The Reshaping Of British Railways Dr Richard Beeching (HMSO: 1963)
|Is the golden age of rail returning?|
Julian Bray writes: The news today that the East Coast Mainline is to be offered up as a franchise to yet another private rail consortium, taking over from the state railway operator after National Express handed back the franchise, really does present a real opportunity for the City of Peterborough. But if only our councillors (of all political shades and opinions) would stop and think for a moment, and try to understand what the railway can do for us in the future, and hopefully learn from the repeated mistakes of the past..
In the 1960's Dr Richard Beeching, was a technical director with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), an international chemicals and paint company (Dulux), it had gone through a period of change and Dr. Beeching masterminded the change programme, for the chemical company!
He was hired by the then Transport Minister Sir Earnest Marples ( the Marples of Marples Ridgeway, a major road builder - with little or no love for the railways ! ) Fifty years ago, Dr Beeching rapidly produced a 38 page report, for the British Transport Commission, which literally decimated what was known as British Railways. We would all have cars in the future and freight would be mopped up by the new motorways - being built in part, by Marples Ridgeway...)
In crude terms, as Beeching scrawled the plan, directly onto a wall atlas of the UK, any lines going from left to right, and right to left, in the United Kingdom would be scrapped. Only a few lines 'up and down' would be retained. The plan if followed would see the railways in profit by the 1970's!
Dr. Beeching, it is said, completed his research in less than a week, SEVEN DAYS, and only physically visited a handful of railway stations. The Forword and Summary of his report are reproduced below and a link to the full report has also been included. It makes even in 2013, chilling reading.
Click on the read more icon below
One of the 'up and down' routes retained was the East Coast Main Line (ECML) - the Royal Scot route - running through Peterborough, the railway ran all the way up to Edinburgh, and Peterborough was considered a very important railway town. It is still important, and will become more so as we explain below.
Once again the ECML is in the news and it isn't just the award of a new franchise, the weather might now just be playing directly into our hands. Its' not escaped the weather scientists notice, that throughout the recent snow storms, the heavy snow and blizzards have NOT been on our side of the country, but on the west coast and running all the way up to Scotland and the western isles. This pattern is likelt to be repeated in the future.
Even the route for the original High Speed Train through Birmingham, and now the proposed HST northern extension, the future earmarked land sites, have all without exception been cloaked in deep impenetrable snow drifts. A high speed train with a snowplough bolted on the front, might to a normal thinking person, not be a bankable proposition, but that is precisely what the Coalition Government is proposing. Just plain daft in fact.
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the effects on the East coast mainline of the construction of High Speed 2; and if he will make a statement.
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 26 March 2013, c1003W)
Simon Burns (Chelmsford, Conservative)
High Speed 2 will transform journey times, capacity and connectivity between major cities of the north, midlands and London. Journey time improvements will be possible from new classic-compatible high speed trains serving destinations on the east coast main line north of Leeds following completion of phase two of the scheme. HS2 will also free up space for additional commuter, regional and freight services on the east coast main line offering more opportunity for services to meet local needs. Latest estimates published in August 2012 suggest HS2 will deliver benefits of £2 for every £1 spent, including impacts on the east coast main line.
|Snow joke...Will this be bolted onto the front of the new High Speed Trains?|
One theory gaining credence, is that the Gulf Stream has moved south, and is now likely to stay there for many years to come, sucking in the cold unseasonable weather. If this is true, then our local politicians really need to wake up. Instead of playing around with pizza cafes and retail therapy, should be banging on Downing Streets door, underlining the fact that our side of the country, is now so ripe for inward investment of all types AND has a proven better climatic future that the West Coast will ever have.
Some may say this is a long shot, but we live in very strange times. 13 million euros are currently in flight via the RAF, to bail out our military families caught up in the Cyprus financial crisis. No one really saw that one coming or Russian high rollers having their bank deposits seized. So why should climate conditions in the UK, not have a few more surprises in store for us all?
In thirty years time, our children could well be enjoying the climate the French Riviera currently enjoys, and whole tracts of the UK west coast permanently underwater due to floods, soil erosion, failing coastal defences and the Uk population moving East following the better climate offered along the East Coast !
The Reshaping Of British Railways Dr Richard Beeching (HMSO: 1963)
The formulation of plans for the reshaping of British Railways has been foreshadowed by
numerous references in Parliament, and in other places, ever since the Prime Minister [Harold McMillan - 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963 ], speaking in the House on 10th March, 1960, said: —
'First the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modem conditions and prospects. In
particular, the railway system must be remodelled to meet current needs, and the
modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape;'
It may appear that the lapse of three years between the date when the original reference was
made to the necessity for reshaping the railways and the emergence of a plan is excessive, but
there are two reasons why it took so long.
In the first place, attention was devoted to the reorganisation of the British Transport
Commission structure. As a result, it was not until the latter part of 1961, after the first steps
had been taken to give effect to the structural reorganisation described in the White Paper on
Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertaking (Cmnd. 1248), that positive steps
were taken towards planning the future shape of the railways.
Secondly, there had never before been any systematic assembly of a basis of information
upon which planning could be founded, and without which the proper role of the railways in
the transport system as a whole could not be determined. The collection of this information
was itself a massive task and it is, perhaps, more surprising that it was brought to a useful
stage in just over a year than that it should have taken so long.
Throughout these investigations and the preparation of this report the British Railways Board
has had it in mind that its duty is to employ the assets vested in it, and develop or modify
them, to the best advantage of the nation. Also, because the ultimate choice of what is
considered most advantageous must be made by the nation, it is a basic responsibility of the
Board to provide, as objectively and comprehensively as possible, information which makes
clear the range and nature of the choice.
In general, people will wish to base a choice between alternative modes of transport upon
consideration of quality of service and the cost of obtaining it. It must be recognised,
however, that, in the transport field more than in many others, the judgment of some quality
factors is largely subjective, that individual convenience and total social benefit are not
necessarily compatible, and that competing forms of transport cannot be costed on strictly
For these reasons, none of the major proposals for reshaping the railway
system which are made in this report is based upon attempted close judgments between ratios
of quality to cost for competing systems of transport. Proposals have, on the other hand, been
influenced by major differences in the more measurable aspects of service quality, such as
speed and reliability. They have also been influenced by major disparities in cost arising from
the inherent characteristics of the various forms of transport, and by major disparities
between the value of the service provided, measured in terms of what people are prepared to
pay for it, and the cost of providing it.
It is, of course, the responsibility of the British Railways Board so to shape and operate the
railways as to make them pay, but, if it is not already apparent from the preceding
paragraphs, it must be clearly stated that the proposals now made are not directed towards achieving that result by the simple and unsatisfactory method of rejecting all those parts of
the system which do not pay already or which cannot be made to pay easily. On the contrary,
the changes proposed are intended to shape the railways to meet present day requirements by
enabling them to provide as much of the total transport of the country as they can provide
well. To this end, proposals are directed towards developing to the full those parts of the
system and those services which can be made to meet traffic requirements more efficiently
and satisfactorily than any available alternative form of transport, and towards eliminating
only those services which, by their very nature, railways are ill-suited to provide.
The point at issue here is so important that it is worthwhile to emphasise it by expressing the
underlying thought in a different way.
The profitability or otherwise of a railway system is dependent on a number of external
influences which may change markedly from time to time, important among them being
decisions affecting the freedom of use, cost of use, and availability of roads. For this and
other reasons, it is impossible to plan the maximum use of railways consistent with
profitability, for years ahead, without some risk that it will prove, in the event, that services
have been over-provided and that overall profitability is not achieved. On the other hand, to
retain only those parts of the existing system which are virtually certain to be self-supporting
under any reasonably probable future conditions would lead to grave risk of destroying assets
which, in the event, might have proved to be valuable.
Confronted with this dilemma, arising from the impossibility of assessing future conditions
and future profitability very reliably, the Railways Board have put forward proposals for
reshaping the system which arc conservative with regard to closures and restrainedly
speculative with regard to new developments, but which are all directed towards shaping the
system to provide rail transport for only that part of the total national traffic pattern which
costing and commonsense consideration show to have characteristics favourable to rail
The plan is not carried to the stage where it purports to answer the question, 'How much of
the railway can ultimately be made to pay?'. This answer will emerge only after experience
has shown how much benefit springs from elimination of those parts of the system which are
obviously unsound, and the extent to which the good parts of the railways' system and traffic
can be improved by:
cost savings, better quality of service, better operating methods, and attraction of favourable
traffic. Nevertheless, the firm proposals included in the plan are expected to lead to
substantial improvements in the financial position. Perhaps even more important, they set a
clear course for the railways, in a general direction which must be right and which can be
followed with vigour without any danger of eliminating too much or of incurring grossly
wasteful expenditure before the position can be reviewed.
The changes proposed, and their phasing, arc certainly not too drastic if regarded as a means
of correcting the present departure of the railways from their proper role in the transport
system as a whole. It is recognised, however, that changes of the magnitude of those
proposed will inevitably give rise to many difficulties affecting railway staff, the travelling
public, and industry. The Railways Board will do all that it can to ameliorate these
difficulties, consistent with its responsibility for making railways an efficient and economic
component in the transport system, but the Board knows that it will not be able to solve all
SUMMARY OF THE REPORT
The Report describes the investigations carried out, the conclusions which were drawn, and
the proposals which are made for the purpose of reshaping British Railways to suit modern
The thought underlying the whole Report is that the railways should be used to meet that part
of the total transport requirement of the country for which they offer the best available means,
and that they should cease to do things for which they are ill suited. To this end, studies were made to determine the extent to which the present pattern of the railways' services is
consistent with the characteristics which distinguish railways as a mode of transport,
namely:— the high cost of their specialised and exclusive route system, and their low cost per
unit moved if traffic is carried in dense flows of well-loaded through trains. As a result, it is
concluded that, in many respects, they are being used in ways which emphasise their
disadvantages and fail to exploit their advantages.
The proposals for reshaping the railways are all directed towards giving them a route system,
a pattern of traffics, and a mode of operation, such as to make the field which they cover one
in which their merits predominate and in which they can be competitive.
To this end, it is proposed to build up traffic on the well-loaded routes, to foster those traffics
which lend themselves to movement in well-loaded through trains, and to develop the new
services necessary for that purpose. At the same time, it is proposed to close down routes
which are so lightly loaded as to have no chance of paying their way, and to discontinue
services which cannot be provided economically by rail. These proposals are, however, not so
sweeping as to attempt to bring the railways to a final pattern in one stage, with the associated
risks of abandoning too much or, alternatively, of spending wastefully.
Although railways can only be economic if routes carry dense traffic, density is so low over
much of the system that revenue derived from the movement of passengers and freight over
more than half the route miles of British Railways is insufficient to cover the cost of the route
alone. In other words, revenue does not pay for the maintenance of the track and the
maintenance and operation of the signalling system, quite apart from the cost of running
trains, depots, yards and stations. Also, it is found that the cost of more than half of the
stations is greater than the receipts from traffic which they originate.
Amongst traffics, stopping passenger services are exceptionally poor. As a group, they are
very lightly loaded and do not cover their own movement costs. They account for most of the
train miles on much of the lightly loaded route mileage, but also account for a considerable
train mileage on more heavily loaded routes, and are one of the main causes for the continued
existence of many of the small and uneconomic stations.
Fast and semi-fast, inter-city passenger trains are potentially profitable and need to be
developed selectively, along with other forms of traffic on trunk routes. High peak traffics at
holiday periods are, however, very unremunerative. They are dying away and provision for
them will be reduced.
Suburban services feeding London come close to covering their full expenses, but give no
margin to provide for costly increases in capacity, even though they are overloaded and
demand goes on increasing.
Suburban services feeding other centres of population are serious loss makers, and it will not
be possible to continue them satisfactorily without treating them as a part of a concerted
system of transport for the cities which they serve. Freight traffic, like passenger traffic, includes good flows, but also includes much which is unsuitable, or which is unsuitably handled by the railways at present. The greater part of all freight traffic is handled by the staging forward of individual wagons from yard to yard,
instead of by through-train movement. This is costly, and causes transit times to be slow and
variable. It also leads to low utilisation of wagons and necessitates the provision of a very
large and costly wagon fleet.
Coal traffic as a whole just about pays its way, but, in spite of its suitability for through train
movement, about two thirds of the total coal handled on rail still moves by the wagon-load.
This is very largely due to the absence of facilities for train loading at the pits, and to the
multiplicity of small receiving terminals to which coal is consigned. Block train movement is
increasing, but substantial savings will result from acceleration of the change. This depends,
in turn, upon provision of bunkers for train loading at the pits, bunkers for ship loading at the
ports, and of coal concentration depots to which coal can be moved by rail for final road
distribution to small industrial and domestic consumers.
Wagon-load freight traffic, other than coal, is a bad loss maker when taken as a group, but
over half of it is siding-to-siding traffic, much of which moves in trainload quantities, and
this makes a good contribution to system cost. One third of the remainder moves between
sidings and docks, and this falls just short of covering its direct costs. The remaining 30 per
cent. of the whole passes through stations, at one or both ends of its transit, and causes a loss
relative to direct expenses which is so large that it submerges the credit margin on all the rest.
Freight sundries traffic is also a bad loss maker. It is handled at present between over 900
stations and depots, which causes very poor wagon loading and a high level of costly
transhipment of the freight while in transit. Railways handle only about 45 per cent. of this
traffic in the country, and do not select the flows which are most suitable for rail movement.
If they are to stay in the business, British Railways must concentrate more upon the inter-city
flows and reduce the number of depots handling this form of traffic to not more than a
Study of traffic not on rail shows that there is a considerable tonnage which is potentially
good rail traffic. This includes about 8 m. tons which could be carried in train-load quantities,
and a further 30 m. tons which is favourable to rail by virtue of the consignment sizes,
lengths of haul, and terminal conditions. In addition, there is a further 16 m. tons which is
potentially good traffic for a new kind of service—a Liner Train service—for the combined
road and rail movement of containerised merchandise.
Preliminary studies of a system of liner train services, which might carry at least the 16 m.
tons of new traffic referred to above and a similar quantity drawn from traffic which is now
carried unremuneratively on rail, show such services to be very promising and likely to
contribute substantially to support of the main railway network, if developed.
The steps proposed, to achieve the improvements referred to above, are:—
(1) Discontinuance of many stopping passenger services.
(2) Transfer of the modern multiple unit stock displaced to continuing services
which are still steam locomotive hauled.
(3) Closure of a high proportion of the total number of small stations to passenger
(4) Selective improvement of inter-city passenger services and rationalisation of
(5) Damping down of seasonal peaks of passenger traffic and withdrawal of
corridor coaching stock held for the purpose of covering them at present.
(6) Co-ordination of suburban train and bus services and charges, in collaboration
with municipal authorities, with the alternative of fare increases and possible
closure of services.
(7) Co-ordination of passenger parcels services with the Post Office.
(8) Increase of block train movement of coal, by:—
a inducing the National Coal Board to provide train loading facilities at
b inducing the establishment of coal concentration depots, in
collaboration with the National Coal Board and the distributors.
(9) Reduction of the uneconomic freight traffic passing through small stations by
closing them progressively, but with regard to the preservation of potentially
good railway traffics, and by adjustment to charges.
(10) Attraction of more siding-to-siding traffics suitable for through-train
movement by operating such trains at the expense of the wagon forwarding
system and by provision of time-tabled trains, of special stock, to meet
(11) Study and development of a network of "Liner Train" services to carry flows
of traffic which, though dense, are composed of consignments too small in
themselves to justify through-train operation.
(12) Concentration of freight sundries traffic upon about 100 main depots, many of
them associated with Liner Train depots, and carriage of main flows of
sundries on Liner Trains, probably coupled with passenger parcels, and
possibly Post Office parcels and letters.
(13) Rapid, progressive withdrawal of freight wagons over the next three years.
(14) Continued replacement of steam by diesel locomotives for main line traction,
up to a probable requirement of at least 3,750/4,250 (1,698 already in service
and 950 on order at present).
(15) Rationalisation of the composition and use of the Railways' road cartage fleet.
These various lines of action are strongly interdependent. If the whole plan is implemented
with vigour, however, much (though not necessarily all) of the Railways' deficit should be
eliminated by 1970.
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