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 I don’t support this outdated and VERY simplistic view.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.