Alternatives to the Beeching cuts

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

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  1. Gareth Marston

    Gareth Marston Established Member

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    Beeching had no real hands on experience of budgets, revenue generation, controlling costs and day to day financial management he was a theorist with a strong technical background in physics. Apart from a brief spell as general manager of an ICi plant in Canada he was always the scientist/ back room man/ special advisor even getting up to Director level. In short he had no real experience of the type of problem he was taken on to address apart from suggesting theoretical organisational change - a personal favourite of his.

    There were better qualified people in industry if someone had to brought in from outside. People who had practical experience of managing/ controlling costs who had learnt how to do it and no doubt made mistakes along the way starting with smaller scale concerns/ sections/ departments when younger. Beeching mistakes as he learned were people's jobs and links to communities. The consequence of making mistakes in academia/ science world are that you get another go. Out in the real world it's very different.
     
  2. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Member

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    It is sometimes necessary to remember that Dr Richard Beeching was not just some consultant brought in to do a hatchet job on a few rural branch lines. He was head of the British Transport Commission, through its winding up and then of the entire British Railways Board. So the great majority of his job was actually about keeping the main enterprise running, whilst reforming it in many ways.

    But to get back on-thread, despite the closure of a significant proportion of the network over the Beeching era and its immediate aftermath, the number of passenger miles remained broadly constant, thus indicating that the withdrawn services had carried very little traffic.

    The number of railway staff declined from around 500,000 when he took over to around 400,000 when he left. (Yes, of course much of that reduction came from things like reduction in steam traction, mechanised track maintenance and so forth as well as passenger and freight closures.). On Beeching's watch the network undoubtedly became more efficient, with a smaller but largely better paid workforce moving a similar amount of traffic in the face on continually strengthening competition from rising car ownership.

    Obviously much remained to be done and the work to adapt the railway system to the needs of the nation continues to this very day...
     
  3. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    I take it that you mean the (ex) Great Central line from Manchester and Sheffield Victoria to Marylebone?
     
  4. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

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    Perhaps the most pertinent point in the whole discussion. The concept of actively choosing to subsidise railways is one that only came in to being towards the end of the Beeching era (and after he himself had left). Previous to that the expectation was that railways, if not exactly comfortably profitable, would at least more than cover their costs. But this stopped happening by 1955.

    A shining example of the prevailing political reality. Sad but unavoidably true.

    A good example of a point I made earlier about BR post-war management being unable to think about doing things very much differently to the ways they had always been done. Of course implementation of the Modernisation Plan became a series of lost opportunities (I'm being kind!) and once the Treasury cottoned on it was inevitable that retrenchment would be the main policy going forward. Add in a corrupt pro-road Minister and the scene was set.

    He was a political appointee and could only do as directed.

    The concept of built in resilience and the use of diversionary routes to provide it is largely a modern-day phenomenon arising out of the boom in ridership. At the time of Beeching's appointment such an idea would have been seen as gloriously wishful thinking and certainly no necessity to contemplate its possibility.

    Are you forgetting the extensive diversions used north of Weaver Junction during the early 1970s, after the Beeching period?

    Exactly so. Traffic congestion back then was a rarity so the prospect of unbridled motoring via the advancing motorway network was extremely attractive to an awful lot of people. Freedom to go where and when you wanted, not be tied to an unattractive timetable of services operated by dirty and worn out trains. Not to mention the possibility of nearly always being faster on the motorways. We take it for granted that trains can often run considerable distances at speed in excess of 70mph but higher linespeeds only became commonplace as a result of developing the Inter-City concept during the 1960s and 1970s. For too many people that was "jam tomorrow" and our love affair with the car took root.
     
  5. RT4038

    RT4038 Member

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    And the evidence that there were 'better qualified people in industry' is where exactly? And the evidence that any these people actually wanted the job? And that any of these people would have done a better job?
     
  6. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    He was a political appointee, but he had a considerable degree of influence on policy formulation before his appointment.

    Not at all. In the case of Dawlish, it was commonplace for Great Western and Southern train crews to train on eachother's routes. Extreme weather wasn't an unknown concept at the time either.

    Then that's even less justification for forgetting that they might need to divert again between Plymouth and Exeter, for example.
     
  7. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Its not hindsight that we're using to see that York - Beverley covered its revenue costs, but Beeching's own calculations !
     
  8. RT4038

    RT4038 Member

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    So the track and terminal costs don't have to be covered then? I didn't realise these are notional costs that come free really! Must tell station and trackworkers and suppliers that they don't have to be paid. A strange interpretation of the Beeching report, but hey ho anything to rubbish it I suppose.
     
  9. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Because quite clearly covering revenue costs means that you have time to work on capital costs that come to pass in the future as well as terminal costs. Stations can be unstaffed, track can be singled and rationalised, renewals can be deferred. Is this not what this entire thread is about ?
     
  10. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

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    Try this University of Durham research paper:

    http://dro.dur.ac.uk/1072/1/1072.pdf

    Prior to Beeching flooding at Dawlish in 1875 and 1945. Just twice during the railway era until then. Hardly justification for retaining a duplicate route for diversionary purposes!
     
    Last edited: 20 Apr 2017
  11. muddythefish

    muddythefish Established Member

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    Interesting note, and possibly unintended consequence of Beeching was that by closing cross-country routes he helped concentrate transport links to London and thereby contributed to the economic dominance of the capital over the past 40 years.
     
  12. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Maybe not on its own, but closing it managed to cut off Tavistock and Okehampton as well. Then there are upgrades and scheduled engineering works.
     
  13. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    I think the service on the cross-country routes at the time was pretty desultory and most of them were doomed by mass market road travel in an era before it started to be strangled by congestion. However had many of those lines managed to survive in some form, reopenings such as East West Rail which are now needed to provide a comprehensive transport network would be far easier today.

    However it's a difficult political sell to say "our analysis tells us we need to close this railway, but we'll keep the trackbed intact just in case we're wrong." Politicians rarely have room for that sort of self-doubt.
     
  14. Bald Rick

    Bald Rick Established Member

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    Or "our analysis tells us we need to close the railway, but we'll keep the trackbed intact just in case that in 50 years time there is a complete change in travel patterns that no-one has possibly foreseen, a change in understanding in the environmental impacts of transport that is well beyond our current thinking, and an information revolution that means anonymised correspondents can argue about it instantly without having to write to the local paper once a week*"

    *no doubt some people still do.
     
  15. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

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    Since many of your arguments are based on what we know now and extrapolating them backwards through time perhaps I can add one of my own. Tavistock and Okehampton do not currently have any scheduled rail service so to check on the validity of any re-opening we'll need

    Altnabreac's Golden Rules for rail reopenings:

    1 - Population of 10,000+
    2 - 60 minutes (75 at a push) journey time to a major employment centre (City of 300,000+ population).
    3 - Extant or mainly unobstructed trackbed
    4 - Ability to extend an existing service so more terminal capacity is not required.
    5 - Regeneration potential in area served or potential to generate Wider Economic Benefits through improving local economic outcomes.

    Most recent population figures are from the 2011 census:
    Tavistock 12,280
    Okehampton 7,500

    So re-opening Tavistock-Bere Alston (for Plymouth) is just about justified bearing in mind the need to maintain the existing link to Gunnislake. But no case for re-opening across Dartmoor to Exeter.

    Okehampton-Coleford Jn (for Exeter) is marginal but given the track still exists is certainly arguable. But again no case for re-opening across Dartmoor to Plymouth.

    The regeneration argument holds no water due to the almost complete absence of any population between the two towns.

    So go back in time and remember the populations would certainly have been lower though not massively so. The argument than is whether the route is worth the cost of keeping it open against a background of an urgent need to seriously reduce railway expenditure and an expectation that railways will mostly continue to decline in popularity. Financially the case looks marginal, politically a no-brainer (to close).

    Just for interest the current populations (again 2011 census) on another route under discussion:
    Market Weighton 6,429
    Pocklington 8,337
    Having lived in that area during the 1980s I have no doubt that the populations in the early 1960s would have been a fair bit lower. Not so clear cut methinks.
     
  16. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    As I've said previously, my observations have been based on calculations and figures from the Beeching report itself, and that's giving him the benefit of the doubt regarding his cost assumptions which are/were far from universally accepted.

    I'm sure that Altnanraec would agree with me that his guidelines are designed to create a business case to overcome the many administrative, economic and physical hurdles for reopening a route, therefore even if one accepts them, they have little bearing on whether an existing line should have been closed (which is the subject of this discussion).

    In terms of Okehampton and Tavistock both have sizeable hinterlands which centre on them for public services and although I don't have the figures to hand I'm pretty sure that both would have been smaller than Appleby and Settle were at the time, even though those places have required a railway service throughout the period.
     
    Last edited: 21 Apr 2017
  17. Gareth Marston

    Gareth Marston Established Member

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    My point is Beeching (whatever his virtues or downsides) was not a person with hands on experience of managing large budgets/industries. He was a scientist/theorist not a manager. He had no practical experience of dealing with the type of problems the railways faced regarding costs/income/Government interference.

    ICI lent him to the Stedeford Committee as an expert theorist /thinker. It was his job throughout his career to be an ideas man and he worked in environments where there was always another chance to try another experiment if the first one failed,he never had to manage and implement.

    Whatever the Stedeford Committee was suppose to achieve/do/what its remit was we don't know - we do know it didn't rubber stamp/recommend a shift to a roads based transport policy and mass rail closures. However it appears Beeching theorized on line closures (which others notably Stedeford himself didn't agree with) as a solution hence Marples wanted him....

    Marples selected someone to be head of BTC not on their track record (pardon pun) as a manager and implementer but becuase they had said something he wanted to hear...Marples intent was always to divert rail modernization money into roads. A pragmatic experienced implementer and manager as Chair of BTC may well not have come up with the "solution" that Beeching did. A BTC Chairman advocating continued investment to achieve route rationalization and savings was not wanted.

    Marples himself was spectacularly unsuited for high office, Churchill had demoted him from a Junior position back to the back benches after a very short time in the early 50's usually the death knell of any future ministerial career. A tax evader & known gambler who was implicated in Profumo and who wa snot even liked in the Conservative party aside from his obvious huge conflict of interest his position in the cabinet can only be because of how the Torys were funded at the time.
     
    Last edited: 21 Apr 2017
  18. Andy873

    Andy873 Member

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    My original idea for this topic was to find out just what people thought of the cuts, alternatives to them, and the reasons why they happened.

    From what I've read so far, some think it was rashable, some enevatable, and a lot more think other things could have been tried first.

    It is aslo clear that one golden rule applied to the whole network was probably wrong.

    If the political will wasn't there then it's simply not there.

    It is a pitty that the passionate arguments you all have put forward weren't there at policy level in the 60's.
     
  19. Shaw S Hunter

    Shaw S Hunter Established Member

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    But if you want to have an objective discussion that seeks to overcome such political hurdles then logic dictates that at some point you have to ask the question of almost any line "Is it worth the cost of keeping it open?" There's an extent to which Network Rail does this when considering renewals but the political winds of today are "thou shalt not close" so that objective question does not have to be asked. The political direction of Beeching's day was more like "close as much as possible" in the name of reducing expenditure. In practice it is impossible to avoid sweeping politically generalised policy when considering the management of a publicly funded network; it's just as true today as at any other point since 1948. The so-called privatisation that currently exists makes absolutely no difference to that.

    Interestingly the 2011 census figures are:
    Appleby 3,048
    Settle 2,564
    Note their combined population is smaller than Okehampton's alone. The S&C is a curious case within the context of Beeching. It was proposed for closure but in the event it was only the intermediate stations, bar the above two, that closed with a minimal service remaining. I suspect that in the end (Leeds-)Settle Jn-Carlisle was seen as not really duplicating any other route that closely so retaining it for through traffic was more easily justified than the Dartmoor line. As it happens if the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority hadn't promoted the Dales Rail concept from 1974, and therefore started to raise wider awareness of the route, I rather suspect the route would have closed during the economic chaos of 1978-9. There's no doubt that the later closure attempt of 1984 was a turning point in how the wider politics of railway economics impact on the management of the network. As for the Dartmoor line if it had managed to survive both Beeching and early Thatcher then I've no doubt it would by now be undergoing a renaissance but to re-instate it would be expensive (and doesn't pass the Altnabreac test).

    I'm glad that the various contributions have struck home as it seems to me your summary is pretty accurate. Another point to consider is that the concept of open or transparent government is much better established today; back in the 1960s CND were just about the only widespread campaign group seeking to influence government policy through public protest. Nobody other than enthusiasts really cared about the railways.
     
  20. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    There were plenty of rational arguments in the 1960s - but most of them were ignored. Marples, backed by Macmillan wanted to reduce the railway system.

    Then, as I have commented previously, when Wilson & Castle were in charge, they were reluctant to offend the "money men", who wanted big reductions in government spending - and that meant not stopping lots of the rail closures. Before the "money problems", Wilson & Labour had included a promise to stop the Beeching closures in their 1964 pre-election manifesto.

    Yes - some closures were inevitable. And by 1960, the GC London Extension was in terrible condition between Sheffield & Nottingham; mile after mile was afflicted by mining subsidence, and subject to many speed restrictions. It would have taken a lot of money to make it suitable for fast running.
     
  21. edwin_m

    edwin_m Veteran Member

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    In the early 70s the northern WCML was re-signalled and all catch points were taken out (at least over Shap and probably elsewhere too). The intention was to run any freight other than fully fitted via the Settle & Carlisle instead. Was there a view even in the Beeching era that the WCML couldn't handle all the expected freight? By the time S&C closure was on the cards again in the 80s, virtually all the unfitted and part-fitted freight and quite a lot of the other freight had disappeared.
     
  22. AndrewE

    AndrewE Established Member

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    I was in the LM Train Planning Organisation at the time (70s, not Beeching) and the fact that the APT was being trialled meant that catch-points and especially motorised catch points had to be removed from the WCML, as there was the potential problem of it smashing them when they couldn't move quickly enough. Hence their removal and the diversion of all unfitted freight over the S&C.
     
  23. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    Had this not happened some time before? I recall in the late 1960s being surprised at the extent of through freight on the Blackburn-Hellifield-S&C line, open 24 hours. Did unfitted freight not get removed from Shap when the Tebay steam bankers were ended around 1967? Unlike Beattock, I don't recall them being replaced by diesels.
     
  24. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Member

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    Possibly worth adding that Wilson seemed to have no problem in broadly doubling investment in roads from 1964 to 1968, apparently "the highest level by any post-war government" [Wikipedia]. Wilson was, of course, a technocrat with a great love of statistics and analysis (a bit like Beeching really).
     
  25. Gareth Marston

    Gareth Marston Established Member

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    "There's no money" - but money for new roads.
     
  26. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    You've hit the nail on the head.

    The policy ethos at the time was "close as much as possible" and to hell with the consequences. You say that at some stage we have to make an objective decision on whether its worth keeping a line open. My objection regarding Beeching is that he made no such objective evaluation, preferring an assumption towards closure on the flimsiest of pretexts. An objective basis for deciding whether it was worth retaining a line would take into consideration whether that line covered it's operating costs in addition to any social and economic imperatives. Beeching took none of this into consideration.

    It is wrong to give the impression that the closure programme as it was, was somehow inevitable. Policy doesn't form on it's own like a mist. It has to be formed and developed by people. Beeching was instrumental in forming that policy as well as implementing it, and to suggest otherwise is whitewash. He steered the Stedeford committee in a particular direction, when they could have recommended a more balanced and objective approach to route eeductions and he set the ethos for railway management for decades to come.
     
  27. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Member

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    I have always been struck that the very first page of the Reshaping report describes the process as having sprung from a statement by the Prime Minister (Harold Macmillan, a former long-serving railway company director who presumably had a good understanding of what railways were good and less effective at) on 10 March 1960.

    "First the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular the railway system must be remodelled to meet current needs, and the modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape."

    The report explains at considerable length the two-year process of data acquisition and analysis that was then undertaken. This was necessary because the kind of granular detail necessary simply did not exist in the days before databases and computerised analysis.

    Understanding of social, economic and environmental aspects, and in particular ascribing financial values to those factors was in its infancy in those far off days. Two of the seminal documents in those areas - the 'Beesley Report' that justified the building of the Victoria line and the Buchanan 'Traffic in Towns' report both came later (arguably being part of the 'fruits' of the Marples era).

    Beeching 'discovered' (in the sense of exposing it statistically for the first time) the classic problem of around one third of the network generating a negligible proportion of both passenger and freight traffic.

    He also succeeded in demonstrating the strength of railways when it came to Inter City traffic (a term used regularly for one of the first times in the report) and various types of freight. Sadly his vision of 39 million tons by liner trains by 1973 didn't come to pass but a huge amount of good stuff did come about with merry-go-round, block oil trains, beefing up research effort, air braking, corporate identity and so forth.
     
  28. Gareth Marston

    Gareth Marston Established Member

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    on the subject of the traffic surveys

    My Week 3 in 2016/2017 was 92% of the average weekly earnings for that year, this year its been 90% of the 2016/2017 weekly average.

    Weekly takings in 2016/2017 varied between 42% of the average and 125% of the average.
     
  29. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    It was actually a train name going back to GWR days as a Paddington to Birmingham daily express :)
     
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