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The purpose of this section of the IRS&TH web site is to provide a glimpse of what the British railway press was saying about various issues in the past. Every month there will be a different selection of excerpts from the railway press from the 1990s to as far back as the 1840s, taken from the collections in the National Railway Museum Library here in York. Sometimes we will group the excerpts according to particular themes, but there will also be space for a more random selection of some interesting, entertaining, or just plain bizarre corners of the railway news of the past. We hope that you will find it interesting and illuminating. It's one way of finding out what has changed, and what has not, over the past century and a half of the railway press. Previous editions are accessible through the archive page.
Next update: 7 April 2003.
|IRS&TH: Railway Readings|
The Beeching Report, 1963
The Re-Shaping of British Railways, known ever since as the 'Beeching Report', was published on 27 March 1963, and remains one of the most controversial documents in the history of British railways. The industrialist Dr Richard Beeching was appointed chairman of the British Transport Commission in 1961 and became chairman of the new British Railways Board upon its establishment in 1963. His remit from government was to transform the worsening financial position of the railways and establish a viable network with a secure future. In The Re-Shaping of British Railways Beeching proposed sweeping reductions in the network and in train services on economic grounds, arguing that 2000 stations and 250 train services should be cut. His second report, The Development of the Major Trunk Routes, dealt with the creation of a much-reduced but much-improved 'backbone network' of a limited number of key routes; but it was the first report, with its plans for drastic and rapid cuts in the British railway network, which attracted most attention and has continued to be the focus of study and debate.
Forty years on from the appearance of the Beeching Report, Railway Readings looks at contemporary reaction to Beeching's proposals in the British railway press.
March 1963: The Railway Magazine anticipates 'troublous times' as a result of the forthcoming report
29 March 1963: The Railway Gazette sees the Beeching Report as clear, logical and concise - and dubs it 'political dynamite'
5 April 1963: More on Beeching's plans, and reaction to them, from the Railway Gazette
14 June 1963: Praise for the Beeching proposals from Sir John Elliott, former Chairman of the Railway Executive and General Manager of the Southern Railway
May 1963: Modern Railways is not wildly enthusiastic about Beeching's plans
May 1963: The Railway Magazine considers the implications of Beeching
May 1963: The Beeching plan will lead to an exciting time for modellers, concludes an enthusiastic editorial in Railway Modeller
May 1963: Model Railway News regrets that the cold logic of the Beeching report ignores the human aspects of the problem
June 1963: Second thoughts on Beeching from Modern Railways
June 1963: A critical response to the report, and the government that commissioned it, from Railway World
From The Railway Magazine, March 1963, p. 152
The Beeching Report, due to appear in print in the very near future, will probably present the Press, the public, the railways and the government with one of the most controversial documents in British railway history. Of its logic and of the drastic steps proposed there can be little doubt, but its implementation is another matter. The Minister of Transport has promised that every aspect of the report will be considered, that full and proper consultation is ensured and that it will be examined by an interdepartmental working party under the chairmanship of the Minister himself. Be this as it may, we foresee some troublous times ahead for all concerned. It is regrettable that the conduct of nationalised industries is, inevitably, bedevilled by political expediency, a condition which is bound to dilute the dictates of sound common sense. In short, the implementation of the report, in part or in its entirety, presents an unenviable task for those concerned and the results seem highly unpredictable.
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From The Railway Gazette, 29 March 1963, pp. 345-6
The Beeching Plan - more formally entitled "The reshaping of British Railways" - in the principles it lays down, does not contain any surprises. The report is the most clear, logical, and - despite its size - concise analysis of the position of the railways that has been published. It is based on the premise that the railway system of this country should be so changed in size, shape, and technical development that it should cater as exclusively as possible for the carriage of traffics for which rail transport is most suitable. It is admitted that there are difficulties in arriving at the base from which to make the assessment, for in the transport field the judgment of some quality factors is largely subjective, individual convenience and total social benefit are not necessarily compatible, and competing forms of transport cannot be costed on strictly comparable bases. For these reasons, none of the major proposals has been based on attempted close judgments between ratios of quality to cost for competing systems of transport, but all have been influenced by major differences in the more measurable aspects of service quality, such as speed and reliability. It is emphasised that the proposals are not directed towards making the railways pay by rejecting all those parts of the system which do not pay already or which cannot easily be made to pay.
The proposals themselves are sufficiently drastic to call for either great courage or a spirit of desperation on the part of the Government, which will have to decide, whether to implement them in whole or in part. It would seem clear that the plan, is not of a kind which would lend itself to much in the way of dilution or compromise if the objective of making what remains of the railways a payable unit is to be achieved. On the other hand, between the two broad segments of what must go and what will remain and must be developed, there is a third and considerable part on which which decision should apply; this, at least, may give some solace to the politicians.
The closures proposed have been determined by the inability of the services to produce revenue suffident to cover direct operating costs. They account for an annual train mileage of 68 million and the route mileage to be closed to passenger traffic of about 5,000. In all, the number of stations and halts to be closed is 2,363, which includes 435 which were under consideration before the appearance of the report; of these 235 have been closed. The proposals do not include all the stopping passenger services now running, but it is pointed out that reshaping and streamlining of the pattern of these services must be a continuing process, and as this proceeds other stations and services will be added to the withdrawal and modification list until a point is reached when what remains can be said to be viable.
To a large degree, the proposals included in the plan are interdependent. Condensation of the system, elimination of uneconomic services and traffics, reduction in rolling-stock, through-train working at the expense of wagon forwarding, the build-up of traffic on the main route network, and reduction of administrative expenses, are all closely linked. The report declares that "if the plan is implemented with vigour, much (though not necessarily all) of the railways deficit should be eliminated by 1970." Estimates are given of reductions in expenses or of the improvements expected, and although not fully additive, it is stated that they are not subject to any serious measures of overlap in total. These figures come to between £115 million and £147 million a year. Further capital expenditure will be involved in many of the changes proposed; continued replacement of steam by diesel traction, the introduction of Liner Trains and the reorganisation of the arrangements for Sundries traffic, for example, are expected to involve capital expenditure of the order of £250 million.
[p.346>]Rationalisation of British Transport
The British Railways Board report shows clearly that Dr. Beeching and his colleagues are well aware of the need for a national transport plan. The report states that consideration of the best use of national resources will lead most people to the conclusion that some co-ordination of the various modes of transport is necessary. This view is bound to present itself very forcefully to those responsible for railways, which are especially vulnerable to uncontrolled development of transport capacity, because of their high fixed investment and their correspondingly high break-even level of traffic. Nevertheless, sound co-ordination must be based on the use of each form of transport for those purposes for which it is the best available means, and it is emphasised that the Beeching Plan changes are directed towards making the railways best in fields where they clearly have the potential to be so, and towards withdrawing them from those in which they are clearly not the best means of meeting the need. Between those fields there is a wide area over which the balances between road and rail, or rail and air, might be critically influenced by future changes in circumstances or legislation. Any deliberate influencing of the balance between different forms of transport in future, is believed more likely to be in favour of the railways than against them.
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'Reaction to Beeching Plan'
From The Railway Gazette, 5 April 1963, pp. 373-4, 380
With some major reservations, the press and public reaction to the Beeching Plan for the reshaping of British Railways has been favourable. It has been widely praised for its logical and lucid presentation of the railway position and of the need for a drastic reorganisation in its size, shape and operation in the circumstances of the time as compared with the long era over which the railways grew, developed, and commenced to shrink. It was well known that the plan when presented would provide shocks for many areas and communities. How great the shock has been in individual cases has depended largely on the manner in which those immediately concerned have followed the steps which preceded the report. To those who kept in close touch with the signs and portents, the relatively large area of services on which a decision has been deferred will have come as a measure of relief.
There has been widespread agreement with the general premise that the future of railways is dependent on new thinking, the introduction of modern techniques, both in operating and selling, and in a fresh relationship with other forms of competing transport. The size and depth of the operation which Dr. Beeching proposes to perform has startled and dismayed large sections of the community, both private and industrial, and by the weekend doubts were being expressed as to its feasibility. Politically, the proposals must be a considerable embarrassment to a Government already in difficulties. The Minister of Transport was quick to state that he accepted the principles in the plan but did not commit himself to the wholesale implementation of it. It is not a plan that lends itself to political juggling if it is to have any hope of providing a successful solution to the railways' difficulties. The fundamental weakness which underlies the whole proposition is not in the plan itself, but in the fact that it deals with only one segment of transport. To deal with the railways alone, whether by the means suggested in the Plan or by any other, is basically unsound. Unless it is recognised that the railways are but a part of the transport system, there is grave danger of applying principles which, because they, relate only to a part, are not necessarily beneficial to the whole.
The nation's need is for adequate, efficient, and economic transport in its broadest wrise. The concern of the trading, commercial, and travelling public is not especially with railways or with roads or with air, but with the movement of goods and passengers. To attempt to solve this overall problem by dealing with the railways in isolation is foredoomed to failure. The greatest value of the Beeching Report will be to focus attention on the need for a national transport policy. This most be a matter of Government responsibility. Implementation, amendment or rejection of the Beeching Plan is also squarely placed on the Government which instituted the enquiry which resulted in the report. Dr. Beeching suggests that a coordinated transport policy is required and admits that profitability of individual forms of transport is not necessarily the best test of efficiency; nor are we convinced that the social factors in transport are as insignificant as has been suggested.
The Beeching proposals cannot be subjected to much compromise if the railways are to be treated as a separate part of transport, and there is much in them which should be implemented quickly. The re-equipment of the railways on the most modern lines is a paramount need. Many of the little-used stations and lines would have died as a result of the natural processes which have been operating on railways for many years, although there would not have been such a wholesale slaughter within the period that Dr. Beeching envisages. How far the Government will attempt to introduce social service elements if it proceeds with the plan is difficult to forecast, but political pressure may force it to make concessions.
[p.374>] Dr. Beeching presents his Report
The report "The reshaping of British Railways" was an inter-dependent document and a once-for-all proposal. This Dr. Richard Beeching, Chairman of the British Railways Board, made clear when answering questions at the British Railways Board press conference in London on March 27. The Chairman was supported by nine members of the board on this occasion. Three Regional chairmen were similarly occupied at their respective headquarters and Mr. Hayday, as Chairman of the National Industries Committee of the Trades Union Congress, was with that body to receive its reactions.
It was natural that there were many questions concerning hardship arising from service withdrawals and whether consultation with road transport authorities had established that the traffic relinquished by the railways could be handled without embarrassment to road conditions. The doctor was confident that the country's transport problem would be eased by implementation of the proposals; efficient railway trunk line services would attract traffic from the congested trunk roads, and the closing of the little-used lines would add very little to the relevant road traffic which was light in such parts.
Handling of freight and merchandise by liner trains was the most advanced system of its kind, and there were indications that existing piggyback and road-railer services were giving way to comparable methods. Much had to be done before the scheme was ready and there would be no wholesale introduction in the inaugural stages. Airbrakes would be fitted and could lead to the general introduction of this system, but it would take 20 years to become widespread on hauled trains.
Electrification as an alternative to diesel traction was raised by several speakers and assurance was given that where traffic was intensive and would remain at a level to justify it, this system would be fully considered. It was made clear that there was no definable end-point to the scheme, but an early inauguration would see the board's deficit radically cut by 1970. Income from redevelopment and realisation of assets, made redundant under the scheme, were not included as a part of it. This final report was based on a second screening of the position, and not on the earlier assessment, formulated on rather hidebound and over-conventional railway practices.
Reaction to the Beeching Plan
What the papers said
The report by the British Railways Board to the Minister of Transport, which was covered in our last week's issue, has provoked much comment, not only from the press, but from industry, commerce, and private individuals.
On the whole, the reaction from the press was favourable, the consensus of opinion seemed to be that the exercise set, that of planning to make the railways pay, had been successfully concluded. That the mandate issued to the railway board was correct was open to conjecture.
The Daily Express considered that "this ruthless plan is sensibly in accordance with the directive to Dr. Beeching," and the Daily Mail thought that it "cut through the woolliness and waffle which have cocooned the railways in sentimental nostalgia." The Financial Times appeared to be the only newspaper to point out that the responsibility for assessing the recommendations and fitting them to the wider perspective of a policy for all transport rested squarely on the Government.
The comments of the other three "prestige" newspapers, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian, varied. The Times, as a parting shot, suggested that "if road users were to be inspected with the same severity as Dr. Beeching has applied to rail travellers, there is no knowing what the results would be." The other two were more concerned with the effect of the report on railway staff. The Daily Telegraph suggested that its success lay with the staff and if the industry could attract the elite as they used to, it would triumph, while The Guardian considered that implementation of the proposals might dispel the psychology of a declining industry.
The Daily Telegraph also printed an article by Sir John Elliot, former Chairman of the Railway Executive and the last General Manager of the Southern Railway. He pointed out that the "Beeching blueprint" should be seen not only as a drastic piece of surgery but something like the size and shape of a railway system for Britain if built new today.
In his opinion, the full operation of the plan would give Britain the most modern high-speed and revolutionary railway system in the world. It would take long-distance traffic off the roads and back to rail in chunks, greatly to the benefit of the nation as a whole.
Among the Sunday papers, the Sunday Times thought that it was impossible to assess the political impact of an event like the Beeching report on the basis of a few interviews. It considered that the hard economic facts left no choice and the Government would have to accept the plan.
The Observer stated that the report neatly disposed of two traditional arguments. The first, that railways could be made to pay simply by introducing ruthless business methods. Dr. Beeching has been conspicuously reticent about financial prospects. The second, that the railway should be a social service, has been disposed of by demonstrating what really matters is if the railway is the most efficient social service.
The Economist described the report as "a blueprint, despite some fuzzy edges, founded on cold calculation of expenditure that is now wasted ... a cost accountant's operation with the limited horizons of the railway business."
From industry, as might be expected, the comment was coloured by the particular activity in which the commenting undertaking was engaged. The London Chamber of Commerce said that the measures to improve freight services would be of great value as did the National Association of British Manufacturers. The Road Haulage Association welcomed the report in so far as it promised to put the railway's house in order. The Scottish Tourist Board felt it would be disastrous not only for the tourist industry but for the whole of Scotland. The British Road Federation welcomed "the publication of a report which concentrates on positive proposals for improving the viability of the railways rather than for the hobbling of other forms of transport." Perhaps the most pungent comment on the subject of road versus rail was the rise in the value of car, lorry, and transport shares on the Stock Exchange pointed out by the Daily Herald and others.
Trade Union reaction
The plan has not been received with acclamation by the railway trade unions. The only one of the union leaders forthrightly to come down on the side of the British Railways Board, Mr. Bill Evans, General Secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen, has announced that he will retire on June 30.
On television, on the evening of the day on which the plan was published, Mr. R. Gunter, President of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, did not speak against the proposals but pointed out the need for a co-ordinated national transport policy. Since then, the executive members of that union have said that they thought the plan could cause chaos in the transport industry and it has been suggested that the three unions might hold a joint meeting to discuss it.
More militant was the reaction of the National Union of Railwaymen. The Negotiating Conimittee of the union favour a strike in protest, the only contentious point being, for how long should this strike last? The committee was studying the report for a week and it recommended strike action to the full executive on April 3.
Public opinion too, seemed to depend largely on the distance that the person questioned travelled to his or her work and by the particular proposal for their favourite branch line. A Daily Mail national opinion "crash survey" showed that the majority of private individuals thought that the plan was on the right lines. Most people agreed that a large proportion of the rail network should he closed where it was uneconomic. Paradoxically, almost as many thought the railways should be run as a social service.
One method of assessing the reaction to at least part of the plan is infallible. A study of the list of organisations springing up to protest about closing of branch lines and stations will show that these proposals are not popular in the areas through which these lines run.
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'Britain after Beeching'
From The Railway Gazette, 14 June 1963, p. 657
"Britain after Beeching will be a better place for transport than Britain before Beeching," Sir John Elliot told the Westminster Chamber of Commerce in London last week. To understand the present position of British Railways it was necessary to take a glance backwards.
He said that it was not true that private enterprise had neglected the four pre-war companies, and he instanced the immense electrification schemes of the former Southern Railway, the docks at Southampton, and the complete rehabilitation of the locomotive stock of the former London Midland & Scottish Railway in the 30's under Sir William Stanier. He reminded the audience that it was parliament which had neglected the railways by refusing to remove the old-fashioned shackles put on them when they had a monopoly, which had ceased to exist at the end of the first war.
After mentioning the great services which the railways had rendered to the country during the last war, Sir John Elliot said that when nationalisation came, as a political act, unfortunately the governments of neither party for the first seven years gave the war-worn British railway system any real refreshment in the form of capital expenditure for modernisation; thus they had to struggle on with old equipment and out-of-date methods.
With the arrival of Lord Robertson, the money was soon forthcoming, and Sir John Elliot paid tribute to the former Chairman of the British Transport Commission for the energy with which the modernisation scheme was set in motion.
Sir John Elliot concluded by saying that the Beeching plan was evidence of the far-seeing mind and administrative gifts of Dr. Beeching, and he said that in his opinion the streamlined, re-equipped British Railways would soon be giving rail service, passenger and freight, second to none in the world. "The way to look at the plan," he concluded, "is to regard it as the size and form of a railway system for Britain in the middle of this century, as if the railways were built entirely new today."
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'Dr. Beeching prescribes'
From Modern Railways, May 1963, pp. 289-90, 300
Despite the staring headlines of "bombshell" which greeted it, there are few shattering surprises in the Beeching Plan. Anyone with cars to hear and eyes to read all that has circulated this past year or so on the state and future of B.R. can have expected no better than the document's remorseless statistics prove and no less than the surgery proposed to rectify the situation. Unpalatable some of the harsh economic facts may be, but arguable they are not, after one has followed the clear, close reasoning that makes this probably the frankest, most convincing treatise ever produced on railway problems - would that the 1955 Modernisation Plan had been founded on similar realism and economic research in depth!
Most general press comment has concentrated on the political and social issues involved. From this the Minister of Transport emerged outnumbered in his opinion that a reshaping of B.R. is an essential prelude to, not a concurrent part of the formulation of a co-ordinated national transport system. The country now knows in fine detail where its money to sustain the present B.R. system has been flooding down the drain and that in future, if it wants trains, it will have to pay at least the full cost of their service in rates and fares. It has no such information about its roads and their users, without which there can be no rational transport policy. To a lesser extent, it is also essential that the nation should know how far it is directly or indirectly subsidising the internal air services which compete with B.R. There can be no eflicient transport system until each user is paying his fair share for the services he uses, whether rail, road or air. The Beeching Plan is therefore a model for further economic planning. To be content with it as a master-plan from which the re-shaping of other transport media will naturally evolve not only implies a prejudiced appraisal of the modern railway's potential, but may result in the precipitate elimination of some railway facilities which a broader appreciation of national transport problems might later show should have been retained.
The Beeching regime has done a masterly job within the constricted terms of its mandate. But the cart-before-the-horse nature of the mandate is underlined in so many of the Plan's proposals and in the reactions of private and public bodies since its publication. Many of the recommendations hinge on co-ordination with or co-operation, not yet promised, by other bodies and services - municipal authorities in relation to suburban services outside London, the N.C.B. and its customers in relation to coal traffic, and the G.P.O. in relation to parcels traffic, for example. Outcries from the country have stressed that there are not roads suitable to carry buses in some rural areas threatened with loss of their trains and sounded the alarm for the road congestion that will ensue from B.R. load-shedding at the holiday peak. Newspaper reports have suggested that the Ministry and the British Transport Holding Company have only begun to formulate schemes for the substitute bus services, whereas Dr. Beecbing has emphasised that he wants to carry out his surgery as quickly as possible. The freight traffic proposals, entirely logical as they are from the B.R. viewpoint, depend on a readiness of traders to invest in private sidings, which cannot be taken for granted unless users are faced with a more realistic bill for road facilities, or on acceptance of a substantial road haulage component in merchandise freight transits, in which event the location of the liner train and sundries depots must surely be considered in relation to road schemes; there is no evidence that this has been the case, or that the "fluidity" of the Ministry's road plan envisages meeting the railway halfway in this respect. On the morrow of the Plan's publication, statements from Scotland made plain that the B.R. proposals ran counter in certain respects to efforts to develop new industry there; we have yet to learn how they match Lord Hailsham's proposals for the North-East.
Little if any of this is a criticism of Dr. Beeching and his colleagues, who were required to work only in their own sector of the economy. So far as concerns the recommendations for the Plan's chief preoccupation, the rationalisation and improvement of freight services, there can be only approval. Where it touches passenger traffic, however, one finds it in places less convincing. Some of the closure proposals seem almost to be tongue-in-cheek bids, to see how far other interested bodies can be driven to help achieve a compromise; or else some Regions have got away with murder, while others have managed some extraordinarily powerful pleas for mercy. If the L.M.R.'s Liverpool-Southport line, for example, conveying a heavy commuter traffic, should be sunk so far in the red as to call for closure - not even de-electrification - how have the S.R.'s inner London suburban stations and inner- and medium-distance electrified lines, with one exception, escaped unscathed? How the Hampton Court or Shepperton branches, to quote two well known to us, have avoided the net, when one considers that the Liverpool end of the Merseyside line conveys a great deal of freight traffic to and from docks and city depots, is baffling and inevitably arouses suspicion that some routes have not had a balanced hearing. Statistically, the poor showing of many diesel multiple-unit services is unarguable, but one still harbours misgivings that lack of speed, poor connections, un-imaginative timetabling and indifferent publicity have influenced the results in some cases.
The sample statistics in respect of certain services and the general argument of the text have apparently been considered background enough to the long, unembellished lists of closure proposals. It would have been more tactful - although tact is not a strong point of this forthright document as it was not of its principal author, Dr. Beeching, in some of his press conference replies - to have listed lines and stations in geographical groups, with some outline of the substitute services in mind. The evidence suggests that this detailed surgery programme, as distinct from the principles underlying it, was completed so recently that many of the alternatives and modifications have not yet been fully worked out. If so, one cannot see what would have been lost by deferring publication of some of these proposals, especially those vaguely defined as "modification of service", until they could be accompanied by fuller explanations. Bluntly to inform a city the size of Nottingham, or a town as big as Grimsby, that it is to lose its direct route to London, without a word of clarification on how it will be served in future - not even an assurance that it will still have a through service with the capital - is a needless affront that will do the B.R. image no good with thousands of users. On such an important subject the maps should also have been crystal clear as to the type of economy proposed, which they are not; as an example, it is presumably only the Sheerness-Dover Priory stopping service which is to be altered, not the entire electrified service between these two points, which the uninitiated might infer from a glance at the map.
The biggest surprise of the Plan is not anything it says, but what it omits - by contrast with the wealth of commercial detail and the fine scale of the chart for surgery, the lack of any investigation into the use made of the modernisation equipment already provided for the heavily-trafficked parts of the system and the contribution which improvement of its utilisation, in some instances, might make to improving the financial picture, and the vague - almost complacent - generalities in which improvement of medium- and long-distance passenger services are cursorily dismissed; after all, though freight is inevitably the principal topic, the Plan deals with B.R. as a whole.
Above all, the almost total absence of any reference to electrification is astonishing. Both the Plan and his replies at his Press Conference tend to confirm the prevalent belief that Dr. Beeching is not enthusiastic about further electrification, because of the huge sums that must be sunk in fixed equipment. Nevertheless, when so much time and energy were spent on assembling other data, it is remarkable that major electrification projects already drafted were not examined in detail in the light of the proposed new traffic patterns. In 1955 we were told that the concentration of a.c. electrification initially on suburban schemes was essential as [p.300>] this was the surest means to reducing their costs. More recently the E.R. has issued encouraging accounts of the financial results of the Southend Victoria electrification and the S.R. has spoken well both of its experience in Kent and of electrification prospects on the Bournemouth line. Inexplicably, the broad results of these schemes are not even mentioned, let alone discussed with the same frankness as station, depot and general train performance; and discussion of London suburban services is completely silent about the G.N. Line's North London electrification.
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'Reshaping the railways'
From The Railway Magazine, May 1963, pp. 299-300
Whether one agrees with all the details of "the plan" or not, it has to be admitted that Dr. Beeching's report, "The Reshaping of British Railways" (referred to elsewhere in this issue of The Railway Magazine), is basically correct and backed by such a weight of carefully-prepared evidence as to be almost unassailable. It has been described as brutal, brilliant and right and if carried out in toto will, in a few years, produce a change in the railway scene which few people could have envisaged. To approach viability by 1970 it is proposed: to withdraw passenger services from 5,000 out of 17,800 route miles; to close 2,363 stations out of 4,709; to eliminate extra trains during srummer and public holidays by 1965; and to introduce liner freight trains between major centres. All this sounds simple enough, but is it so simple? Scotland is particularly hard-hit by passenger service withdrawals and it is to be wondered if such drastic changes will not produce unpredictable social changes. Mass branch-line closures will have to be studied with the utmost care before irrevocable steps are t aken. While the Minister of Transport emphasises the importance of the Transport Users Consultative Committees it must be membered that such bodies have no powers; they can rnake recommendations only in respect of hardship and alternative transport. The ultimate decision rests with the Minister of Transport.
The changing scene
The lists of station and line closures are long enough to appal, but even so they are n ot necessarily final. There are still quite number of parallel lines and services which cannot long escape the global surgery which m ust soon begin. As examples, there are the Southern and Western Region services east of Exeter and the Westem and London Midland Region services between London and Birmingham. With the proposed concentration on inter-city trains, is it logical have two trains running non-stop to Birmingham over two different routes? The foregoing is a thought and not a suggestion. From the comments made by Mr. Marples is clear that the reshaping plan has been generally accepted by the Government and action will not be long delayed. Preliminary discussions with bus-operating authorities have taken place and T.U.C.C.s will be asked to examine line closures in blocks instead of individual units. Viability by 1970 is a splendid goal, but will it be achieved without stepping up efficiency throughout British Railways? Trains will have to leave and arrive on time; freight will have to be expeditiously handled from door to door and delivery times will have to equal or better the best that road transport can offer. Since the success of our railways is apparently tied to the carriage of freight then the service must be second to none, a condition which has not been evident for many years. Efficiency in every aspect of railway operation can alone make the plan a success, and succeed it must.
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'On pruning dead wood'
From Railway Modeller, May 1963, p. 101
Dr. Beeching's report appeared appropriately enough at a time when most people are pruning their own dead wood. For he has wielded not an axe but secateurs. We feel we can speak with authority, living as we do at the end of a condemned branch which, in company with other Seatonians, we hardly ever use!
His plan is not the end but the beginning of a new era. Instead of an antiquated, rusty, worn-out, run-down museum piece we are to have an exciting, modern, viable, if smaller, railway system which once again should be the finest in the world. We shall have faster, more comfortable, long-distance trains between the main centres and new-style goods trains which, with their provision for colourful privately owned containers, will bring a welcome note of variety to the scene. The new bulk handling plants not only make sound commercial sense, they will also make good models. We shall, of course, lose the romantic, happy-go-lucky branch lines, but these, and many other historical aspects of our railways, we can enjoy in model form. We are delighted, though, to see that the Vale of Rheidol is to remain.
This is only a report, and before it is implemented in detail the proposals will be fully examined and either adequate alternative road facilities provided where they do not already exist or the railway subsidized where this would prove more convenient. in addition, where local groups believe that the line can be made to pay we consider they must be allowed to lease it and prove their case. Independent systems, such as the Isle of Wight lines, would be eminently suited to this treatment.
There is one other point we would make. The railways provide every aspect of a transport system. A competing road haulier supplies a vehicle and a driver, but the roads are maintained, signalled, policed and signposted out of public funds, and while some costs are met by vehicle and fuel taxes much of the burden falls upon the rates and upon the private motorist, whose free passage of the highway is impeded by slow-moving vehicles. While we do not suggest the railways should be subsidized why should they be penalized in this way?
From the modeller's point of view the future holds much excitement in store. We have an entirely new railway system to serve as a prototype, in addition to the now historical steam-worked lines. Those who look forward to the new concepts must realize that buses and lorries will play an important part in the miniature transport picture. Many indeed have already begun to incorporate working roadways into their layouts, and while we know of some we should like to hear from all readers who are experimenting on these lines - if lines be the right term!
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From Model Railway News, May 1963, p. 161
It is not the Policy of this magazine to concern itself too much with the politics of the day, but as much of the interest to be found in this hobby is affected by the actions of British Railways the recommendations for its future are of more than passing interest.
Dr Beeching and his aides have given an excellent demonstration of analysis. It is to be regretted that the cold logic employed must inevitably appear to ignore the human aspects of the problem, in doing so creating considerable animosity. Already, a few days after the report was made public, violent action from a number of quarters has been prophesied. Regardless of whether this can be justified it is difficult to see how it can help in a situation that is obviously ripe for alterations, and the additional pressures such heat can cause may well be detrimental to the necessary implementation of the best of the recommendations (unless the nation is willing to accept a considerable burden for an indeterminable period by subsidising the railway system as it is now, alterations there must be). A sensible way of endeavouring to anticipate just how much of the Beeching report will be put into effect is to study the use made of earlier recommendations on the subject.
Few forms of legislation do not present problems for sections of the population and it will be necessary for the Government to study the difficulties that even part acceptance of the Beeching proposals will cause certain communities.
One thing it is hoped will not occur when these matters are weighed - an attitude of "state before the individual, regardless." Such a theme belongs to the ideologies of dictators, producing an ability to get things done but at enormous personal cost. This nation has invariably taken exception to it.
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'Second thoughts on Beeching'
From Modern Railways, June 1963, pp. 361-2
The only construction to be put on Mr. Marples abysmal handling of the Parliamentary debate on the Beeching Report, the repeated pre-judgments that a third of B.R. is to be closed which he attempted to pass off as necessary to simplify his argument, and his inability even now to offer any other answer save that he would "look into" many issues of the kind that have been raised incessantly ever since he offered Dr. Beeching an axe and a room at 222 Marylebone Road, is that this Goveminent's approach to railways is as blindly dogmatic as any alleged to have motivated the 1948 nationalisation. It is all very well tempering enthusiasm for the Report in most of its particulars, as the thinking press has since the debate, with provisos that Dr. Beeching's proposals must be viewed in relation to the desirability of restricting the choking growth of road transport, to the transport needs of embryonic industrial communities in development areas and to the long-term needs of traffic-snarled cities. Gratifying as it is to read such editorials even in the press which supports Mr. Marples' party - and to learn that the G.N. Line's London suburban electrification is at last being given a cost-benefit analysis of the kind which overwhelmingly justified the L.T. Victoria Line, but years later than need have been - this appreciation of the criteria on which a transport policy should be formulated has come years too late. It overlooks the fact that Dr. Beeching is in a hurry, as he underlined more than once at his press conference presenting the Report. The kernel of his plan is the freight rationalisation scheme, which is built largely on the elimination of small consignments and hence demands the closure of many small stations and branches as a pre-requisite for success within the narrow, self-accounting, statistical terms on which he was required to reshape B.R. business.
To judge from the arguments advanced during the Commons debate by M.P.s against closures in their own constituencies, even Mr. Marples will be hard put to pass quick judgment on a number of the projected service cuts. There was the revelation, for example, that whereas the Ayr-Stranraer line is currently losing £66,000 a year, it will cost at least £530,000 to bring the A76 road up to the required standards as a substitute; in Devon the road bill to cope with the rail closures may be as high as £46m. (This simple arithmetic, of course, takes no account of social costs arising from increased road congestion; in his powerful speech Mr. Wilson recollected that the Minister's advisers had calculated that because of this the nation was already losing £500m a year through wear and tear and loss of working time.) The assurance of the Secretary of State for Scotland that express buses should avoid an intolerable increase in travelling time for Scottish lowland commuters who lose their railway service will not be shared by any who have regularly used London's Green Line buses in the peak-hours. Surprisingly, no one in the debate drew attention to the discrepancies in the Regional applications of closures which multiply with fresh study of the Report. The outstanding example, which we mentioned last month, is the Liverpool-Southport threat as opposed to the escape of some S.R. electrified branches unscathed; but how, as further instances, does the E.R. keep every station still open between Ipswich and Norwich, or Norwich and Ely, compared with what is proposed in other mainly agricultural areas? Other outstanding inequalities are the varying treatment meted out to stations on the Oxford-Bletchley-Cambridge route in E.R., L.M.R. and W.R. territory, and the threat to Exmouth but not Swanage. Not least, Dr. Beeching's simple statistical exercise in the comparative economics of stopping train and bus operation looks less convincing on a closer examination, as a bus operator points out elsewhere in this issue; and suspicions that some closures may have been proposed by agreement with the Transport Holding Co. to sugar the pill of other, hopelessly uneconomic, routes which B.R. wants to unload on road transport. In fact, the closure proposals are the Achilles heel of the plan, the more so because they have been so starkly presented without any background reasoning (and in some cases enquirers have been refused the figures on which they are based). The whole tone of the Commons debate and the press comment it has provoked makes it apparent that this is increasingly appreciated. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Dr. Beeching will get his closures with the speed he deems essential to pursue of the rest of his proposals.
Mr. Marples has thus manceuvred himself into a corner. His dogmatic insistence that truncated railways must be a prelude to, not part of, the formulation of a new transport policy, and a sacrifice on the altar of his avowed intention to force the nation to terms with the motor vehicle, has brought forth a plan that is rousing the public to realise the incompleteness of the statistics on which it is being asked to judge the problem. A correspondent to The Times recently pointed out that a six-ton tare, oil-engined lorry covering 30,000 miles per annum with a 10-ton load pays a tax of 0.25d per ton-mile, as opposed to 1.56d in respect of a one-ton private car covering 8,000 miles a year - clear evidence of the extent to which road-damaging heavy vehicles are subsidised by far more numerous private car owners; and all road transport derives benefit from the ratepayers' partial underwriting of town streets, lighting and traffic control. Until road-users are more equitably assessed for the facilities they exploit, constant harping by Ministerial spokesmen on the £150m deficit expected on B.R. this year merely stresses the amount the country is wasting through uncalculated subsidy of other transport which results in neglect of many B.R. services.
Unhappily, the country as well as Mr. Marples has been hoist by the Minister's petard. Regrettably, the Opposition has as yet no cogent alternative to offer. Even Mr. Wilson's speech, excellent as it was, could only cordemn the Government's narrow-minded approach for the reasons we have outlined, but not advance bases, founded on research into the true economics of all transport and on cost-benefit analyses, for a readily adaptable and efficient national transport policy. The danger now is that the baby of many of the Beeching Report's admirable proposals for reinvigoration and rationalisation of B.R. freight traffic may be thrown away with the bath water of some of his questionable closure plans, while Mr. Marples ekes out the fag-end of his term grappling with a rising tide of public opinion on local issues and the next Government hammers out a policy on the main problem.
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'Better ways to a transport policy'
From Railway World, June 1963, p. 201
Mr. Marples has done a fine job of public relations on the Beeching Plan. The public opinion poll signs, as we write, suggest that the Minister has managed to convince a majority of the public that Dr. Beeching's railway medicine on its own is what the nation needs and that formulation of a national transport policy starts with cutting the railways down to size. What the eye does not see, the heart will not grieve over. Truncation of the railways will effect some reduction in the obvious B.R. deficits to solace the public - though whether the improvement will be as big as some expect is, we feel, dubious. How much the taxpayer and ratepayer are contributing to the facilities employed by road transport, and to what extent these subventions under-write the cost levels of road usage that are responsible for driving some of the threatened railways out of business, is, of course, concealed from the public at large. We do not know - nor is there any likelihood of the matter's investigation before each closure is carried out - how much of the money ostensibly saved in implementing the Beeching economies will be sunk in further covert subsidies of the road users, by reason of the transfer of extra traffic to inadequate roads that will ensue. And, as was inevitable, the Plan has been steamrollered through Parliamentary acceptance without ministerial examination of any of these issues vital to sensible discussion of a national transport policy. How can one form of transport be firmly dubbed uneconomic when the true costs to the State of its rivals have never been fully assessed?
No nation in the Western world has yet resolutely grasped this nettle of assessing the road user with the full cost of his facilities. But some of those countries whose railway systems are highly regarded by critics of B.R. results work within a far more sensible transport framework than that in which the Beeching Plan - a brilliant document within its externally-imposed limitations - has been conceived. This emerges clearly from a newly-published book by an American journalist, James N. Sites, who recently used an Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship to tour 25 countries and investigate their approaches to public transport, with particular reference to the effects on the national railway systems. His report, with the unnecessarily sensational title of Quest for Crisis, is required reading at the present time.
The Swiss main-line railways, for example, do not prosper only because of their enormous advantage of border-to-border hauls of full-load international traffic and cheap current from hydro-electric power stations. Swiss road users are already taxed substantially and further Governmental studies are aimed at evolving a definite formula for the fair share of costs for road construction and maintenance, police, traffic control and safety devices among different classes of user. Road passenger transport is carefully regulated to avoid duplication of rail services and to ensure co-ordination. In the Netherlands, a strict licensing system keeps road transport vehicle capacity within the changing bounds of national economic needs - and the only nationwide road transport freight service, Van Gend & Loos, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Netherlands Railways, which also owns 17 regional bus companies and integrates their services with the trains. In France efforts are made to equalise competitive conditions between road and rail by swingeing fuel taxes and a road vehicle levy based on loading capacity, but as these measures are estimated to cover only about 60 per cent of the costs heavy lorries and buses impose on road facilities, French Railways are subsidised annually to 40 per cent of their track maintenance and repair expenditures. And in Western Germany, the Federal Railway receives a direct grant for any services it is required to operate for social reasons at a loss; long-distance road transport is strictly regulated and studies are afoot for tax formulae that will make each form of inland transportation cover all its costs. It is a tragedy that so little attention is being paid, at this critical juncture of British transport history, to the attempts of such countries as these to arrive at a rational public transport policy.
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