Why was the Bishop Auckland to Durham line closed?

montyburns56

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I know that you could question the wisdom of a lot of the Beeching closures, but looking at a map it strikes me as bit surprising that this line was closed. I say that because both towns seem to be quite heavily populated with a largish town in between (Willington) and other sizable ones such as Brandon on the route. Were there particularly low passengers numbers or was it a high maintenance line? I know that there is the Newton Cap Viaduct which would have added to maintenance costs and there are quite a few coal mines in the area so perhaps there were also subsidence issues?

And were there any plans to reinstate the line after closure? Most of the trackbed in Bishop Auckland has been built on in recent years, so it would be very difficult to do it now which is a shame as it looks like the population of Brandon has tripled since the line's closure and doubled at Willington.
 
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30907

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I don't know the specific local history, but most townships in Co Durham were mining communities and pretty self-contained back in the 60s. People didn't commute to work (I knew an elderly lady who had never been further than Blaydon from her home in Crawcrook, less than 5 miles away, though that was a bit extreme), and a railway doesn't survive on weekly shopping or fortnightly football trips.

The remoter pit villages were zoned by the county for "no development" when their pit closed (I lived in Greenside, which was one, in the late 80s); they were IMO saved by increased car ownership, the move to owner-occupation and cheap housing (a terrace in Chopwell, the remotest in the area, was £10k!).

Of course things have changed, but I doubt enough to consider reopening - though there is a proposal to reinstate a line to Consett (see the Speculative forum).
 

RT4038

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I know that you could question the wisdom of a lot of the Beeching closures, but looking at a map it strikes me as bit surprising that this line was closed. I say that because both towns seem to be quite heavily populated with a largish town in between (Willington) and other sizable ones such as Brandon on the route. Were there particularly low passengers numbers or was it a high maintenance line? I know that there is the Newton Cap Viaduct which would have added to maintenance costs and there are quite a few coal mines in the area so perhaps there were also subsidence issues?

And were there any plans to reinstate the line after closure? Most of the trackbed in Bishop Auckland has been built on in recent years, so it would be very difficult to do it now which is a shame as it looks like the population of Brandon has tripled since the line's closure and doubled at Willington.
Wasn't the viaduct subsiding, and the line limited to DMU only at the time of closure?
 

ainsworth74

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The service was certainly pretty sparse by the end of the lines existence which would tend to suggest that it wasn't very well used! I think like a lot of little lines like this in County Durham it was more about goods and mineral traffic and as that tailed off the line lost its reason for being. If the line was still with us now then it may well be relatively well used (though still requiring subsidy I'm sure). But in the 60s I'm sure it looked like a dead duck. I've attached a copy of the timetable for interest from September 63 to June 64 which I believe is the period in which the line closed to passengers (May 64 I think) and it's a bare handful of trains each way.

20200522_104226.jpg

(click to enlarge)
 

30907

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Thanks for that post. Confirms my suspicions, assuming the timetable had some connection with demand - Saturday leisure traffic, schools to and from Bishop A, perhaps commuters to Durham and beyond, maybe the odd NCB manager to Brandon Colliery...
 

ainsworth74

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Thanks for that post. Confirms my suspicions, assuming the timetable had some connection with demand - Saturday leisure traffic, schools to and from Bishop A, perhaps commuters to Durham and beyond, maybe the odd NCB manager to Brandon Colliery...
Yes it rather looks like that doesn't it? Particularly the massive gap Monday to Friday from 0730 to 1617 from Bishop Aukland northwards which on a Saturday sees three trains in that same gap. Looking at it now the line must have been a total basket case financially. I bet the majority of trains were carting fresh air, there will have been a trickle of goods and parcels traffic and massive staffing, equipment/maintenance costs. All the stations were manned for all trains (apart from Hunwick which seems to have been staffed only during the middle of the day rather than the ends) and I bet there were plenty of mechanical signal boxes as well between Bishop and the connection with the ECML just south of Durham. One might actually question why BR didn't get around to shutting it in the 1950s rather than asking why it was shut in the first place!

Though, to be fair to the line, I do suspect like I said above that if it had by some miracle survived to the present day I bet it would no longer be carting fresh air all day. Blockbuster numbers? No. But enough to warrant it's continued existence? I'd have thought so. Not a cat in hells chance of it ever making sense to try and reopen from today's position though!
 

montyburns56

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Wasn't the viaduct subsiding, and the line limited to DMU only at the time of closure?

I don't know to be honest, but the line was kept open to freight for another four years so I don't think it was a weight issue. Interestingly the viaduct was turned into a road bridge in 1995, which is another reason why it's unlikely that the line will ever be reopened.
 

montyburns56

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The service was certainly pretty sparse by the end of the lines existence which would tend to suggest that it wasn't very well used! I think like a lot of little lines like this in County Durham it was more about goods and mineral traffic and as that tailed off the line lost its reason for being. If the line was still with us now then it may well be relatively well used (though still requiring subsidy I'm sure). But in the 60s I'm sure it looked like a dead duck. I've attached a copy of the timetable for interest from September 63 to June 64 which I believe is the period in which the line closed to passengers (May 64 I think) and it's a bare handful of trains each way.

View attachment 78301

(click to enlarge)
Wow, you are being generous to even describe the service frequency as sparse! Also I guess that in those days most of the locals worked at the local mines and the area wasn't exactly part of the commuter belt. I know that the line stayed open for a few years for freight so I guess that was it's main raison d'etre and I suspect that the Cement factory at Eastgate was one of the reasons why Bishop Auckland still even has a station. It's a shame though that it couldn't have been kept open just as a single unstaffed line with a DMU service until the growth of housing in Willington and Brandon made the line more viable.
 

Bevan Price

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I never did the line, but I suspect that much of the area was probably afflicted by mining subsidence. The points above raise a common question about closed lines. Yes - a lot of people worked locally, but we will never know if more people might have commuted by rail if the timetable had been better -- making it possible to get to/from work at convenient times for their office / shop / factory, etc., without wasting lots of time before or after work.

If long waits were inevitable, due to ill-considered rail timetables, then anyone wanting to commute to/from work would use slower - but generally much more frequent bus services. (Before car ownership became widespread).

With a combined population of 50,000+ between Bishop Auckland & Durham, I suspect - with more efficient operation, including pay trains, it ought to have been feasible to provide a just viable service (and likewise to Crook, a few miles North of Bishop Auckland), but at the time, Marples & Beeching, etc., seemed to have the idea that closing railways was the only possible option.
 

Meole

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A 12 mile branch could not compete with buses.
Bishop Auckland would see industrial Darlington as its shopping and employment destination in the past.
 

Taunton

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The North-East was particularly affected by cheap, frequent and extensive bus services, to the extent that trains which needed a timetable could not easily compete. It was a rural area interlaced with high density villages (old mining communities) which bus operators linked in a metropolitan-style network, every 10 minutes or so.
 

Bevan Price

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The North-East was particularly affected by cheap, frequent and extensive bus services, to the extent that trains which needed a timetable could not easily compete. It was a rural area interlaced with high density villages (old mining communities) which bus operators linked in a metropolitan-style network, every 10 minutes or so.
Though bus services in the area seem to have declined a lot since the 1960s. Searching on line, (at https://bustimes.org/ ) the only current bus services I could find between Bishop Auckland were via Ferryhill, every 30 minutes, and taking well over 1 hour, plus a faster, hourly service via Spennymoor taking just over 30 minutes; I could not find any through services via Willington & Brandon, (although services may be currently affected due to Covid-19.)
 

MoleStation

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Coal. The reason it was built and the reason why it got shut was all because of coal. When that line from Bishop to Relly Mill closed it all co-incides with when the pits along that route closed down. Passengers were never ever the reason for that line, which really went to Sunderland and formed a little bit of the now ECML.
Less built on than a line from Consett though..
 

edwin_m

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I never did the line, but I suspect that much of the area was probably afflicted by mining subsidence. The points above raise a common question about closed lines. Yes - a lot of people worked locally, but we will never know if more people might have commuted by rail if the timetable had been better -- making it possible to get to/from work at convenient times for their office / shop / factory, etc., without wasting lots of time before or after work.
Probably Durham wouldn't have been much of a destination for commuters at that time and Newcastle would have been too far away with plenty of attractive suburbs connected by frequent electric trains. Until house prices skyrocketed from the 80s onwards and people had to go further out for cheaper housing, commuters tended to be the more affluent who could afford a bigger house further from the city. Nobody would have wanted to commute from a pit village.

Another factor was that most households only had a single earner. The husband would work in the local pit/factory/whatever, probably for his entire working life, so the family would live nearby. If the wife worked it would also be nearby. These days most couples have two jobs, not necessarily in the same place and not necessarily the place they worked when they bought the house. So it may be essential for at least one of them to commute.
 

NorthOxonian

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Though bus services in the area seem to have declined a lot since the 1960s. Searching on line, (at https://bustimes.org/ ) the only current bus services I could find between Bishop Auckland were via Ferryhill, every 30 minutes, and taking well over 1 hour, plus a faster, hourly service via Spennymoor taking just over 30 minutes; I could not find any through services via Willington & Brandon, (although services may be currently affected due to Covid-19.)
Massively affected. From Bishop Auckland to Durham there are: 2 buses per hour from Go North East on the X21 (these express services carry on to Newcastle), 5 buses per hour along Arriva's route 6 (via Spennymoor), and 2 per hour on Arriva's route 56 via Ferryhill. Brandon and Willington have very frequent services too - for Brandon there are six buses per hour (49 and 49A), plus three more which run along the edge of the village (X46) - these continue to Willington and Crook.

The one link which has been lost is between Bishop Auckland and Willington/Brandon. There was a service 50 which used to provide that connection, but this no longer runs. I believe BA to Willington still exists as a contracted route but is only hourly.
 

montyburns56

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Coal. The reason it was built and the reason why it got shut was all because of coal. When that line from Bishop to Relly Mill closed it all co-incides with when the pits along that route closed down. Passengers were never ever the reason for that line, which really went to Sunderland and formed a little bit of the now ECML.
Less built on than a line from Consett though..
Yeah, I've just been looking online and it seems that Willington Colliery closed in 1967 and Brandon Colliery closed in 1968 so that's two of the biggest traffic drivers on the line disappearing within a few years.
 

MoleStation

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My infants and junior school was right next to where Brandon Colliery station was. My Dad, who went to the same school when he was a young'un used to explain where everything was regarding the railway and the pits, old streets etc (just like my Grandad did around Consett when I visited)
Fascinating stuff. It must have seemed like a reset for the locals at the time when everything was snuffed out.
 

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