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1964: Beeching to leave British Railways

The chairman of the British Railways Board is to part company with the organisation and return to his post at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI).

Dr Richard Beeching was appointed chairman of the newly formed British Railways Board in June 1961 by the Minister of Transport and during that time the system has seen a radical overhaul with many thousands of track being closed.

In recent months there had been wide speculation that Dr Beeching would accept the government's offer to head a new board responsible for the coordination and integration of Britain's road and rail networks.

But the Minister of Transport, Tom Fraser, told the House of Commons today that Dr Beeching would leave British Railways in the new year.

Axe-man

British Railways has undergone a major overhaul since Dr Beeching became chairman of the organisation four years ago.

Following the publication of his report "The Reshaping of British Railways" in 1963, more than 8,000 miles (12,875 km) of track and 2,000 stations were closed at a cost of nearly 70,000 jobs.

Many regarded his actions as those of a crazed axe-man despite the fact the railway network was in desperate need of improvement.

Others believe his recommendations were inspired and dramatically improved the railway system.

When he was approached by the government to take on this latest task of integrating the country's entire transport system there were those who were more than apprehensive.

Dr Beeching said he was able to carry out the task but could devote no more than six months to it, in order for him to be able to return to ICI.

The government felt Dr Beeching ought to carry out his study in conjunction with management and unions but Dr Beeching preferred to work on his own.

The terms and conditions of the new job remained unresolved and after much discussion the decision was made that Dr Beeching would not take the job.

So it is not clear at this stage whether he was forced to leave his 24,000 a year job, a year before his five-year leave period from ICI was due to expire, or whether he himself decided not to accept the position.

In a statement to the Commons Mr Fraser, said: "Since it is Dr Beeching's desire to return to ICI by the middle of next year, I have come to the conclusion that it would not be practicable for him to carry out the sort of study the government want, in the way in which we think it should be done, during the time which he could devote to it."

He added that he was in the process of making alternative arrangements but would welcome Dr Beeching's advice during his remaining time at British Railways.

In Context
Dr Beeching left British Railways and returned as a director of ICI in May 1965.

He was made Baron in the same year.

In November of that year the Minister of Transport, Frank Cousins told the House of Commons that Dr Beeching had in fact been sacked by the government.

Lord Beeching denied that he had been sacked and had returned to ICI of his own accord.


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