ON THIS DAY    Witness      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1963: Head to head over Beeching

Mention Dr Richard Beeching's name to a rail enthusiast and you are likely to provoke a strong reaction.

The 1960s chairman of the British Transport Commission recommended the closure of thousands of miles of track and over 2,000 stations - many of them picturesque branch line halts.

The resulting cuts are often blamed for single-handedly causing Britain's present transport woes.

Was Dr Beeching wrong? On This Day put an ex-railway worker and a former managing director of regional railways head to head.

Gordon Pettitt is a former managing director of Regional Railways. He argues that the UK's rail network would be poorer today without Beeching.

One of my first thoughts about the Beeching report was that at least something was going to be done so we might have a railway which matched more nearly what the future looked like rather than in the past.

I don't go along with Beeching being blamed for current transport woes. So much of what was actually closed was of absolutely no significance to the position today.

At the time of the Beeching report only about a third of the route miles of the whole of the country carried 1% of the passenger traffic. And a third of it carried 1% of the freight traffic.

One of Beeching's greatest assets was his ability to analyse very coolly and calmly - that was the advantage of coming in from the outside.

But not to the extent of it being purely profit - if he had done that it would have been a different list altogether, much more severe.

He saw that while the faster trains were not making a profit, there was enormous potential for a series of intercity services in the UK.

The work he did for instance in removing a lot of the intermediate stations enabled us to run faster trains because the tracks had actually been relieved of the stopping services.

When you look at some of the lovely Victorian pictures and paintings it evokes an enormously nostalgic response.

I am very keen on large steam locomotives, which I still find lovely to see, but I'm jolly glad I never had to work on them.

The idea that sort of thing was going to carry you into the 20th century was ridiculous.

One of the big things I set out to do was "congestion busting" and the congestion busting I was trying to help with was in Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds.

It wasn't on branch lines - there is no congestion in those places.

To this day we still need to get more investment into the railways around our big cities.

In London, things like Crossrail and Thames Link 2000 and the Jubilee Line are long overdue.

Nobody is really saying that the restoration of a remote branch line is going to make any contribution to the country's traffic problems at all.

Beeching was very committed to making better use of the railway. That is probably the big thing he ought to be remembered for, but inevitably never will be.


Brian Carr joined the railways at the age of 15. In the 1960s he was a fireman on steam locomotives and based in Basingstoke.

It was a bit of shock really. We were expecting certain cuts, but not as drastic as they turned out to be like.

We expected several places to close, but not whole lines.

I live in Hythe. There's no station out this way and there's so many estates here. If you talk to local people who have been here all their lives they knew what the stations and train services were like when they were young.

Now they've all stopped and there are masses of estates here that could do with a train service to Southampton. On a bad day it can take nearly an hour to get into Southampton.

If you had a train service you could sit in comfort, none of the stress levels, no fuel bills to pay and no car parking to worry about. You'd just go straight into Southampton.

It's fair enough that Beeching allowed the development of faster trains, but what about the people in between these stations?

I agreed with some of the stations Beeching cut, but to cut out whole lines just seemed completely and utterly ridiculous to me.

As a fireman I used to go down to Salisbury. A lot of the stations were no more than a mile away from each other.

I'd have kept the lines open but cut some of the stations.

Some of them were unprofitable, there's no doubt about that, but this is in the sixties. You look at most of the places now and they are so filled up.

It's unbelievable the number of people that live in Hythe now and they're all travelling backwards and forwards to Southampton every day. The traffic is absolute murder.

If they had a direct train service it would cut all that out.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |