Page last updated at 06:01 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

How Beeching's cuts hit the Midlands

By Peter Plisner
BBC Midlands Today transport correspondent

Rail experts agree that the infamous Dr Beeching axed too many lines in his 1960s quest to make the railways pay.

The Midlands bore the brunt of the cuts with scores of lines and hundreds of stations closing down.

Disused railway
Miles and miles of track fell into disuse across the Midlands

Its rail network shrank dramatically when Beeching's report The Reshaping of British Railways was published in 1963.

Leslie Oppitz, author of the Lost Railways series of books said: "It was an awful shock to people working on the railways because thousands of jobs were lost along with lost tracks and stations and people were marooned in a sense."

Richard Jones, who used to work on the railways in the Shropshire town of Oswestry, said the Beeching axe was a bitter blow.

He said: "The railway had been a major employer and when it finished people had to go away to work."

Brian Rowe also lost his job in the town.

Too many lines

He said: "When they closed the lines we were absolutely isolated and the town really suffered."

But 45 years after Beeching some routes that closed have been reopened.

Holiday apartments in carriage at Coalport, Shropshire
Carriages have been converted into holiday apartments in Coalport

Trains are running again on the line from Walsall to Rugeley and Midland Metro trams run on the old track bed between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

The railways are now carrying ever-increasing numbers of passengers and rail experts maintain that Beeching cut too many lines.

Nick Higton, of consultancy firm Arup, said: "The thing about Beeching that was indefensible was not only did he shut the lines but the government then allowed the routes of those lines to be ripped up and now when we want to put some of them back it's impossible."

Some lines have found new uses.

'More expensive'

South of Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, one route now forms part of the National Cycle Network.

At the disused railway station at Coalport, Shropshire, trains have returned although the new carriages have been converted into luxury holiday apartments.

Cyclists on former rail route in Stratford-upon-Avon
In Stratford-upon-Avon cyclists now use the old railway route

The Beeching era is still remembered by many including former Midlands MP, now Labour Peer Lord Snape.

He agrees that the cuts were too severe.

He said: "The fact that he (Beeching) was wrong is amply illustrated by the fact that we're trying to restore some of those lines even now although it's proving to be a lot more expensive to put them back than it was to take them out in the first place."

The good news is that in the future the rail network could expand if high-speed lines are built.

Although it will not mean a return to the steam days it will certainly help to bring back the convenience of travelling by rail that was lost after the Beeching cuts.

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