Documents for further study

Documents for further study

The fabulous Railways Archive website hosts a collection of documents relating to the Beeching Report, railway investment and the closure programme. Below you will find links to the relevant page, from which you can download PDF copies.

The Reshaping of British Railways (Part 1: Report)

Published in March 1963 by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and was written by BTC.

The Reshaping of British Railways (Part 2: Maps)

Published in March 1963 by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and was written by BTC.

Review of Dr Beeching’s Report The Reshaping of British Railways

Paper by Prof E R Hondelink on the contribution branch lines make to traffic on trunk routes.

The Mis-shaping of British Railways (Part 1: Retort)

A blunt response to the Beeching Report by the National Union of Railwaymen.

Development Of The Major Railway Trunk Routes

Published in March 1965 by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and was written by BTC.

The Transport Conflict

A lecture and interviews given by Beeching in February 1965 on The Development Of The Major Railway Trunk Routes.

Transport Policy

A government paper from 1966 introducing the concept of a socially-necessary railway.

British Railways Network for Development

A 1967 leaflet explaining the routes to be retained under a system of public service grants.

Modernisation and Re-Equipment of British Railways

Known as the ‘modernisation plan’, this 1954 report attempted to stem the railway’s losses.

Railway Finances

A 1982 report from a committee chaired by Sir David Serpell which effectively advocated the decimation of the railway network.

Click here for our combined version of maps 9 & 10 from the Beeching Report (321kB PDF)

Documents for further study

The effect on passenger services

The impact of Beeching’s report was probably best demonstrated by the list of withdrawals and modifications to the nation’s rail passenger services. It goes on and on. All corners of the British Isles were reached, but the effect was felt most in rural areas were bus services were often poor or non-existent.

However, amongst the lines identified below are a fair number that ultimately escaped the axe thanks to the vocal and tenacious campaigning of protestors.

Was your local line affected?

Passenger services to be withdrawn

Glasgow Central-Carlisle (Local)
Edinburgh Princes Street-Carstairs-Lanark
Glasgow St. Enoch-Dumfries-Carlisle (Local)
Glasgow St. Enoch-Lugton-Kilmamock~(Local)
Dumfries-Castle Douglas-Kirkcudbright
Glasgow St. Enoch-Dalry-kilmarnock
Glasgow Central-Edinburgh Princes Street
Edinburgh Waverley-Berwick-upon-Tweed (Local)
Edinburgh Waverley-Dunbar
Edinburgh Waverley-Hawick-Carlisle
Langholm-Riddings Junction-Carlisle
Glasgow Buchanan Street-Stirling-Perth (Local)
Glasgow Buchanan Street-Stirling-Oban
Killin Junction-Killin
Oban-Connel Ferry-Ballachulish
Fort William-Mallaig (Local)
Perth-Blair Atholl-Struan
Aberdeen-Keith-Elgin (Local)
Fraserburgh-St. Combs
Aviemore-Inverness-Elgin (Local)
Georgemas Junction-Thurso
Glasgow St. Enoch-Barrhead
Glasgow St. Enoch-East Kilbride
Glasgow St. Enoch-Kilmacolm
Glasgow St. Enoch-Paisley West
Edinburgh Princes Street-Kingsknowe
Glasgow Queen Street-Kirkintilloch
Edinburgh Waverley-Musselburgh
Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh
Doncaster-Leeds Central (Local)
Hull-Hornsea Town
Leeds Central-Castleford Central-Pontefract
Leeds City-Knottingley
Bradford Exchange-Batley-Wakefield
Leeds Central-Pudsey-Bradford Exchange
Bradford Exchange-MirfieId-Huddersfield (Local)
Bradford Exchange-Halifax-Huddersfield (Local)
Huddersfield-Clayton West-Penistone
Leeds City and Bradford Forster Square-Ilkey-Skipton
Leeds City and Bradford Forster Square-Keighley-Skipton (Local)
Leeds City-Shipley-Bradford Forster Square (Local)
Leeds City-Cudworth-Sheffield Midland (Local)
Leeds City-Cross Gates-Micklefield (Local)
Leeds City-Wetherby-Harrogate
Wetherby-Church Fenton
Darlington-Barnard Castle-Middleton-in-Teesdale
Darlington-Bishop Auckland-Crook
Sunderland-Durham-Bishop Auckland
Sunderland-West Hartlepool (Local)
Sunderland-South Shields
Newcastle-on-Tyne-Hexham (Local)
Newcastle-on-Tyne-Haltwhistle (Local)
Newcastle-on-Tyne-Riverside-Tynemouth (Local)
York-Sheffield Victoria-Nottingham Victoria-Leicester Central-Banbury
Crewe-Warrington-Preston-Carlisle (Local)
Dunstable North-Hatfield
Wolverton-Newport Pagnell
Northampton Castle-Peterborough East
Wellingborough Midland Road-Northampton Castle
Rugby Midland-Peterborough East
Leamington Spa Avenue-Coventry-Nuneaton Trent Valley
Derby Midland-Tamworth-Birmingham New Street (Local)
Wolverhampton High Level-Burton-on-Trent
Wellington-Shrewsbury (Local)
Crewe-Shrewsbury (Local)
Crewe-Chester General (Local)
Bangor-Afon Wen
Chester General-Holyhead/Caernarvon (Local)
Manchester Exchange-Warrington Bank Quay-Chester General (Local)
Llandudno-Blaenau Ffestiniog
Wrexham Central-Chester Northgate-New Brighton
Liverpool Lime Street-Chester General
Manchester Piccadilly-Buxton
Kidsgrove-Etruria (Stoke Loop)
Stockport Edgeley-Stalybridge (Local)
Liverpool Lime Street-Tyldesley-Patricroft-Manchester Exchange (Local)
St Helens Shaw Street-Earlestown-Warrington Bank Quay
Manchester Exchange-Huddersfield (Local)
Wigan Wallgate-Fazakerley-Liverpool Exchange
Wigan Central-Glazebrook
Glazebrook-Stockport Tiviot Dale
Blackpool North-Fleetwood
Manchester Victoria-Bury-Bacup
Manchester Victoria-Bury-Accrington-Colne
Southport Chapel Street-Preston
Rose Grove-Todmorden
Sellafield-Moor Row
Ulverston-Lake Side (Windermere)
Oxenholme-Windermere (Local)
Kettering-Leicester London Road (Local)
Leicester London Road-Nottingham Midland (Local)
Manchester Central-Chinley-Derby Midland (Local)
Buxton-Millers Dale
Banbury-Woodford Halse
Manchester Central-Chinley-Hope-Sheffield Midland
Kettering-Melton Mowbray-Nottingham Midland
Nottingham Midland-Melton Mowbray
Leicester London Road-Burton-on-Trent
Leicester-Peterborough North
Leicester London Road-Melton Mowbray
Derby Friar Gate-Nottingham Victoria
Derby Midland-Trent-Nottingham Midland (Local)
Nottingham Midland-Worksop
Derby Midland-Sheffield Midland (Local)
London Broad Street-Richmond
Watford Junction-Croxley Green
Harrow and Wealdstone-Belmont
Watford Junction-St Albans Abbey
Walsall-Rugeley Trent Valley
Birmingham New Street-Sutton Park-Walsall
Manchester Exchange-Tyldesley-Wigan North Western (Local)
Manchester Exchange-Stalybridge-Greenfield
Manchester Victoria-Newton Heath-Middleton
Manchester Victoria-Horwich
Liverpool Lime Street-St Helens-Wigan North Western
Manchester Victoria-Bury Bolton Street
Royton-Royton Junction
Southport Chapel Street-Crossens
Liverpool Exchange-Southport Chapel Street
Lancaster Castle/Lancaster Green Ayre-Heysham
Manchester Piccadilly-Hadfield/Glossop
Manchester Piccadilly-Romiley-Hayfield/Macclesfield
London St Pancras-Barking (Local)
London Marylebone-Leicester Central-Nottingham Victoria
Westerfield-Yarmouth South Town
Shelford-Marks Tey
Audley End-Bartlow
Cambridge-St Ives-March
Sheringham-Melton Constable
North Walsham-Mundesley-on-Sea
Lincoln Central-Woodhall Junction-Firsby
Lincoln St Marks-Nottingham Midland
Barton-on-Humber-New Holland Town
New Holland Pier-Cleethorpes (Local)
Sheffield Midland-Nottingham Midland (Local)
St Margarets-Buntingford
Witham (Essex)-Maldon East and Heybridge
Witham (Essex)-Braintree and Bocking
Peterborough North-Spalding-Grimsby Town
Patney and Chirton-Holt Junction
Bath Green Park-Bournemouth West
Bristol Temple Meads-Bath Green Park
Taunton-Yeovil Pen Mill
Tiverton Junction-Tiverton
Taunton-Barnstaple Junction
St Erth-St Ives (Cornwall)
Kemble-Cirencester Town
Gloucester Central-Hereford
Berkeley Road-Sharpness
Worcester Shrub Hill-Bromyard
Swan Village-Great Bridge
Old Hill-Dudley
Whitchurch (Salop)-Welshpool
Ruabon-Morfa Mawddach/Barmouth
Bala-Bala Junction
West Drayton and Yiewsley-Staines West
Bristol Temple Meads-Portishead
Bristol Temple Meads-Avonmouth Dock
Bristol Temple Meads-Patchway-Pilning
Bristol Temple Meads-Clifton Down-Pilning
Cardiff Clarence Road-Cardiff General
Ashford (Kent)-Hastings
Ashford (Kent)-New Romney
Crowhurst-Bexhill West
Haywards Heath-Seaford (Local)
Three Bridges-Tunbridge Wells West
Maiden Newton-Bridport
Barnstaple Junction-Ilfracombe
Barnstaple Junction-Torrington
Yeovil Junction-Yeovil Town
Chard Central-Chard Junction
Axminster-Lyme Regis
Seaton Junction-Seaton (Devon)
Sidmouth Junction-Sidmouth
Tipton St. John’s-Exmouth
Exeter Central-Exmouth
Bere Alston-Callington
Bodmin Road/Bodmin North-Wadebridge-Padstow
Ryde Pier Head-Ventnor/Cowes
Winchester City-Alton
Portsmouth-Netley-Southampton-Romsey/Andover (Local)
Reading Southern-Guildford-Redhill-Tonbridge (Local)
Clapham Junction-Kensington Olympia

Passenger services to be modified

Hull-Selby-Leeds City
Leeds City-Morecambe-Heysham
York-Wakefield Kirkgate-Sowerby Bridge-Manchester Victoria
Birmingham New Street-Barnt Green
Wrexham General-Chester General-Birkenhead Woodside
Manchester Piccadilly-Macclesfield-Stoke-on-Trent
Crewe-Derby Midland
Manchester Victoria-Rochdale-Todmorden
Bolton Trinity Street-Bury Knowsley Street-Rochdale
Manchester Victoria-Wigan Wallgate-Southport Chapel Street
Liverpool Central-Manchester Central
Liverpool Central-Gateacre-Warrington Central
Blackpool Central-Manchester/East Lancashire
Liverpool Exchange-Ormskirk-Blackpool Central
Birmingham New Street-Leicester London Road-Nottingham Midland
Derby Midland-Nottingham Midland
London Euston-Watford Junction
London Broad Street-Watford Junction
Birmingham New Street-Sutton Coldfield-Lichfield City
Birmingham New Street-Redditch
Manchester Oxford Road-Crewe
Manchester Victoria-Rochdale/Oldham
London St Pancras-Nottingham Midland
Ipswich-Norwich (Local)
Cambridge-Ely-King’s Lynn
Bishops Stortford-Cambridge
Norwich-Dereham-King’s Lynn
Lincoln Central-Market Rasen-Cleethorpes
Swindon-Bath Spa-Bristol Temple Meads
Bristol Temple Meads-Taunton
Chippenham-Trowbridge-Westbury (Wilts)
Reading General-Westbury (Wilts)
Bristol Temple Meads-Bath Spa-Westbury (Wilts)-Weymouth Town
Taunton-Exeter St Davids
Exeter St Davids-Kingswear
Par-Newquay (Cornwall)
Cardiff General-Carmarthen
Carmarthen-Neyland/Milford Haven
Carmarthen-Fishguard Harbour
Swindon-Kemble-Gloucester Central
Cheltenham Spa-Cardiff General
Whitland-Pembroke Dock
Didcot-Oxford-Leamington Spa
Oxford-Worcester Shrub Hill
Birmingham New Street-Worcester Shrub Hill
Worcester Shrub Hill-Gloucester Eastgate
Gloucester Eastgate-Bristol Temple Meads
Tunbridge Wells Central-Hastings
Sheerness-on-Sea-Dover Priory (Local)
Brighton-Ore (Local)
Salisbury-Exeter Central
Exeter Central-Okehampton
Exeter Central-Barnstaple Junction

The effect on passenger services

Derailed: the complicity dividend

A retrospective on the shenanigans surrounding the Beeching Report

History has made heroes of the men who powered Britain’s economic and social revolution through the 18th and 19th centuries. Names that still inspire: Arkwright, Darby, Stephenson, Watt, Telford. More transitory and villainous was the notoriety bestowed on a few Government fall guys, hand-picked to turn the clocks back by decimating industries, only for anonymity to claim them again.

During his tenure at British Steel, Sir Ian MacGregor remorselessly shut plants and jettisoned people, preparing the ground for privatisation. He then took a wrecking ball to our coal mines, bringing regions to their knees. And yet, despite the chasm he left behind, few remember him – he has not forever become Murderous MacGregor, or something equally burning. It is perhaps unjust then that the contraction of Britain’s railway network a generation earlier is still, for many, attributable solely to an engineer and physicist, recruited from the private sector to drag the industry back into profitability – an ultimately futile task.

Seen here in 1911, Manchester Central was the northern terminus of the Midland Railway’s line through the Peak District, but closed in 1969 with services re-routed to Manchester Victoria.
Photo © National Railway Museum & SSPL (used under Creative Commons)

People have protective instincts towards the railways, even if they don’t use them. In the pre-digital age, they fitted neatly into the fabric of our towns and villages, earning favour as a bringer of employment, commodities and freedom. So we felt compelled to pin their demise on a wrong-doer, and we didn’t have far to look. It will only ever be “Beeching’s axe” that severed our branch lines and disenfranchised whole districts. That we were being royally seduced by the motor car’s independence was neither here nor there. That more than 3,000 miles of railway had been torn up in the 12 years preceding his infamous report is a reality of inconvenience. It was all down to Dr Beeching.

This was of course a game involving a hopelessly stacked deck: misleading data, crooked calculations, vested interests. It was classic politics. Everyone knew the outcome before the process had begun; it was just a case of contriving the evidence.

A railway platform

There’s no denying that Dr Richard Beeching had a very fine intellect. Gaining a First Class honours degree and PhD from London’s Imperial College, his early career was built around metallurgy, physics and mechanical engineering research. He spent the Second World War attached to the Ministry of Supply, working in the shell design section under Sir Ewart Smith, a former Chief Engineer with Imperial Chemical Industries. He joined the firm as Smith’s technical assistant in 1948, rising at pace through a series of analytical posts before, at the age of 40, being sent to Canada where he directed the construction and operation of a Terylene plant. Returning home, his talents secured him chairmanship of ICI’s Metals Division before joining the board as its Technical Director in 1957.

Richard Beeching (1st Baron Beeching), as captured in 1961 by Elliott & Fry.
Photo © National Portrait Gallery, London

Smith played one more role in shaping Beeching’s professional future, recommending him to Tory Transport Minister Ernest Marples after Smith declined the offer of a seat on the working group seeking a way forward for the British Transport Commission. The BTC was in a parlous state, thanks largely to its overburdening bureaucracy and the financial black hole the railways had fallen into. The group’s chairman, Sir Ivan Stedeford, found Beeching an impressive character but locked horns with him over his belief that only drastic pruning could save the industry. This was however music to the ears of Marples who, in contravention of Parliamentary rules, had remained an 80% shareholder in the civil engineering company he had co-founded in 1948, which subsequently secured contracts for several major road schemes. Valued at upwards of £350,000, he eventually sold the shares to his wife.

Fall from grace

Early in the 20th century, the railway system peaked at 23,440 route miles. It had developed at a mind-boggling rate, overcoming daunting physical barriers to achieve almost omnipresence. But the emergence of road transport and the pounding it took during the Second World War left the network in a wretched state, in both physical and commercial terms. Under Clement Attlee’s Labour Government, the 1947 Transport Act made way for nationalisation, giving life to British Railways – operating name for the BTC’s Railway Executive – on 1st January 1948.

Established soon after was a Branch Lines Committee, putting down a marker that set the direction for the next 20 years. It operated under a straightforward remit: to close the least-used lines, based on the contention that some parts of the network would never pay and offered no great social value. But BR’s finances continued to haemorrhage, with an operating loss recorded in 1955. To eliminate this, a bold modernisation plan was developed with the goal of making the railways attractive again: faster speeds, greater reliability, more capacity. The £1.24 billion investment would bring electrification, renewed track and signalling, vast marshalling yards, new rolling stock and the replacement of steam with diesel and electric traction.

It was destined to fail as losses mounted, reaching £42 million in 1959. This though painted a distorted picture as much of that deficit was attributable to declining coal traffic. Operating costs had been substantially cut, meanwhile passenger receipts were rising. Some branch lines actually made money. But the die had been cast. By 1962, in public ownership the network had lost over 3,300 route miles. And the railway community was being decimated too, staff numbers falling by more than a quarter to 474,000. Over the same period, car and lorry mileage soared by 10% per year, fuelled latterly by the lifting of petrol rationing.

Championed by Beeching, British Railways’ Freightliner services began in 1965, using containers that could be quickly transferred from rail to road
Photo © National Railway Museum & SSPL (used under Creative Commons)

Radical solutions were sought to the railway’s tangled finances. Stedeford’s deliberations ran out of time, having heard evidence mostly from the road lobby. But against the odds, his committee found itself unwilling to endorse the line closure programme advocated by the Ministry. For rail, its verdict proved fair and largely benign, so much so that it was not made public. The modernisation plan, which Stedeford had recommended for review, was cut back, with investment on secondary and branch lines almost drying up altogether.

The 1962 Transport Act abolished the British Transport Commission, replacing it with a number of bodies amongst which was the British Railways Board. It went live on 1st January 1963. Appointed its first Chairman was Richard Beeching who had led the BTC for the previous 18 months. Controversy attended with his salary award. Whilst, at £24,000, it reflected his ICI pay, this was more than double that of any other nationalised industry’s head. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan only earned £14,000. Perceived as unjust, the sense of resentment against the Doctor intensified.

The Fifties’ cull of branch lines was not delivering results. Studies showed that it might have been cheaper to subsidise some of them, rather than opt for closure. Social benefits also emerged in favour of retention. Against this background, a noisy protest movement had formed, with the Railway Development Association adding to its volume. Professor E R Hondelink, a respected United Nations transport consultant, asserted that branch line losses were comparatively small and could be turned around through efficiencies, instead fingering bureaucracy and a bloated management structure for the railway’s ills.

But the Government was having none of it. The ’62 Act included provisions to limit the powers of the local Consultative Committees which held inquiries into closure proposals, removing the obligation to consider social and strategic factors. To deliver a transport revolution, the Government engineered an easier ride and launched a vigorous press campaign to silence its critics, ramping up the case against rural lines by attributing most of the industry’s losses to them. More would have to go.

The axeman cometh

Beeching’s much-anticipated report on The Reshaping of British Railways was first exposed to scrutiny on 27th March 1963. Amongst its highlights were the now familiar recommendations: 5,000 route miles closed to passengers and 2,363 stations shut. One third of the network was carrying just 1% of the traffic, he asserted. The least-used 50% of stations contributed only 2% of passenger revenues.

Campaigners extolled the DMU as a potential saviour for branch lines. They helped Bridport Station evade closure until May 1975.
Photo © Ben Brooksbank (from Geograph, used under Creative Commons)

On digging deeper, the cold character of this profit and loss exercise revealed itself. Page after page of almost pure accountancy, such were his terms of reference. Social and economic benefits were disregarded; so too were the cost-saving measures that could have brought salvation for some lines.

Many conclusions were founded on passenger density figures collated as part of a major traffic census over a single week in April 1961. This disadvantaged lines into holiday resorts which were unsurprisingly quiet at this time. In a double whammy for them, the viability – or otherwise – of individual stations was determined through analysis of their ticket sale receipts during 1960, greatly handicapping places that people mostly travelled to, not from. Visitors to those holiday resorts would have far outnumbered locals heading the other way, but the revenue they brought did not count in their stations’ favour. The contributory value to the network of any station or route – perhaps as a feeder of commuters onto a main line – was discounted; they stood on their own feet or fell.

This approach effectively meant curtains for almost every branch line, depriving huge geographical areas of any rail service at all. And strategic routes would be lost too: the Waverley, the Great Central, the Settle & Carlisle, Stranraer-Dumfries. Through manipulation of the process and distortion of the figures, the case for tearing apart Britain’s railways had been set out. Accepted by the Government, Beeching’s “reshaping” prompted uproar beyond Westminster, especially in communities affected by the cuts. Rural bus services were often unreliable, running to a thin timetable and sometimes completely disappearing during winter months.

Amongst the bigger closures was the Midland’s main line through the Peak District which was sacrificed in order to save the Hope Valley route.
Photo © Wilf Oven

All was not lost though. In a surprising strategic blunder, Beeching’s report detailed a series of financial assumptions for route maintenance, signalling, stations and train movements – offset against income – supposedly to demonstrate the unviability of a hypothetical branch line operating an hourly service to stations two-and-a-half miles apart. The tipping point between profit and loss was, he claimed, about 17,000 weekly passengers. But what these assumptions actually revealed was a whitewash – they were all worst-case: low passenger revenues, no freight, unrealistic timetables, inflated running costs, no staff or signalling economies. With some effort, the break-even point could be halved in terms of passenger numbers. These skewed calculations were compounded by equally flawed suppositions supporting replacement buses. Beeching had inadvertently handed campaigners a stick with which to beat him and they did so with some relish.

Numbers game

Leading the opposition to the Fifties’ closures had been the Railway Development Association, founded in 1951. It fought a number of campaigns, most notably on the Isle of Wight where it hired a barrister and called witnesses to contest the BTC’s dubious figures. The most cogent challenge in the Sixties came from the Secretary of the newly-formed National Council on Inland Transport – a man with genuine experience of railway operations, something Beeching could only dream of.

Roger Calvert could see the cracks in the reshaping plan but the means of exploiting them – the Transport Users Consultative Committees – had been largely neutered by the 1962 Act. NCIT sought a legal mechanism to force the committees to examine lines’ finances, not just the question of hardship as was their revised theoretical scope. This came to a head at Buxton in May 1964 where the future of the line to Manchester was on the table. Calvert used Beeching’s own figures to dismantle those served up by British Railways, reducing the route’s projected £180,000 loss by 71%. Implementation of savings could allow it to turn a small profit. The Minister retreated, issuing a reprieve.

With a plain clothes policeman looking on (right), demonstrators gather at Hawick on 4th January 1969 to protest about the Waverley’s closure.
Photo © Bruce McCartney

Calvert’s continued probing exposed a predictable truth: many threatened lines could cover their costs with modest operational changes, if they weren’t doing so already. Indeed a sizeable closure programme could actually cost BR money as main line and secondary routes lost the contributory revenue brought by the branches. The new order would not drive passengers onto subsided buses heading for a distant railhead; they’d end up buying a car.

It made little difference. In the immediate aftermath of the report’s publication, closures were halted while stock was taken. But as the 1964 General Election approached, they accelerated again, peaking that year as 1,058 route miles were done away with. Labour’s Harold Wilson secured a narrow victory on a ticket of halting the most significant closures until a national transport review had been concluded. As is often the case in politics, with power came forgetfulness.

Victim support

Beeching II, a promised report into The Development of the Major Trunk Routes, arrived on 16th February 1965. Avoiding the word “closure”, it made the case for actively developing 3,000 of the 7,500 miles “selected for retention” in the first report, an effective admission that just lopping branches off the network would not necessarily bring profit. Underpinning these latest proposals was Beeching’s assertion that too many corridors featured duplicating lines, in some cases as many as four. Instead traffic would be focussed onto nine key routes. But few took the report seriously – it was pushed to one side, as was Beeching; Wilson deciding against an extension of his contract. In June 1965, clutching a Life Peerage, ICI welcomed him back.

Labour forged ahead with the cuts, under pressure from the road lobby and parts of the civil service. Only when Barbara Castle took Ministerial control in December 1965 were the brakes gradually applied. She concluded that the network should be stabilised at around 11,000 route miles, unveiling Network for Development plans and paving the way for socially-important loss-making lines to benefit from subsidies through the 1968 Transport Act. Whilst this saved some branches, most had already gone.

Protesting villagers, led by their minister, Rev Brydon Maben, block the level crossing at Newcastleton, halting the last train over the Waverley line.
Photo © Bruce McCartney

On the evening of Sunday 5th January 1969, blocked by protestors and running two hours late, a London-bound sleeper train travelled over the Waverley for a final time – the last great casualty of the Beeching cuts. Amongst the wreckage were several unlikely survivors – the Far North and Kyle of Lochalsh lines, the South-West branches, the route through mid-Wales; even the Settle-Carlisle. But a stay of execution for the Hope Valley line would see the Bakewell route sacrificed, eventually taking down Woodhead.

Beeching was not a romantic. His mind was keen and methodical, just what the Government wanted. Circumstances had contrived a balance sheet conundrum so he sought solutions amongst the numbers. Data was gathered and he immersed himself in it. What he didn’t see – or perhaps chose not to – was the intricacy of the railway machine, one part driving another; a precision instrument in careful balance. Instead he took a hammer to it.

Beyond ignorance lurked dogma and conspiracy. The railway was knackered and becoming a bottomless pit; roads were new and shiny – the next big thing – and those with a vested interest in having more of them would not be thwarted. No-one thought to look 30, 40, 50 years hence to a time when the two might comfortably coexist, supporting one-another. Who could have foreseen congestion and fuel prices pushing commuters back onto the train? It was all very short term.

Occupying a substantial site, Ossett Station served a busy Yorkshire town but was razed to make way for a new housing estate.
Photo © Roger Hepworth

But it’s harsh to define Beeching’s legacy in terms of the closures. He cared about the railway and contributed much to it, championing its role in moving bulk minerals and developing the Liner Train concept for containerised freight. There will always be the photographs though -melancholy scenes of dilapidated stations and overgrown trackbeds, redundant engines quietly rusting, tunnels bricked up, villagers huddling under brollies to await the daily bus.

The man himself categorised the cuts as “surgery, not mad chopping”. They were certainly clinical, both in concept and execution. But there was nothing cosmetic about them. This was frantic amputation without a firm diagnosis. The wounds inflicted by Beeching have not yet fully healed.

Published 1st March 2013