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Fire and Steam: A New History of the Railways in Britain by Christian Wolmar
accounting loophole / creative accounting, Beeching cuts, carbon footprint, collective bargaining, computer age, Corn Laws, cross-subsidies, financial independence, hiring and firing, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, railway mania, rising living standards, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, strikebreaker, union organizing, upwardly mobile, working poor, yield management
When Fiddlers Ferry changed over from coal to oil in the 1970s, the line became redundant and closed in 1981. These electrification schemes were definitely the exception, and BR was similarly slow to make use of diesel technology. The failure to convert many local and branch services to diesel was a missed opportunity given that the resulting cost economies could have made these lines far more resistant to the Beeching axe wielded in the 1960s. This was not for lack of available technology. As far back as 1921, one of Colonel Stephens’s railways, the Weston Clevedon and Portishead, had introduced a petrol-engined railcar on its fourteen-mile length and in Ireland the first diesel railcars in the British Isles started running on the small County Donegal Railways in 1926. Despite the unfortunate tendency of early models to lose their front wheels – luckily without causing injury to any passengers – they proved a great success.
And because British Railways was now run by powerful regional managers, who were all vying for the largest slice of the cake for their patch, there was never any coherent programme to focus the investment where it was most needed. Local managers came up with crazy schemes such as electrifying vast swathes of line in the Eastern Region that served remote communities in the Lincolnshire fens (which soon fell to the Beeching axe). The London Midland Region tried to bid for the ridiculous number of 660 electric locomotives for the West Coast Main Line when 100 later sufficed. Such proposals were rejected but other daft schemes went ahead, notably the £1.6m (£30m today) Bletchley flyover on the West Coast line which was never used and survives today as a monument to incompetent planning. The flyover was part of a very sensible scheme to use the Oxford–Cambridge line as an east–west route avoiding London, but not only was that plan never implemented, sadly much of the route was closed in the 1960s.
The only remaining purpose of the railway was, therefore, to serve the 3,000 people living in Buntingford and the villages along the route, and its initial mainstay was freight, principally agricultural produce, although later it would become a commuter line with through trains into London. Inevitably, given the line was a risky financial proposition from the start, the company that built it quickly became incorporated into its bigger neighbour, the Great Eastern, with the shareholders losing much of their investment. The line, like so many built in this period, was closed following the Beeching Report, with passenger services ceasing in 1964 and freight the following year. There were, quite literally, hundreds of similar lines spreading around Britain. Even the Isle of Wight, an island just fifteen by ten miles, acquired thirty-two miles of railway by 18754 and eventually fifty-five by the end of the century, built by no fewer than eight different companies. There were even branches off branches where a train from the junction with the main line might disgorge its passengers at a remote station, only for them to have to change on to an even more remote service.
Last Trains: Dr Beeching and the Death of Rural England by Charles Loft
The Treasury’s ultimate responsibility for the investment programmes of nationalised industries fostered a belief that it needed to develop a picture of future needs against which to judge those programmes. Efforts to apply this principle to transport spending were central to the policy behind the Beeching Report. In turn, the report was one of a series of measures the Conservatives hoped would convince the electorate that they were the standard-bearers of modernisation, and Labour’s opposition to closures sat uncomfortably with Harold Wilson’s attempts to present himself as the moderniser par excellence. This book argues that the Beeching Report was the outcome of a genuine modernisation of Whitehall’s management of the economy. Its form and presentation were a reflection of what was imagined to be wrong with Britain; its limitations reflected the difficulties of modernising Britain.
To Elaine, Billy, Sid and Ron Contents Title Page Dedication 1 Introduction: a wound that has not healed 2 Colonel Stephens’s lost causes: the railway problem 1914–51 3 A terrible tangle: the Isle of Wight and the end of integration 4 Chromium dreams: the 1955 Modernisation Plan 5 The Bluebell and Primrose Line: the 1956 closure plan 6 White elephants: the M&GN and the collapse of faith in the railways 7 Westerham, Marples and the M25 8 The nitty gritty: shaping Reshaping 9 Wells-next-the-Sea and the general election 10 Unmitigated England: Tom Fraser and the Great Central 11 A tiger in the tank? Barbara Castle and the stable network 12 Aftermath: the management of decline 13 Conclusion: ultra-modern horror Glossary Acknowledgements Select bibliography Notes Index Plates Copyright Chapter 1 Introduction: a wound that has not healed On a September evening in 1964, a branch line terminus in the north of England waited for the Beeching Axe to fall. As the last train from Carlisle pulled into the tiny terminus at Silloth, the usual diesel replaced by a steam locomotive for the occasion, passengers in the packed coaches gasped to see a crowd of between 5,000 and 9,000 people spilling across the tracks and a group of folk singers performing ‘The Beeching Blues’. The police had already ejected the local Labour Party candidate from the platform.
When, in the same month, ministers raised the question of a general separation of the commercial and social activities of the nationalised industries, they were told the Padmore committee on nationalised industries had examined this and considered it impractical. The Commission had missed an opportunity to provoke a different conclusion, but it had had little incentive to take it. Even if the Commission had been interested in pursuing social subsidies, would it have made any difference to Melton Constable? Unsurprisingly, the line there from Sheringham did not survive the Beeching Axe, inflicting the limited, if intensely felt, hardship discussed in Chapter 1. Given the small numbers involved it is hard to imagine that any kind of social analysis would have justified keeping it open. By the 1980s only the Sheringham to Cromer line remained, the population of Melton had roughly halved and the heart of the M&GN was reduced to some relics in an industrial estate and a couple of iron brackets from the station incorporated into a bus shelter.
Rush Hour by Iain Gately
Albert Einstein, autonomous vehicles, Beeching cuts, blue-collar work, British Empire, business intelligence, business process, business process outsourcing, call centre, car-free, Clapham omnibus, cognitive dissonance, congestion charging, connected car, DARPA: Urban Challenge, Dean Kamen, decarbonisation, Deng Xiaoping, Detroit bankruptcy, don't be evil, Elon Musk, extreme commuting, Google bus, Henri Poincaré, Hyperloop, Jeff Bezos, low skilled workers, postnationalism / post nation state, Ralph Waldo Emerson, remote working, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, stakhanovite, Steve Jobs, telepresence, Tesla Model S, urban planning, éminence grise
However, by the time that Reginald Perrin appeared on television, commuting by rail had been in steady decline for twenty years. Passenger rail journeys fell from a peak of over 1.1 billion in 1959 to around 650 million in 1980. A proportion of the fall was caused by the so-called ‘Beeching cuts’, named after Dr Richard Beeching, who produced two reports, in 1963 and 1965, which recommended that British Railways’ network should be pruned back to trunk lines and major branches. Several thousand miles of tracks were closed, including some commuter lines, although the Beeching axe fell mainly on rural stations, many of which had never been popular or profitable. The cuts were resented by the public, some of whom looked beyond the present inconvenience of losing their local station.*3 In April 1964, for instance, Barbara Preston had a letter published in the Guardian protesting about the planned closure of some of Manchester’s commuter routes: ‘is this what is really necessary here and now?’
Kiev, meanwhile, took eleven years between 1949 and 1960 to build a 5.2-kilometre system. Trams, trolleybuses and railways augmented these subway systems. The first two were for short-hop journeys; the latter, in theory, enabled every citizen to expand his or her range to the horizon and beyond. The Soviet rail system was growing while its counterparts in the West were contracting. In the 1960s, when the Beeching cuts removed several thousand miles of track from service in Britain, the USSR added nearly 500 kilometres every year. However, these were mostly for moving freight rather than people. Indeed, the freedom of movement that commuting implied was discouraged by the Soviets. Factories were built in wildernesses and tower-block suburbs were built around them, with dedicated transit systems to carry workers between the two.
I live in Bishop’s Waltham, a medieval market town in Hampshire. It was once the seat of the Bishops of Winchester, in whose palace Henry V prepared himself before leaving for France and the Battle of Agincourt, and where Queen Mary I waited for King Philip of Spain to arrive in the country for their wedding. It’s now something of a commuter-shed serving the nearby cities of Winchester, Portsmouth and Southampton. Its railway station was closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, and the nearest surviving station at Botley is four miles away along a twisting country road that has several crosses, with bunches of flowers scattered around them, where recent fatal accidents have occurred. There’s a limited bus service, which takes forever to go anywhere. There are no designated cycle paths. The only way for 90 per cent of the people who live in Bishop’s Waltham to get to work is by driving, even if it’s just driving to Botley station as part of a longer commute.
banking crisis, barriers to entry, Beeching cuts, British Empire, combinatorial explosion, Corn Laws, corporate social responsibility, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, intermodal, iterative process, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, knowledge economy, linear programming, Network effects, New Urbanism, performance metric, railway mania, rent-seeking, strikebreaker, the market place, transaction costs
The routes that are eliminated from the counterfactual are generally the later constructions. This illustrates a general pattern: that earlier routes generally Introduction and Summary 15 follow better alignments than later competing routes. Being Wrst in the Weld, their promoters had the widest choice, although there are some cases where the Wrst mover did not appear to choose wisely. A similar pattern was evident in the selection of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s: the lines that were Wrst to be closed were often those that were the last to be constructed, suggesting that they followed inferior alignments. The counterfactual trunk line system has a striking similarity to the modern motorway network. The lines from London to the north, for example, replicate the M1, M6, and M45 motorways, while the down-grading of the East Coast route is reXected in the relatively lowly status of the A1 road.
He often placed a four-way hub at the centre of his network; most of his plans are Steiner-compliant, in the sense that the hub has a distinctive orientation and the lines cross at about 608 rather than 908. Despite his eminence, Stephenson’s plans were not particularly successful. Some lost out to rival schemes, and others had to be scaled down because they were too ambitious. Perhaps the best example of his work was the York–DriYeld–Selby–Hull system in East Yorkshire, which had a four-way hub at Market Weighton. It was eventually built in full, although most of it was closed down during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. The construction of integrated regional schemes was encouraged by the Railway Committee of the Board of Trade, although this did no good for the promoters of such schemes for, as we have seen, Parliamentary support for the Railway Committee soon evaporated. Some of these schemes were seen, rather cynically, as just an attempt to monopolize a region by courting favour with the Board of Trade.
But British civil engineers built their lines to last—their lines were not just strategic transport links, but monuments of empire and testaments to personal engineering skill. The construction costs were sunk—they could not be recovered if the line was closed (apart from iron bridges, which were used for scrap). As the network expanded, some lines became obsolete, however—for example, the Birmingham and Derby Junction line from Whitacre to Hampton-in-Arden— but most were simply downgraded to local use rather than closed altogether. It was not until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s that wholesale closures occurred. Closures were so unusual that promoters could count on existing railways staying open—indeed, building a connection to a line would improve its chance of survival by bringing extra traYc to it. Path dependence can explain the alignments of many branch lines. It has already been noted that many branches were built in the aftermath of the Railway Mania to salvage something from more ambitious schemes.
The huts that were built soon afterwards – some of which still survive today – strike the modern eye as puzzlingly temporary structures; they put one in mind of prefab houses. Bletchley was both far enough away yet convenient enough to reach to make it an ideal location. And the town and surrounding villages were reckoned to have sufficient space for billeting all the codebreakers and translators. Bletchley Park itself was (and is) next to what is now referred to as the West Coast railway line. And in the days before Dr Beeching axed so much of the network, Bletchley station teemed with activity. To the west, the railways reached Oxford; to the east Cambridge. Meanwhile, anyone travelling from London, Birmingham, Lancashire or Glasgow could get to the town with ease. ‘Or relative ease,’ says Sheila Lawn, who became used to these long-distance hauls. ‘The trains were always absolutely packed with soldiers.’ Nevertheless, the location was a great boon to the many young people scattered across the country who would find themselves receiving the summons.
Fuller Memorandum by Stross, Charles
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Beeching cuts, British Empire, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, congestion charging, dumpster diving, finite state, Firefox, HyperCard, invisible hand, land reform, linear programming, peak oil, security theater, sensible shoes, side project, telemarketer, Turing machine
If he'd run away into the Siberian forest, alone, might they have concocted some cock-and-bull cover story . . . ? I make a right turn into a narrow path. It leads to a tranquil bicycle track, walled in beech and chestnut trees growing from the steep embankments to either side and sporadically illuminated by isolated lampposts. It used to be a railway line, decades ago, one of the many suburban services closed during the Beeching cuts--but it wasn't a commuter line. (I stumbled across it not long after we moved to this part of town, and it caught my attention enough to warrant some digging.) The Necropolis Service ran from behind Waterloo station to the huge Brookwood cemetery in Surrey; tickets were sold in two classes, one-way and return. This is one of its tributaries, a tranquil creek feeding the great river of the dead.
Blood, Iron, and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World by Christian Wolmar
banking crisis, Beeching cuts, British Empire, Cape to Cairo, invention of the wheel, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, Khartoum Gordon, Mahatma Gandhi, railway mania, refrigerator car, side project, South China Sea, transcontinental railway, tulip mania, urban sprawl
With the loss of much of their traffic, it was inevitable that the Western European railways would start to close lines and drastically reduce staffing levels. Branches had started closing in many countries since the 1930s, but the pace accelerated greatly once cars started rolling on to the improved roads in the 1950s and 1960s in huge numbers. The inflexibility of the railways was proving a great burden, as stations and whole lines had to be shut. In Britain there was the infamous Beeching report published in 1963 which led to the closure of 4,000 miles of railway, a quarter of the total, and 3,000 stations, while in France most of the Departmental lines built after the clamouring of local interests in the 1870s were closed in the 1940 and 1950s. There were, however, some heroic attempts to resist the onslaught from cars, lorries and planes. Gradually, after the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the war, railway administrations across Europe began to understand that the affluence which spawned the motor car also offered them opportunities to provide a new kind of service.
Commuter City: How the Railways Shaped London by David Wragg
Beeching cuts, British Empire, financial independence, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, Louis Blériot, North Sea oil, railway mania, South Sea Bubble, urban sprawl, V2 rocket, Winter of Discontent, yield management
Transport Bill enacted setting up British Transport Commission and preparing for nationalisation of railways, canals, railway-owned assets such as ports and bus companies, and for later nationalisation of road haulage. 1948 The ‘Big Four’ railway companies nationalised, including joint lines, and some other smaller railways. The new British Railways divides itself into six regions. Non-stop services between King’s Cross and Edinburgh reinstated. 1956 British Transport Commission plans most future electrification to be 25kv ac overhead. 1960 Inauguration of electric services between Euston and Manchester via Crewe on the London Midland Region, British Railways. 1963 Reshaping of British Railways, the ‘Beeching Report’ published. District Line train conducts trials with automatic driving equipment. 1964 Central Line conducts trials with automatic train operation using Woodford-Hainault shuttle. 1966 Electric service introduced from Euston to Manchester and Liverpool. 1974 Electric services inaugurated between Euston and Glasgow. 1991 Electric services inaugurated between King’s Cross and Edinburgh. 1994 British Rail restructured ready for privatisation.
Great Britain by David Else, Fionn Davenport
active transport: walking or cycling, Albert Einstein, Beeching cuts, British Empire, call centre, car-free, carbon footprint, clean water, colonial rule, Columbine, congestion charging, credit crunch, David Attenborough, Etonian, food miles, glass ceiling, global village, haute cuisine, illegal immigration, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, land reform, Livingstone, I presume, Mahatma Gandhi, new economy, North Sea oil, Northern Rock, offshore financial centre, place-making, Skype, South of Market, San Francisco, Stephen Hawking, the market place, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, upwardly mobile, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, Winter of Discontent
* * * STEAM RIDES AGAIN Wales’ narrow-gauge railways are testament to an industrial heyday of mining and quarrying. Using steam and diesel engines, these railways often crossed terrain that defied standard-gauge trains. The advent of steam and the rapid spread of the railway transformed 19th-century Britain, but 20th-century industrial decline and road-building left many lines defunct. The infamous Beeching report of 1963 closed dozens of rural branch lines. Five years later, British Rail fired up its last steam engine. Passionate steam enthusiasts formed a preservation group, buying and restoring old locomotives, rolling stock, disused lines and stations – a labour of love financed by offering rides to the public, often with old railway workers helping out. Nine restored lines around Wales form a group called Great Little Trains of Wales (www.greatlittletrainsofwales.co.uk).