Forty-six years ago today, the pages of The Engineer were awash with reaction to the ‘Reshaping of British Railways’, or, as it is more commonly known, ‘The Beeching Report’.
The Engineer came out in favour of this now infamous document, which recommended wholesale closure of little-used and unprofitable railway lines, writing that ‘… the analysis leads inexorably to the ruthless elimination of many services which road vehicles can maintain more economically than the railways…’.
And with the rail unions and those standing to lose local stations in uproar, The Engineer preferred to focus on what it saw as the many positives that would come from implementing Dr Beeching’s recommendations. ‘What does seem to have been overlooked is that the plan is far less inhumanly ruthless than it appears to be. True, something like one half of all the stations in this country will close. But the passenger journeys which originated at those stations amounted to only about four per cent of the whole and the picture is similar for freight. In return for inconveniencing the few the many can confidently hope for improved services between the surviving stations… not to mention a reduction in what has become an annual subsidy to the railways of over £150 million.’
The magazine makes some interesting suggestions on what it thought should be done with the abandoned lines. ‘All who travel at all extensively about this country will be aware of certain lines threatened with closure which run more or less parallel to roads which are likely to become congested within a year or two if road traffic continues to expand. Where a rail route to be abandoned passes through a congested urban area, conversion should surely always be considered… .’ The legions of ramblers, cyclists and wildlife lovers who regularly explore Britain’s hundreds of miles of disused railway lines will be glad that this suggestion was never pursued with much vigour.
In 1963, The Engineer offered its reaction to The Beeching Report on Britain’s railways.