Doctor Who?

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Tiny Tim

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Richard Beeching retired from BR in June 1965 after just four years as Chairman. He died in March 1985. He was not, by most definitions, a 'railwayman' yet today, on this forum, his must be the most commonly mentioned name. Cast both as hero and villain, we can't forget this man, or what he did. Will he ever be just another historical character, or is he destined to be a 20th century bogeyman? Opinions of that other great railway anti-hero, George Hudson, have mellowed in recent times, will Beeching ever be rehabilitated?

I'm sure that Richard Beeching would be amazed to find his name in such currency today, and bemused at the multiplicity of differing views of him.

This isn't intended as another thread about the Beeching cuts, but how his reputation has continued and varied.
 
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RPM

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Anti-Beeching sentiments are very much a red herring. The real villain was Earnest Marples. I think Beeching was misguided and has analysis was deeply flawed but I also think he had the best interests of the railway at heart. Marples however did want to see the railway wither and die.

The railway system did need pruning but the cuts went too far and were often badly targeted. The revenue figures were clearly manipulated and there was a fundamental misunderstanding of how branch lines provided contributionary revenue to secondary lines and main lines. I say misunderstanding because I think Beeching did misundestand this. Marples however probably did understand it but he was more than happy to go along with Beeching's flawed thinking as long as it benefitted his vested interests in the road industry.

Beeching was nevertheless the front man so it is inevitable his name is associated with the cuts.
 

Welshman

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Anti-Beeching sentiments are very much a red herring. The real villain was Earnest Marples. I think Beeching was misguided and has analysis was deeply flawed but I also think he had the best interests of the railway at heart. Marples however did want to see the railway wither and die.

The railway system did need pruning but the cuts went too far and were often badly targeted. The revenue figures were clearly manipulated and there was a fundamental misunderstanding of how branch lines provided contributionary revenue to secondary lines and main lines. I say misunderstanding because I think Beeching did misundestand this. Marples however probably did understand it but he was more than happy to go along with Beeching's flawed thinking as long as it benefitted his vested interests in the road industry.

Beeching was nevertheless the front man so it is inevitable his name is associated with the cuts.
How very true.

When you consider, for example, the Cat's Cradle of lines of the old rival companies [GC, Midland, etc] in the East Midlands, then some pruning was necessary, as you say. The problem was Beeching was charged to assess each line seperately, and not see the whole as an integrated system.

Interestingly, Beeching seems to have been rehabilitated in his home town of East Grinstead. A section of the A22 bypass, built on part of the disused trackbed of the Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells Central line, one of the many lines "axed" by him, is now called "Beeching Way"

Apparently, as the road now utilises a deep cutting, local opinion suggested it be called the "Beeching Cut"!!
 

ainsworth74

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In my eyes he's already been rehabilitated for exactly the reasons laid out in RPMs very good response.
 

Schnellzug

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Oh yes, he wasn't Evil, as such, it was the terms of reference set by the Politicians that were basically flawed (a good example being to assess the viability of every line purely on the basis of revenue generated by it, regardless of how much inward traffic there may have been, e.g. on lines to Holiday resorts), and there was some things could sensibly be trimmed, e.g. the multiplicity of stations built by competing companies in one city. What we all know now though, of course, is how short-sighted the fixation with closing "duplicate routes" was.
 

yorksrob

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Isn't it true that even towards the end of his life, long after he retained any responsibility towards Marples (or any other organ grinders) he regretted not closing more railways !

He helped to set BR on a wild goose chase of trying to find the mythical "profitable" railway through ever more route closures and helped to ensure that such routes were sold off and built on quickly.
 

NSEFAN

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Yorksrob said:
Isn't it true that even towards the end of his life, long after he retained any responsibility towards Marples (or any other organ grinders) he regretted not closing more railways !

He helped to set BR on a wild goose chase of trying to find the mythical "profitable" railway through ever more route closures and helped to ensure that such routes were sold off and built on quickly.
As privatisation has shown, the definition of "profit" is a bit more complex than "more money in than out"...
 

yorksrob

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the definition of "profit" is a bit more complex than "more money in than out"...
Particularly where you have to "sex up" a case for closure by including supposed "terminal costs" even where the terminal station remained open and didn't undergo any significant alteration at the time, or by discounting revenue from end to end traffic using the route, simply because those passengers might use another less direct route instead. Both of these methods were used to justify the closure of York - Beverley via Market Weighton.

Dr Beeching had an ideological view of how the railway should have looked, and cooked the evidence to fit it. He should be looked upon as a warning from history.
 

LE Greys

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I always thought Beeching was an ICI man who Marples brought in specifically because he was not a railwayman, and he needed someone who could look at it from an 'independent' point of view (in other words, use as a scapegoat).
 

Butts

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I always thought Beeching was an ICI man who Marples brought in specifically because he was not a railwayman, and he needed someone who could look at it from an 'independent' point of view (in other words, use as a scapegoat).
I was just about to have a grumble about the lack of appearances by Davros ....when I realised wrong Dr Who.

Don't blame Marples or Beeching blame the man in the street who availed himself of a motor car and stopped using the trains :p
 

Greenback

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I always thought Beeching was an ICI man who Marples brought in specifically because he was not a railwayman, and he needed someone who could look at it from an 'independent' point of view (in other words, use as a scapegoat).
I don't believe that Dr Beeching was brought in to provide an independent view. He was given a remit that, in reality, precluded such a thing. Though I think that in bringing in an outsider there was less resistance to closing railways than if a career railwayman had been brought in to do the same thing.

I think that Beeching's reputation has improved in recent years, as more people now seem to realise that he was working to orders form above.
 

LE Greys

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I don't believe that Dr Beeching was brought in to provide an independent view. He was given a remit that, in reality, precluded such a thing. Though I think that in bringing in an outsider there was less resistance to closing railways than if a career railwayman had been brought in to do the same thing.

I think that Beeching's reputation has improved in recent years, as more people now seem to realise that he was working to orders form above.
Hence the inverted commas around 'independent'. Maybe I should have added a :roll: .
 

yorksrob

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Well, it's certainly true that Marples (and Castle and Marsh) deserve the lions share of the blame, as they controlled policy. However, IMO this only goes so far.

Take for example, the "almost" Beeching cut I grew up with - Marshlink. On the face of it, British Rail at it's best - a threatened line saved from closure through rationalisation. Yet why did it take closure notice and a public campaign before BR embarked upon the rationalisation campaign that ultimately saved it ? Why didn't it rationalise off it's own back and instead putting the route forward for closure?

I would say that the "close first, ask questions later" frame of mind was a result of the Beeching/Marples vision of a vastly rationalised railway, driven by profitable Inter-City lines with everything else as a nuisence to be trimmed. It seems to me that this mindset wasn't entirely displaced until sectorisation .
 

exile

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BR was losing money in barrowloads at the time Beeching took over. If the network as a whole was using money it's ludicrous to suggest branch lines with a couple of dozen passengers a day were not making a loss - or even particularly useful even if you ignored the financial aspect - in some cases a free taxi service would have served the public just as well.

Given the brief he was handed he COULD on the horrifying figures available have decided there was no way BR could break even and the whole network could be left to rot and eventually close down as its assets became life-expired. Instead he suggested that at least some of the network could be made viable and that any routes that lost money should either be closed - or subsidised by government for social or environmental reasons - but that BR as an entity was in no way able to continue with the huge financial losses they were facing.

Some routes and stations should perhaps have remained open (mainly ones that have re opened subsequently) but that's looking at things from an era where the idea of subsidising railways is accepted as the norm.
 

Schnellzug

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How can you say rightly whether or not a branch line on which the majority of the traffic is inward, e.g. to holiday resorts, can or can't make a profit? that was the basic flaw with his terms of reference, looking at everything in isolation and purely in terms of the revenue it generated. No concept of a network at all. And the closure of "duplicate routes" was largely responsible for the problem of capacity we have now.
Not that Beeching was entirely to blame for that, of course; look at Woodhead.
 

yorksrob

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BR was losing money in barrowloads at the time Beeching took over. If the network as a whole was using money it's ludicrous to suggest branch lines with a couple of dozen passengers a day were not making a loss - or even particularly useful even if you ignored the financial aspect - in some cases a free taxi service would have served the public just as well.

Given the brief he was handed he COULD on the horrifying figures available have decided there was no way BR could break even and the whole network could be left to rot and eventually close down as its assets became life-expired. Instead he suggested that at least some of the network could be made viable and that any routes that lost money should either be closed - or subsidised by government for social or environmental reasons - but that BR as an entity was in no way able to continue with the huge financial losses they were facing.

Some routes and stations should perhaps have remained open (mainly ones that have re opened subsequently) but that's looking at things from an era where the idea of subsidising railways is accepted as the norm.
As I said in my above post, the politicians (Marples, Castle and Marsh) bear the lions share of the blame as they were in charge of national policy.

However, there is still a management issue as to why for several years, the railway went for closure rather than rationalisation (even when rationalisation had been proven as a way of reducing costs).

You suggest that Beeching was at heart a benevolent figure for the railways, then how do you explain the York - Beverley route, other than a mistaken idea that there was no future for the regional railway.
 

tbtc

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I think that Beeching's reputation has improved in recent years, as more people now seem to realise that he was working to orders form above.
I'd agree.

He was asked to come up with something, he came up with what he was asked to do. Want a scapegoat? Blame the people who framed the terms of his "report".

Did people honestly expect every line to be justified though? The network was a real muddle of routes - some rationalisation was always going to be needed.

Even today there are bits of the railway that I wouldn't bother supporting (Briech etc) - back then there were a lot of examples.
 

yorksrob

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I'd agree.

He was asked to come up with something, he came up with what he was asked to do. Want a scapegoat? Blame the people who framed the terms of his "report".

Did people honestly expect every line to be justified though? The network was a real muddle of routes - some rationalisation was always going to be needed.

Even today there are bits of the railway that I wouldn't bother supporting (Briech etc) - back then there were a lot of examples.
No one's suggesting that every line at the time should have been saved.

The railway was being rationalised from the 20's onwards, it was well known that the network had to shrink. What Beeching brought was the idea that every individual line had to make a cash profit and that the network should eventually be brought down to a small number of inter-city and commuter routes.

Beeching didn't just "write a report", he was the chairman of British Railways for some time. He came up with the blueprint for the shrinking railway that was followed by railway management for the next fifteen years and he was wrong.
 

yorksrob

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With hindsight, yes, some of the cuts were wrong (and some have thankfully been reversed).

But, at the time, with the evidence available to him, things looked a lot different (without fifty years of hindsight)
I still say the York - Beverley example speaks volumes.
 

John55

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Particularly where you have to "sex up" a case for closure by including supposed "terminal costs" even where the terminal station remained open and didn't undergo any significant alteration at the time, or by discounting revenue from end to end traffic using the route, simply because those passengers might use another less direct route instead. Both of these methods were used to justify the closure of York - Beverley via Market Weighton.

Dr Beeching had an ideological view of how the railway should have looked, and cooked the evidence to fit it. He should be looked upon as a warning from history.
Terminal costs are NOT the cost of operating a terminal station. Terminal costs are those costs which are incurred at the start and finish of a journey for each passenger or item of goods traffic. Therefore in the case of the Hull - York line they are the costs of running the intermediate stations which closed but exclude the costs of Hull, York, Cottingham and Beverley which remained open.

The revenue expected to be retained because of the existence of alternative routes was only £25,600 out of £90,400 i.e. 28% which doesn't sound like an unreasonable number to me. It was also assumed that £4,900 of revenue on other routes would be lost due to this closure.
 

yorksrob

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Terminal costs are NOT the cost of operating a terminal station. Terminal costs are those costs which are incurred at the start and finish of a journey for each passenger or item of goods traffic. Therefore in the case of the Hull - York line they are the costs of running the intermediate stations which closed but exclude the costs of Hull, York, Cottingham and Beverley which remained open.
My error. Although if that's the case, why were there no attempts to rationalise the intermediate stations? Railways had been singled and stations de-staffed before.
 

Gwenllian2001

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BR was losing money in barrowloads at the time Beeching took over. If the network as a whole was using money it's ludicrous to suggest branch lines with a couple of dozen passengers a day were not making a loss - or even particularly useful even if you ignored the financial aspect - in some cases a free taxi service would have served the public just as well.
You conveniently forget that after the 'Doctor's Surgery' the losses continued to rise. The flawed analogy of the time was that the railway system was like a tree with the trunk feeding the branches when, in truth, it worked the other way with the exception of some seaside lines. Some lines had outlived their purpose and pruning had been going on for many years but the 'Beeching Plan' was fundamentally flawed because it considered branch lines in isolation rather than as part of a network. Do you really believe that all the closures were of 'branch lines with a couple of dozen passengers a day?'

The valley services into Newport carried thousands of passsengers but were chopped for operating convenience and to save money on the MAS Scheme then in progress. The footfall at Newport fell markedly after these closures as passengers from the valleys, travelling to Bristol and London etc., deserted the railway completely. The Aberdare, Aber Valley (Senghenydd) and Maesteg lines went because they operated in isolation when they should have run through to Cardiff. The Vale of Glamorgan line was in a similar position with very little through working. It should also be noted that no attempt at cost saving was made and all of those lines had fully staffed stations until the day that they closed. On the other hand, all of the services that ran through to Cardiff survived. None of the lines, that I have listed, fell remotely into your category as candidates for closure but were the victims of a flawed and arbitary ideology.

It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the Aber Valley (now beyond reclamation), all of those lines have been successfully re-opened and all, without exception, run through to Cardiff. Ebbw Vale is an interesting case because it formerly served Newport and some concerns were raised that it might not appeal to the good people of the Western Valley who had, historically, been drawn to Newport rather than Cardiff. In the event, the five year target after re-opening was met within three months.

I know this area very well and, as a railwayman, worked all over it. Many unforgiveable things were done by the Beeching / Marples axis to appease the road lobby and subsequently by Wilson's government which was in the pocket of the T&GWU. I don't know how old you are but I can assure that 'political spin' was just as prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies as it is today.

Remember it was Marples who stated that it would be cheaper to buy us all motor scooters than retain rail services. Yes, a catchy kind of slogan but it makes no mention of those unable to drive, for a variety of reasons, mothers with infants and children, the elderly, the disabled ranging from severely disabled to unsighted and everything in between. How do you get a push chair on a scooter?

Some lines, as I have stated, had outlived their purpose but, in many cases, the baby was thrown out with the bath water.
 

LE Greys

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You conveniently forget that after the 'Doctor's Surgery' the losses continued to rise. The flawed analogy of the time was that the railway system was like a tree with the trunk feeding the branches when, in truth, it worked the other way with the exception of some seaside lines. Some lines had outlived their purpose and pruning had been going on for many years but the 'Beeching Plan' was fundamentally flawed because it considered branch lines in isolation rather than as part of a network. Do you really believe that all the closures were of 'branch lines with a couple of dozen passengers a day?'

The valley services into Newport carried thousands of passsengers but were chopped for operating convenience and to save money on the MAS Scheme then in progress. The footfall at Newport fell markedly after these closures as passengers from the valleys, travelling to Bristol and London etc., deserted the railway completely. The Aberdare, Aber Valley (Senghenydd) and Maesteg lines went because they operated in isolation when they should have run through to Cardiff. The Vale of Glamorgan line was in a similar position with very little through working. It should also be noted that no attempt at cost saving was made and all of those lines had fully staffed stations until the day that they closed. On the other hand, all of the services that ran through to Cardiff survived. None of the lines, that I have listed, fell remotely into your category as candidates for closure but were the victims of a flawed and arbitary ideology.

It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the Aber Valley (now beyond reclamation), all of those lines have been successfully re-opened and all, without exception, run through to Cardiff. Ebbw Vale is an interesting case because it formerly served Newport and some concerns were raised that it might not appeal to the good people of the Western Valley who had, historically, been drawn to Newport rather than Cardiff. In the event, the five year target after re-opening was met within three months.

I know this area very well and, as a railwayman, worked all over it. Many unforgiveable things were done by the Beeching / Marples axis to appease the road lobby and subsequently by Wilson's government which was in the pocket of the T&GWU. I don't know how old you are but I can assure that 'political spin' was just as prevalent in the Sixties and Seventies as it is today.

Remember it was Marples who stated that it would be cheaper to buy us all motor scooters than retain rail services. Yes, a catchy kind of slogan but it makes no mention of those unable to drive, for a variety of reasons, mothers with infants and children, the elderly, the disabled ranging from severely disabled to unsighted and everything in between. How do you get a push chair on a scooter?

Some lines, as I have stated, had outlived their purpose but, in many cases, the baby was thrown out with the bath water.
Now that I agree with. Another part of this was the 'bustitution' idea. If buses replace trains on a rural line, they can serve places much closer to village centres and run with more flexibility. Trouble is, people simply didn't use them, mostly because they preferred travelling in a nice comfortable train rather than a rattly country bus which was often slower. The majority bought cars instead, and so when the buses got cut as well (because they had very few passengers compared to the railway) people who couldn't drive or couldn't afford cars were trapped in the villages and often had to move into towns instead. Some bustitution services survive, Oxford to Cambridge for instance, but they usually have two major towns at either end and a big A-road in-between.

One loss that I particularly regret is Aldeburgh. Most of the branch was saved by traffic to Sizewell, yet there is no passenger service. My mother used to spend her holidays near there, and they would often travel in from near Cambridge on the train. When it went (just as the entire East Suffolk route was supposed to) they suddenly lost their easy access to the coast, and it's still hard to reach even though most of the branch is open.
 

Eagle

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Don't blame Marples or Beeching blame the man in the street who availed himself of a motor car and stopped using the trains :p
And the MoT (as it was then) spending most of its money on lots of shiny new long-distance motorways, meaning that road journey times could start to become competitive with rail.
 

Zoe

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And the MoT (as it was then) spending most of its money on lots of shiny new long-distance motorways, meaning that road journey times could start to become competitive with rail.
I believe the motorways were primarily built for freight though, if they had elected to restrict the motorways to commercial traffic only then rail may well have continued as the primary form of long distance passenger transport. With the intense passenger service we see on the network now which with the modal shift away from the private car is going to need to increase, there simply wouldn't be capacity for a lot more freight.
 
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