The need to restore railway branch lines is greater than ever. I have touched on the destruction of railway lines in the 1960’s in my post on conspiracies and railway closures. Clearly the railway was losing money due to many factors. There remains the view that uneconomic branch lines should remain closed simply because they lost money 50 years ago. I don’t support this outdated and VERY simplistic view. The propensity for people to travel has increased considerably over the past half century since lines were closed. There are many who remember when a branch line was running in their area and deeply regret it closing. This is partly due to crowded and less safe mode of transport of the roads of today. Such a situation was predicted 50 years ago by people such as John Betjamin.
If a railway timetable does not meet passenger needs then they unlikely to use the railway. If a passenger cannot make the connections they want then they are going to choose another method of travel. Many 1960’s railway timetables are littered with examples of really poor timetable planning and deliberately missed connections. Branch lines simply didn’t stand a chance. People were not prepared to travel on the railway when, for example, they had to wait longer for a connecting service than the actual total travelling time.
Sidmouth Branch Line
A prime example, in the 1960’s when the line to Sidmouth, Devon was open, there was never a decent connecting service between Sidmouth and Exeter at Sidmouth Junction (now Feniton). British Rail refused to improve connection times or to put on a direct service from Sidmouth all the way to Exeter despite public pressure at the time. As a result, the Sidmouth branch line was under utilised and closed as part of the Beeching cuts. This situation was replicated across the country. Indeed in magazines from the 1960’s we can read reports that the rail service was poor on branch lines with few viable connections.
Branch lines and today’s railway
The argument that we should not restore railway branch lines because they were losing money in the 1960’s is not valid. The business case has changed significantly. Branch lines which survived the 1960’s cuts and now have an attractive timetable have shown a significant increase in both passenger numbers and income. At the time of privatisation, the Barnstaple line had a poor timetable. Indeed I worked with people in London whose view was it should be closed. The argument was proffered that if a ‘fit for purpose’ timetable was implemented, it would generate business. GWR has worked to provide a timetable that meets the public’s requirement’s. As a result, the line has seen massive increases in passenger numbers. Attractive timetables with well planned connections will ensure the success of re-opened lines. This is especially true today when people are looking for an alternative to congested roads and parking charges.
Alternative railway route into Cornwall
The second route to Cornwall via Okehampton is an absolute priority for reinstatement. The current estimate for this inland route are for a line which has been over-specified. For example, it is doubtful trains will be running at 125mph. The estimate is extremely misleading. It includes a proposal to build a new structure across the bay at Teignmouth which is farcical and is not worthy of any consideration. It would appear to be a delaying tactic in the minds of those who procrastinate. JUST GET ON WITH OPENING THE INLAND ROUTE VIA OKEHAMPTON. Even if the viaduct at Meldon has to be rebuilt, the inland route is a fraction of the cost of structure across the bay at Teignmouth.
The benefits would go above and beyond an alternative line to Cornwall. Mid and North Devon would no longer be an area cut off from the railway network which it has been for over 50 years. The business generated by the inland route would be significant. Has anybody sought the views of people living in those areas? As part of the rebuilding of the inland route it would also seem prudent to restore the railway branch line to Bude which branches off at Okehampton. This is a major tourist area and an area where roads are difficult.
Business cases for lines that have been reopened give projected passenger number estimates which have proved to be far too conservative. The railways are an attractive form of transport that are far safer than roads the country must get on and invest in them including re-opening branch lines.
Read about a walk to remember the anniversary of a branch line 50 years after its closure.
Andy Chapman says
Of course, closing railways creates a huge opportunity for jobs – jobs demolishing the track and infrastructure so it can’t be used again.
If the track had not been removed, it could have been reinstated demonstrating that the government had made a wrong decision. And we could have that could we?
Good points Andy. What a total waste of human effort job wise and the loss of face well Labour lost it when they were elected on the promise that they would overturn the folly of closure only for Barbara Castle to renege on it.
Steven H says
Interesting article. My wife and I walked down a an old branch line that is now popular for walkers and cyclist. We actually discussed how convenient it would be to be able to catch the train into Chesterfield from brimington along this old branch line. Is it even possible to reclaim the land or reopen the line if it’s since been used for other purposes such as walking routes or fam land?
Eamonn Kentell says
They did in Scotland with the line down to Galashiels – even knocked down houses that had been built on the old track alignment.
Yes it is, as proved for example by the reinstated 38 miles of the Waverley route in Scotland. Clearly the owners of any former track bed have to be compensated. Remember though the same situation applies when new roads are built.
A number of heritage railways work in partnership with Sustrans to share reinstated railways alongside cycle routes.
In the case of Brimington on the old Great Central Railway route it lost its passenger services in 1956 but I think it remained opened as a freight route to serve the old Staveley iron works for some years after.
Imagine the huge reduction in car journeys into Chesterfield from the east if this line was reopened.
Thank you for your comment Steven.
Chris HAMLET says
When the York to Beverley line was closed in the 60’s then the A1079 was the only other way to get to Beverley and Hull from York. In the last 60 years this route in now recognised one of the most conjested and dangerous roads in Britain with countless fatalities and road traffic accidents occurring all to frequently. To reopen the rail line would be a much needed relief. The Minster rail campaign has been working hard to try and reinstate this line.
It looks like the Minster group are working hard to get the line re-instated and I hope they are successful. I will try to support them on my social media channels.
Mark Burton says
Totally agree with your post. Both the Okehampton line and the S&D should never have been closed, they need to be reinstated. The Ifracombe line should also be on the list!
That would be brilliant for the tourist industry in the area – I totally agree with you!
The cost of reinstating the S&D might be prohibitively expensive and sections of the route have been removed or redeveloped. If anyone can put forward a plausible business case for reopening all or part of their any other routes, I wish them well.
Charles Tansley says
A sound argument for the reinstatement of branch lines. Volunteers have done sterling work on the Poulton-le-Fylde to Fleetwood branch – they’ve now bought a train (a DMU) and are hopeful of running some sort of service, though an extra platform at Poulton has yet to be built. Another candidate for reopening must be the Penrith to Keswick branch – a tourist link right into the heart of the northern Lake District where many roads are choked with holiday traffic every summer. We also need to look at the line from Colne to Skipton – it always seemed extraordinarily short-sighted to close this section, as a through route from Lancashire to Yorkshire was entirely lost.
Stephen SainsburyMA says
Surprised that oil depletion (peak oil) is not mentioned in the article as this will leave roads carless within a decade or so and all traffic will have to go by rail (freight and passenger). We can’t allow whole areas of the country to be deprived of modern transport, which is why lines should be being reinstated on a line by line basis now, with the former main lines (GCR, S&D, DNS, Dumfries-Stranraer) coming first, followed by the branches reinstated either as heavy rail or standard gauge or narrow gauge light rail. In fact many completely new lines will also be needed, mainly of a light interurban type, connecting places that have never previously been rail-served. On top of this we’ll need connecting lines into factories, farms, quarries and all other industrial areas. The job ahead of us is huge and realistically we should be building 300-500 miles of new or restored railway EVERY year.
James Ingrams says
What are your thoughts on the potential reinstatement of the Keswick – Penrith Railway?
I’m not familiar with the line but with tourism it would have the propensity to be successful. Do you agree?
James Ingrams says
Yeah absolutely. Keswick has always done well with the tourism industry however in the past 20 years its popularity has skyrocketed which is fantastic for local businesses, but puts a strain on the town as the transport infrastructure is now totally inadequate and car parking shortages is a major issue. If the railway had been left in situ, modernised and re-timetabled then we wouldn’t be facing this issue now. Buses are not the solution. They are slow, add to the road traffic, and don’t meet the needs of everyone. They are not as socially accepted. The Lake District National Park Authority supports the railways reinstatement as they are keen to drastically reduce road in the area. What used to be a problem just at Easter and summer holidays is now an all year round occurrence. The idea that Keswick is a sleepy, abandoned in the Winter tourist town is a very out dated viewpoint. As a resident of the town I can assure those with doubts, it is busy now all year round.
The route closed in 1972, but the trackbed is approximately 90% still in tact. There is an on going project run by Cedric Martindale a Railway Engineer to get it open again. All survey work and What it needs is the full support of the local authorities to include it in their local transport plan. The project is unique as it will be privately funded, but investors need the reassurance that the project is given the greenlight before further progress is made. This project is the first of its kind, and is expected to become a model for other worthwhile Railway re-openings around the UK.
The Projects Official website:
My Facebook group – Cockermouth Keswick and Penrith Railway Enthusiasts Group:
Petition to show your support for the project to spread awareness:
Thank James I did not know about this at all but I think it is a fantastic project and could be replicated elsewhere. I will be publicising this on my social media channels.
David Stewart Rolph says
i agree i did live in Devon for some time and always thought it was a shame that Bow which was closed could have been re-opened hence making it easier to get to exeter or to Okehampton and i totally agree with everything going on to make the reopening, Take us down here we could do with the line between Sudbury and Cambridge being re-opened, and to stansted Airport
Brian Racher says
Many closures of the 60’s, as I noted in a response to an earlier question on your blog, should never have happened at all, but the Government of the day had an agenda which was highly suspect. Even if this had not been the case, no account was made of possible future development and traffic potential on such lines. Now we have a situation where road traffic is reaching saturation point, and some clever thinking Councils have looked at the possibilty of reinstatement of closed lines. However, although in some cases track beds and the vitally important formations are still in place, estimated costs of reinstatement have been horrendously high, despite the fact that all they have to do is lay track and provide infrastructre – the hard work has already been done for them. Why these estimated costs are so high is questionable, but most have also defended their conclusions by saying nice idea, but not viable in the long term. In my area, there has been a very determined push to have a line reinstated because places that would be served have grown like topsy in the last 50 odd years, as has the resultant traffic congestion.The local Council is very much in favour of reinstatement, but the estimated cost has put it permanently out of reach, and the TOC that would be contracted to operate any such service have also effectively priced themselves out of the market. Without Government support, it can only be left to enthusiastic local groups to raise the finance and approval to realise any such project, and that carries major risks. It would appear that unless someone else is prepared to foot the bill, most of these desperately needed re-openings will never happen, despite the obvious and critcal need for them to occur. Sorry for the negative response, but money obsessed England has only itself to blame.
Pete Chapman says
Please add the Chacewater to Newquay branch to the re open list !! The traffic on the roads is fast approaching gridlock in the mornings and afternoons plus the tourist`s (Emmets) will love it !!
Trevor Tremethick says
I would love to say it would be possible but, sadly, this line is now beyond saving. Much of it has been ploughed under or built upon and bridges blown. A consortium tried to purchase it on closure in 1963 but BR were not having it.
Lord James says
My experienced of the Beeching era was further North as I was in Aberdeen. I saw firsthand the destruction of branch and even main lines north of Aberdeen and, particularly, the Royal Desside line. The closure of that line was almost fraudulent and certainly deliberate and calculated. The year before closure the line was relaid from double to single track, new signaling for single track work and all the stations were refurbished. The death knell came when the summer timetable rescheduled the morning commuter train to arrive at Aberdeen Joint station at 09:10 instead of 08:45, making it useless to those who had to be in work by 9 o’clock. BR then claimed the line had lost £12m in the previous year. The closure plans were upset for a while because BR were under contract to run the Royal Train to Ballater. Most of the trackbed is still intact and a least two groups are trying to re-open sections of the line.
I also think that while legislation is under way for Brexit we should campaign for the Railway Closure Acts of 1966 to be repealed on the grounds that the Bill was ill thought out, and rushed through without sufficient consideration for future developments. This would at least ensure the safety of the trackbeds for future restoration.
Eamonn Kentell says
The Alton to Winchester, although partly used by the Watercress Line would have been handy for an alternative to the A31.
Simon Ballard. says
It would be wonderful if the Meon Valley line in Hampshire reopened. Or the Brampton Valley line from Northampton to Market Harborough.
What about the Didcot – Newbury – Winchester line :: the increasingly congested A34 trunk road with a bad accident recors clearly reflects the need for re-opening this route.: there is an excessive amount of HGV’s using the A34 also rail traffic between the midlands & Southampton is routed via Reading & Basingstoke::: Reading is a very busy junction notwithstanding the massive recent improvements.
I’d love to see the Didcot , Newbury and Southampton railway regenerated as it should never have been closed to freight traffic as it was profitable when it was closed ,and also was meant to have been moth balled as a strategic root in event of war ? Plus it’would take some of the traffic off the A34 which can not cope !
Peter Savage says
I too regret the closure of the Didcot/Newbury line. It is only too obvious that it would be a very popular line as the huge house building project currently taking place must have many people who work in and around the Newbury to Didcot/ oxford areas. Problems: the old line is now not available for a multitude of reasons, bridges gone, cuttings filled in, stations now private houses and many other reasons. If someone can suggest a new economical route I’d like to hear of it.
Martin Shelley says
Your comment regarding poor timetabling /connections is very true, having worked on the Main/Branch lines of Wales and the South West for over 30 years, I have experienced this many times. But this still happens with re-opend lines, eg The Welsh Highland Railway, an excellent line, But ! Timetabling is only of use to passengers on an end to end or scenic trip. I was of the opinion that funding for re opening was provided, so as the alleviate car traffic within the National Park. But try using it for walks in the area and you come to grief, not enough trains
Yes they need end to end trains, but they need to provide a sort of DMU /Shuttle service, stopping at all stations within the Porthmadod Beddgelert area 1/2 hr service if possible.