Last Trains: Dr Beeching and the death of rural England

Last Trains: Dr Beeching and the death of rural England

Charles Loft

Language: English

Pages: 323

ISBN: 2:00181543

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


During the course of the 1950s England lost confidence in its rulers and convinced itself it must modernise. The bankrupt, steam-powered railway, run by a Colonel Blimp, symbolised everything that was wrong with the country; the future lay in motorways and high-speed electric – or even atomic – express trains. But plans for a gleaming new railway system ended in failure and on the roads traffic ground to a halt. Along came Dr Beeching, forensically analysing the railways’ problems and expertly delivering his diagnosis: a third of the nation’s railways must go. Local services were destroyed, rural England sacrificed for tarmac and wheel – at least that is how Dr Beeching is remembered today. Last Trains examines why and how the railway system contracted, exposing the political failures that bankrupted the railways and scrutinising the attempts of officials to understand a transport revolution beyond their control. It is a story of the increasing...

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competition. The integration (or coordination) of transport is often treated – in particular by critics of Beeching – as being synonymous with better rail services and restrictions on road use. The most obvious form of integration by 1951, however, was to replace rural railways with bus and road freight services; or rather to close the rail services that had already lost most of their traffic to road. Progress was slow; the Commission was feeling its way and was wary of imposing a particular

‘dull Alec versus smart-alec’, as the then young, dynamic satirist David Frost put it on the groundbreaking television show That Was The Week That Was. In his survey of post-war British Prime Ministers, Peter Hennessy describes Douglas-Home as virtually ‘the final flowering of an admirable breed… Like the last of the steam locomotives which were on their twilight journeys at exactly this time… He was Mallard, pulling one last express from King’s Cross.’206 In contrast, Wilson inspired supporters

attempted a thorough investigation of individual cases. Treasury officials complained of the detail the ‘marathon’ meetings of the interdepartmental working party went into.220 The Hon. Henrietta Brewer was not entirely correct when she told the Catholic Herald on behalf of Walsingham’s pilgrims that no consideration was being given to the cost to the taxpayer of widening roads and getting children to school, or the wider economic effects. In the Wells case, for example, concerns about the effect

the cases Marples rejected it tended to be combined with concerns about urban congestion, regional development or the holiday trade. In the Wells case, the TUCC had found that unless the proposed bus service was improved, hardship would be caused to a number of commuters, shoppers and day-trippers (schoolchildren were the education authority’s problem). However, officials felt they could not insist that the BRB subsidise better bus services if their cost wiped out the savings. When the ministry

concerns may have helped Labour in the railway town of Doncaster, which also changed hands, but where the pro-Labour swing was only 4.8 per cent. At Bury, which had featured on the list of sensitive closures the previous year, David Ensor turned a Conservative majority of nearly 4,000 into a Labour one of over 1,000, helped by the first Liberal candidate since 1950. The electric service to Manchester, used by 7,000 people a day including 4,000 commuters, had been proposed for closure in February.

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