Beeching map green lines proosed for closure. Courtesy of Phil Marsh

Beeching 50 Years On

On Thursday 11th April we will be hosting a live #railchat where our resident expert Phil Marsh will be discussing all things Beeching.

Beeching 50 years on #railchat

On Thursday 11th April, 16:00pm - 18:00pm, we will be discussing the 50th Anniversary of the Beeching cuts and thier relevance today. This discussion will take place over on Twitter , with our resident expert Phil Marsh. If you would like to get involved, please do join us, and use the dedicated hashtag #railchat.

See below for a taster of what we will be discussing.

Half a Century ago the infamous Beeching Cuts commenced – We ask, Were the recommendations correct?

The Dr. Richard Beeching authored report published in March 1963 has been the source of debate for the intervening 50 years. Was he right? Did he destroy the railways? Was he the Doctor that cut society by axing the railways? Or did the politicians get involved and reverse their policy after the General Election?

The Report:

The report makes no bones about why it took three years to prepare. The railways had a complex command and control structure at the time following Nationalisation in 1948. Dr. Beeching implemented a reorganisation before making his final report saying that his recommendations would be easier to implement with a new structure.

The report originated from the failure of the 1955 Modernisation Plan which itself had its origins in the post 1948 Nationalisation of the railways. These had been all but bankrupted in the war but by 1953, the railways started making a loss again as road and air travel grew with new found prosperity.

Visionary HS2 reference?

Beeching said that the railways had to change to become competitive and that if fast limited stop services offering comfortable travel to passengers could be provided, this would allow the railways to survive and maybe grow a little in areas. But there were too many duplicated routes, an accident of history, so this had to be attended to by mass closures.

Use it or lose it

The report shows utilisation of carriages which starkly illustrates the economic issues. Some 2000 carriages were retained for holiday traffic and only used 10 times a year. It also suggests that a given route had to carry 6000 passengers a week to break even plus some freight service revenue and many branchlines failed to carry 1000 a week. Without freight, a line needed 10,000 passengers a week to break even on average.

Various solutions were explored such as running a railbus instead of a steam hauled train. Although this reduced the operating cost, stations, signalling and track still carried their high fixed costs. The other things looked at were reducing fares by half to attract passengers or doubling them to raise income. Other proposals were to close some stations and to run less trains. None of these were deemed to be practical propositions.

So the result was a proposal to close 5000 miles of track and reduce train running by 68million miles a year. This would immediately save £33m a year with a £15m revenue loss with more savings later when the track was lifted and liabilities ended.

Was He Right?

The simple answer has to be yes he was. But you have to read the complete report and understand the railways and politics of the time to come to that conclusion.

Of course 50 years on he is being doubted but just 20 years ago the Railways Act was being pushed through Parliament to privatise the railways. This was designed to quietly manage a reduction in the rail network. But we all know how wrong that policy was now!


Have your say...

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Beeching Idiot or fool

Posted on Tuesday 14th May 2013 | 9:30 AM

Well both for he failed to take into account any economic growth and building needs when he asked for the various lines around the country to be assessed for closure therefore we have places like Haverhill as a prime example where house building has been allowed to go ahead with little thought as to where jobs would be available? This has resulted in large numbers of Cars arriving in Cambridge from the various villages once served along the closed line or they drive to a station still served by the mainline to London and thereby cause the station car park to become overcrowded! Little or no thought was given to actually taking into account social needs as we can now see where some closed lines are being re-instated therefore I do not think the Idiot of ICI got it right! So a resounding NO!

David Kerr

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