The Beeching Cuts - 50 years on...

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Alan Partridge, Mar 27, 2013.

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  1. Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr Beeching's report, "Reshaping Britains Railways" - a time, that for better or worse, changed the way we use transport in Britain.

    BBC News - Did Dr Beeching get it wrong with his railway cuts 50 years ago?

    What's the verdict of the assembled Arrse masses - was Beeching a hero who saved British Rail from terminal decline and bankruptcy and saved us from higher taxes, or a villain who ruined rural transport networks, the effects of which are still felt to this day?

    For me, I'm firmly in the middle - I can see why savings needed to be made, but some of the decisions, even 50 years later on, utterly defy logic, especially as everyone seemed to acknowledge that the population of the UK could only grow (see Lewes-Uckfield line, etc).

    Grateful for others thoughts, and the chance for some secret trainspotter chat ....
     
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  2. I always thought the Beeching axe was of little consequence to me, as I always had good rail links. Now however, I live in the West Country (and not even the deepest darkest part) and the rail links are utter shite. To get anywhere, even Wales/Staffordshire way on I have to go via Salisbury, which is a bit like going to Rome via Novosibirsk. To get to some decent mainline rail, I have to drive to Bristol, and by the time I've driven to Bristol, I might as well keep on driving where I need to go.

    I'm still on the fence, but a little less than I was as now I am suffering the effects of the Beeching Axe.

    Edited to add: Train travel is also outrageously expensive round here, more outrageous than the current outrageous prices everyone else has to put up with. It really is cheaper and more convenient to drive.
     
  3. Beeching was not a civil servant - he was a "successful businessman" parachuted in by the government of the day as being successful in business automatically made him qualified to do the job.

    Any resemblance to the current head of DE&S is totally coincidental.
     
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  4. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    With the railways haemorrhaging public money, Beeching was asked to investigate and recommend what should be done. He discovered miles of fringe railways hardly used at all. The answer was blindingly obvious - cut the network down to the potentially profitable core and let the car and bus take up the slack, and focus what money was available for investment and maintenance on the busiest bits. Govt agreed with his proposals but it was Govt that implemented them, not Dr B. At the time he was plumb right, although since then a few odd bits of what was disposed of have been resurrected - noting that BR went out of its way to prevent these private ventures being linked to their system. So three cheers for Dr B! not least for the result including shedding a large amount of parasitical unionised labour.

    It should be noted that in many cases the replacement bus schedules are more frequent and more convenient than the railways they replaced, and are inherently more flexible.

    Over time of course our demographics change and so the ideal network one might like to see today is different from what made sense fifty years ago.

    waiting wioth interest to see what difference HS2 and Crossrail make, for instance.
     
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  5. On the 'up' side of Beechings Axe, without him we wouldn't be blessed with the range of Preservation Societies that we now enjoy.
     
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  6. My take on Beeching is that he saw culling of vast swathes of track that was little used - IIRC the track closed was something like under 10% of all passenger / freight traffic - some lines had hardly any passengers but kept on going regardless.

    Read 'Fire and Steel' by Christian Wolmar for a good account of Beechings actions.
     
  7. What Beeching did needed doing, the problem was the method.

    For one week he had someone at every railway station and depot in the country logging all ticket sales and goods movements.

    He took that week - I believe in October - as a representative sample.

    Hence all lines that relied on seasonal traffic went.
     
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  8. Cold_Collation

    Cold_Collation LE Book Reviewer

    The biggest 'mistake', if you like, was that the effect on some of the main lines of culling some of the branch lines was poorly appreciated. The rail network lost a lot of business because of the loss of those feeder lines.

    Did we need consolidation? Yes. Should some of those lines be resurrected now? Absolutely. But this is where multi-modal transport comes to the fore. The emphasis needn't be on the car. Smart phones and apps allow people to book journeys - 'I need to travel from 'X' to 'Y' at 'Z' o'clock' - which can be satisfied by roaming bus services. It needs thought and coordination (and someone willing to provide the service) but it's do-able in rural areas.

    The biggest problem with public transport is cost-centred billing - 'Route 'N' barely turns a profit'. Well, maybe. But Route Y might be crammed to the gills all bloody day. So should Route N be chopped, or should some offsets be made from more profitable runs?

    There needs to be a better appreciation of transport being an opportunity cost (it gets people to places where they can work/generate wealth, or where they can spend money) which to an extent is already paid for through corporate taxation. The idea that every route should/can make a profit is a nonsense and we need to have safeguards for that.

    Most of all, and this is right out of many planners' comfort zone, we shouldn't be building new developments without an active transport plan in place from the start. Too often we see housing built and then infrastructure (shops, schools, surgeries and transport) following years and years later. Things are getting better - even the Americans are latching on to so-called 'liveable communities' - but they've a way to go yet.
     
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  9. It rather depends upon whether you see public transport as a subsided enabler for a lot of other economic activity or you think it needs to ‘wash its face’ and deliver a profit.

    On the continent the former appears to be the case, here more the latter, at least in terms of rail. Here, the cost of running the system is slowly but incontrovertibly being passed from the taxpayer onto the user. At the same time, the cost of travelling by road is also increasing at much the same rate (coincidence??). As such, unfortunately the rub of it is, if you want to get anywhere in the UK be prepared to fork out a lot for it. A journey by car may seem cheaper, but factor in your running costs, “road tax” and insurance and you will be in for a nasty surprise. The result? Working from home 4 the win.

    I find something quite depressing about the thought of out of town developments where the only option to travel anywhere is by car (or bike if you want to dice with death). People should have the choice of a range of travel options and for an increasingly ageing population a lack of viable transport links breeds a sense of isolation. Cold Collation makes some excellent points about the need for public transport to make things easy for people but at the moment, it is far from straightforward. An Oyster card type system supporting integrated multi modal journeys should be rolled out on a much more widespread basis, it is ridiculous that in 2013 you are likely to be chucked off a bus if you don’t have the right change.

    Going back to Beeching, the decisions at the time could be justified but I wonder whether the old track beds should have been ‘protected’ for 50 years or so with a long view of potentially re-instating them given population growth or the generation of ‘new towns’. Many of them have been built over scuppering the chance of re connecting old lines to the system, or making it prohibitively expensive to do so.
     
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  10. It's a bit weird the economics of the whole train vs car debate. For example when I take one of my regular trips to the smoke from here in Lancashire I can travel 1st class on Virgin trains return for just over £100, which is only £20 more than standard class. To take the car would cost me about £100 for fuel and parking.
    However, if I want to take my family to London for a short break, I would need almost £500! Yet the car would still work out almost the same. It seems the whole option of having trains as a bulk method of transportation falls down here. This must be why when they show adverts for trains they only focus on single travellers!
     
  11. OT but dont get me started on rail ticketing - a cluster of unimaginable proportions! No such thing as an off peak single in these parts which means that a single and a return cost pretty much the same. Half the cost per mile for a return than a single journey - make sense of that?
     
  12. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    This is the criticism of Beeching I hear most frequently - that Branch Line A might not have been profitable in itself, but it made bigger Branch B profitable. Beeching apparently looked at each line is isolation and didn't take a holistic view of the network.

    One solution can be seen up in Wales with the 'Valley Lines'. These are essentially run as light railways with very limited staff. There is often only one train on a long section of railway which makes the signalling problem simple. And the stations are largely unmanned with a conductor issuing tickets on the train. Think of it as a bus service on wheels and you wouldn't be far wrong.

    I wonder how many disused lines you could restart using this philosophy?

    Wordsmith
     
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  13. This is exactly what should be done around where I (currently) live - run a valley line style passenger service between Virginia Water and Weybridge, which would result in four trains an hour as opposed to two. I would get bus traffic off of congested local roads and to connect with Main Lineservices, change at Virginia Water for Reading or London via Hounslow or at Weybridge for Southampton or London Waterloo.
     
  14. Bus service on wheels...

    Anyway, I was watching the BBC documentary on the railways t'other day, and the last episode featured the Valley lines. Every single passenger was glad of the new railway because it enabled them to travel to jobs, entertainment, basically as pointed out above, it transports people to where the can make and spend money. Te valley lines is definitely an example that can be held up of small rural railways doing what they are meant to do.
     
  15. The Tory government at the time was very pro motorways ( McAlpine & Marples ) , plus the Beeching never factored in future traffic flows , hence why a lot of lines ( Edinburgh /Tweedmouth , East West Route ) are being re-instated now.
    It also got rid of strategic lines which should have been kept , the Great Central route being a prime example , Southampton to Oxford being another .
    When the French close a line , they mothball it for 10 years , they don't build houses and supermarkets on the trackbed .