Many remember 1966 as the year England won the football world cup but as many know, it marked significant railway closures. In 1966 marked the closure of two iconic main lines. The Great Central, that marvel of railway engineering, and the much loved Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.
In my first Blog, I couldn’t let 2016 end without discussing the 50th anniversary of these closures. Recently a friend asked me if there was ever a railway line in this country which carried trains from continental Europe. He was amazed and somewhat shocked when I said there was and that it had been closed in 1966. In fact, the Great Central railway wasn’t just shut it was totally obliterated. Imagine if this still existed today – there might not be a need to build HS2!
Is Beeching to blame for the closure of the Great Central Railway?
Beeching is widely perceived as the culprit.
Recently I read Richard Hardy’s book Beeching: Champion of the Railways (a used copy can sometimes be bought for as little as 1p plus postage) which I had had in my library since it was published in 1989. I have the highest regard for Hardy and think he was one of the greatest railwayman ever. I have been fortunate enough to meet him on a number of occasions. However I struggled to bring myself to read this book because I thought if he concluded that Beeching was indeed a Champion of Railways, I might lose some respect for Hardy.
25 years after purchasing this book, I summed up the courage to read it! What did I conclude? That – horror of horrors – Beeching was a champion of railways! Hardy put the case well and I was convinced. Beeching had a government directive to massively reduce the cost of railway operation. That’s what he did but he also championed the Intercity concept and freightliner trains.
Changes needed to be made.
Many people say to me that in the 1960’s travel was changing as cars and lorries became more popular and affordable. Railways were less viable. As a railwayman, I reluctantly accept this. What I cannot accept for one moment is that the infrastructure of closed lines had to be destroyed and that no one could foresee the resurgence in rail transport.
I disagree!! In 1963, John Betjeman said that railways would be used again even though at that time it was well known that road traffic was becoming hellish. Betjeman predicted that we would come to deeply regret the loss of branch lines. His thoughts were broadcast in a BBC programme in which he is shown travelling on the Somerset and Dorset railway.
Only recently, Jeremy Vine of BBC Radio 2 tweeted that the closure of Sidmouth railway station in the 1960s has led to increased traffic in the town today.
Railway Closures – Conclusion
So what do I conclude? I agree that railways in the 1960’s had to be culled BUT I am firmly of the belief that given the interests of those in road building and lorry companies it was a conspiracy to destroy the future competition that a resurgent railway would present. By obliterating viaducts and building roads over the track bed, the economics of reinstating a railway would be excessive. I leave you for the moment with this conclusion but I shall revisit. I’d be interested to know what you think.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of many railway closures. I walked my local railway line to Budleigh Salterton. Could I find evidence of the railway after all this time? Find out here