Alternatives to the Beeching cuts

Discussion in 'Railway History & Nostalgia' started by Andy873, 9 Apr 2017.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Andy873

    Andy873 Member

    Messages:
    45
    Joined:
    23 Mar 2017
    I was wondering what alternatives BR could have used as apposed to closing and removing lines?

    1. Actually ask passengers about train time services.

    2. Cut ticket prices.

    3. Mothballing lines.

    4. Removing lines but keeping hold of the track beds.

    I'm sure you will have your views and it would be very interesting to hear them.

    Thanks, Andy.
     
  2. davetheguard

    davetheguard Member

    Messages:
    809
    Joined:
    10 Apr 2013
    I'd certainly like to hear what alternatives Government had to "closing and removing lines"; for they are the ones who were responsible both for the policy and for choosing where it was to be implemented. As ever, Marples (and some of his successors) were the guilty party, not Beeching, not B.R. Why this rogue "continues to get away with it" in the public consciousness is beyond me. Not having the benefit of hindsight is just about the only excuse that he can claim, as far as I can see.
     
    Last edited: 9 Apr 2017
  3. Bald Rick

    Bald Rick Established Member

    Messages:
    6,116
    Joined:
    28 Sep 2010
    At that time, the railway was very labour intensive, and most of the cost of running it was wages.

    So, halve the paybill by making making a large part of the workforce redundant and/or giving everyone a pay cut. This would have saved the more marginal lines. The no hopers would still have gone (and rightly so).
     
  4. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    The Marshlink between Ashford and Hastings is an example of a route which was rationalised, rather than closed.

    The basic railway between Ipswich and Lowestoft is another example. Unfortunately both had to be proposed for closure and rejected before the work to rationalise them was undertaken, which gives some insight into the management mindset at the time.
     
  5. 30907

    30907 Established Member

    Messages:
    4,359
    Joined:
    30 Sep 2012
    Location:
    North Lancs Loop
    To be fair, proper rationalisation costs money short term - most obviously when singling routes, but also (think SR demus on Marshlink) adapting stock for Paytrain working.

    In the case of the East Suffolk, it was management aka Gerald Fiennes IIRC who decided to test rationalisation (mainly of station staff) in the 2-3 years between Beeching and an actual closure proposal.
     
  6. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Interestingly with the Marshlink the DEMU's weren't specifically adapted for on train ticket vending until the early 1990's, when the 207's had their centre carriages removed and an inter-carriage vestibule installed. This was some time after the track rationalisation in around '79 I believe. Up until then,, passengers getting on at unstaffed stations were still expected to find the guard. There was the one-off refurbed 205 and the short Hastings set of course, but the line was mainly operated with standard 205's and 207's.

    An example of a passenger service saved by pay-trains was the Tonbridge - Reading line. The great Ron Cotton (who went on to help save the Settle-Carlisle) put together spare EPB trailers and Hastings DEMU carriages to form the famous Tadpole units. Certainly BR could have done with a few more like him in the 1960's and 70's.
     
  7. daikilo

    daikilo Established Member

    Messages:
    1,194
    Joined:
    2 Feb 2010
    It is difficult to suggest what else might have been done without knowing the criteria for choice e.g. the government could have decided that the losses were actually acceptable or needed to be reduced by a small amount.

    The government could also have restricted competition from other modes (they did the opposite) or forced integration.

    As has been said, in those days, the railways were very labour intensive, at least until steam was withdrawn, but also the way that small traffics like parcels were handled.

    For me the fundamental issue is that, for historical reasons, the network was just too big for the traffic that would be available and major cuts of some sort were inevitable with the remit to reduce loss-making. I am almost certain that in those days, cost-benefit analysis did not generally include social costs and non-monetary benefits like reduced road accidents.
     
    Last edited: 9 Apr 2017
  8. MidnightFlyer

    MidnightFlyer Veteran Member

    Messages:
    12,577
    Joined:
    16 May 2010
    Wouldn't those unstaffed stations have just been the practically deserted Three Oaks, Doleham and Winchelsea? Ore and Appledore lasted as staffed stations until the late 1980s I believe, which probably ties in with the changes to the rolling stock you describe.

    I do agree with others though that there may have been merit in culling station staff where possible. When I see the old station photos from the turn of the 20th Century with the dozen or more staff I wonder how much it cost doing that several thousand times over across the country. BR appeared to have another go at the track and staff rationalisation throughout the 1980s and early 90s, so perhaps there was some traction in its effectiveness.
     
  9. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Rye was always staffed (still is) and I believe Hamstreet was staffed but the ticket office only open rarely. I used the line quite often from the late 1980's and I don't recall ever seeing Ore or Appledore offices open (Ore burnt down not long after I started using the route).
     
    Last edited: 9 Apr 2017
  10. Bookd

    Bookd Member

    Messages:
    286
    Joined:
    27 Aug 2015
    I was sorry to see the end of the famed Somerset and Dorset, as an enthusiast, but as for staff costs -
    I saw a TV documentary a long time ago.which took a chap back to the remains of his station on the S&D where he had been porter in charge. He pointed out where the garden used to be and explained the flowers and fruit and vegetables he grew. When asked about passengers he said that they were no problem - maybe one or two a week.
    It would be hard to justify keeping such services open.
     
  11. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    You say that but....

    I've often felt that a slimmed down version of the S&D staffed similarly to the Heart of Wales line today might have been useful. Particularly if good connections westward at Templecombe had been maintained. There are plenty of stations on busy lines today with one or two passengers per week. They don't tend to have head porters though.
     
  12. Andy873

    Andy873 Member

    Messages:
    45
    Joined:
    23 Mar 2017
    This is all very interesting,

    I think the worst that BR did was to sell the land that track beds were on.

    Yes land is expensive so a valuble asset for BR to sell, but if they had kept it, although liable to keep it in a reasonable state, and maintain bridges, tunnels etc it would be much easier to put them back in use today.
     
  13. MidnightFlyer

    MidnightFlyer Veteran Member

    Messages:
    12,577
    Joined:
    16 May 2010
    The trouble is though is that if they maintained bridges and tunnels to a standard where they could be reopened without serious issue, how much more would have had to close to save the requisite money? They'd only really save money on staff and service provision, and track maintenance.
     
  14. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    That was one of the flaws of the Beeching plan. The closures didn't really save that much anyway, and many structures had to be maintained regardless of whether the trains ran.
     
  15. IanXC

    IanXC Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    4,911
    Joined:
    18 Dec 2009
    I always think its illustrative to examine the York to Beverley route. BR in 1955 began testing lifting boom barriers for the first time on the route, in 1960 began work on a concept called Centralised Traffic Control - which would have singled section of the line, with suitable passing loops, and centralised all signalling at Bootham Junction box. Clearly regional managers thought the line could be made to pay, and invested as such. Beechinghowever quotes operating costs of £90,400 and expenses of £107,500 and therefore listed the line for closure.

    I remain of the view that around a third of the lines closed should probably never have been built in the first place, a third had outlived their usefulness and closure was appropriate, however about a third were mistakes.
     
  16. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

    Messages:
    1,086
    Joined:
    21 Apr 2016
    Location:
    Sunny South Lancs
    I don't think any of your suggestions would have helped. The problem with 1 & 2 is there were so few passengers on so many lines that closure was pretty well inevitable. 3 would have incurred additional on-going costs and 4 would still have involved avoidable expenditure.

    The seeds for the Beeching era were sown by the Grouping of 1923. Railways were already in a gentle decline by then with finances made much worse by the way government funded the railways during WW1. The Grouping was a sticking plaster which made no attempt to recognise the real issues, let alone deal with them. So after WW2 saw the railways run in to the ground they were in no fit state to even provide a reasonable basic service: justifying investment to properly modernise the system was near impossible. When this was finally attempted with the 1955 plan BR made a complete mess of it meaning there was no confidence within the Treasury that BR was worth the effort. Beeching was thus unavoidable.

    But as has been said the real villain was Marples though Castle was not much better.
     
  17. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    A gross oversimplification of the situation.

    If you read through the worked example of York - Beverly in the Beeching report, it becomes apparent that the route could have been made to cover its costs, had the management not been hell bent on cutting route mileage at any cost. The closure case was a political one.

    It's also worth noting that the Stedeford committee which formed railway policy at the time, and on which Beeching served, before becoming Chairman of BR had a more nuanced view of the benefits of local railways. Beeching was particularly hawkish on the issue and because this chimed with Marples' views, he ended up being chosen to run the railways.
     
  18. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Fraser was no better and was pretty much Marples mk2. Castle at least put in place the apparatus to support socially necessary lines.
     
  19. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

    Messages:
    1,086
    Joined:
    21 Apr 2016
    Location:
    Sunny South Lancs
    In the interests of keeping my post short it was a very deliberate oversimplification. It applied to a significant number of cases though most definitely not to all.

    As I have suggested previously I suspect that York-Beverley was a victim of a change at some point in local management. The (former) North Eastern Region was at the forefront of introducing the paytrain principle and seemed, for a while at least, to be doing all it could to preserve as much as possible. But there were some managers who felt that the closure ship was the one making the best headway and happily jumped on it which led to the well-known abuses such as traffic surveys conducted on a Tuesday in February, etc. I have long suspected that one of these managers was appointed to the area at a critical moment thus sealing the line's fate. For the record it's one of the Beeching closures which I think was utterly wrong.

    That's politics for you. You don't bite the hand that feeds.

    On a related issue while much discussion continues about the pros & cons of the Beeching closures little is said about other cutbacks which remain in place today and are rather more capable of being reversed than line closures. The widespread destaffing of stations and introduction of paytrains may have been appropriate at the time but there are many routes where I believe those trends should probably now be reversed. Consider just how many threads exist here bemoaning the lack of facilities, especially for purchasing tickets, at many stations which are significantly busier than 50 years ago. Or the number of trains which run as de-facto paytrains (because there are so many routes where ticket buying options vary from one station to another) but conductors cannot physically sell tickets to all those who require to buy them.
     
  20. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

    Messages:
    1,086
    Joined:
    21 Apr 2016
    Location:
    Sunny South Lancs
    You refer no doubt to the Transport Act of 1968, whose other main feature was the creation of the initial PTEs. And yet she continued to sanction closures after this. She was also responsible for what has often been referred to as "the biggest election bribe in British history", namely the Humber Bridge. It may be convenient for those who use it but it's not busy. I realise that those who believe (Old) Labour of the 1960s was close to political nirvana also see Castle as one of its shining beacons but I think history will judge them rather differently.
     
  21. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Well, as you say, those changes were reversible, so they haven't been as disastrous. As the lines are still here, you could say that those changes did their job, although we have lost some wonderful railway architecture as a result. Some of the de-staffed stations on the Ilkley line have had their buildings rebuilt in recent years.
     
  22. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Old labour had its flaws, but the Humber bridge was by no means the most disastrous thing a Government could do. Personally I don't believe that "old" labour, or indeed "old" (one nation) Conservatism will come to be judged nearly as harshly as the wholesale adoption of laissez-faire economics by those parties' more recent incarnations.
     
  23. Starmill

    Starmill Established Member

    Messages:
    9,477
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    I don't know who said this first, or if it was just apocryphal, but I definitely think it's as close to the truth as we are likely to get.
     
  24. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,274
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    Wasn't it Ian Hislop on his programme about the cuts a couple of years back ?
     
  25. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

    Messages:
    3,159
    Joined:
    22 Apr 2010
    The Wilson government, including Barbara Castle were largely at the mercy of the "money people". Due to circumstances - a few mistakes, and anti-Labour propaganda (or lies) spread by much of the pro-Tory media, Wilson was under great pressure to reduce spending. In those circumstances, stopping all the Marples-Beeching closures had become virtually impossible. Anything else would have seen those "money people" make further "attacks" on the pound and the economy.

    Regrettable, but Barabara Castle did manage to prevent a few of the worst closures. If Marples had remained Transport Minister until 1970, I suspect that the railway system might have been much smaller than it is now.

    I agree with IanXC that many lines should never have been built, and that others had outlived their usefulness, but I think that up to half could have been saved. Some of the alleged losses were "peanuts", and it should have been feasible to reduce those losses.

    What was lacking was the imagination & determination to examine whether existing services needed to be changed to better meet the needs of potential passengers. With increasing availability of cars, a train getting people to their workplaces an hour or more before starting time would never attract enough customers. Likewise, few people wanted to wait an hour or more for a train after finishing work. (Not to mention those lines with timetables so poor that people could never use trains to get to/from work..)
     
  26. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

    Messages:
    1,086
    Joined:
    21 Apr 2016
    Location:
    Sunny South Lancs
    While I certainly wouldn't underestimate the weight of these "unfair" pressures it does underscore the fact that no version of Labour has ever been prepared to commit decent funding to a national railway. Quite simply the other pillars of the public sector always have a higher priority. It's our own fault as an electorate for being so prepared to be influenced by such an obviously biased media, not something that seems to affect our European neighbours to the same extent.

    I completely agree!

    It's difficult to make any objective measure of these "divisions" though the summary works as a whole. In particular perhaps the strongest social trend of the Victorian era was the movement of people from small rural communities to the developing large urban centres. The early railway companies attempted to serve as many places as possible but by so doing helped to accelerate the process which destroyed the market for so many rural services. As such I think the proportion of complete no-hopers is perhaps smaller than a third. On the other hand the assessment of which closures were a mistake depends somewhat on your view on the rights and wrongs of mass car ownership and whether or not buses can make a useful contribution to the transport options available. Once again it seems some of our European neighbours have reached a better solution.

    Management inertia. The failure to nationalise after WW1 meant the Big Four carried on with the same ways of doing things despite railway finances not being as healthy as they had been in the Edwardian period. Even after nationalisation in 1948 the thinking didn't really change. TBF it's a problem which has affected many sectors of the UK economy but most notably in 1960s manufacturing when the good times were not used to bolster investment. It's all so easy with hindsight though.
     
  27. JohnR

    JohnR Member

    Messages:
    240
    Joined:
    23 Jul 2010
    I think the Railway Development Association (later RailFuture), published a plan for the S&D which was a reduction to about 10 stations (most of which were unstaffed), a limited amount of passing loops and reduction from double track (and hence reduction in signalling costs). That guys station, would either have closed or been unstaffed. I seem to recall that using Beechings own figures on DMU running costs, they got it to breakeven point on Bournmouth-Evercreech and Evercreech to Highbridge, with a very small loss on the north to Bath. Big problem was the backlog maintainence.
     
  28. JohnR

    JohnR Member

    Messages:
    240
    Joined:
    23 Jul 2010
    One of the big reasons why so many feel that more could have been done, is that the only alternative offered by management to closure was the full-on, Victorian levels of staffing, combined often with expensive Steam haulage on a timetable that didnt reflect the needs of the local community.

    In the Rural Transport Problem (1963) David St. John Thomas states that it costs £1,500 a year to staff and maintain a signal box, and many lines had several which were kept open only to reduce delays slightly on occaision. Timetabling was also a problem. He highlighted the case of Moretonhampstead - where a single train leaving Newton Abbott at 5.35pm could carry more passengers than the 6.05pm and 4.45pm combined. The timetable was designed in such a poor way, yet at times during the day needed two locos and sets of men to operate.

    In the Report, Beeching gives an example, designed, one assumes to "prove" that such lines are unremunerative.

    The first thing to note is that this branch line has a service that very few would have had. Secondly, the route maintainence costs were high. Earlier in the report, Beeching had suggested that the lowest level of maintaince was £2,000 per mile per year. Two years later, Gerry Fiennes was working on the basis of £670 per mile per year for the East Suffolk. Stations at £2,500 each could be unstaffed. In an appendix to the report, there is a wide variety of movement costs given for DMUs - one as low as 3s 1d per train mile.

    So yes, there was plenty that could have been done to reduce costs. Many lines never saw DMU operation, which with a recast timetable could have attracted more patronage. The two combined could have made a difference in many cases - and in those that didnt, would have allowed a modest subsidy because of the social aspect - or for special requirements such as tourist traffic.
     
  29. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

    Messages:
    16,436
    Joined:
    12 Oct 2010
    Location:
    Work - Fenny Stratford(MK) Home - Darlington
    I am not a sentimentalist unlike, perhaps, many here and I try to look at things in a dispassionate fashion. I don't really care if you could once get the train to Little Snoddling via the Pines Express over the S&D. I do care if it was right to shut that line.

    Was there an alternative? Costs seem to have been very high and receipts low on many of these lines. Surely they had to go if the railways were to survive? Surely we were long overdue a rationalisation of the often complex and duplicated railway system bequeathed to us by the early railway booms?
    That said - Did too many lines go and did lines go that, perhaps, shouldn't have? Of course. Does it look like underhand tactics were used to facilitate closure? Certainly. Would the data used to justify closure stand up to scrutiny? Perhaps not in every case. However, we have to be very careful not to look back using what we know now. We have to look at the case with what was known then.

    Railways were old hat, the car was king and car ownership and new motorways were changing the way people lived, worked and moved about. There were 6m+ cars in private ownership in the early 1960’s so why go on a dirty, slow, old (steam?) train when you could zoom there in your own Mini or Cortina filled with cheap petrol. Lorries (free of the common carrier rules) were taking juicy freight contracts from the railways just as bus services took passengers. Decisions based on demographics of 1960’s Britain cannot be compared with Britain of the 21st century. Too often we see people complain that a line was closed in the 60’s which would be useful today based on what we know today. They didn’t know then what we know now and they can’t be criticised for that!

    There were thousands of carriages used only a couple of times a year for summer holiday traffic and freight was hugely unprofitable with wagons laying idle for days in private yards and utilisation of the rest low. 50% of the route mileage produced just 1% of receipts and it was clear the railway ( as it was) couldn't compete but we still had the pickup freight trundeling up a remote branch line every day. Part of the change was the introduction of long distance freightliner services and block trainloads over wagon load services. Part of the modernisation was the focus on long distance commuter routes and fast intercity travel – all things we take for granted today.

    Money was leeching out of the aged railways at an alarming rate (£140m per year) and modernisation and increased efficiency was needed badly. Did Beeching not just make the decisions that anyone in his position would have had to take? Was there little choice, really, than to cut away the deadwood and save the rest? OF COURSE the cuts did inestimable damage to some communities and left many areas bereft of railway services. I do not think all possible avenues were explored to save money ( reduction of station staff, sale of station buildings, demolition of station buildings, simplification of stations, sale of goods yards, reduced level of mainteance pay trains, reduced servcies, more DMU operations, reduced track layouts and signalling etc) and I don’t think the data collected was always fair and accurate but were there, really, any alternatives? The railway could not go on pouring money away and hope to survive
     
    Last edited: 10 Apr 2017
  30. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

    Messages:
    2,585
    Joined:
    1 Aug 2013
    Bit of an exaggeration, but the vehicles used at summer weekends (and pre-Christmas week, and for midweek excursions, and ...) were generally at the ends of their lives, and the railway at the time had a good understanding of the marginal costing of them, in fact a far better idea of this than the leasing companines and operators have nowadays. Thus the "loss" by retaining them is not what you may think.

    This approach lasted well beyond Beeching. Even under Sectorisation there were a proportion of "float" vehicles, sometimes known as Sector Directors' Reserve".

    Anyone familiar with the current road freight business will be aware of thousands of HGV trailers (let alone hundreds of thousands of containers) which stand unused from one week to the next, yet form part of what is a straightforwardly profitable business. The rail trend nowadays to throw away any asset not in use 24x7 (or to be more precise, not giving leasing revenue on that basis) does not always show an understanding of real costs and revenue.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page