Did BR try to sell closed lines?

Discussion in 'Railway History & Nostalgia' started by feldom76, 9 Oct 2018 at 21:10.

  1. feldom76

    feldom76 Member

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    Hi,
    Just had a nostalgic visit to Whitby and walked along the track bed near West Cliff station that I used to traverse by train when I was 7 years old. I imagine that the coast line to Scarborough would have made a profitable preserved railway.
    I was wondering if any railways closed in the Beeching cuts were offered for sale to private buyers (preservation societies) or was the first action to remove the fixtures and fittings (track etc)?

    Thanks

    Mike
     
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  3. Dr Hoo

    Dr Hoo Member

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    I hesitate to start yet another Beeching thread but very simply, “yes”. It never ceases to amaze me how people simply cannot grasp that British Railways was totally skint in 1962. Debts had already racked up to billions at modern values.
    There was a desperate need to stop the haemorrhage of cash by closing lines that were losing money hand over fist, get rid of steam traction and pay living wages to rail staff as recommended by the Guillebaud Report. Etc. Etc.
    As soon as lines were closed and rolling stock rendered surplus they were disposed as quickly as possible to raise cash from scrap or land sale. This was not a secret. Annual reports at the time made clear how much money was being raised that way.
    One thing that was very clear under governments of either main political persuasion in the mid 1960s was there was no more ‘external’/Treasury cash to be had so the railway had to maximise its internal funds.
     
  4. MarkyT

    MarkyT Established Member

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    I think there were also many cases where clauses in the railway acts that were extinguished on closure obliged the land to be offered back to original estate owners, neighbouring farmers or local authorities. There was definitely, and no doubt deliberately, no mechanism for rights of way to be preserved.
     
  5. feldom76

    feldom76 Member

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    Bit confused here. Dr Hoo says "As soon as lines were closed and rolling stock rendered surplus they were disposed as quickly as possible to raise cash from scrap or land sale." So I assume that one of the options was to offer complete lines and infrastructure to preservation groups? However
    MarkyT says "There was definitely, and no doubt deliberately, no mechanism for rights of way to be preserved." There was no way BR were going to offer complete lines to preservation groups.
    Happy to remain confused. Just thought I'd ask out of interest.
     
  6. ChiefPlanner

    ChiefPlanner Established Member

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    There were meaningful discussions on a sale of the Borders Line , and I think the Meon Valley line in Hampshire ...but came to nothing. The Worth and Severn Valley lines must surely be described as success stories.

    Apart from some sales to the then NCB - think Mountain Ash / Maesteg area.
     
  7. Dai Corner

    Dai Corner Established Member

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    Somerset County Council bought the Minehead branch from BR after closure in 1971. It's now leased to the West Somerset Railway.
     
  8. randyrippley

    randyrippley Established Member

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    Both BR and the government were philosophically opposed to seeing any lines reopen: to have sold them on as a viable working line would have proved the incompetence of BR management, and undermined the whole closure plan.
    Most lines were reduced to scrap at the earliest possible stage, limited only by the capacity of the scrap and demolition merchants. Cash was king, and metal and stone sales meant cash. At the same time, removal of overbridges and buildings reduced maintenance costs very quickly.
    Most preserved lines were reopened from dereliction in the face of opposition by BR, who refused any kind of support or co-operation.
    The only line I can think of that was handed over in anything approaching a working state is Paignton - Kingswear, and by then the politics were changing
     
    Last edited: 10 Oct 2018 at 22:21
  9. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

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    Interestingly, BR provided the service under contract for the first two-or-so months until the Kingswear line people were able to provide their own trains/crew.
     
  10. RLBH

    RLBH Member

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    Was that actually the case?

    I'd suggest that the view was more likely that BR Management were professional railway managers; if they said a line wasn't viable, it wasn't, so the only thing to do was to break it up. If cash was king, and I see no reason why that wouldn't be the case, then I'd be very surprised if a serious offer to take over a line as a working proposition wasn't at least considered.
     
  11. 341o2

    341o2 Member

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    What about the Swanage railway? Despite a society wanting to take over the railway, didn't seem to be much cooperation from BR
     
  12. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    I'd like to think that Mr. RLBH has the rights of the matter here, more than Messrs. Marky and rr; but with humans' selfish-and-sinful proclivities, it seems unsurprising for those concerned to have ignored the common good, and / or potential positive solutions, in favour of shoring up their egos / safeguarding their positions and power.

    An incidental thing brought to mind by this correspondence: around 2000 / 2001, I had for a while a security-related job, involving patrolling various business premises at night. It was tacitly reckoned OK to relieve the boredom by sometimes semi-switching-off mentally, and looking at stuff which was on open view there. One assignment included the premises of a railway-related commercial undertaking (at this distance in time, I totally don't remember which). I was intrigued and surprised to see in their office, quite prominently displayed, a large and detailed map showing the then status of lines of a part of Great Britain's rail system; essentially, East Anglia was featured. To my surprise, the map included -- in full -- all public lines which there had ever been. Abandoned lines were shown with a dashed / broken line; including, as said, "all of them" -- e.g. the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, abandoned in the early 1950s; and the narrow-gauge Southwold Railway, abandoned 1929 !

    I'd have imagined this to have been stuff of interest only to nerdish amateur railway enthusiasts -- with any professional rail outfit feeling gladly rid of such "nonsensical" lines, which the industry had long since cast off and largely, physically disposed of: hard to see what use or point there could be, for them to show such stuff on an official map. Unless maybe the map was at the desk of an employee who was a railway enthusiast, hobby-wise -- map being produced by an enthusiast outfit, and the office management being on the tolerant side and letting the employee openly display it at his work station? -- but my impression was that it had the look of "official" rather than "enthusiast" publication. A very trivial matter; but an oddity which I've mused on now and again over the past couple of decades.
     
  13. RLBH

    RLBH Member

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    My hypothesis does admit of the said railway experts having the arrogance to suppose that since they couldn't make a line pay, nobody else would be able to do so and therefore the best result for the common good is to get rid of the line and its' associated expenses as quickly as possible. There's still room for 'selfish and sinful proclivities' without needing a deliberate effort to avoid showing up purported failures.
     
  14. MarkyT

    MarkyT Established Member

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    On reflection I think perhaps my use of the word deliberate relating to mechanisms not being set up to preserve rights of way post Beeching closures, was unfortunate. A business, whether in the private or public sector, will naturally try to dispose of any redundant liabilities, not only to release any asset value, which was minimal anyway in the case of much rural railway mileage, but also to limit future costs to maintain structures, including earthworks, and avoid any legal risks and unexpected costs of corridors under their ownership being used as alternative access routes to other land (animal and criminal escape routes for example). That instinct would also discourage councils from acquiring the corridors unless they had a realistic plan for their future reuse for some useful purpose. Central government wouldn't want to force local authorities as they might rightfully demand compensation for the liabilities taken on. Mechanisms to protect redundant transport corridors had never been created or seen to be required in the past, for closed canals for instance. So not a conspiracy or fraud, but rather a combination of factors that led to the general outcome, allied with the public spirit which was definitely feeling railways were in the past and generally had no imagination of any realistic need for reuse of the corridors, after all any futuristic new transport modes like monorails will simply be able to march down the high street on huge pillars, leaping over buildings as necessary, and the multi-storey terminal/car park will simply replace the deeply unfashionable victorian gothic revival town hall. While some people at the time may have seen the possibilities and opportunities in safeguarding corridors, I can understand they may have been considered cranks and outsiders, and the decisions followed the money and legal advice as usual. I guess any alleged government's deliberation in this respect would be in attempts to prevent the subject entering serious open debate in case the idea caught on in public consciousness as a new political aspiration, and that might have threatened the pace and magnitude and increased the cost of the broader closure and liquidation campaign with new legal technicalities, i.e. a closure/disposal might be deferred if an authority didn't have a coherent 'safegaurding plan' for each closed route if legislation to require one had been passed.
     
  15. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Member

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    When the Great Central was closed, the MLST had to pay a monthly rental of about £1000 to allow them to use it and stop the track being lifted. Leicestershire County Council were considering using all or part of the track bed as the A6 by-pass route. It was a very much last minute funding/council leaseback that got the single line section from Loughborough to Rothley preserved.
     
  16. Stew998

    Stew998 Member

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    Isn't it the case that any abandoned line infrastructure that was not dismantled or demolished i.e. bridges and tunnels still had/have to be maintained by BR/Network Rail? So there is still infrastructure being maintained now that has not seen a train for 50 years?

    For example I'm pretty sure that the Lywood tunnel on the Horsted Keynes - Ardingly line was maintained until the Bluebell took a 10-year lease on the tunnel in 2013 in order to protect the trackbed, this action apparently being undertaken before closure of British Railways Property Board Residuary and transfer of its assets (including the tunnel) to the Highways Agency. Incidentally I believe the first section of the Bluebell was initially leased from BR intact - although that was really a pre-Beeching closure.

    Bridges on abandoned lines over roads, rivers etc. presumably require a minimum level of maintainance for safety purposes if not demolished. And no doubt minimal maintenance is cheaper than demolition in some cases. Tunnels could be even harder to demolish and I imagine that "maintenance" in that case largely consists of securing the ends to keep out trespassers. If a line is no longer used it cannot be simply and completely abandoned unless it is completely safe; if BR owned a tunnel the Highways Agency still own it unless they have been able to sell it to someone...
     
  17. Dai Corner

    Dai Corner Established Member

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    Redundant structures are now the responsibility of Highways England
     
  18. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    Without wanting to spoilt the conspiracy theories about BR salting the earth to stop any future railway line from growing, how many sell offs would actually have been feasible for private buyers?

    There weren't a lot of preservation societies fifty years ago, so not a lot of obvious buyers (even if BR wanted to sell).

    You might have someone wanting to buy the Waverley route but would that have been to terminate on the fringe of the section of line that BR kept (e.g. the outskirts of Millerhill yard)? Who's going to get a train from the Borders towards Edinburgh but not actually get to Edinburgh? Maybe as a heritage line but not for bringing money in week round, year round.

    Somewhere like the Worth Valley line works because Keighley has a separate platform on the south western side (for a branch line to terminate at) but I can't see it working so well elsewhere.
     
  19. Dai Corner

    Dai Corner Established Member

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    Two examples: It works between Grosmont and Whitby. Attempts to make it work between Norton Fitzwarren and Taunton have failed.
     
  20. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    Whitby took a lot of hard work, a very obvious commercial incentive for the NYMR and the town, plus co-operative management on the NR side. Not to mention plenty of gaps in the Desk Valley timetable, much bemoaned elsewhere on these forums! The Taunton case is rather different in terms of practicalities.
     
  21. randyrippley

    randyrippley Established Member

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    but that is the very point........approaches to take over lines were not considered, otherwise more lines would have been sold as going concerns. Paignton was the only one. All the rest were rescued indirectly, often through the back door with local council support or connivance.
    The reticence of BR to discuss the matter was well reported in the press at the time. BR wanted the lines shut for the reasons given before, but also because the survival of the closed lines would have diluted the BR revenue stream. Lines like the GC, S&D removed revenue from the intended remaining lines and could not be allowed to survive.
     
  22. Clarence Yard

    Clarence Yard Member

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    After realising the scrap value in the track and equipment, there was more cash to be gained from land sales so selling a line as a going concern wouldn’t usually match that ultimate prize. Only as Beeching slowed down did we start to see a change in attitude.

    The reticence over selling lines complete was that it took time and effort whilst carving up a line and associated land generated the cash quicker. BR was always under pressure to cash in on it’s assets and the regional rationalisation teams were targeted with making sure that surplus assets could be identified and turned into money in quick time.

    I made good money for BR in the early nineties selling off rolling stock from OOC. I kept stock back to sell at intervals. If I had done that in steam days I would have made a fortune with locos but I would never have been able to because it all had to go as soon as it was surplus. That applied to track and land as much as it did to stock.
     
  23. Helvellyn

    Helvellyn Established Member

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    I am surprised nobody has mentioned the S&C in the late 1980s. I know very much post-Beeching but BR did propose selling the route from Hellifield Northwards with access rights to platform 6 at Carlisle. Stock and locomotives were to be included but I can't recall off the top of my head the exact type. In the end the route was saved so nothing came of it.
     
  24. Peter Mugridge

    Peter Mugridge Established Member

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    It was class 45/1s, I think six of them, plus Mk 1 stock.

    At least half a dozen serious bids were received. One proposal made expressed an interest to have the Cumbrian Coast, Newcastle - Carlisle and Glasgow South Western included in the deal and would have operated the four lines as "Cumbrian Railways".

    I have often wondered if that particular bid made the Government say to themselves: "Hang on a minute...!" and led to the reprieve for the line and the subsequent privatisation of the whole network, but I guess we will never know. Unless Michael Portillo ever tells us...
     
  25. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    The Taunton-Norton case went on for so long because it did appear practical. The line was 4 track, plus sidings alongside pretty much the whole length, and BR wanted to cut back to just the two main running lines, and to realign everything when the power signalling was put in. A fully fenced independent line was practical and designed, to the old bay at the station.
     
  26. Dai Corner

    Dai Corner Established Member

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    Do you know why it didn't happen in the end?
     
  27. MarkyT

    MarkyT Established Member

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    I suspect it was the cost in the end. When I first came down to work in the west country, Taunton was all still mechanically signalled and there was an up relief all the way into the station from Norton. That line could have been used in both directions for the WSR, but I remember in preparation for resignalling it was ripped up and the new main cable route constructed along its entire alignment, with a number of new signal post structures and equipment cabinets added on the line as well. It no doubt saved the signal engineer a few pennies in avoiding groundwork further out and a few larger gantries to get over the extra line. The ongoing costs for using the track could have been crippling however, and don't forget that the local NUR branch objected to any kind of proper public transport operation over the rails into Taunton as they also represented the local bus drivers whose jobs might be undermined.
     
  28. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    Well there were various theories. There was a longstanding antagonism against the West Somerset doing an actual service, as opposed to being a tourist attraction, by quite a number of the rail staff at Taunton. This was because, although in most of the country the local bus employees were in the TGWU union, for historic reasons at Taunton (dating back to when the GWR ran puioneer bus services in the 1920s) the National Bus Company staff there were members of the NUR, at the Taunton branch jointly with the rail employees. The bus route to Minehead was seen as vulnerable if the WSR took many of their passengers, and possibly the little depot at Minehead would even close as the Taunton run was its only worthwhile operation. It always seemed to me the numbers should have been to small in the general scheme of things to worry about, but there you go.

    At the time the Taunton Cider company were on the north side of the line at Norton, and as is well known they were significant Speedlink freight users. There was a scheme for access to their sidings, which of course the WSR supported, but a tremendous amount of "not invented here" from the other side.

    ** I see the bit about the buses was also covered above while I was writing.
     
  29. Bornin1980s

    Bornin1980s Member

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    The other post mentioned the bus issue. You explained it. Did it end with bus deregulation?
     
  30. tiptoptaff

    tiptoptaff Member

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    The ability and appetite for the WSR to run direct have both now diminished. The dedicated route would have still fitted after all the re-signalling, until they built Silk Mills Bridge and the support post was put on the available alignment on the Up side. The lines have also been slewed for higher speed running in the last 42 years.

    To run to the Down side we would have to cross the NR tracks and at that point you might as well just run along them. This then requires mainline stock and crew ala Whitby or Wareham, and the money isn't there to do it. The much more preferable option is the GWR DMUs to extend to Bishops Lydeard.

    There is still some animosity in the area towards the WSR's operations, however it is much the opposite to 1976. The self-proclaimed Minehead Rail Link Group, or whatever they're called, want to run Minehead to Taunton as a regular commercial service, at the expense of the heritage operation.

    Funny how these things come around, eh?
     
  31. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member

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    Well said Tiptoptaff. Perhaps/Hopefully one day something could happen, but it probably won’t be for a few years yet.
    Attitudes towards local transport will need to change first, but whatever happens it will need to work well with the established and successful local business that the WSR currently is.
    I feel optimistic that something will happen in the next ten years though.
     

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