British railway history: The Beeching Axe

In the 50s the British Railways find themselves in a crisis. To lose to a halt, is Dr. Richard Beeching appointed as head of British Railways. He comes with great austerity plans, which resulted in the country for some debate. The suggested by him, partly executed, plans are known as the Beeching Axe.

Beeching Axe

The Beeching Axe, named after the then director of British Rail Dr. Richard Beeching is a largely executed plan from the 60s to the loss-making British Railways profitable again. The official name was ?? The Reshaping of British Railways ?? . The report also called Beeching Report of the Beeching cuts, nicknamed Beeching Axe got through the very rigorous way Richard Beeching worked. Namely the closing of all unprofitable railway lines and stations, this action has left such a big mark on the railways, the Beeching name has become synonymous with the reorganization of the British Railways. Likewise, the verb 'Beechinged' finds its origin in this, when in Britain says that a railroad is the Beechinged ', it meant that it was closed following the Beeching Axe.
Many medium-sized cities lost their rail links or kept on a single rail link at the end of the network, while the former were important railway junctions. Touristic coastal towns also lost their rail fell away leaving a lot of tourist revenue because tourists stayed away. Also, almost all railway lines raised through remote areas, leaving villages and towns there were no longer accessible by public transport. That these railways were very important for the places they frequented, in the eyes of Beeching irrelevant. He looked purely at the numbers. Another result of the Beeching Axe was that 70,000 people lost their jobs. Large protests did not help, it was a much-mentioned judgment of railway workers: Beeching - Murderer because he helped so many people to the existence of soap. But Beeching saw advantages in the mass dismissal, namely, not surprising .. a large cut. However, it must also be said that the staff of the British Railways in early 60s was very inefficient, almost all stations had about 18 hours a day occupancy. Richard Beeching can not be said in any case that he came up with half measures.
The main result of the Beeching Report were the big losses of the railways which began in the early 50's due to the large increase in traffic on the road. Such events also took place in many other countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Due to the increase of road freight alswel took off the passenger. The modernization plan in 1955, making this event a halt had to call out, but failed.
Richard Beeching in 1961 became director of the British Railways and found that only a major reorganization of the British Railways weather could make profitable, but it is also a fact that Beeching the dense rail network such as Britain that late '50s knew destroyed. 6540 km of railways and 3,000 stations were closed in the decade after the Beeching Report was published. That's a quarter of all railway lines and half of all stations. During the time that Beeching was director until the report was published was also just 1500 km railway line closed.

British Railways for the Beeching era

Although much of railways have been closed by means of Beeching were there even though railways concluded before the period when Beeching was director and the 50's first railway line known he concluded was the Newmarket and Chesterford Railway in 1851 . In Great Britain was in the 19th century, a huge railway network, which had the highest density in the world, with a record length of up to 37 500 km by the year 1913. After the first world war the railways were also in Great Britain the first blow , and that competition in the form of bus, the first passenger ?? s, ?? s trucks and even aircraft. The result was that many rail lines closed in the 20s and 30s, most of these were railway lines in urban areas that lost the competition with tramlines because the tram lines could provide a more frequent schedule.
It should be mentioned that during the heyday of the railroad revolution, the number of railway companies mushrooming lap. The societies were different in kind.
Because of the many different railway companies were a lot of parallel lines to the same sites linked. Because of the competition among the companies wanted to build their own network and other carriers were, in many cases, do not use rail lines to competing companies. That this system is very inefficient and was also very expensive, was irrelevant. Sometimes lines were less than one kilometer parallel with each other, with their own stations at a stone's throw from each other. During the First World War were the railway companies under the control of the government, which lasted until 1921. This work cost saving because the competition between them was lost. This created the plan to nationalize the railways, this plan was rejected and replaced by another plan, which was realized in the form of the Railways Act. In 1923 more than 120 railway companies were grouped by the government, so there remained four companies, the so-called Big Four: London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway, Southern Railway. This made remained the main railway lines in use and all ancillary lines were closed, a few local lines after that remained in use for local goods. In the period from 1923 to 1939 was the first major closure of railway lines instead; 2022 km was closed due to the grouping of railway companies.
During the second world war the railways were widely used. However, this war continued maintenance behind. When British Railways in 1948 were nationalized, many railroads found themselves therefore in a deplorable state. Once nationalized, the next wave closure began, 5309 km of railway lines were closed, mostly through spending cuts and the high costs that were necessary to pay the overdue maintenance on the railways. This caused mainly considered less important lines that were faced with closed maintenance. An exception was also a major regional rail line closed, the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway in East Anglia, it closed in 1959. In this period, a movement that looked upon with envy that more and more railway lines are gone. The Railway Development Association was founded, this movement opposed the closure of railway lines.

Following the Beeching Axe

After World War II, however, followed an economic boom which adversely unpacked for rail transport over road took off to, and analogous to this was less appeal is made to the train. So the railways had to be reorganized to reduce the increasing loss.
British stubbornness
Britons often are as stubborn known today show that from the fact that they stick stubbornly to their own affairs and customs, as do their refusal to join the Euro, remain on the 'wrong side' of the road, do not join the Schengen zone and maintaining their own length - and weight sizes instead of Metric, which has already been introduced in almost all other countries. In the past, the stubbornness even bigger, it was long believed that their own inventions were the best, this led to the railways but to wasting valuable time and money.
British Railways performed less well than its foreign counterparts. There was also insufficient modernized, where railway companies in other countries steam switched to diesel and electric locomotives, they went in Britain just by developing new types of steam locomotives, which was a British invention. Not a matter of principle they wanted to diesel and electric locomotives.
To turn the tide introduced the British Tranport Commission in 1955, the Modernization Plan. This plan took more time than £ 1.2 billion. The British railways operate at that time still with steam trains, when they finally realized that there was no future in the steam trains,
they came up with the idea of ​​replacing it with diesel and electric trains. According to the BTC would reclaim the land train and the railway in 1962 would become profitable again. The Modernisation Plan has been largely implemented.
Other key points of the modernization plan were:
  • Electrification of national guidelines;
  • New rolling stock;
  • New signal and track protection and renewal of the rails;
  • Closure of several rail lines that were made redundant by the nationalization of the railways, such as parallel lines.

Rail transport continued in the 50s about the same level, however, the financial situation of the railway worsened gradually, particularly as the costs rose faster than revenue. The government froze prices for rail freight to dampen inflation, also in view of the elections.
The result of this coincidence was that in 1955 the railways were going to suffer loss; rising costs had overtaken the proceeds remain the same, and the situation deteriorated even further. The Modernisation Plan failed because much of the money was misspent. A large part of investing the amount to be borrowed anyway, so there was also interest to be paid. Because the money was well invested walked interest rates also further higher and higher. They went there in principle, from which the railways would be a solid and profitable company again in 1962, the opposite was true. Another cause of the failure of the modernization plan was to see the total over the head of the influence of the ever increasing road traffic at that time. As £ 84 million was invested in the modernization of marshalling yards for freight trains, while rail freight battle with the road haulage fact already lost. A significant part of the modernized marshalling yards closed a few years later again.
British Railways were early 60's in a financial crisis. The losses were early 60s ever further. In 1960 the loss was £ 68 million, £ 87 million in 1961 and £ 104 million in 1962. The government, which nationalized by state-owned fact came under direct, lost his patience and demanded an end to the huge losses, sometimes using radical solutions. This radical solutions were also found, namely in the person of Dr. Richard Beeching.
A man who lost the British Railways was an eyesore, was the minister of transportation. The minister was also an entrepreneur in the road and he found the railways fashioned, something out of the Victorian era, he believed that roads were the future, and railroads of the past.
They established an advisory committee on the Stedeford Committee, named after its chairman, Ivan Urban Ford. The task of the Committee was a report on the state of the British Railways and improvements / recommendations. One of the members of the Board Richard Beeching, then working as a technical director at a large chemical company. Urban Ford and Beeching were in conflict because Stede Ford did not agree with Beechings proposals to close a third of all rail lines and taking out of service 330 000 freight wagons. The plan Beeching was approved by the parliament, even before the proposals Stedeford were ready.
Beeching found that railway as a commercial company should be run, and not as a non-profit institution that was dependent on subsidies. Government grants for railways he saw as a waste of money, money for road he saw as good investments. Railway lines, often local, which had to be closed were lost. He assumed that if the unprofitable railway lines were once closed, the remaining network be profitable lines would soon be profitable again.
As transport minister Marples was impressed by the proposals of Beeching he suggested Beeching on June 1, 1961 as director of the Council of British Railways. This council was in the railway sector, the successor of the British Transport Commission which was divided into various committees, among which the Council of British Railways. Beeching retained the salary he earned as technical director of the chemical company ICI. The very high salary was £ 24,000, -. 10 000 British pounds more than the previous director of the British Transport Commission, £ 14,000 more than the British Prime Minister and 2½ times higher than any other director of a public institution whatsoever!
Offsetting this Beeching was expected British Railways would again profitable.

I Beeching

Changes following the Beeching Report I Once in office Beeching began the situation of all railway lines in the country to chart. On April 23, 1962 Beeching came out with the results, he concluded that 70% of all lines for 99% of the profits made while half of all stations were responsible for 98% of revenues.
On March 27, 1963 was the report ?? The Reshaping of British Railways ?? Published. It was proposed to close 9700 kilometers of the 29 000 km of railway lines. Mainly local, rural lines were victims. Other rail lines were closed to passengers but not for freight. On lines where passenger traffic was well maintained, had also once more numerous, closing little-used stations, the report said. The government agreed with the report.
In the press it began now to speak of Beeching Bombshell or Beeching Axe. Also, citizens and politicians from cities that lose their rail showed heard. Many places were further namely not accessible by public transport. The government responded by offering a replacement bus service in place of the lost train service.
The plan Beeching however, was not only about closing railway lines. Another important proposal was to electrify some highlights and switching to the goods on container to replace the outdated and unprofitable wagonload traffic. A whole new kind of train was introduced, namely the now hard to imagine Intercity.
Closure dates
In 1950, the total railway network in Britain was about 34 000 km long, and there were 6000 stations. In 1975 there were 19 000 km across, and 2000 drives. Also between the nationalization of British Railways and the Beeching Axe railways were already closed. In total, approximately 4800 km of unprofitable railway lines closed during this period. The report by Beeching accelerated this trend, however, rapidly.
  • 1950 240 km
  • 1951 443 km
  • 1952 480 km
  • 1953 443 km
  • 1954 - 1957 800 km
  • 1958 240 km
  • 1959 560 km
  • 1960 282 km
  • 1961 240 km
  • 1962 1.260 km
  • Beeching report published
  • 1963 521 km
  • 1964 1.703 km
  • 1965 970 km
  • 1966 1.210 km
  • 1967 480 km
  • 1968 640 km
  • 1969 400 km
  • 1970 443 km
  • 1971 37 km
  • 1972 80 km
  • 1973 56 km
  • 1974 0 km

Blackpool Central railway station
Blackpool Central railway station, the main station in the city of Blackpool, is the largest station ever which closed in Britain. The station was a terminus, and had 14 platforms, and was located directly on the south side of downtown. On the other side of the center, Blackpool North station was, but there was no direct connection between Blackpool Central and Blackpool North railway station. South of Blackpool Central was Blackpool South railway station. Because all trains Blackpool Central donned, also came along Blackpool South station, it was decided as part of the Beeching I report to Blackpool Central railway station it could be closed. In 1964 the station closed its doors to be demolished in 1973. Blackpool was further affected by the Beeching Axe, because in 1967 the direct line to Preston was also closed. The position of head station was taken over after the closure of Central Station by North Station.

Railways mentioned in the report, which are not closed

Not all railway lines, which were eligible for closure are closed. Some were retained for closure for political reasons. Eg railway lines through the Scottish Highlands. These rail lines were unprofitable and were nominated in the report for closure. However, the actual ?? Highland lobby ?? the railways were not closed.
In Wales the unprofitable Central Wales Line was also nominated for closure, however, because the railroad passed through so many different constituencies the government did not dare to close the railway.
In Cornwall, the Tamar Valley Line was not closed in its entirety, the route Plymouth-Gunnislake was maintained. Exceptionally, the government decided to keep the line open for the deplorable state of the roads in this region.

Beeching II

In February 1965 the Council of British Railways came back with a report to come: The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes known as Beeching II. According to the report, there had to invest heavily in the designated main to let them to modern requirements, so get ready for intensive use in such a way that in the coming decades, no major maintenance would be required. Critics of Richard Beeching took for granted that the non-selected lines would however be eventually closed. However, the report had clearly indicated that there was no decision yet taken on the remaining railway lines, but one should not expect major investments there. But observe how Richard Beeching thought of the railways, it was in line with expectations that the intention was that had to close these lines in the long run. Had this been the case than was the British rail network really greatly reduced. There would be only about 5000 km left. By comparison, in the Netherlands, approximately 2800 km of railway lines, while about 5½ is as small as Britain. In other words, Britain, the birthplace of the railways, so had a very badly kept on railway network, at least if it were up to Beeching.
As Scotland had only retained a few railway lines, only the lines to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen were left. Wales would come off worse, apart from the southern line through the capital Cardiff, Wales would be no further lines on stopping. In England in particular would the region ?? s Yorkshire, East Anglia and South West England suffer. But also an important university town as Cambrigde would no longer be accessible by rail.
Briefly, they worked with the British Railways under Beeching early 60s as follows: The Board of British Railways suggested that railways had to be closed and then the Conservative government took the proposals often simply. By protests and lobbiën could sometimes take some time before a specified line was closed, but usually within a few years the railway was closed. Sometimes there were initiatives of local politicians and hastily created associations to save their local train service, one example is the railroad Barnstaple ?? Ilfracombe. However, such initiatives were thwarted by the government and the British Railways, namely there was a disproportionately high price asked to take over the railway line, so the promoters could not cough up the amount. Then the relevant railway was broken as soon as possible. Of economically responsible policy in this is of course not to mention!

New government

Meanwhile, however, there had been elections, and was the Labour Party came to power. This government was not impressed with the report ?? ?? Beeching II. Richard Beeching saw that he could not work with this government and he resigned two months after the report was published off. The report Beeching II was therefore not carried out largely, although there are some lines were closed, as Carlisle and Edinburgh Okehampton- Bere Alston.
The dismantling of the railroads shot many people in the wrong way and it was a topic of discussion in many walks of life. During the election campaign the Labour Party made it to one of his thrusts by the promise to put an end to the large-scale closures. Once elected the ruling party, however, came back here and just got on with running the Beeching report I.
However, after the closure of about 3,300 kilometers railways, decided the new Transport Minister, Barbara Castle, to intervene. She found the report Beeching too rigorous and recognized the importance of a solid rail network. The minister came up with new guidelines for closing railways. If the loss-making railway lines had an important social function for the local economy, they were not closed but subsidized. However, many local railway lines that meet these requirements had already been closed. Furthermore, Minister Castle mind that the railway network was not reduced further than at least 11,000 miles. These are obviously very different numbers than the 5000 kilometers that remained were likely if the report Beeching II would be implemented.
Late 60's it became clear that the closure of thousands of kilometers of track, the not led to significant financial improvements at the British Railways, and it looked unlikely that there is improvement in the situation would come.


Rigorous measures were needed to create a profitable business from the British Railways again, said Dr. Richard Beeching, so it was almost a third of all British railway lines and half closed all the stations. Indeed, it was saved, and that £ 30 million, only the losses continued to increase, which amounted to £ 100 million, viz.
The losses were so high because of the closure of the local railway lines had an impact on the larger lines. Because there is no transport was more on local lines, took analogous thereto also transport on the main lines down. Thereby resulting in reduced income.
It was assumed that people who had a car would drive to the nearest station by car, to continue the journey continues by train. The opposite happened, however, the customers ?? ?? why not go to the station, but were going to use the car for the entire trip. The same happened with the goods. British Railways were by closing the local lines are no longer able to transport goods directly from client to client. Where local companies previously could bring their goods just to the local station to transport it from there to the customer, they often had to go to a station on one of the main lines. Their customer had the same problem but in reverse, it also got the goods not delivered in his own town or village. The goods are now transported by truck, not the nearest station, but directly to the customer. The same is about what happened in the Netherlands in response to the Plan Herwag ?? ??.
The mistake is on the assumption that a local train did not generate revenue for the connecting main line; persons and goods going from the local railway line continue on the main line. By connecting local lines and associated substations, these customers were no longer use the main line, so these were also less profitable, there was talk of it here so well-known domino effect.
Of course it can not be throwing it on the domino effect caused. Another issue is that the car ?? s were very strong demand. The road network was expanded rapidly, including the construction of highways. This meant that people left the train in the sequel left and got into the car. This well known phenomenon had probably occurred when local lines remained open.
After Beeching era ?? ?? there are virtually no more roadways closed, sometimes there are proposals, which often die at an early stage. In that respect, the British have learned something from their railway history.