundled round bits of the WLL. Having read some of that paperwork I don’t recall being overwhelmed by the evidence but there was an attempt to provide a cost / benefit ratio. Thankfully, though, we seem to be in an era now where closures are unlikely.

  34. RichardB says:

    I have enjoyed reading the articles on this site and the debates that have followed but hesitated to comment or contribute directly due to a lack of technical knowledge.

    However I do have an observation to make about the issue of Beeching and his cuts. I think PoP is absolutely correct to reference the cultural world view of the time. Our political masters have for many decades been influenced by the USA both Conservative and Labour and arguably Labout in some ways more than Conservatives and I think this was especially true of the fifties and sixties

    You need to recall the whole issue of modernity which in the late fifties and the sixties was typified in many commentators minds by the American experience. One often quoted aphorism of the time in our press was that what California did today the rest of the States would do tomorrow and the rest of the world the day after. In the fifties the future for Western countries lay with consumerism and for many this meant a wholesale move to car ownership. The USA led by Detroit was there already, the interstate network was under construction and they had had freeways in Los Angeles since the forties. The UK in most commentators minds was heading firmly in this direction with construction of the M1 etc.

    This is nothing new and I am sure most of the contributors are familiar with this viewpoint. However I do feel that what most people do not realise is the corollary in the USA was the wholesale abandonment of passenger services by railroad companies. The argument was that passenger services were wholly unprofitable and if they could strip out the fixed costs of the stations as well as the passenger trains the companies would make a good profit on freight as indeed happened in America. There was also a strong case for abandoning duplicate routes and much rationalisation occurred as companies amalgamated

    I am fairly sure the view in the UK was that the same logic appertained get rid of passengers and run the business at a profit as a freight railway. Bear in mind that the railway in Britain had made a profit on goods traffic and I think 1954 was the last year that occurred less than 10 years before Beeching. This was the modern solution and therefore the correct way to go never mind the differences posed by a nation 3000 miles across compared to a much more densely populated nation about the same size of Michigan.

    In this context Beeching and his supporters were ensuring the correct future. There is tacit evidence to support this. Beeching initially challenged the drive for West Coast electrification and at least one argument was put forward that Manchester only required one “heavy” train a day from London. This would accord with American passenger railroad practice which where a service had to maintained would be reduced to one service a day often by combining several services in one train which would divide on route for example Union Pacific’s City of Everywhere train.

    The most dramatic Beeching cuts occurred under the Labour government despite Wilson’s pledge to retain them and you have to recall his electoral theme was to impose a white hot technological revolution on the UK. With that mandate and looking at what the truly modern nation state was doing to its railway services it becomes much easier to rationalise why the cuts had to proceed as they involved sweeping away the detritus of the past. In London the GLC flirted with the idea of an overhead monorail service through Regent Street and pushed for the motorway box. I am also aware of a proposal to relocate Covent Garden to Kings Cross. The station we know would have been demolished the services re-routed to an underground station where the vegetable and fruit produce would be brought by train then taken by lifts to market floors and finally taken to the roof where Chinook type helicopters would distribute the produce across London. I have seen the illustrated brochure so I know this was tabled as a viable suggestion! Given this context for many in positions of power to have done otherwise implied a hide bound mentality and for them the future lay with the design of American cities such as Los Angeles rather than New York.

    We had a very narrow escape Beeching was a symptom of the times. I apologise for the length of this post but I felt it might be of interest. Incidentally I know of at least one argument which was made where a Beeching cut was proposed which led to the retention of the Highland line and it arose from the need to placate the workforce (and their wives) at Dounreay but this would be somewhat off post so I will refrain but I have seen the documentation.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Kings Cross, here are two plans for it – one silly, one a Pathe video, as mentioned above:

  36. Anonymous says:

    When Beeching was published we were told the “Railways had out served their usefulness”.

    We had all been seduced by the great god motor.

    The railways were beset by internal political wrangling by the managers, and the unions thought they should be in charge anyway.

    The Government had discovered that playing trains was an expensive business.

    Railways were an obstacle to progress.

    Why prolong the inevitable? – get shot asap by whatever devious means required to accelerate the process.

  37. spiregrain says:

    And now, for a musical interlude:
    Flanders and Swann, The Slow Train, 1963

  38. timbeau says:

    Someone asked me to quote a source for some of the stitch-ups:

    The Great Railway Conspiracy: Fall and Rise of Britain’s Railways Since the 1950’s by David Henshaw, (published c1994) covers the period of government ownership pretty well.

    Some have considered Beeching to be only the axeman, doing what his paymasters the government wanted. It is not the executioner’s job to question the judge’s verdict. I think beechjing was more than that though.

    Of course such chicanery as Marples’s was nbot confined to the1960s, nor to the UK. Many early railway companies bought up canals. And American streetcar lines were often bought out by the car industry. Running down the competition is always good for business!

  39. Ian J says:

    Thanks Pedantic for a very interesting analysis of an aspect of the Beeching report that has rarely been commented on: the treatment of London’s railways.

    Sir William Armstrong, head of the Civil Service in the late 1960s, said that the role of the Civil Service was “the orderly management of decline”, and that mindset surely helped inform Beeching. But from the viewpoint of London’s rail network, the striking thing is how few lines were closed under Beeching. The closures of rural branch lines may have been an emotive matter and as the discussion above shows still raises hackles among some, although similar closures happened in many European countries over a longer period of time (the French are still doing it and the Greek network just sustained a much more drastic set of closures). But London largely escaped because as the sections of the report Pedantic quotes makes clear, there was a recognition that suburban services were just too important to the city to make closure possible despite the economics.

    It is interesting how the passages Pedantic points out imply that the answer lies in higher fares for London commuters. This has many resonances today as this still seems to be the Treasury’s default position, one repeatedly thwarted by political reality as the Chancellor balks at the effect of above-inflation fare increases on commuter-belt constituencies (and the drain on the economy from taking more money out of commuters’ pockets). These days, the level of pubic subsidy is decided by the arbitrary auction process of franchise letting: fifty years on, we are no closer to a clear mechanism for deciding what proportion of the cost of the railways should be paid by their users and what proportion by the taxpayer.

  40. timbeau says:

    Rightly or wrongly, the government has always treated London as a special case for transport, from not allowing railways within the “stones”, leading to the chain of main line termini along the Euston and marylebone Roads, to its special treatment on bus deregulation. Indeed, even as Beeching was writing, a new railway was being built in London, passing only a few hundred yards from Ministry of Transport HQ in Marsham Street.

  41. Ian J says:

    @timbeau – indeed, and London always has been a special case because public transport is just so much more important to London than anywhere else in Britain. And Beeching’s opinions on London mattered less than elsewhere because he didn’t even run the busiest railway network in London.

    The government’s willingness to fund the Victoria Line does contradict the wilder assertions made in this thread about how supposedly everyone in government in the 1960s expected the railways to die. I think they expected rural railways and waggon-load freight to die (and they were half right about the former and completely right about the latter). But anyone with any sense could see that railways in dense urban areas had a future under any circumstances.

    I would argue that the low point for London’s public transport in fact came in the 1950s with the abandonment of the remaining pre-war expansion projects, abandonment of the trolleybus network, and general acceptance of decline. The adoption of cost-benefit analysis for the Victoria Line in the early 60s, as Pedantic points out, pointed the way forward for justifying the development of the system. Meanwhile “national rail” lagged behind as short-distance suburban services which were just not that important to British Rail, and it was not until the GLC became interested in the 1980s that serious efforts to improve them were made. It is striking reading the 1978 edition of Alan Jackson’s book on London’s Local Railways how down-beat he is about the future of many lines that in fact turned a corner in the 1980s and are now thriving. So the roots of the “Silver Age” were laid in the time of the GLC and London Transport, even if they bore fruit under the GLA and TfL.

  42. Greg Tingey says:

    The Victoria line very nearly didn’t get built, even so. There were several attempts to denigrate the CBA ot the “Business Case” claiming that the trnsport projections were overly optimistic – in fact they were deliberately pessimistic in order to try to obviate this – it was a close-run thing!
    The Wislon guvmint tried to stop at least three closures – two of them to Whitby, but found that once “approval” had been given, there was, apparently, no mechanism for reversing it!
    London special – then & now … but … look at places like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow & now Bristol, gradually realiing that they too really need their suburban railways,
    The re-opening of a large chunk of the ex-MR route out from Central station as part of the tram-line to the airport is deeply ironic, especially to me, who remembers steam-hauled Buxton commuter expresses!

  43. timbeau says:

    Most of London’s trolleybus fleet was built in the 1930s, (only the 100-or-so in the Q class were post war) and was getting due for replacement by the end of the fifties. Most of the electrical infrastructure had been converted from the tram network, and was very much older. So they were running twenty year old vehivcles on a fifty year old power supply. In conrtrast the bus fleet was almost entirely less than ten years old – the RT production run was just coming to a close.
    But the bogeyman for trolleybus enthusiasts is the Routemaster – yes, “London’s favourite bus”. A new design in 1957, London Transport’s workshops were about to start mass production. There were no more trams to replace (the RT had finished them off), the Green Belt precluded much expansion of the existing bus network, so the trolleybuses had to go.
    Perhaps the RM should have been designed as a trolleybus.

  44. RichardB says:


    I agree London has always been treated as a special case partly I suspect because the national media is based in London and daily transport problems in London often make the national news in a way that similar problems in say Birmingham or Manchester don’t. Essentially the refrain that London isn’t working is seen as a government’s inability to govern hence the tendency to treat London as a special case. It is interesting to note that the Thatcher government eschewed bus deregulation in London as well as the privatisation of British Rail. It was the Major government that decided to take the plunge with the latter and then went for a very doctrinaire approach instead of its initial idea of four regional companies based on the Big Four old which I think was the solution favoured by John Major. The apparatchiks pushed for the franchise approach as they insisted on viewing railways as another road system and as bus and coach deregulation appeared to work in that environment they argued you should extend the principle to railways.

    Interesting you cite the Victoria line. I am aware that Treasury felt it was a failure in spite of the heavy patronage from day one because in its view it abstracted traffic from the existing Tube lines and therefore did not generate new revenue. The implication being they Treasury had been robbed. There is an interesting Consumer Council file from the late sixties in the The National Archives which provides some useful insights into the gestation and early experience of the then new Victoria line. The whole design reflects the ethos of managed decline or an expectation of declining use – for example the narrowness of the platforms which makes sense if you believe that the number of users of public transport must decline as car ownership expands.

  45. Fandroid says:

    The impact of Beeching on London was probably different due its size and the nature of its growth. It has been Europe’s biggest city for a very long time. Its growth in the 19th century was almost entirely related to railways. Similarly, much of its growth in the 20th century up to WW2 was due to railways as well – both electrified suburban lines and the expansion of London Underground. A trip around any of the Victorian inner suburbs will reveal that this is not a city of grand boulevards, but of thousands of houses crammed in by private developers. Also, the prevalent style of living was to work in the centre and live in the outskirts.

    Once car ownership became more universal, it was still impractical to commute by car to central London. Any attempt to build big roads to make this possible came up against the problem of having to demolish thousands of homes or to cover jealously guarded open spaces. Despite the difficulties, there were always those so much dedicated to driving that they commuted by car anyway. This meant that bus services were no substitute for trains, as they were incredibly slow due to traffic congestion (then as now!).

    This was not so true in Britain’s other big cities. They were generally more fragmented in their structure, and commuting to work in the centre was not so prevalent. They weren’t so crammed and actually had more of the big roads that London lacked. Glasgow is a city that soon started to reverse the decline of its railway system, but my understanding is that it originally was the opposite to London in that many people lived in the centre and travelled to work in the outskirts.

  46. Littlejohn says:

    Timbeau 08:28AM, 12th March 2013. ‘A new design in 1957, London Transport’s workshops were about to start mass production’. Not quite true – the initial authority to start development of what became the RM was given as long ago as October 1947 and the first prototype first appeared in public in 1954. LT vehicle building was by this time restricted to prototypes and only the first 2 bodies came out of the Chiswick workshops.

    ‘Perhaps the RM should have been designed as a trolleybus’. There is in fact some evidence that design studies up to about 1952 allowed for both electric and diesel propulsion before LT made a firm decision to withdraw trolleybuses.

  47. timbeau says:


    Oh, the havoc a misplaced comma can cause:

    ‘A new design, in 1957 London Transport’s workshops were about to start mass production’.

  48. anonymous says:


    “the Victoria line….. abstracted traffic from the existing Tube lines and therefore did not generate new revenue”

    I recall in the 1980s similar arguments were put forward to explain why the “Kenny Belle” service should not be improved – or just advertised more! – since both London Transport and Network South East would lose revenue. Why spend money to let people avoid paying a Zone 1 fare via Victoria?

  49. Twopenny Tube says:

    timbeau: ‘A new design, in 1957 London Transport’s workshops were about to start mass production’.
    Perhaps ‘was’ not ‘were’, unless ‘design’ has become a collective noun.

    RichardB: ‘Interesting you cite the Victoria line. I am aware that [the] Treasury felt it was a failure in spite of the heavy patronage from day one because in its view it abstracted traffic from the existing Tube lines and therefore did not generate new revenue.’
    re ‘… it abstracted traffic from …’ Should that be ‘extracted’ or ‘diverted’? I hadn’t before thought of the Victoria Line as having philosophical or artistic leanings. Perhaps the Treasury mandarins saw it as something more than a tube line, (or cause of financial outlay).

  50. Anonymous says:

    @2d Tube

    “Design” may be singular, but the subject of the verb “were about to start” in that sentence is surely “workshops”

    abstract tr.v.ab·stract·ed, ab·stract·ing, ab·stracts

    1. To take away; remove.
    2. To remove without permission; filch.

    3. To consider (a quality, for example) without reference to a particular example or object.
    4. To summarize; epitomize.
    5. To create artistic abstractions of (something else, such as a concrete object or another style): “

  51. Twopenny Tube says:

    @ Anonymous 12:26
    “Design” may be singular, but the subject of the verb “were about to start” in that sentence is surely “workshops”
    OK, I was distracted by the moving comma, and I should have reread the sentence in its original context.

    Re ‘abstract’ – I looked it up when I read the sentence in question, as at first sight it didn’t seem to make sense. Yes, ‘take away’, ‘remove’ etc. suggest that the meaning fits in theory. However, even after discovering the alternative meanings, I still thought it was a rather odd usage in that context. 3, 4, and 5 in your list are I would have thought, far more common, and thus there were more appropriate possibilities, perhaps ‘take’ would have fitted the bill. No doubt for the next few weeks I will see it again in every book and article I read.

  52. Ian J says:

    @anonymous: Interesting point about the Kenny Belle – the same argument was made by the TOCs that they would lose money with the extension of the East London Line, hence the DfT forcing TfL to put Shoreditch in Zone 1.

    The other reason London has been a special case is that local government has almost always recognised the importance of public transport (Horace Cutler’s GLC perhaps an exception). Whereas local governments in other British cities spent the 1950s and 1960s enthusiastically demolishing great chunks of their city centres for grandiose ring roads and multi-storey carparks. But they were only reflecting their residents’ and businesses’ demands for something to be done about “the parking problem” and “the traffic problem”.

    And yes, the Routemaster killed off electrically-powered street transport in London for a generation, with terrible consequences for Londoners’ lungs.

  53. Malcolm says:

    I don’t get this demonisation of RMs. They were just the next generation of diesel buses. RMs could simply have been ordered in smaller numbers if the trolleybuses had continued. Which of course they should have done. But trolleybus removal wasn’t limited to London. The whole country just binned them. I still don’t really understand why.

  54. Anonymous says:

    re Beeching
    This was just Part 1 of the Tory assault on the railways – how many miles of lines were closed?
    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)

    And what did we end up with? Ilfracombe, Brecon, Peterhead, Lampeter, Hay-on-Wye, Ross-on-Wye, Holt, Tavistock, Caernavon, Forfar, Louth all without any rail connection.

    Lets not forget for balance that the Labour Party and the Liberals never exactly tried to undo what the Tories started (except in London with the NLL, Thameslink, Travelcard, Fairs Fare all GLC/Livingstone ideas as far as I remember.

    From wikipedia
    Whereas the rail network has halved from 31,336 km (19,471 mi) in 1950 to 16,116 km (10,014 mi) today, the major road network only increased from 44,710 mi (71,950 km) in 1951 to 50,893 mi (81,904 km) in 1990.

    Great!! more roads, loss of precious green space, more pollution, more cars, lorries, more freight on the roads, more noise, more accidents – just how much has this cost us?

    Part 2 was the disastrous privatisation of BR – since 1996 if on average we have paid an extra £2 billion in subsidies to private companies, thats around £36 billion down a massive black hole. And with London in mind – just look at the farce of the High Speed 2 – no railway in sight , yet £225 million paid out to consultants over the last three years!! How much has been paid out in the UK since 1996?

  55. timbeau says:


    “RMs could simply have been ordered in smaller numbers if the trolleybuses had continued. ”

    But you forget that there was a powerful bus-building tail wagging this particular bus-operating dog – London Transport effectively owned AEC, and didn’t want to lay off hundreds of employees. A similar story, indeed, to that of Chrysler described in “pedantic”‘s recent article on Thameslink

  56. Ian J says:

    @anonymous: Loath as I am to be fair to the tories, it must be pointed out that Labour were in government between 1964 and 1970. And Lampeter, for example, has a population of 3,000, which is less than many London housing estates. In a context of a need to cut government spending in the Sterling crisis of the late 1960s, would you rather every rural branch line was kept going or money was spent on improving services where there were people to use them?

    Privatisation, despite its many problems, did not lead to a new round of rail closures as many predicted at the time. I would go as far as to say that it made line closures politically almost impossible (see how much effort has had to go into “closing” the obscure Parliamentary service between Kensington Olympia and Wandsworth, compared with the ease with which state-owned London Transport was able to close Epping-Ongar and Holborn-Aldwych in the 1990s).

    @Malcolm: one reason for the withdrawal of trolleybuses must have been that the health effects of diesel particulates were not well understood then (and would have seemed a minor problems compared with the smog problems before the Clean Air Act). My understanding is that Sheffield, for example, started planning Supertram when the council realised that most air pollution in the city centre came from buses.

  57. Malcolm says:


    I hear what you say. But if owning AEC was what made LT scrap the trolleys, what did it for the rest of the UK?

  58. Malcolm says:

    @Ian J

    That (particulates little-understood) is not a reason for scrapping trolleys. It’s ony a reason for not (not-scrapping trolleys). I would really like to see into the mind of whoever actually decided on it.

  59. DW down under says:

    Malcolm wrote, re: Trolleybus system closure: “what did it for the rest of the UK?”

    Trolley buses were introduced as a means to leverage existing power generating and distribution infrastructure when tram lines began to wear our, or wear out their welcome, or require extensive modification to accommodate road layout and route changes. They had the advantage that they could pull over to the side to pick up and set down. As traffic continued its inexorable rise towards today’s congestion, this made it safer for passengers. By being tied to the overhead lines, they were permitted to be larger than contemporary buses (26′ max length, then 27′, the 30′ around 195x?, 7’6″ wide, then 8’0″ later).

    To keep development costs to a minimum, they were built on chasses adapted from the shorter, narrower diesel buses.

    When the time came for renewal of the power distribution infrastructure, the diesel bus had advanced to the stage that it could match the trolley bus in size and performance. It had the advantage of not being tied to the overhead, readily adapted to diversions, road or route changes – and able to pass one another along a road.

    Once the bus industry had recovered from WW2, and had developed newer, better designs (late 1950s-1960s) – the days of the trolley bus become numbered. Only retained where severe gradients would continue to tax diesel engines, long enough for the issues of air quality to be raised. So it is today that San Franscisco still has trolley buses, when modern compact turbodiesel engines would capably handle the steep hills.

    The fact that the LGOC’s Associated Equipment Company, better know to us today as AEC, was part of the pre-war LPTB would not have had significant bearing on the fate of the trolley buses. AEC would have built new buses whether electric or diesel. Following past practice, the single electric motor would have been under the bonnet of a “TRM”. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the trolleybus version designs made provision for conversion to diesel later, but I am surmising here!

    Looking abroad, where hydroelectricity is widespead, and there’s no native oil or gas extraction – then electric forms of traction have prospered: parts of Europe, especially near Alpine areas are noteworthy for their tram and trolley networks.

    But I think most here already know all this ….. and what’s it got to do with the good chemist, anyway?

    DW down under

  60. answer=42 says:

    Anonymous 11:26PM, 12th March 2013
    Do you have the closure figures for years before 1963?

  61. Anonymous says:

    @ Ian J
    I would say that many if not most “rural branch lines” had gone by the early to mid 60s, i.e. lines which served only rural areas. Lampeter was on the Carmarthen/Aberystwyth line, a valuable north-south route linking two major towns, which otherwise require a circuitous rail journey. If it was still there today, I’m sure it would be a well-used route.

    In any event, it was difficult to know exactly how much the line was losing because BR so often inflated figures to include track renewal, bridge rebuilding and extra staff. The basic railway concept as devised by Gerry Fiennes would have gone a long way to reducing costs to a minimal level. And who said that unused rail investment was ploughed back into the network? It went to the roads budget.

    Re privatisation and closure, thanks to Labour’s creation of the community rail concept plus the sterling work done on defending the Settle & Carlisle, it will be difficult nowadays for any operator (private or public) to close a route. That hasn’t of course prevented de facto station closures by stealth (e.g. Barlaston, Newhaven Marine and Teesside Airport), but the contractual nature of privatisation means that operators are obliged to provide a certain minimum service level.

  62. answer=42 says:

    What is important to remember was that prior to the legislation of c1968 (see my previous post), there was no means of subsidising the railways. Once the Public Service Obligation was in place, the closures could stop. (The arrival of Barbara Castle as Minister of Transport at the end of 1965 probably also had an influence).

    Of course, the closures only took place at the scale they did because there existed the mentality of ‘shrink the railways to a profitable core’ that emanated from Beeching. Coupled with the (willful?) lack of information about receipts, as well as costs, this was the recipe for the destruction.

    The criticism has been raised, politely of course, that the anti-Beeching mob, such as myself, are not putting Beeching in the context of his time. I tend to be suspicious of such arguments in general because they can be used to justify all sorts of dubious activities. But of course, we do have to adopt the mindset of the late 1950s / early 1960s to understand what happened. In particular, I accept that falling rail usage, growing car ownership and the failure of the Modernisation Plan all created an anti-rail bias. I also accept that business information was lacking to an extent that is difficult to imagine today.

    But nevertheless I argue that Beeching was culpable in that he made seriously wrong business decisions on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Moreover, these were not inevitable. I give you two pieces of evidence.

    Firstly, as ‘John’ pointed out, the Stedeford Committee, in particular Sir Ivan Stedeford, had a different business approach to the railways problem. As Swirlythingy pointed out, DL Mumby in the Journal of Industrial Economics criticised the Beeching approach at the time. So other business / economics approaches could have been considered.

    The second evidence comes from Beeching’s successes. (This is somewhat inspired by Richard B’s post). Beeching proposed the abandonment of less-than-waggonload freight, the introduction of the block train and the container train. Hence the abandonment of useless assets and investment in core freight terminals. This is the foundation of the modern freight railway. Did he get anything wrong here?

    The point is that the freight railway proposed suited his pre-conceived ideas of capital asset usage; the passenger railway did not. Applying a pre-baked solution to a new business problem without understanding that problem is a recipe for disaster. And that is what happened. Bad politics, out of date legislation and bad management. A lesson to us.

  63. Fandroid says:

    I wouldn’t’ necessarily argue that Beeching’ s methods were correct, nor that the logical end of the process he started would have been anything but tragic (Serpell anyone ?). I would however argue that the end result we have today is not actually too far wrong. @Anonymous listed towns with no railway. The normal response to those places would be ‘where?’ Beeching cleared the way for others to put in place the foundations of a modern railway. Sir Peter Parker would have got nowhere if he had inherited that huge wasteful under-utilised network.

  64. Anonymous says:

    As late as 1967 the Edinburgh – Perth route via Kinross was scheduled for investment.

    However, this would have meant huge extra expense for the planned motorway.

    Result? Line closed and motorway
    now substantially on the route.

    The railway has had to take a much slower -and less densely populated –
    route through Fife.

    A bit far from London I know, but shows what the attitude of the times was.

  65. Slugabed says:

    11:42 13/03
    Those places are only “where?” if you don’t live there or want to go there.
    Look at Haverhill (where?) population 27,000 which lost its rail connection in 1967 despite having been earmarked for expansion as a result of London overspill.
    There is now an active campaign to reverse this closure.
    For 40 years or more,the potential rail-users of towns like these would,having been forced to start their journey by car,and would not,as supposed,driven to the nearest railhead,but would complete their journey by car.
    Another passenger lost to the railways as a whole,and the fallacy at the heart of Beeching’s approach to branch lines which,believe you me,was pointed out at the time.

  66. Slugabed says:

    Beeching must be given credit for his attempts to get a grip on financial control of the railways,and block trains and containerisation were good ideas which made best use of the railway’s strengths.
    However being old enough to remember the transition period it seemed odd at the time to learn of cash-strapped BR telling companies who were begging BR to take their money,that their business was no longer welcome…

  67. John B says:

    Fandroid @ 11:42AM

    Typical Londoner/Southerner’s point of view. Places like Daventry, Washington, Coalville, Maldon and Newcastle-under-Lyme are all sizeable towns without rail connections, but way out of a certain comfort zone.

    Beeching laid the foundations for the modern network like the Luftwaffe facilitated postwar construction in London. The only decent idea contained in the report was block working, and even this wasn’t his idea in the first place.

    Parker succeeded despite Beeching and because he realised that cutting the network back still further would not bring equivalent cost savings. The flourishing of Beeching-threatened lines is testament to the folly of the 1960s. No other Western economy cut back its network so severely.

  68. Duxford says:

    Slugabed 01:04

    You are of course right that Haverhill was destined to be expanded as a London overspill town, but its rail connection was to Cambridge only and not to London.

    To quote Michael Bonavia in “The Cambridge Line”:

    “In 1939 this typical ex-GER cross country trip for the 50 miles from Colchester to Cambridge took about 2 1/4 hours with 15 intermediate stops; there were 5 trains daily in each direction> Closure, except for for the Mark’s Tey – Sudbury section was inevitable with the dawn of the motor age.”

    This man was head of the Eastern Region planning office and reflects the attitude running throughout BR (and the general public) at the time. in fact there was a sort of reverse NIMBYism, in that people would defend their own local railway but couldn’t give a toss about any other lines.

    The group campaigning for the reopening of the line to Haverhill, appear to have little local support and with their station site now a Tesco store and the huge gap over the A505/A11 their case seems doomed. Most people from Haverhill travelling to London drive to the very conveniently sited Whittlesford Parkway.

  69. Steven Taylor says:

    @ Ian J.

    I did appreciate your comment about `closing` the Kensington – Wandsworth Road ghost train. Still running – I travelled on it yesterday, and it had some proper passengers who continued on the Overground.
    And I see the weekly Tuesday only `ghost` coach service to Ealing Broadway now has a large poster advertising the service at Wandsworth Road.

    On a serious note, the trains would run anyway, but the coach cost is just money wasted.

  70. timbeau says:

    ” Ilfracombe, Brecon, Peterhead, Lampeter, Hay-on-Wye, Ross-on-Wye, Holt, Tavistock, Caernavon, Forfar, Louth”


    Precisely – because they have no rail connection, (and in most cases poor road connections too) they become isolated. Tourists, business, freight find t harder to get there and choose other locations.

    Ilfracombe and Newquay both used to be popular holiday destinations – but I bet more people now where where the latter is than the former, even if they do drive there.

  71. answer=42 says:

    You argue that, despite wrong-headed objectives and incorrect methods, the outcome of Beeching was OK. Nothing logically wrong with this position; stranger things have happened.

    But (surprise, surprise) I disagree. If you try and list the lines that should not have been closed (trying to exclude hindsight), I reckon that you would come up with a figure that is greater than 10% of the remaining, 12 000 miles (?), of passenger lines and a significant proportion of lines closed. This must represent a significant destruction of value.

    On your point that Parker could not have worked with the pre-Beeching network, no-one is arguing that no closures should have happened. A rational strategy would have been:
    1. close the basket cases, fast
    2. use existing assets to run the doubtful cases while…
    3. reducing costs and…
    4. improving the information collection to identify lines that should be kept / closed,
    5. after each election, close lines identified by point 4, fast
    6. repeat from point 2
    Process ends with Public Service Obligation

    So Beeching messed up the transition to the new freight railway? I would contend, without a shred of evidence, that a better man than he would have made the same mistake.
    We forget just how terrible British management was in those days. I remember hearing the Chairman of a quoted company saying on the radio during the 1979 election, ‘unemployment has nothing to do with productivity’. Utter idiot. British management is much better now but still, in my experience, lags behind US and continental European contemporaries.

  72. peezedtee says:

    Most of the debate about 1960s/1970s closures, at the time and ever since, concentrates on branch lines and mostly smallish towns losing their trains. These are the closures about which there were local people affected who often organised to protest (usually in vain).

    But this leaves out of account the strategic routes that were so short-sightedly closed. Maybe nobody made all that much fuss about the Oxford-Cambridge or the Great Central because no significant place lost all rail services, yet with hindsight we can now see that these two closures – to which one might add the Woodhead Tunnel route — were huge strategic blunders, of greater consequence perhaps than most of the local branch closures.

  73. RichardB says:

    I agree with the view that whilst some cuts were inevitable the approach used by Beeching was intellectually dishonest and arguably stupid if we look at the wider strategic interests. However I suspect he knew he would be judged by his masters by his willingness to do the unpalatable and he probably thought he was merely pruning an overgrown and possibly dying tree.

    Hindsight is always clearer but I do recall a senior BR manager telling me in the early nineties that no one in BR anticipated the growth of leisure travel. It seemed inconceivable that traffic would grow and one of the curses of public ownership is that the service owned is viewed as a millstone whose costs should always be contained even if this means sacrificing possible new avenues of business. It did not help that the industry needed to undetake major changes almost as significant as the original construction. Wholesale electrification of the core network should have been the post war priority but apart from the West Coast little else was achieved. Bear in mind that following privatisation the assumption was for managed decline and one of the justifications for it was that it would allow independent operators in who could provide innovative services. In fact DfT openly fears such initiatives such as Grand Central et al as it feels it loses revenue. This still the same mindset which felt that the Victoria line was unjustified as they did not see new passenger traffic as such but displaced traffic and overall revenue did not increase to amortise the construction costs

    It’s fascinating to see how the DLR started almost as Toy Town railway as that was the only way money could squeezed out of Treasury. In fact the growth that followed generated new infrastructure costs which were probably far greater than if a proper system had been designed from the start. I suspect many if those in positions of power when the original decision was taken genuinely believed that car traffic would be the mode of choice as it was outside central London.

    Finally one small point people have correctly noted that most of the dramatic Beeching era cuts occurred under a Labour government even though this meant breaching an election manifesto promise. I think they did not care and probably thought the cuts were justified. The Jesusitcal reason cited that there was no mechanism to reverse decisions was unbelievable then as it is today. When a government really wants something to happen procedural and legal impediments are swept aside. After all Parliament is sovereign and at that time it was significantly freer then than it is today as we were not then part of the Eurpean Union and therefore not subject to the European Court of Justice.

    I think the senior management of BR ultimately was to blame as many of the decisions taken under the 1955 Modernisation Plan were absurd and whilst I like steam engines it beggars belief they commissioned new classes of locomotives when electrification of the main networks was far more important. Their poor management opened the door for someone like Marples and Beeching.

  74. answer=42 says:

    When I wrote ‘legislation of c1968’ in my posts above, I meant Cmnd 3437 of 1967, i.e. a policy White Paper, not a law. Nevertheless, this is what underlay the introduction of the Public Service Obligation by the Transport Act 1968. This ended the impossible ‘shrink to profitable core’ railway policy.

  75. Ian J says:

    It is important to realise that the railway closures that happened after Beeching were not all proposed by the report. Oxford-Cambridge is a case of point: it was not a Beeching closure. He never proposed closing Woodhead either.

    The point about the “orderly management of decline” is that closures were already happening (and in London’s case some of the most drastic withdrawals of services had happened as long ago as the First World War), and they would have continued happening anyway: France and Germany for example went through a similar process over a longer period of time. This was inevitable: before the invention of the car and motor bus the railways had a monopoly of transport in rural areas, and that monopoly was never going to come back. And there were numerous duplicated routes that only made sense in the context of pre-Grouping railway politics. Why were two lines between Lancaster and Morecambe needed? Or three routes from Preston to Blackpool? In the Blackpool case, Beeching’s proposal to keep the Blackpool Central line was probably a better idea than what actually happened.

    The Beeching report was an attempt to impose a rational and national approach on the process. If it was based on flawed data then that is as much an indictment of BR management of the 1950s as it is of Beeching. Arguably the biggest failure was not its attack on rural branch lines but its failure to anticipate future urbanisation such as in the case of Washington. And it is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Beeching had developed the tentative idea of “total social benefit”, perhaps by presenting a series of options as Serpell did in the 1980s. The need for subsidy of socially necessary services was eventually accepted in the late 1960s but that does not mean that had all the lines that were closed survived a bit longer they would have automatically qualified for subsidy. Was the Great Central really socially necessary at the time given that the places it served had better railway connections on other lines?

    Underlying quite a few of the comments above is a feeling that the provinces were done down by a London-based process or that a London-based media encouraged a neglect of provincial railways. But for me the real story of London and the Beeching report is told by Map 1 of the report here, which is a very striking illustration of just how much London dominated rail traffic then. No conspiracy needed: people in London and the South East used their rail services much more, both then and now.

  76. Anonymous says:

    re Ian J

    ” a very striking illustration of just how much London dominated rail traffic then. No conspiracy needed: people in London and the South East used their rail services much more, both then and now.”

    Very true. For the past 35years I have been making rail journeys from North West England to East Anglia. What was once a 7.5hr journey was much improved with introduction of the sprinters. Then the service started getting popular. Post privitisation DfT cut stock provision and fares shot skyward. Packed 2 car services with no guarantee of refreshment or seat, enough! Solution? In and out of London WCML/ GN or GE. Lower cost (availability of advance tickets), guaranteed seat and 1-2hr less travelling time (or bonus refreshment break in Capital! )

    Thought… How many other “through” journeys hit the statistics as London destination/departures or am I the only such traveller?

  77. Nahanael says:

    Swirlythingy: I believe you have found the first use of the phrase “Beeching Axe” in Hansard. (Although “if Dr. Beeching operates his axe” occurs a few months earlier.)

    What’s really interesting is that all the criticisms of Beeching’s report from Parliament are correct, and furthermore they’re the *modern* criticisms. In 1963. “This will put more buses and cars on the road, and the roads can’t handle it. It will cost more to expand the roads than to maintain the railways. The government is proposing to cut not merely branch lines, but the mainlines which are supposed to be carrying the majority of the traffic. The government is proposing to close stations with large and growing ridership.”

    In fact, the “modern approach” was already being taken by the opposition in Parliament, who knew exactly what was wrong with the Beeching axe. There’s another thing they all say: they all say “This isn’t Beeching’s fault, this is a government plot to slash rail services because the government hates rail.”

    Which was probably true too.

  78. Anonymous says:

    John B:
    “The flourishing of Beeching-threatened lines is testament to the folly of the 1960s. No other Western economy cut back its network so severely.”

    Wrong. The US cut back its network *MUCH* more severely. We have cities of 1.5 million with no passenger service and cities of 250,000 with no freight service. Can you imagine it?

  79. Nathanael says:

    RichardB, thanks for discussing this. As an American I know this well:

    “However I do feel that what most people do not realise is the corollary in the USA was the wholesale abandonment of passenger services by railroad companies. The argument was that passenger services were wholly unprofitable and if they could strip out the fixed costs of the stations as well as the passenger trains the companies would make a good profit on freight as indeed happened in America.”

    Even in America, blaming the passenger trains was missing the key point. Actually, even without passenger services all the companies were going bankrupt — there was a rigid system of regulated price controls on freight. This had to be lifted with the “Staggers Act” before the freight railroads could recover. Even AFTER that, they ripped out vast quantities of railway line.

    But back to the destroying-passenger-service era. Cutting service to one-a-day reduced ridership, but not nearly so effectively as cutting it to *less* than one a day, which was also done. Providing awful service — cars without lighting, for instance — was another tactic used by some railroads to discourage passengers from riding, so that they could petition the Interstate Commerce Commission to discontinue passenger service and abandon lines. Downtown stations were sold and demolished, and the passenger trains were rerouted onto freight bypasses, with passengers boarding in the corners of freight yards — this was done in cities of a million people, mind you. And we’re *still* suffering from it.

    The US governments helped out with the destruction of the railways, due to the new fad for expressways (you call them motorways, we call them Interstates, the Germans call them Autobahns). Several railway lines were explicitly bought by US state governments for demolition so that they could pave motorways on top of the route — this was easier than buying housing or farmland! (Syracuse, NY and Boston, MA are the two I know about.) Of course, the astounding amounts of money spent on the Interstate system — with no tolls — diverted both passenger and freight traffic away from the railways. Which in the US were still private, and were *paying taxes to the government*.

    Mergers were held out as the hope for the railway industry, but before the Staggers Act they didn’t help much. Most of the railways in the Northeast US merged into Penn Central… and it went bankrupt in 1968, along with *literally every other railway in the Northeast US*. That was the wakeup call that something needed to be done; it was finally understood that ending all railway service in the Northeast would destroy the US economy. The government dithered about what to do and kept making legislative changes for over a decade after that (and it keeps tweaking things). But that was the origin of Amtrak and Conrail and the Staggers Act and the municipallly-controlled “commuter railroads” in the US, and the beginning of the recovery of rail service in the US.

    In short, the US follows the “era” pattern much more closely than the UK:

    The Decline: The post WW2 years up to the end of the century when public transport was generally perceived as a “problem.” It was never going to pay its way, but the advances in economic modelling that would justify its subsidy in the overall economic interest of the city had not been developed.

    The Silver Age: A period marked by the creation of the GLA and Transport for London. The start of a period where London’s transport was finally placed on a sound economic basis and its true value understood. Although financial prudence is expected, there is no expectation that transport will directly pay its way.

    You folks were just copying us. Luckily for you, you never went as far as we did in ripping out your rail systems. We ripped out far more than you did.

  80. Nathanael says:

    It’s also interesting to hear the discussion about the general incompetence of British Railways in the 1950s. Ordering new steam trains was a bizarre choice at the time; perhaps Britain’s domestic coal supply and lack of domestic oil supply (in the days before North Sea crude) might have been justification, but I can’t see any other reason anyone would have done it. The unstaffed station (halt) was a well-developed American concept, but apparently not one which anyone considered. The continued “regional” thinking is at the very least bizarre and seems to have been actively counterproductive.

    Of course, there were some worse-managed railroads in the US. Infamously, the Milwaukee Road, due to mis-entered accounting, made a tremendous effort to get rid of its “Pacific Extension” thinking that it was unprofitable, only to discover that that had actually been the only profitable part of the railroad. Oy.

  81. Ian J says:

    @Nahaneal: “In fact, the “modern approach” was already being taken by the opposition in Parliament, who knew exactly what was wrong with the Beeching axe. There’s another thing they all say: they all say “This isn’t Beeching’s fault, this is a government plot to slash rail services because the government hates rail.””

    And yet a year later the Opposition were the Government and they didn’t just continue the cuts, they closed lines Beeching never wanted to close. So either just the experience in government somehow caused people to start to hate rail, or maybe it was all a bit more complicated than that and there was no plot at all, just some rather narrow thinking and an excessive focus on past financial performance rather than future potential.

    For me the main lesson from the American experience is that if the railways hadn’t been nationalised in 1948, the private railway companies would have ended up shutting down most of their passenger services or trying to offload them to the government anyway. Beeching was ruthless by public sector standards but most private sector companies have been through some similar phase of brutal “downsizing”.

    @anonymous: Some rail journeys into London might be through journeys but it is still the case that a large proportion of rail journeys start and end in London, and that isn’t surprising because London is a major centre of economic activity, has a much bigger population than any other British city, and because the density of the city makes it well suited to rail travel (and particularly horrible to drive into or out of). And success breeds success: demand to London means services are more frequent and so more attractive. Even the fact that ticket prices into London are higher than elsewhere in the country doesn’t put people off.

  82. DW down under says:

    Nathanael @
    02:18AM, 14th March 2013 wrote:

    “It’s also interesting to hear the discussion about the general incompetence of British Railways in the 1950s. Ordering new steam trains was a bizarre choice at the time; … ”

    It might seem bizarre, but we do need to remember that Britain’s economy was a mess, there was little in the way of foreign currency holdings, Britain was not a beneficiary of the Marshall Plan, Britain had large steelmaking infrastructure in place from the war years, Britain had large fabrication plants in place from the war years, Britain had plenty of coal mines (but saddled with union leaders with perverse political agendas). But Britain did not have an established railway diesel industry (except perhaps for shunters) so building large, efficient, standardised steam engines certainly was a way of clearing out the works of hundreds if not thousands of clapped out engines of dozens of designs needing heavy overhaul to give adequate service. It was a start, and in the absence of strategic leadership on the shape of the industry, was a move towards post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation of the network.

    Had Britian been a beneficiary of the Marshall Plan, Britain would have had Alcos, GM-EMDs, Fairbanks-Morses, Baldwins, and so on. There were duds on the American road to dieselisation, just as there were in the British modernisation plan. But certainly, American export models would have been common in Britain, not unlike the models that found their way in Belgium and Denmark, for example – and the likes of Evening Star and Britannia would not have been built.

  83. Anonymous says:

    Re answer=42
    Here is the full list
    Closures by year

    The list below shows 7000 miles of closures:[citation needed]
    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)
    After this period “residual” Beeching closures did occur: Bridport to Maiden Newton[note 15] (in 1975), Alston to Haltwhistle[note 16] (1976) and others.[citation needed]

  84. timbeau says:


    There is also the point that the UK had a large indigenous locomotive-building industry, (which had supplied much of the world, not just the UK), and importing off-the -peg American diesels woud have been politically difficult, even if we had had the currency to do it. This support of the home industry continued into the dieselisation plan, where instead of buying in a few Alcos, GMs etc, 174 locomotives of of thirteen different designs were trialled, with limited success.

  85. timbeau says:

    Meant to add that, even when we did use imported (German) technology, in the shape of hydraulic transmissions, it had to be built under licence rather than imported. the north British locomotive company did not adapt well to this.

  86. DW down under says:


    Where did all the Sulzers used in the 40-47 class series come from?

    Noted about the political difficulty importing locos compounding all the other problems. I would have expected that, given the foreign exchange was available and Britian was getting Marshall Plan aid, British firms would have become licencees and local partners to the American, building the frames, carbodies, cabs, and sourcing a lot of components within the UK. In Australian terms, arrangements comparable to Clyde-GM and A.E.Goodwin-Alco. And indeed, I think the US would have expected American companies to partner local companies in Marshall Plan recipient nations.

    DW down under

  87. RichardB says:

    The tragedy of the Beeching era is that whilst cuts were required it happened when the appropriate quality of management information seems to have been absent or where it did exist it was misunderstood. Had we continued to muddle through with say the system as it was in 1958 for another decade we might have stood a chance of a better outcome but regrettably we are where we are. What I do find difficult to comprehend is the unwillingness to reinstate. For example the Uckfield to Lewes extension now makes sense especially of you electrify the line and thereby provide resilience for the main Brighton line. It’s fascinating if rather sad and predictable that the villages on that branch which formerly had stations have requested that if the line does go ahead their stations will not be reinstated thereby ensuring their bucolic isolation as they do not wish for new incomers.

    On this topic I have to say National Rail’s recent aversion to third rail almost certainly means that very little will be done as whilst overhead may make more sense I suspect the costs of wholesale conversion will mean very little will be done. The current proposal to try out an insertion of overhead electrification on the Uckfield branch may raise hopes but I think the argument of the overheads of maintaining a small fleet of trains equipped with both modes will not be cost effective. I know all new fleets of third rail DC have capacity for a pantograph but you may recall the pantographs were removed as their presence when unused led to deterioration. I find it difficult to believe that that argument will be overcome by the use of a small isolated section of overhead electrification. Ironically if the Uckfield branch and the Hastings to Ashford line were converted there would be a small but not inconsiderable fleet of diesel stock to cascade where they would be of real value.

    I have to say as a Londoner I am privileged by the presence of the railway network indeed as someone who lives south of the river in the far south west reaches of greater Londn I am really grateful to the Southern Railway and its four originators as I live about 12 to 15 minutes walk from two stations on two different lines giving me a choice of 12 trains per hour ( 6 per station) and Crossrail 2 when built will augment that frequency. To my surprise I have also grudgingly developed an affection for South West Trains. Long may the silver age continue and for Londoners it may yet become golden. I will be interested to read PoPs account of the Beeching report on the London network

  88. ngh says:

    Re DW

    The UK was actually the biggest beneficiary of the Marshall plan ($3.3bn in actual $ from the time). For comparison France got $2.3bn and Germany $1.45bn and unlike the UK they used the cash to rebuild industry where as the UK used a lot to rebuild housing.

    The UK and France/Germany took differing view on industrial reconstruction strategy. As a rail example France bought a large steel press so they could produce curved 1 piece steel carriage sides and roofs (and hence move away from underframe chassis carriage construction 15-20 years before the UK). The UK persisted in keeping as much competition going in the UK to keeps costs low (not sure it really worked as order sizes were smaller so R&D wasn’t pursued as much as it could) and develop IP while trying to build a viable exports market none of which fitted together particularly well.

  89. Slugabed says:

    I was taught that the difference between the Marshall Plan as applied to Britain and that applied to the rest of Europe was that we had to pay back every cent with interest,a process which only completed a few year ago (2007?)
    That makes a BIG difference.
    Correct me if I am wrong.

  90. DW down under says:


    I bow to your superior knowledge of history.

    Politics and lack of foreign exchange and a massive dose of jingoism and pride certainly closed the UK off to some otherwise potentially useful benefits. Meanwhile the colonies faithfully supported the mother country with strange diesel locos (Crossley engined MetroVick 2-Do-2 anyone) and Leyland and AEC buses – well Western Australia did.

    In fact, Guys, Leylands, Daimlers and AECs were pretty well universal in Austalian capital city post-war rehabilitation fleets, while lighter Bedfords were widespread in the outer suburbs and country towns. And English Electric had support from three of the narrow gauge states (Tasmania, all EE; Qld: a good size fleet; WA: about 38). Then came the EEC and all of a sudden, the new buses were Mercedes, Volvo, MAN, Renault/Mack, Scania – and in the bush: Hino, Isuzu ……

    DW down under

  91. peezedtee says:

    @Ian J “Was the Great Central really socially necessary at the time given that the places it served had better railway connections on other lines?”

    No, I wasn’t arguing that it was socially necessary (north of Aylesbury), and as far as I am aware, nobody argued that at the time. That was just my point: rural branch lines and small-town stations were the focus of attention because they had vocal supporters arguing that they were socially necessary, whereas a major trunk route like the GCR could be shut on a whim as not being needed, despite its obvious strategic usefuless as we can now see. The greatest crime of all was not to at least safeguard the formation for possible future use. Thoughtlessly chucking away a priceless long-term asset because the capacity it provided was not essential at that moment. We could do with it now.

    What it goes to show is that “social necessity” should not have been the only criterion for deciding whether to keep a particular piece of infrastructure.

  92. timbeau says:


    “Where did all the Sulzers used in the 40-47 class series come from?”


    Sulzer is a Swiss firm, which numbered Rudolph Diesel as one of its employees, but Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness built engines to its design under licence, which were used in the pilot scheme designs later classified as 24,26 and 44, along with later classes 25, 27, 33, and 45-48 inclusive.

    Classes 40-43 did not use Sulzer engines: Class 40 used engines built by English Electric, and Classes 41-43 used German Maybach and MAN designs, built under licence by Bristol-Siddeley and the North British Loco Co respectively.

    Richard B – yes indeed the pantographs, and a few other components such as transformers) were removed, or not fitted in the first place, to “dual mode” units that are not currently (!) required to run under the wires, but they can be fitted if the need arises. This has indeed been done, with Class 377s swapped around to work the Watford Junction service or on Thameslink, the 365s traferred from South Eastern to WAGN. Conversely, shoegear was fitted to some of LM’s 350s when they were borrowed by Southern to work the Watford – Croydon service to cover a shortage of stock elsewhere.

  93. Greg Tingey says:

    Ian J
    Yea, the ethos of the times was anti-railway, but there were other factos in play, epitomised, as before by Marples, but from all sectors.
    I’ve just acquired a book called “Holding the Line” ( By Faulkner/Austin, Pub: OPC 2012) which documents the goings-on & how son=me of the railways were saved.
    ONE: The corrupt attempt by the TGWU, feathering its’ lorry-driver members “interests” in trying & temporarily succeeding in “Blacking” container freight terminals – to the fury of the rail unions. Apparently there was a high-level secet meeting at TUC HQ, where the then TGWU leader J Jones tried to wriggle out of it, lost his temper & demanded that the whole thing be kept quiet – the latter was done …..
    TWO: The similar attemot by the gang of thieving crooks called “the London Dockers” to seal off the Stratford Container terminal & make sure it was staffed with dockers, & not railway workers – I remember this one personally – it took several months to resolve, finally with victory in this case to the railway unions.. OF course the other reason for the dockers hatred of containers was that ias harder to pilfer stuff from them …..
    THREE: The not only corrupt but criminally-insane Alfred Sherman, friend of Maggie, & his crooked gang of “Railway conversion league” loonies. Even so, if it hadn’t been for safety considerations (The passing-width of the tunnels) Marylebone station was nearly turned into … a Bus / coach station …..
    FOUR: (Not in the book AFAIK) The closure of the Post Office Railway.
    The GPO got a new boss who shut the PO railway down & tried to shut down the TPO’s (& did for a week or two) on the excuse that “Railway operation was uneconomic” (ditto the PO Rly) … then, it gradually became apparent that he had huge personal vested interests in the lorry manufacturing & Leasing sector & stood to make shed-loads fro himself if this carried on …. After a short time he was asked to leave the GPO.
    This shyster is still alive (AFAIK) So I have deliberately NOT named him – others may care to do so, separately, so we can avoid even the breath of a potential libel – though, of course, truth is an absolute defence, it would be as well not to get involved ….

    So, the exact same rip-off as in the USA was planned or contemplated here, but never QUITE materialised.
    The only legacy, is that, now the PO railway is shut it’s going to be very difficult to-re-open it – just like any of the other lines that were closed in”error”

    We’d still have an indigenous loco (& rolling-stock) building industry if it hadn’t been for guvmint incompetence ….
    EE at Vulcan made some good stuff, but were screwed by a guvmint fixed-price contract,
    Birmingham RCW & the post-privatisation rolling stock dearth & similar today … etc ….

  94. ngh says:

    RE Slugabed 10:31AM, 14th March 2013

    I was taught that the difference between the Marshall Plan as applied to Britain and that applied to the rest of Europe was that we had to pay back every cent with interest,a process which only completed a few year ago (2007?)
    That makes a BIG difference.
    Correct me if I am wrong.

    Marshall plan was a mix of loans and grants . I think Germany was an almost an even split until they managed to get some of the loans converted to grants afterwards. UK and France had ~15% loans and ~85% grant and similar terms (but we spent ours rebuilding housing and trying to prop up the empire instead of rebuilding industry)

    The UK also had other pre 1948 debts such as lend lease to repay the US, in addition the US loaned the UK $4.6bn outside the Marshall plan another reason for later UK repayments (in general) to the US finishing later than Germany (1971) or France.

    Most other countries managed to get the amount they had to repay reduced over time.

  95. Ralph says:

    Ian J 11:19PM
    A couple of points-

    Beeching did effectively close Oxford-Cambridge. Beeching I closed the intermediate stations, and Beeching II didn’t recommend the line for future investment. QED – line has no future. Same with Woodhead, left to live on scraps after Beeching, not proposed for investment and so eventually closes.

    I’m afraid you can’t come on here and talk about Beeching if you haven’t read the two reports.

    10,000 route miles closed in a little under ten years, not “orderly decline” rather mad hacking. There is NO comparison with France and Germany – France had a spiders web of lines in the northern and various very rural (i.e. Tollesbury-esque) lines which served NO purpose, while Germany closed very very few duplicative lines (e.g. Moseltalbahn). What happened was in NO WAY inevitable – the fact that it didn’t happen in any other country except here and the US is a case in point.

    Blackpool – effectively two lines and a spur. The second line (Preston & Wyre) was closed in error and had consequences on the local area and for which there is an active campaign. It wasn’t anyway a “second” line but a continuation from Blackpool.

    Lancaster-Morecambe – another mistake. The line connected the WCML with the ECML, not to mention the useful Ingleton line which went with it.

    Closing the Great Central was one of the great railway crimes. It didn’t need a social case to survive, it just needed its traffic moved back, express services reintroduced and the Channel Tunnel built. It was our HS2. It passed quite close to the Magma freight park and had good connections to the Ox-Cam line at Claydon and the Chiltern ML via Banbury. It provided Sheffield and Nottingham with better connections to London, than they have via the MML. Not to mention Brackley and Lutterworth, which are not even rail-connected now.

  96. Quinlet says:

    The comment that London’s transport cannot be operated on the basis of ‘normal economic forces’ is probably right, but the reason for this is not becasue of the difficulty of applying these to the railway, but becasue of the difficulty of applying these to the roads. Road traffic in London is very heavily subsidised. The normal calculation which says that motroists pay more taxes than is spent on roads is a product of very special pleading. In part this is becasue included in the tax income is VAT, which is a general tax, not a motoring tax, and in part becasue the expenditure column includes only road construction and maintenance. It does not even include street lighting, let alone the additional costs for emergency services in dealing with traffic and traffic accidents.

    I these items and roads are, overall, running at a loss in any case, but this also presupposes that te cost of managing and maintaining a road such as the Hammersmith flyover is the same, per kilometre, as the cost of managing and maintaining a country lane in the remoter part of Hereford. Take this into account and the degree of subsidy to roads in London starts ballooning.

    And without some form of electronic road pricing (not even available at the time of Beeching) there is no mechanism for collecting any revenue on a geographical or time basis to prevent this subsidy.

    So Beeching was not only wrong in not suggestiong the use of CBA or similar in London, he was not even prepared to consider that the financial terms of enagagement between road and rail were heavily distorted in favour of roads.

  97. Alex says:

    To play the devil’s advocate, no-one here doubts for a moment that passenger numbers are the most valid criterion of a transport project’s success or failure in the context of – say – Thameslink, Crossrail, the Overground etc. The quibbling about Beeching’s surveys is here or there; My Favourite Tiddly-Diddly Branch Line might have been 20% in error but it wasn’t going to make it the Victoria line, was it?

    And look at some of the places involved – I mean, if summer special trains to Ilfracombe weren’t underutilised in 1964 they soon would have been because people went to Spain instead. Further, I’ve never seen the fuss about Oxford-Cambridge as a route. Nobody who has anything to do with either commutes from the other. I guess it might be useful for Felixstowe-West Midlands freight, a bit. But if it wasn’t for the name, nobody would care.

  98. Philip Wylie says:

    Bit of whimsy perhaps but does anyone know if Network Rail will build into the new London Bridge station the foundations for future OHLE to connect the T/Link core with Brighton via Oxted (then via Gatwick)?

  99. peezedtee says:

    @Alex “I’ve never seen the fuss about Oxford-Cambridge as a route. Nobody who has anything to do with either commutes from the other. I guess it might be useful for Felixstowe-West Midlands freight, a bit. But if it wasn’t for the name, nobody would care.”

    Nonsense. It is not just, or indeed mainly, about travelling between Oxford itself and Cambridge itself. Look at the map. It is a strategic link between several main lines radiating from London. Furthermore, Oxford, Milton Keynes/Bletchley and Bedford are all quite significant places. It also provides a link from the proposed southern freight spine to the WCML without getting clogged up in the Coventry/Birmingham area. If you think it is so useless, why do you suppose its reinstatement between Oxford and Bedford (the Cambridge bit is harder to do) is now going ahead, with the unanimous support of all the local authorities, politicians and regional bodies concerned?

  100. mr_jrt says:

    Indeed. The point is that whilst there may not be the same levels of demand as the radial lines to London, there’s so much congestion on those that moving passengers travelling in and back out again onto orbital lines is a damn sight easier than building new radial lines into London.

  101. John B says:

    Before dismissing Beeching closures as “Tiddly-Diddly Branches”, have a look at those in the report that actually closed, e.g. Leeds/Wetherby, Scarborough/Whitby, York/Beverley. None of these are tiddly or diddly. As for statistics, what does 20% more or less actually mean? Is there a magic figure which a line should reach before it has to close? The Peniston, Abbey and St Ives lines were due to be closed but survived and are thriving today. Who says that this would not also have been the case for a certain number of Beeching closures?

    And if every route has to be as busy as the Victoria line in order to be viable, then on that logic just about every line into London bar one or two should close.

  102. timbeau says:

    “Blackpool – effectively two lines and a spur. The second line (Preston & Wyre) was closed in error and had consequences on the local area and for which there is an active campaign.

    According to my trusty pre-Grouping atlas all three lines from preston to Blackpool were owned by the Preston and Wyre, which was a joint operation between the LNWR and LYR. Three lines built not for competion but to meet demand.

    “Lancaster-Morecambe……………the line connected the WCML with the ECML” I don’t think it did. It connected the WCML at Lancaster with the actual west coast (as in seaside) at Morecambe

  103. Fandroid says:

    When comparing the pre-Beeching rail network with those of other countries, it helps to remember that, as a general rule, other European countries’ rail networks were subject to a lot more central planning, even if the implementation was carried out by private companies. That meant there there was not the quite extraordinary degree of duplication (and triplication) that occurred in Britain. The pre-Beeching and post-Beeching closures, at least in part, rid the country of much of the duplication. That scale of closure was just not required elsewhere in Europe.

    The US railroads, by and large, were created in a similar way to those in Britain, so large-scale closure was inevitable. Although there, private railroads could not compete with publicly subsidised interstate highways.

    Having said that, I am still amazed at the current size of the network in Germany. It might be due to the influence of the Länder (the regional governments) who have had a far greater say over local transport than any equivalent in Britain (except more recently: London, Scotland and Wales).

    I remain very sceptical about the GC mainline. Part of the justification for HS2 is that the WCML will be full by the mid 2020s. The implication being that the existing lines will have coped for the 60 years after Beeching. No-one plans that far ahead ! Maintaining a ‘just in case’ route for that length of time would have been most odd. Few of the destinations served by the GC lack alternative routes from London, even now. It was a creation of the unplanned competitive world that I mentioned above. It failed, so it was closed.

  104. Anonymous says:

    response Ian J

    @anonymous: Some rail journeys into London might be through journeys but it is still the case that a large proportion of rail journeys start and end in London, and that isn’t surprising because London is a major centre of economic activity, has a much bigger population than any other British city, and because the density of the city makes it well suited to rail travel (and particularly horrible to drive into or out of). And success breeds success: demand to London means services are more frequent and so more attractive. Even the fact that ticket prices into London are higher than elsewhere in the country doesn’t put people off.

    I think you miss my point. I do not disagree regarding London rail usage, all I’m trying to point out is that because rail provision is so good and because of the historic radial development of long distance lines from London I am sure there must be other rail users who like myself use London as a transit hub even when to do so would not be obvious. The fractured nature of the rail network and ridiculous fares structures mean that far from costing more it often is a considerable saving to do so. For example the journey previously quoted never costs me more than 50% of the turn up “direct” fare, often considerably LESS. This is because advance fare/ bucket shop availability on both WCML and ECML off peak. However since all these bargain tickets start/end at London terminals presumably any data recorded shows as London generated traffic.

    (Following a chance conversation with a rail worker I now always check “via London” on any trip I make. He regularly used to do Manchester-Edinburgh via London as his “cheapest” option. Likewise I have often found L’pool-Brum cheapest via Euston and Marylebone!)

  105. RichardB says:

    Apropos of the decision to ditch the Great Central north of Aylesbury and the north Devon and north Cornish lines it was often stated that the decision was rooted in ancient company rivalries which were maintained in BR’s regional structure. For some this was evidence of a conspiracy by old LMS and GWR acolytes to raze their hated rivals from the soil. It makes good copy but I doubt if there is evidence to support it but… I do wonder if there wasn’t an element of institutionalised prejudice. The former Midland route to Sheffield which is the one that survived is not demonstrably superior to the the GC route but as it was built first it had developed a customer base and I suspect there was an instinctual preference for it within the London Midland region over its former rival.

    People in power like to believe that their decisions are soundly based taken objectively. In reality this is rarely the case. There is evidence to suggest that decision making by senior management of most of Britain’s post war industries was congenitally flawed and I doubt if the railways were exempt from that. It is true the GC was last to the feast and therefore always struggled financially but that should not of itself have meant that it was the logical one for sacrifice. One wonders if Eastern region had retained management of the GC line and responsibility for services into the East Midlands whether the same decision would have been taken. Would the Midland main line have been truncated at Bedford with long distant services to the East Midlands cities and even Manchester transferred to Marylebone?

    Similarly the decision to abandon the former L&SWR route to Plymouth and Padstow is odd. If you are to retain services into Cornwall logically you focus on those serving the larger communities which in Cornwall meant Bodmin and Padstow not Penzance. There is also the advantage you can then abandon the south Devon line with all the maintenance work in entailed around Dawlish due to encroachment by the sea.

    I don’t believe there was a conspiracy exciting though it is to have one when compared with the alternative of decisions based on ignorance and prejudice but I think the latter is more likely. Yes we probably needed to prune the network but I don’t believe the present network was the outcome of superior judgement. One final point as has been mentioned previously most of the cuts occurred under a Labour administration who broke their election manifesto promise because they claimed no mechanism existed to reverse the process. Somewhat late in the day the topic was raised at Cabinet and one of the concerns was the decision to scrap one of the Welsh lines was problematic as it went through four highly marginal constituencies. Apparently Lord Tonypandy intervened and Wilson had to concede this represented a problem and the line was saved.

  106. Littlejohn says:

    @timbeau12:18AM, 13th March – ‘London Transport effectively owned AEC’ and DW 07:22AM, 13th March 2013 – ‘The fact that the LGOC’s Associated Equipment Company, better known to us today as AEC, was part of the pre-war LPTB’. No, LT (in any of its iterations) never owned AEC. The Associated Equipment Co was originally the engineering arm of Vanguard of Walthamstow. It came under control of the Underground Group when Vanguard, Union Jack and General amalgamated under the General fleetname. But when LT was formed on nationalisation in 1933 AEC was excluded and became a separate company. Certainly they were inter-dependent; AEC needed the bulk orders from LT and LT needed a supplier with the capacity to produce in the numbers it needed. If memory serves me correctly, LT was obliged to buy 75% of its vehicles from AEC so there was some element of competition, which is where the various Leyland classes came from.

    @Malcolm 01:48AM, 13th March. I don’t think there is any mystery about the scrapping of the trolleys. Timbeau and DW put their fingers on the reason. Both the vehicles and all the electrical supply system needed replacing at the same time. It must have been much cheaper, as well as producing economies of operation, to have one type of vehicle. Proof of operating synergies if any is needed lies in the number of trolleybus depots that were closed rather than converted to bus garages. It is also worth reflecting that LT was not alone in abandoning the trolleys; the post-war Q class was a product of BUT – an AEC-Leyland joint venture. If these two arch-rivals thought the market was so limited that they had to pool their efforts the writing really was on the wall.

    Sorry for late comment – major IT failure and just catching up.

  107. Ian J says:

    @Ralph: 10,000 miles in 10 years? The figures quoted above add up to 4,000 miles from 1963 to 1973.

    The fact is that the first Beeching report recommended Oxford-Cambridge for retention and closure of wayside halts was exactly the kind of step needed to make it viable as a route people might actually use with a competitive journey time. Why propose changing the service if Beeching intended closing the line? Beeching II was about intercity routes so not relevant. Woodhead was not “left to feed on scraps”: it was a major freight route (as clearly indicated in the maps in the report) and was intended to remain so until the early 1980s recession hit the traffic hard. Beeching in fact proposed to close the Hope Valley line, which would have made it impossible to close Woodhead.

    @Ralph, RichardB Given the choice between splitting its limited budget between the Great Central and the Midland Main Line, or focusing investment on the MML or Great Central alone, BR made a perfectly defensible choice. Nottingham and Sheffield in the end did better from having one high-speed and frequent service to London than two run-down competing services, and the MML passed through more population centres, didn’t have to share track with other lines on the way into London compared to the Great Central, and served a bigger terminus with better Underground connections. I always assumed the reason the Beatles arrived at Marylebone in A Hard Day’s Night was because the station was easier to use for filming because it was so quiet. Certainly there were flawed decisions made by BR but I don’t think this was one of them.

    @Greg: Sure Marples was a crook, but no-one has accused Beeching of being out for personal gain – he famously closed his own local station. As an outsider to the industry he may have lacked basic understanding of aspects of railway operation but at least he stood above the silly regional fiefdoms and rivalries.

    @Quinlet: In the case of the London commuter services it is not so much a question of subsidy road vs car as of subsidy making travel possible in the first place. No-one in their right mind drives to work in the City of London and it would be physcially impossible to fit all the people who work there in if they did. But the density of people who work there makes possible a massive amount of economic activity. The catch is that they all want to arrive and leave around the same time and so you need a massive amount of capacity that is under-used for the rest of the day. The solution to this problem, as mentioned in one of the quotes above, is sometimes seen as staggered working hours and decentralisation of employment, but governments have been trying to do this for years with basically no effect (in the late 1960s the government imposed a moratorium on office building in central London, for example, which is why Euston station never got the office block that was meant to go on top of its flat roof). More recently there seems to have been hope that smartcards could be used to spread demand through pricing, though that seems to have gone quiet recently. In the end subsidy of commuter services will always be with us, but the Treasury has always been loath to recognise that.

    @anonymous: If you are travelling via London on cheap advance tickets then by definition you are travelling on services where there is spare capacity (or they wouldn’t offer the discounted tickets). From the railway’s point of view it is probably still a better deal for them than you trying to squeeze onto an overcrowded cross-country train, and you get to your destination faster.

  108. Anonymous says:

    @Ian J “The solution to this problem, … is sometimes seen as staggered working hours … but governments have been trying to do this for years with basically no effect”

    But how hard has any government really tried? I have always thought much more could be done if a co-ordinated effort were made between government, employers, employee organisations and the railways. I have the impression that most people outside the railway don’t begin to understand the extent to which it is the cost of the required peak capacity that largely determines the cost of the whole thing. At present the differential pricing of commuter fares (generally cheaper after 09:30) is a very crude instrument, and it bears upon the passenger, who cannot in most cases decide his or her own working hours (aside from a few enlightened employers who allow flexitime), and not on the employer, who is the person who can definitively decide the working hours, but is not usually paying the fare and so has no financial incentive to change them.

    I realise that quite a few employees, e.g. city traders in international markets, have to be at their desks at a given time. But there are many other office jobs where the time is pretty immaterial as long as you put in the total hours. I have worked in many offices over the decades where the hours were rigidly enforced for no very good reason and it was often obvious that no thought had ever been given to the question.

    In theory at least, if the commuter peaks could be flattened the whole railway system would save a large amount of cost, and fares could be reduced across the board!

  109. DW down under says:

    There is a trade off where the traffic load becomes too spread to accommodate daytime servicing. That pushes up your average cost of maintenance to cover night shift penalty rates.

    I had the impression that larger cities (like London, and even modestly large like Sydney) already have peak periods over 3 hours in duration, each morning and a more spread peak in the evening: 3.5-4 hours. Flexitime is not new. I had the benefit of that in the period 1981-87 when I worked for BT at Holborn Circus. As a late riser, I was always on the last possible train in to cover core hours (at one stage, that was an 0930 HST from Stevenage – KX) and tended to go home later than most.

    The problem with Flexitime/FlexTime is that a significant part of the workforce works interdependently, and there are meetings and other interactions that need to be scheduled. This can play havoc with an individual’s time planning, or they simply become absent when needed. It’s not a one-way street!

    It is better now with mobiles, iPADs and the like than when I was working in London. Back then, a mobile phone wasn’t an accessory of middle management roles. And if you then say, well OK, we’ll have the whole place run on early time (say 0715 – 1600), businesses don’t operate in isolation. How does that affect interactions with customers, suppliers, contractors, consulting firms? What if your main contractor ran to late time (1000 – 1845)? You’re reducing the available interaction time to 6 hours – and have you ever tried to catch someone around lunch time?

    A “significant person”, a former Australian Prime Minister, made an amazingly insightful remark once (I think in connection with some desired outcome in southern Africa): “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” Gracious, what a revelation!!

    No, ‘fraid there’s no easy solutions. And Britain’s tendency to seek consensus and the British way of compromise will ensure that planning will take a very long time.

    I was going to wax lyrical about strong leadership, but perhaps it’s time to put this post to bed 🙂

    DW down under

  110. Fandroid says:

    Talking about peak fares (somewhat off-topic, I know) it might surprise many of the LR Commentariat to to be told that many season ticket prices are bargains compared with the cheapest walk-on fares. My source in this is Barry Doe, who writes in Rail magazine. He gives Winchester to Waterloo as an example. The weekly season costs £113.90, ie £23 a day for 5 days. The cheapest walk-on daily fare is a Super Off-Peak Day Return costing £30.60. So there is absolutely no incentive for the regular commuter to travel off-peak (except perhaps for crowded trains – but I’m sure that just about all Winchester commuters get a seat!) Barry says this illogical price differential is not unusual (ie not just a Stagecoach scam), and is mostly created by the capping of seasons and a free-for-all for most other fares.

    So whatever social pressure is applied to spread working times, there is mostly no economic pressure for individual commuters.

  111. Ian J says:

    @Fandroid, Anonymous: I agree that fares at the moment are a very blunt intrument and that some changes could be made. One anomaly not mentioned so far is that peak fares apply even very early in the morning when there is spare capacity. Various attempts have been made to introduce “earlybird” season tickets (I think FCC did this when they first got the Thameslink franchise), but they don’t seem to have been very popular, perhaps because people don’t like having to commit to travelling early every day. Maybe with a smartcard, a commuter who chooses to travel before or after the peak could be credited with a discount against the cost of the season ticket for that day. But I don’t think such changes would be a panacea or make more than a few percent difference to the intensity of the peak. As DW says, there are reasons why employers want to have all of their employees together at the same time for at least most of the working day – companies are under pressure to keep costs down and if they are paying the very high cost of renting office space in central London for their employees they must feel that they get more productivity out of them than if they were all working from home. While the direct cost falls on the employee, the cost of commuting does have an impact on the employer because employees will take the cost (and time, and difficulty) of getting to work into account when deciding whether to accept a job.

  112. DW down under says:

    Ian J @
    11:13PM, 17th March 2013 wrote:

    ” @Fandroid, Anonymous: I agree that fares at the moment are a very blunt intrument and that some changes could be made. …
    … While the direct cost falls on the employee, the cost of commuting does have an impact on the employer because employees will take the cost (and time, and difficulty) of getting to work into account when deciding whether to accept a job.”

    Indeed. In my day, BT paid a “London Loading” to ensure they were competitive and/or compensate for the higher cost of working there. I don’t think it covered the price of my season ticket, but it certainly helped.

    DW down under

  113. timbeau says:

    London Weighting used to be a feature of civil service pay as well

  114. peezedtee says:

    @Ian J “While the direct cost falls on the employee, the cost of commuting does have an impact on the employer because employees will take the cost (and time, and difficulty) of getting to work into account when deciding whether to accept a job.”

    That is true up to a point, but works much less well at a time when there are not enough jobs to go round, as at present (so that if you are lucky enough to be offered a job you will probably accept it however unsatisfactory the conditions). And even so, it might make more of a difference if the prospective employee could be presented with an explicit choice of working say from 10:30 to 18:30 instead of 09:00 to 17:00 and told that the fare would then be x instead of y. A lot of employers just seem to be awfully hidebound and stuck in a rut about this sort of thing. In my example the staff would still all be there from 10:30 to 17:00, which for many organisations would be perfectly adequate.

    Nobody is suggesting that any one solution is a magic bullet, still less that the peaks can ever be flattened out completely, but I still think much more could be done in that direction and that it could make a significant difference to the maximum rail resources needed at any one time.

    I don’t think London Weighting is relevant to this. It doesn’t have any bearing on the time of arrival.

    I certainly agree with Barry Doe that season tickets are generally too cheap if they work out at less per day that the off-peak fare. (Could there not be a more expensive season ticket specifically for the high peak and a cheaper version for use say after 09.30?)

  115. Nathanael says:

    “For some this was evidence of a conspiracy by old LMS and GWR acolytes to raze their hated rivals from the soil. It makes good copy but I doubt if there is evidence to support it but… I do wonder if there wasn’t an element of institutionalised prejudice. The former Midland route to Sheffield which is the one that survived is not demonstrably superior to the the GC route but as it was built first it had developed a customer base and I suspect there was an instinctual preference for it within the London Midland region over its former rival.”

    Interestingly, we have a similar history in the US. Conrail management famously consisted of men from “Penn Central”, and before that from the NY Central and the Pennsy. Routes from other former railroads — the CNJ, the Erie, the Lackawanna, the Lehigh Valley, etc. — often seem to have been axed in preference to axing NYC or Pennsy routes, and although in some cases this was justified it often wasn’t. Among the NYC and the Pennsy, NYC routes seem to have been preferred.

  116. Castlebar says:

    There was a lot of corruption in national government then. Too many had shares in companies such as Marples Ridgeway etc. I am not convinced that the situation is much better now. The GCML ran from London to Sheffield, lt was closed and the M1 opened to run London to Sheffield. HS2 is ultimately designed to run London to Sheffield because the building lobby now wants to construct a railway “that is desperately needed”. Doesn’t that tell you something??

  117. D-Notice says:

    I am not convinced that the situation is much better now. The GCML ran from London to Sheffield, lt was closed and the M1 opened to run London to Sheffield. HS2 is ultimately designed to run London to Sheffield because the building lobby now wants to construct a railway “that is desperately needed”. Doesn’t that tell you something??

    That people are happy pick and choose what to look at in order to justify their own paranoia?

  118. GregTingey says:

    We can’t possibly keep all these lines (In the W country – but also Wales & elsewhere) just for the holiday traffic!

    We desperately need the M5/A30 dualling otherwise the West country will sieze uo with the holiday traffic.

    And yes, those simultaneous “arguments” were put forward at the time …..

  119. Castlebar says:

    @ D-Notice > sorry to be thick, but l don’t quite understand your comment. “Paranoia”?
    Money speaks louder than paranoia. Marples Ridgeway were heavily involved with building the M1. The country was scammed by a Gov’t minister. Look up ‘Marples’ life on wikipedia. Beeching got a Baronetcy to take the flak. In fact, he was “only obeying orders”.

    But now we have a P.M. who is being manipulated by Bullingdonians with links to major construction companies via banks and “financial institutions”. There is far more money in new build than in reinstating or reinvigorating existing structure. THAT is a major problem.

  120. Castlebar says:

    ……….in fact, Beeching made it known that “his brief” (from Marples) was specifically to go for closure of lines rather than make them pay. I think he also stated that some of the lines he closed could have been made to pay had he been given different “instructions”. . But Marples didn’t want the GC to pay, he wanted Marples Ridgeway, his own (wife’s) company, to build the M1,

    It is interesting to consider what lines could have easily been made to pay (such as Shoreham-Horsham) had Beeching been given a differently worded brief by Marples. On that line alone, the population has more than doubled (at Southwater it has increase tenfold) since the line was closed.

    What other lines would be profitable today had not such a corrupt politician been given a Ministry with a personal interest agenda to close them?

  121. Fandroid says:

    Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.

    Greg. Those roads in the west country were jammed solid because ordinary people wanted to take their cars on holiday. Beeching could have prescribed 20 tph on both mainlines and still the roads would have been full.

    As for HS2 to Sheffield, perhaps it makes sense to route a new line to Leeds via the heavily populated East Midlands and South Yorks?

  122. DW down under says:


    RE: HS2

    Yes indeed, the North-East arm is the bit I struggle to understand. The argument AGAINST going via Heathrow must be the same as the argument AGAINST going via the West Midlands to get to the North-East, surely.

    And does cross-country Birmingham – NE warrant a new build 400km/h railway? Is the cross-country traffic situation THAT bad? Now, or forecast in 25 years?

    Personally, I think the HS2 route concept is that stuff male cows drop in paddocks. Too little integration, and 770mm platforms – PLEEEZE! The line is for UK use – we don’t need the brain-addled backward looking Eurostandards. Build to the 915mm standard, and get the car floors and vestibules to match!! Our trains will then be 145mm above the Europlatforms, much as trains today generally are above their platforms. That should work quite happily for all and sundry!! And any Eurotrain that gets into a British HS platform will be 145mm below – something that the Tube has successfully worked with for the best part of Century! Indeed, if the Eurotrains were smart, their suspensions could adjust the 145mm – if the UK makes allowance for that in designing the OHL.

    DW down under

  123. Fandroid says:


    I suspect that the HS2 road to Leeds is being directed via Brum because the end of stage 1 is nearer to Leeds than London is. Battling with one set of Chilterns nimbys is wearing enough, without engaging with a second lot. Politically, it’ll bring the burgers of Brum onside even more if they think they’ll be connected to everywhere oop north. The politicos of Peterborough don’t have the weight of numbers to compete with the Brummies.

  124. timbeau says:

    Birmingham is not very far off the straight line from London to Leeds – look at the route of the M1 and M6.

  125. Malcolm says:

    Platform heights. Most passengers can indeed manage a step of 145mm. Some cannot. Much effort is being made throughout the transport industry to accomodate those who cannot, and also those (like pushchair and wheely-luggage wielders) who prefer step-free access. It is possible to argue (if you wish) that little things like this should not impose large costs converting existing stuff to step-free. But when it comes to new infrastructure, we absolutely must not design in mobility-discriminating steps. (Single steps are also an avoidable cause of trips and falls even among those with well-functioning lower limbs).

  126. DW down under says:

    @ Malcolm

    Agreed about level platforms and car floors. All the more reason to oppose having Eurostandard 770mm platforms on HS2 so that this isn’t an issue on through operation to “Classic” lines.

    As I said, through Eurostock can have adjustable suspensions to lift the 145mm, if it’s felt to be an issue.

    As for designing in – well the UK standard is 915mm, but most rolling stock has 1100mm upwards floor height. It’s a discrepancy of 185mm or more that has been lived with for the best part of 2 centuries.

    The HEx route and Crossrail are being designed with 1100mm platforms. This make sense with current rolling stock, but where does that leave the standard?

    Either, we set 915mm (which is EU approved, BTW) or we set 1100mm, but let’s not have a standard that bears no resemblance to rolling stock (though stock could now be built to it without difficulty), or a mixture of an authorised but ineffective standard and a “de facto” standard which works.

    BTW2 – LUL’s SSR standard is 980mm, so that makes 3. Can anyone chime in with DLR, Manchester Metro, Midland Metro, T&W Metro standards (platforms and car floors). That should all make interesting comparisons.

    RSSB tell me the platform heights throughout the country vary widely – and the poor old manufacturer has to take the whole blinding lot into account when gauging rollingstock. What a load of Bollards! One of NR’s responsibilities under its strategic plan should be to agree a national standard and then a rolling program to eliminate discrepancies.


    DW down under

  127. Dr Paul says:

    Richard B: ‘ The former Midland route to Sheffield which is the one that survived is not demonstrably superior to the the GC route but as it was built first it had developed a customer base and I suspect there was an instinctual preference for it within the London Midland region over its former rival.’

    My feeling is that the GC line went because it didn’t go through anywhere of much importance between Leicester and London, with the exception of Rugby (better served by the North-Western) and Aylesbury, whereas the Midland went through several places, including Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford and Luton. The connections from the Midland in London were better, for example, allowing direct running to the docks via South Tottenham and Stratford. Also, St Pancras is a bigger station than Marylebone.

    I also suspect that the Midland line, being quadruple for quite some way up from London, was more suited for the freight that was still pretty heavy in the early 1960s than the double-track GC. I think that the Midland’s freight depots at Cricklewood and central London were bigger than the GC’s goods facilities.

    Another possibility is that the GC line didn’t connect much with anything south of Leicester. There was no connection at Rugby, for example, and the line seemed to go along in splendid isolation most of the way, whereas the Midland did connect with other lines along the route, although I must admit that Beeching put paid to many of them.

    I have a feeling that the GC line was better laid-out than the Midland, which, compared to the two other northbound lines from London, has always seemed to me to be rather slow. Perhaps more senior readers who were fortunate to have travelled the GC line can confirm this.

  128. DW down under says:

    Dr Paul @
    11:51PM, 24th March 2013 wrote:

    ” … Another possibility is that the GC line didn’t connect much with anything south of Leicester. There was no connection at Rugby, for example, and the line seemed to go along in splendid isolation most of the way … ”

    Splendid isolation indeed!! And that’s precisely the characteristic that would make it so remarkably useful (and quick) today. Of course, once the GC had joined to GC-GW joint trackage, there were connections and access to GWR freight facilities across London.

    I still harbour a hope that it can be reconstructed through to Rugby with links on the the WCML to provide a fast relief line, timed to co-incide with Crossrail so that platform capacity can be accessed at Paddington, and via the WLL (if there’s paths) to Waterloo International platforms. In that way, pressure on Euston can be relieved while the HS2 monolith (or, should I say, “Mammoth”) lumbers its way through NW and West London.

    Waterloo would need at least Stage 1 of the basic Crossrail 3 and corresponding upgrade to W&C for this to work. I need to find a suitable place on LR to post a description.

    DW down under.

  129. Ian J says:

    @DW down under: If you want to run trains to UIC loading gauge you cannot have UK standard platform height and location: the platform will foul the loading gauge. And if you do not have UIC loading gauge you cannot have through services from the rest of Europe using existing rolling stock, you cannot buy standard off-the-shelf high speed trains but will need to pay extra for expensively redesigned Britain-specific trains, and you can also forget about running standard European freight wagons and locomotives.

  130. DW down under says:

    Ian J @
    01:08AM, 25th March 2013

    Of course the UK standard platform would foul the GB+ loading gauge. So, it would have to be a 915mm platform built further out ….

    But the point is that to try to use HS2 to carry “Classic” fast trains through to destinations beyond the completed stage to date of HS2 raises this anachronism.

    How do we resolve this quandry? That’s something HS2 Ltd need to turn their collective mind to.

    Several ways around it, now that I’ve given it some more thought:

    1) Run “Classic” trains from classic platforms at Euston and OOC, then non-stop until they return to the “Classic” network; so that apart from duplicated platforms at OOC, there is nowhere along the route that needs to provide for both types of train;

    2) Buy Japanese trains built to a standard that’s compatible with Britian’s “Classic” lines, but maybe wider and higher. That would mean probably 1100mm platforms and HS2 compatible through trains would have “gap filler” flaps or equivalent technology to interface multiple use platforms. Advantage here is that wheelchair and stepless access is assured, and DD designs can be at their most efficient if the bogies can be completely contained underneath the vestibule/mezzanine (1100mm) level. I’m sure Hitachi could oblige and even design into the IEPs the necessary passive provision for later installation of the “gap fillers.”

    3) Provide separate Euro and Classic platforms also at Birmingham Curzon St, and at Manchester Airport, Leeds, etc.

    Options 1) and 3) would work with through Euro trains – but permit me to ask, how were the (oops, memory lapse on name) TGV-type trains for the abortive Provincial through services to Europe configured?

    Option 2) would provide lowest cost (I think) to Britain, inasmuch as the Japanese compete with the Koreans and Chinese, all of whom have credible experience building and running High-Speed Lines. It would mean that through Euro trains would have either a 145mm step up to exit – or would be required to have adjustable height suspension. As a corollary, HS2 would need to provide an extra 145mm of headroom through platforms.

    So there are options, but to set the height at 770mm without making suitable alternative arrangements just means a significant incompatibility with “Classic” stock – both height of step and length of step are likely to be outside acceptable bounds for RSSB and HSE (I think). We’re looking at 145mm extra down (on top of the existing 185mm – total 330mm) plus an extra 100 – 125 mm sideways (3000mm wide, 3050mm wide respectively).

    Can anyone point to an HS2 URL which examines this issue and evaluates options?


    DW down under

  131. timbeau says:

    @DW “how were the (name) TGV-type trains for the abortive Provincial through services to Europe configured”

    As I recall, Eurostar units (the “Three Capitals” sets and the regional ones alike) were all built to British loading gauge – they had to be to fit between Waterloo and Cheriton, as well as North of London) but are fitted with retractable steps which are used at continental stations

  132. Fandroid says:

    @Dr Paul.

    If you look at the maps in the Beeching Report, you can see that what you have described about the GC Mainline is reflected in the usage. Between Aylesbury and Rugby it is almost deserted by passengers. For some odd reason the passenger numbers pick up (a bit) from Rugby northwards. That in itself is odd, because there is no connection between the LNWR line and the GC line, and the respective stations were a long way apart, so out of station transfer was unlikely too. For freight, the GC line was equally deserted between Aylesbury and Woodford and Hinton (north of Banbury). There was obviously a freight flow off the GW Oxford-Birmingham line transferring over to the GC line via a connecting branch from Banbury.

    Beeching did not propose the closure of the Oxford-Cambridge line, and it’s likely that it was proposed to use that to transfer freight from the GW to all the other northbound lines. That then made commercial sense as it appeared at the time as BR could close a whole redundant main line.

  133. timbeau says:

    “The passenger numbers pick up from Rugby northwards…….which is odd”

    Only if you ignore Rugbyitself as a source of traffic. It simly means that the good people of Rugby found the GC route to the north more useful than to the south – not surprising really as the GC was not the fastest route from Rugby to London, but it was the fastest routefrom there to the East Midlands.

  134. DW down under says:

    timbeau @ 07:24AM, 25th March 2013 reponded to my question:

    @DW “how were the (name) TGV-type trains for the abortive Provincial through services to Europe configured” with:

    “As I recall, Eurostar units (the “Three Capitals” sets and the regional ones alike) were all built to British loading gauge – they had to be to fit between Waterloo and Cheriton, as well as North of London) but are fitted with retractable steps which are used at continental stations”

    Thanks Timbeau.

    Do we (the commentator group at LR) think that this solution would be suitable for, and applicable to the “Classic Compatible” stock to form part of the HS2 fleet. In particular, how appropriate would it be for wheelchairs, parents with prams, wheeled luggage, mobility impaired using aids (walking stick, frame, crutch/es, etc). I personally think there’s a major issue here. It certainly doesn’t seem to have a good fit with the DDA regulations which will be in full force by the time HS2 opens.

    And the dwell times when a hoist has to be used to lift people from 760mm (I was wrong when I cited 770mm) to about 1100mm – what will they be like? I have operated a wheelchair accessible taxi with rear hoist, and I can happily tell you that such operations are resource intensive, there are significant duty of care issues, and the dwell time impacts make a complete mockery of a 400km/h railway line. Makes the route only good for point-to-point operation with long turnarounds.

    BTW, I did cite GB+ as the loading gauge. I was wrong. It’s GC.


    DW down under

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