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1963: Railways to be slashed by a quarter

Large parts of the British railway system are uneconomic and under-used, a far-reaching report has declared.

The report, from the chairman of the British Transport Commission, Dr Richard Beeching, says only half the network's routes carry enough traffic to cover the cost of operating them.

British Rail is currently running at a loss of 140m a year, and Dr Beeching has made it his job to "make the railways pay".


"It will in some areas reduce public transport to a lower level than in the horse age"

Lord Stonham, National Council on Inland Transport

In his investigation into the network, he found that only half of the 7,000 stations on the British Rail network carry 98% of the traffic.

A quarter of all traffic starts at just 34 stations, while a third of the track is used by just 1% of traffic.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the report is an appendix, listing over 2,000 stations and 250 train services which could be withdrawn immediately on economic grounds.

Some are tiny, rural stations; others are in major cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool.

The proposed closures drastically reduce local lines in the Scottish Highlands, Wales and the West Country.

In a news conference, Dr Beeching said the first closures were likely to take place in the autumn. He also predicted 70,000 job losses and fare increases in London of at least 10%.

The proposals were given a warm welcome by the government. Transport Minister Ernest Marples said some roads might have to be strengthened, widened or modified to take extra traffic imposed by line closures.

But other MPs have reacted angrily to the proposals. Mark Woodnutt, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, which would be left with no railway if the cuts go ahead, threatened to resign from his party if, as he put it, "a Conservative government lets the Island down".

The chairman of the National Council on Inland Transport, Lord Stonham, yesterday condemned the Beeching report as "destructive".

"Far from gearing the railways to the needs of the 1960s," he said, "it will in some areas reduce public transport to a lower level than in the horse age."

In Context
Pressure groups throughout the country launched campaigns to save their railway lines, and despite Dr Beeching's insistence the cuts should happen as soon as possible, progress was very slow.

The Labour Party won the general election in 1964, raising hopes the closure policy would be reversed.

But these hopes proved unfounded, and in 1965 Dr Beeching produced a second report, underlining the conclusions of the first and outlining a future policy for the main trunk lines.

He left his job later in the year after a series of differences with the then Transport Minister, Tom Fraser.

From the mid-1960s, the pace of closures accelerated, and the full force of "Beeching's Axe" was felt as 2,128 stations closed and 67,700 jobs were lost.


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