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The oil industry and destruction of public transport

Tearing up the Tracks

Public transport asset stripped to make way for death, injury, pollution, stress..... and excessive profit margins

1. UK Railway abandonment
                                   Have your say!

2. UK Tram abandonment

Private versus commercial vehicle axles: road surface damage compared

05Nov00 - Oil barons chuckle as greens take on fuel price protestors

Save Our Railways

Steam Train In A Station

The deliberate asset stripping of public transport in Britain

My thesis is that it is no accident that cars have taken over from public transport on both sides of the Atlantic.  There are powerul interests that want to destroy essential shared resources and massively increase our consumption of, and reliance on, oil. The social, financial and environmental costs of public transport infrastructure are tiny if compared to the total costs of maintaining a massive car stock and road infrastructure. So why is the car so prevalent. Social Engineering in my view. Read on for the evidence.

The streetcars were successfully shut down in the U.S.A. by the roads lobby. Why not here in the U.K.?

How come then, it's more expensive to travel in a multi-occupancy vehicle being used 18 hours a day than it is to use a 1 to 4 person vehicle (a car) that stays idle 95% of the time? Answer, subsidies and financial trickery. The government subsidies that favour the car are directly opposed to social and environmental concerns. Rail travel is also much safer, so why subsidise the dangerous option?

In addition there is clear evidence provided by Ken Livingstone's Fares Fair experiment, in the 1980's, that public transport tickets are deliberately overpriced in the UK. What is going on! I believe powerful commercial interests made sure in the early sixties that commercial freight, both by road and rail, would be heavily subsidised by the private traveller.

Private versus commercial vehicle axles: road surface damage compared

Passenger/domestic transport subsidising bulk freight

Extracted from The Great Railway Conspiracy by David Henshaw

p. 218 - Chapter 8 - The Energy Crisis

The American Association of State Highway Officials ran road surface damage tests costing $27million in the 1950's which showed the damage caused to a road surface by a given vehicle axle was proportional to the weight of the axle to the power of four.

In other words, where it might be assumed that the wheels of a heavy lorry carrying 10 tons would cause ten times as much damage as the wheels of a lighter vehicle bearing a ton, the actual figure was a thousand times greater. For example; a 12-ton lorry with two axles was causing as much damage as 160,000 cars.

A German survey in the early 1980's revealed that freight vehicles might be paying no more than 12.5 per cent of their true cost.

Welsh Steam Coal wagons are at Cardiff Docks in 19271. Railways

Welsh Steam Coal wagons at Cardiff Docks in 1927

1955 UK Rail Workers Strike
Have Your Say
The Railways must be made to pay for themselves
Beechings Bombshell
Beeching: Some biographical information
The Marples Beeching Axis - from 'The Great Railway Conspiracy'
Square Deal Denied - book by Ted Gibbins
Blueprints for Bancruptcy - book by Ted Gibbins

The first place to look is the reports that led to Dr. Beechings railway destruction plan, known at the time as the 'Re-shaping Plan'. This plan was an essential 'justification' for Britain's motorway building programme begun in the early sixties.

Did Beeching himself write it? Not exactly. It was prepared by a ministry of Transport advisory group of industrialists, including Beeching, called the Stedeford Committee [see below] who were appointed by Tory transport minister Ernest Marples. Marples was a director of Marples Ridgway, the road building company that built the Chiswick flyover - and much more. The brief of the Stedeford committee was secret as was the report to the minister. Immediately suspicious. Not one of the Stedeford members had been significantly involved with transport before, all four non civil-servants were industrialists¹. Dr. Beeching was straight from the board of I.C.I.. The committee begins to look like a fix by the industrial elite.

I have heard and read how the government, through the Department of Transport, pay the vast sums needed for road infrastructure. So, one might expect, in the interests of a competive transport market, they would pay for rail infrastructure too. But government insists rail infrastructure is paid for by the rail fares, hardly a level playing field! When the railways stop returning a profit, the fact that the transport market is regulated in favour of the car is ignored and there is deep indignation that railways are not returning a profit. The massive overuse of oil that cars bring must be making someone, somewhere, an obscene amount of money. I begin to smell a honking great rat!

closure notice is for november 1965 - photo John A. M. VaughanLet's not forget another very good political reason for interfering in the 'free market' in transport, the powerful rail unions ASLEF and the NUR. Once these unions had the power to bring British industry to its knees, just as they did between 30th May and 14th June 1955. This strike occured immediately before the changeover from public to private transport. You can't unionise a car, the railway abandonment served to break transport union power once and for all.

November 1965 - photo John A. M. Vaughan

With a combination of infiltration (cf. the now famous infiltration of the National Union of Mineworkers by MI5) and economic/political union busting campaigns such as happened on the railways Socialism in the UK has been brought to its knees. And many Socialist ideals have been shattered.

1955 ASLEF strike

Lasted from 29th May to 14th June 1955. Pay differentials strike over the price of a packet of cigarettes per week, called just days after Eden's Conservative victory at a General Election. Brought British industry to a standstill after two weeks and forced a government climbdown. British Transport Commission settled pay claim.

After this UK government transport policy switched to roads.

Have your say! sending an email with the subject "Have Your Say" - my email is here - and I will respect your anonymity if you wish.

Have often wondered why this noble twat ripped our heritage up so fast

by email - 18th July 2012

I have been a member of those pests the Freemasons, 1987 to 1989, and ditched them. Had nothing but trouble since. Mainly oil industry career bother.

I have lost a number of jobs which I suspect had something to do with these pathetic sycophants.

Then you educated me with the Bilderberg bolshy bunch, and now I am probably the worst cynic on the planet.

The reason I write is the UK Transport topic and Beeching's Axe.

Having worked in the oil industry a fair part of my life, I have often wondered why this noble twat ripped our heritage up so fast. Politicians argued taxpayers losses. What nonsense. All industries owned by the nation, are manipulated by the bean counters to alter public opinion.

My thoughts were drawn to the timing of the discovery of North Sea oil, and Beeching's axe.

My theory was American Oil Zionists telling the UK government what will happen. i.e. You have a transport infrastructure that is far too efficient Where are you going to sell your oil? The OPEC countries are under our control and we do not want your oil upsetting our cosy world market. You will have to sell it on your home market. If you agree, we will give you the zillions of bucks to build your rigs, because you can't afford to build them, and we will assist you in sucking your oil out and polluting your fishing grounds...... BUT you must rip up your tracks and build for the road lobby. Look at the taxes you can rip the public off for........ ZZZzzzzzz.

The rest is history.

Hence, I live in France. Here life is not so hypocritical, and not so many Zionists running the shop.

Kind regards

John Xxxxxxxx

Date: Wed, June 17, 2009 2:39 am

Hi Tony,

I was looking at your Dr. Beeching report thing and although I have only read a small part of it I can fully understand it and I totally agree with the way the railways in the UK where destroyed only for transport to be shifted to the roads. I live in Springburn in Glasgow which was once known as the Locomotive builders to the world and once built a quarter of the worlds loco's. Some of the lies in the Beeching report make me sick and the moves that where made to close lines was appalling i.e. in an attempt to close the Settle and Carlisle line they changed the timing of the connecting train to Leeds from carlisle so that passengers would miss it by 10 minutes.

We had the best railway system in the world and even after WW2 if the money that the railways where owed by the government where paid in line with inflation from the 1936 railway revenues that had been agreed they would have got over twice the amount and would have been able to modernise the system, after all we could never have kept up the war effort as we did had it not been for our railways, a fact that was easily forgotten. Glasgow and the whole Strathclyde area as it was came out not to bad after the Beeching axe fell mainly because the greater Glasgow politicians where and still are i believe pro rail.

Although we never suffered as much a loss in railways as most parts of the UK most of the ex Caledonian Railway lines north of the Clyde disappeared. I grew up in a place called Possilpark which is on the boundary of Springburn and out side my living room window was the ex North British Railway works of Cowlairs, the main erecting shop was only about 35/40 yards from me and as a result I grew up loving railways. I have done a 38 page document on the history of the railways in Springburn from their beginning in 1831 until now and I am hoping to put it on a web site in the quite near future. i'm sorry for going on so much and I hope you don't mind and I look forward to hearing from you.



I was just thinking about the Waverly route and its closure in 1969. The reason for its closure was given that it was more or less a duplicate of the west coast main line. That was nonsense but it was still closed anyway. Ok there were not a lot of passengers using the line but there were plenty of freight trains using it. Many of the small villages and even the towns that the route covered grew in size over the first decade of the lines closure and would no doubt have given plenty of passengers for the line. There has been talk for years of reopening the line as far south as Carlisle and this I imagine would be a good thing as it would give a rail link to the Scottish borders area most of which has no railway station or even lines within a reasonable distance and the bus services in most parts are totally inadequate.

A few years ago when I was doing research on Springburn's railway history and was stuck. For some reason or other I started to think about a time a couple of years earlier when my wife and I were in Blackpool. In Blackpool North station there was a large advert about taking a train trip to Steamtown in Carnforth. We took the train and when we got to Carnforth we found that steamtown was closed. When we went into a café I asked the waitress about why it was closed and she told me that it closed down two years previously. I was a bit disappointed about that advert in the railway station that was sending people on a trip to a place that was closed down. The thought of inspired me to write this little poem, hope you like it.

The late train spotter
I stood and waited in the rain
And hoped to a passing train
Not caring what class it be
A Black five or a Jubilee
A diesel with a sounding horn
Or a pannier tank the worse for worn
Yes I stood and waited in the rain
But it seems my waiting was in vain
For the last train passed here long ago
But I stood there and did not know
Until a passer - by came up and said
No trains will come this railway's dead
The last one ran in sixty - eight
And even that was running late
So I thanked him and went on my way
And cursed I stood there yesterday

I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old I used to watch the trains heading in and out of Glasgow Buchanan Street station around 1965/66. Buchanan Street station was opened on 1 November 1849 by the Caledonian Railway as what was meant to be a temporary affair but would remain unchanged until 1932. A large goods yard was opened beside the station on 1 January 1850 and was at the time the largest in Scotland. The termini station was also used for trains from south of the border until the CR opened Glasgow Central station on 1 August 1879. The Buchanan Street station was normally quiet with a couple of busy times each day that lasted for about an hour or so. When the station was rebuilt in 1932 it was more or less the same drab looking affair that earned it the poor man of the four Glasgow termini the only real difference from the original was the installation of platform canopies that had been taken from the then recently closed Ardrossan North station in north Ayrshire about 30 miles from Glasgow. The goods yard was closed on 6 August 1962 and the five platform station (platform 5 only being used by parcels trains) closing on 7 November 1966. Buchanan Streets claim to fame is that it was the swan song for the Gresley A4's on the Glasgow to Aberdeen 3 hour expresses. In the summer of 1961 a trial run was scheduled for the service using 60031 Golden Plover but due to a mechanical problem the test run was rescheduled and was completed successfully using 60027 Merlin on 22 February 1962. The three hour expresses started on 18 June that year. Railway enthusiasts came from far and near to watch and photograph these locos hard at work and I have memories of seeing them myself on over a half a dozen occasions.

It is rumoured that sometime in 1965 60019 Bittern whilst working this route was taken into the nearby Cowlairs works with some problem and emerged back into traffic a couple of days later with her smoke box number plate upside down reading 61009 and ran like this for at least two days before BR noticed and had the loco's plate put on the right way up (if this is true or not I do not know but I find it amusing if not interesting) the notorious NBL type 2 class 21/29 diesel electrics where used often on trains in and out of Buchanan Street. This class was infamous for breakdowns and on more than a few occasions even catching fire. I remember seeing one or two of them belching out more smoke than the A4's.

The A4's made their last run on 3 September 1966 and the station two months later and over two miles of main line and the station completely obliterated with no sign that they ever existed. Just over two miles from the station was St. Rollox MPD (also known as Balornock shed to save confusion with the nearby St. Rollox locomotive works) St. Rollox MPD was an average sized shed with about 70 locomotves which where mostly black fives and standard class 5's. Of the 842 Black fives built only four originally carried names and in the 1950' they where all allocated here. The loco's were 45 146 Ayrshire Yeomanry, 45 154 Lanarkshire Yeomanry, 45 157 The Glasgow Highlander and 45 158 Glasgow Yeomanry.

Ernest Marples was the champion of ... the British Roads Federation

From: Pete <>
Subject: Query - Stedeford Report
Date: Fri, 25 May 2007

Hi Tony

On the subject of railways on your website, you state that the Stedeford Report was made public in 1961. The Stedeford Report was not available in the public domain until 1991 and then only grudingly and partially under the "Thirty Year Rule", because it clearly showed what a cock-up the government had made of the railways over the pevious thirty years or more, and how the railways had been grossly mis-managed by civil servants who did not know what they were doing. Beeching and Stedeford had frequent disagreements. Ernie Marples was hoping for a rather different sort of report, one which showed the railways in a bad light and which would enable him to push road building. He managed to stay in office a record five years to make absolutely certain that the report never surfaced. What was published was what became known as the Beeching Report which bore no relation to Stedeford's earlier report.

Incidentally Ernest Marples was the champion of, and was in fact a member of, the British Roads Federation, the organisation that was started in 1931 in response to a government plan to put all long haul freight onto rail at the ridiculously low and uneconomic rates that rail was forced to charge by law. The BRF, comprised not only the haulage industry, but bus & coach operators, motor manufacturers, oil companies, road contractors, and AA and RAC. Because of the subsequent pressure they exerted, the 1932 Transport Act only licenced freight operators but did not restrict what they could carry or the distances they could carry it. Between 1932 and 1939 BRF became very powerful then the war intervened. After the war they reformed and were the driving force that got Marples in place. During that government well over half the MPs had "jobs" in the motor, freight or associated industries. The rest, as they say, is history.

'...move about the country each day virtually untaxed'

From: "Neil McFarlane" <neilmcfarlane(-at-)>
Date: Wed, 21 Dec 2005

Hello Tony,

Here's another reason why I believe railways have been pushed way down the transport priority scale:

I drive a second hand car, albeit a nearly new Mercedes. It's a company car and I personally get taxed again on the value of the car when it was new (this has already been paid once by the first owner!). I also pay H.M. Tax Grabbers a hefty stipend from my paycheque for the pleasure of using it. The vehicle requires a windscreen sticker to prove to suspicious civil servants that the requisite annual road tax has been paid. Emissions tax for the engine size is also deducted from my wages. In order to make it work I have to put petrol into the tank which is also taxed.  When the tyres wear out I pay tax on them too. As its impossible to service modern cars without the right computerised equipment tax is paid on parts and labour. After all this I can drive myself to wherever I want to go.

If I used a train, I would simply pay for my fare and go. Can you imagine what would happen if the railways were the first choice for everyone wanting to travel? All those hundreds and thousands of people getting to move about the country each day virtually untaxed?

Then compare the investment that say, the French government provides for SNCF: the equivalent of £50 per passenger per year, hence 200mph trains up and down the country. Switzerland invests something like £75 per head, hence the most efficient rail network in the world.

The British government invests the princely sum of &&.£5 per passenger per year. So that's why we're forced out of trains and into our stonkingly taxed and re-taxed cars whenever we want to go anywhere. Simple isn't it?

Keep it up the site!

Neil McFarlane

Margam Yard in Port Talbot S. Wales, opened in 1960 with 'hump' in the foreground. (high lighting)Roland Marshall

Date: Thu, June 10, 2004

Margam Yard in Port Talbot S. Wales, opened in 1960  with 'hump' in the foreground.

Hungarian Conspiracy

A particular Beeching related story was told to me by my father which goes something like as follows;

Hungary had lost vast amounts of its rail infrastructure during the war. Much of this was plundered by the Nazis and may have been melted down for arms production or used to replace bombed tracks in Germany. Beeching was able to sell vast amounts of British "obsolete" track to them at a beneficial rate particulary with regard to junctions and crossovers that were very much in demand. Thus, what Beeching in fact had to do was close enough track in order to meet a prescribed order from Hungarian railways, and therefore the economic vs. uneconomic argument was just a convenient smokescreen. As long as he could get his hands on enough track then the deal was secure.

I can find no other evidence to corroberate this story and my father can not remember where he heard it although he says that he had no real reason to disbelieve it.

I recently was talking to a local councilor who is trying very hard to have a line re-instated and she was fascinated by this story, so I would love to find out if it has any basis in fact or is just some 60s conspiracy theory.

Many thanks for your time

Roland Marshall

Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003
From: "bobulus" <>

Electric Traction

Hi, Tony.

You are very brave challenging our Sociopathic Elite, but then it has to be done. The Oil Lobby have succeeded in quashing Electric railways in the NAFTA region (look at the trashing of the Mexico City-Queretaro Electrification by oil bunnies KSC and UP buying 40 diesels to trash the 39 electric locos over this route (DOH!! as Homer Simpson would say!) and have successfully poisoned UK politicians here, despite the fact this is a densely populated country. With the coming oil crash, business is going to go on as usual until one day: No more oil! The Sociopaths hold the sway and their apologists bury their heads in the sand.

Bob Battersby;

Manchester, UK.

Carlisle Kingmoor marshalling yards in 1963 just after it openedThe future development of transport in Britain

Carlisle Kingmoor marshalling yards in 1963 just after it opened. Only operational for 9 years. Down Yard was made up of 10 reception roads, 37 sorting sidings and 10 departure roads. Up Yard was 8 reception, 48 sorting and 10 departure. 4 wheel wagon capacity on the Down side was 590 reception, 3,340 sorting and 730 on the departure roads. On the Up side the figures were 590, 3,340 and 730.

14th January 2003 - anonymous ASLEF branch secretary

I just thought I would contribute my thoughts with regard to the future development of transport in this country.

I firstly believe that the only way we can truly harness the overriding potential that the railway network has is to take it back once again under public ownership. Recent events have starkly demonstrated the massive failure of the privatised railway in modern Britain.

Aside from the major accidents of recent years, we have increasing proof that these companies charged with the running of the railway have little or no aspirations for future development and expansion, unless government make good the expense incurred. In response to this beligerant attitude, I must ask the question "What is the point in paying for a project, plus the privateers profit margin when we could simply pay for the project?"

In the last day or two we have seen Network Rail take the long overdue decision to take the lines in the Reading area back under public maintainence. I sincerely hope that this is merely the start of a sweeping programme of contracts being discontinued at the review stage, and the responsibilities detailed in the contracts taken back into the public sector. The fact remains, that in order to extend or enhance the railway, we must get a real grip on the perverse cost of the most straight forward project in order to justify the money being diverted into the future of a public service- because that is what the railways are- in an age where profitability, and credibility outweigh the benefits something can give to the community in terms of deciding factors.

Furthermore, I believe that this sweeping programme of which I speak does not simply stop there. The same ethos should be rigourously applied to the joke that is franchising. Separating wheel from rail was never a good idea, that was universally recognised by everyone except those who made their fortune from it. It is these people whose hands are now stained with the blood of those who perished at Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield, and most recently of course Potters Bar. Safety is paramount, and as such should never be sacrificed at the alter of so called railway profit (there really is no such thing!) or indeed cuts to the provision the railways make, either in number of services, number of staff, or indeed the role that those staff play.

The way forward in my mind is a two fold journey; The return of the wholesale railway to public ownership, accountability and control, and a radical change in the way that this public service is administrated.

Currently we have a number of Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) I would propose a significant increase in the number of PTEs to include the major connurbations in the country. This would complement the current PTEs, whilst providing a clear framework for the development of transport in areas where there has never before been the opportunity. These would include areas such as; - Kingston Upon Hull & East Riding of Yorkshire - Northern Scotland (Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen, Inverness) - West Country areas including Westbury, Exeter, Paignton, Plymouth - Coastway area covering Eastbourne, Lewes,Brighton & Hove, Shoreham, Worthing, Littlehampton, Barnham & Bognor Regis, Chichester. - Coastway and urban routes from Chichester to Havant, Portsmouth, Guilford, Southampton, Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Portchester and Weymouth. - Expansion of the existing PTE areas to cover routes which are outlying and/or rural, thus offeing protection to the transport needs of rural residents.

These are just a few suggested areas which could revolutionise the PTE and transport map in the future. The other big win is that these PTEs could ensure true integration between all forms of public transport because of unified control ie(Bus departures timed to coincide with train arrival times at interchanges etc)

In essence, to take the commercial element away from the railway balance sheet is to half the amount of problems currently standing in the way of numerous re-opening proposals, such as the Uckfield - Lewes line, the Hull Paragon - Sutton on Hull, Patrington, Withernsea, and the route from Hull Paragon to Hornsea to name but three, as well as numerous proposed light rail schemes, and the electrification of lines such as Oxted - Uckfield. The more cynical would say that the other half of the problems standing in the way represent the need for efficiency and value. I do believe that with the right approach, and a suitable radically pragmatic programme for the future, this could very well be achieved. Here would also be an excellent opportunity to make rail fares much more competitive, thus making rail more attractive to the would be user.

I believe that these suggestions would form the best way forward for our railways, so we can ensure that we have the level of control over railway affairs which will enable us to expand, to enhance, to sustain.

Above all this type of approach would allow us to not only take ownership of the railways, but also to turn it into something we can be rightfully proud of, the pinnacle that it once was.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a branch secretary of the train driver's union ASLEF - ed.

Dr Beeching with the queen in February 1962 on a royal visit to Stratford works, in little over a year the workshops were closed.Dismantling of Britain's PT infrastructure

Dr Beeching with Her Majesty the Queen in February 1962 on a royal visit to Stratford works. In little over a year the workshops were closed, one can't help but wonder if Beeching was buttoning his lip so as not to spoil the occasion.

From: <> 23 Aug 2002

Dear Sir,

Your site raises many important issues, and is very interesting. The section that really caught my eye was the piece on the dismantling of Britain's PT infrastructure.

I have to agree entirely with correspondent 'JP': most of the (rural) railway system was vastly extravagent and non-viable, monuments mostly to the egos of their founders, and virtually obsolete the minute they were completed. JP also mentions the 'social revolution' that swept the country around the fifties/sixties. It's a fact of life that things progress (in the 'linear' sense of the word, at least!) and people/cultures change over time. Britain was ready for the automobile at that time, and no amount of free buses would have prevented people opting for the liberty of movement a car brings, particularly in those aformentioned rural areas.

Again, JP is absolutely spot on when he pinpoints the biggest failing of the Beeching cuts; the shoddy and spivvy selling off of the assets that once served the community and country at large. That some (if not all) of the track should have been preserved is clear, although probably not for the benefit of pasengers. No, the true worth of all this lost infrastructure is in the transport of goods and freight. How different would the UK have been had government decided to go down this route? You only have to look at the state of our 'private transport' (ie, roads) system and the environment to know the answer.

But then, it was never going to happen, was it? Because certain groups, such as the rail unions, were so 'invisibly' important to the running of industry that when they eventually sneezed, the rulers caught the flu, and the country as a whole turned on these former unsung heroes. Well, guess what? Cast your mind back a couple of years to the petrol crisis in Britain, when no tanker trucks were allowed to deliver their precious cargo. That was the farmers. Didn't we once rely on them for our food? And who did they see as unlikely allies at that time? Remember sitting for three hours on the M6, behind a 10 mile convoy of lorries?

In one way at least, the plot never varies, only the characters.

Best regards,


Crooked rail traffic censuses before the Beeching cuts

31st August 2001

The decimation of Britain's railways in the 1960's may have been based on crooked traffic census figures. Many years ago I was talking to a former Stationmaster on the very scenic Wells-Cheddar-Yatton line, which was much used by commuters to Bristol. He told me that the most important peak-time connections at Yatton were deliberately severed prior to the taking of the traffic census. He tried to raise this fact at the public meeting before the decision was made to close the railway, but, immediately his intention became clear, his voice was drowned out from the platform. His evidence was not included in the records of the meeting. Afterwards he received oblique hints of his dismissal if he persisted in these allegations.

This is a small but personal piece of evidence.

From: David Wheldon <>

[Reading from your site is like breathing fresh air.]

The Hammersmith Flyover just after it opened"Transport Minister Ernest Marples"

The Hammersmith Flyover built by Marples Ridgeway

Bob Griffin

Tory transport minister Ernest Marples (later 'Sir') was not just a government minister, he also owned a construction company, Marples-Ridgeway. Marples-Ridgeway's main concern was - wait for it - constructing roads. They contributed to several motorway projects during the fifties and sixties and also constructed the Hammersmith flyover in London. When it was pointed out that being transport minister as well as a road builder might be construed as a conflict of interest he (grudgingly?) agreed, and divested himself of his shares in Marples-Ridgeway - to his wife! Sleaze anyone...?

The way forward has to be the re-opening of most of the railways closed under Beeching, along with the reinstatement of the locally based distribution network. Telling the ill-informed self-interested short-termist hauliers that they could still get work driving trucks after this happens may appease them. Chucking people off former railway land to re-open has to be cheaper - both financially and in terms of the environment - than building another inch of road, yet we have to find some way to pay for it. Ultimately, this has to start with (considerable political will and) further taxes on cars and fuel. Who's first?

Thanks to Bob Griffin - for this contribution

6th April 99

British railway network before and after Beeching"The densest network in the world"

John Price

Marples was a director of Marples Ridgway a road building co. that built the Chiswick flyover.

Because of the advent of cheap motor cars (The Mini) a social revolution took place that many people choose to ignore when debating this subject. What ever happened to the British Motorcyce industry, the mini ruined it not the Japanese? They did help of course.

Macmillan and co saw the railway as a victorian antiquity, a form of transport left over from a time gone by. The attitude towards the railway at that time was remarkably different from today, it is wrong to look at the railway then with the eyes of today. Today the railway is seen as the way forward in reducing grid lock on the roads. Then the railway was a leftover with quaint steam transport, unprofitable and uneconomical. Even the rail unions didnt fight the Beeching cuts.

England and Wales had been over railwayised from the start and still today it has the densest network in the world. Railway mania saw railways built that never made a penny from conception to closure. Note that of all the railways that were taken over by preservation schemes after closure, not one of them has operated a succesful public transport service, they only exist for novelty entertainment and nostalgia.

From the social point of view many many of the Beeching closures were wrong. Again social values were different in those days. remember we are talking of the days when a union could bring the country to a standstill. People equality and rights were also different in those days.

I believe the major mistake of the Beeching plan was that it allowed removal of the infrastructure. It is interesting to note that were BR did re-establish services it was only on lines were the infrastructure was intact.

There is nothing to stop railways being built again.

Public transport will never entirely replace the private car and what a god forsaken world it would be if it did.

What is needed is good goverment management of private transport.

Even if it was free there is never going to be a mass move towards public transport. [I question that!! ed.]

Rail privatisation is the best step ever towards making the railways succesful and encouraging investment but you are only going to see that on long distance peak lines and dense commuter networks. Money talks and we live in a world dictated by MONEY thats why railways were built in this country in the first place.

In case you are wondering I am a life long railway enthusiast and REALIST.

Regards JP

please note return email address

15th November 1999

Ernest MArples - 1960's Tory Transport minister and owner of road construction company Marples Ridgeway"Transport justice"

Dear Transport Minister Ernest Marples,

Ernest Marples, MP for Wallasey in the Wirral and Minister of Transport 1959-1964 in the Macmillan Government. If you read The Card by Arnold Bennett, you will meet Denry Machin. Marples and Denry had much in common.

Transport solutions in the UK have reached an cancerous unsolvable situation. The only way to resolve this situation is to dismantle the structure of obstruction piece by piece every area that stops people from using public transport. The balance of progress is measured only by positive change. It is time to grow up and stop playing with the citizens of the Great Britain.

Yours, angry and ashamed of British government,

Maurice A Willmott <>

Tue, 21 Dec 1999

"The Railways must be made to pay for themselves"

For a variety of reasons in the mid-fifties British Railways started failing to return a profit. Managers constantly complained to the government about their lack of freedom to set rates so the railways were helping pay for post-war recovery. Between 1948 and 1955 wholesale prices rose by 50% and retail prices by 34% but rail fares were forced to remain constant. Most independent observers consider this to be the single most important factor producing the defecit the railways were 're-shaped' to deal with. Both passenger and goods rates were fixed by the government in the form of the Ministry of Transport, The Railway Rates Tribunal and The Transport Tribunal¹.

The defecit was as follows²:

Table 1, Railway profitability.

up to 1952 In profit
1953 Profit equalled loan interest
1954 Profit less than loan interest
1955 Break even
1956 on In defecit
1960 Defecit of £67.7 million
1961 Defecit of £86.9 million

Stedeford Committee (Special Advisory Group) members

Chairman, Sir Ivan Stedeford [Tube Investments]

Dr R. Beeching [I.C.I.]

C. F. Keaton [JMD, Courtaulds]

H. Benson [Cooper Bros.]

D. R. Serpell [Dept of Transport]

M. Stevenson [Treasury]

Their report was made public in 1991¹. One of the many criticisms of the former British Transport Commission regime was that, of their 15 members of the BTC board, only 2 were railwaymen.

Dr BeechingBeeching's Bombshell, announced March 25 1963.


In 1961, before Beeching's 'Re-Shaping', British Rail employed a staff of 474,538.

Passenger stations closed

I have found no summary detailing the extent of rail closures in the Beeching era. But a trawl of the 1963 Reshaping Plan² reveals the extent of station closures on the British mainland in the early sixties. A total of 2361 stations were closed, out of a total in 1961 of around 7,000, that's about 1/3 closed down.

The 'modernisation plan' was the British Transport Commission (British Rail's predecessor)'s response to the 'defecit' that railways were running.

Table 2: Number of railway passenger stations closed in the early sixties

Modernisation Plan Reshaping Plan (Beeching) Total
England 244 1306 1550
Scotland 19 432 451
Wales 170 190 360
Total 433 1928 2361

Goods traffic, 'The unit of freight movement is the train²'

[Chapter title from Allen's book³] The effect of Beeching's reshaping of the rail goods network was devastating. Before, with nearly 5,000 depots from and to which goods could be sent, the Royal Mail or the Railways covered the vast majority of the country. In practice the larger goods users, the coal shippers, cement and iron companies and, of course, the oil industry subsidised the system to bring down the handling costs of small shipments. This particular policy change meant almost all freight was forced onto the roads.

In April 1961 there were 4,995 goods depots in the UK handling 4.4 million tons a week. The total number of ton miles transported by British Railways in 1961 was 17,590 million

Track torn up

Table 3: The state of the rail network, track route miles in 1961²

Freight only track miles Mixed traffic (pass. & freight) miles
4+ tracks 100 1,500
3 tracks 100 400
Twin track 1,200 10,000
Single track 2,700 5,900
Total 4,100 17,800


Maintenance of the above 17,800 route mile network, including signalling, cost £110 million/year in 1961².

The re-shaping plan closed 5,000 route miles of the above network³.

Was Ernest Marples in the pay of Industry?

Barbara Castle was the next Labour transport minister.  She found she could not change the direction her predecessor had taken the railways in.

So what now?

Let's think laterally... what about... 'the other end of the tunnel'? Who would be most likely to benefit from a fix-up of national transport policy? The big rail users maybe? So that the network could be 're-shaped' to bring down their costs and stop the subsidy that was going from the bulk rail users to small customers. Then there was the oil companies, they would be eager to see consumption of petrol go through the roof with a greater reliance on the car.

The legacy is not forgotten in the corridors of power.  Dr. John Marek, MP for Wrexham, spoke out in the House of Commons in 1996 against Beeching!

See also this page on Beeching: The Great Vanishing Railway - Doctor Beeching - the railway axe man

Dr.BeechingBiographical information about Dr. Richard Beeching extracted from:

Beeching, champion of the railway?
By R. H. N. Hardy
Pub. Ian Allen 1989
ISBN 0-7110-1855-3

'Dick' Beeching, as he was known in the family and by his closest friends and associates, was the second of four brothers and he was born in a small terraced house in Sheerness in the Isle of Sheppey in April 1913. His father was a journalist with the Kent Messenger, his mother a schoolteacher, his maternal grandfather a dockyard worker. Shortly after Dick was born, the family moved to a slightly larger house in Maidstone, with a few feet of garden at the front, where Kenneth, who was killed in the last war, and John were born. All four boys went to the nearby Church of England School, All Saints, and, with the aid of scholarships, to Maidstone Grammar School whence Geoffrey, the eldest and Dick went on to the Imperial College of Science & Technology in London where they earned 1st class degrees in physics while the younger brothers equally distinguished themselves at Downing College, Cambridge. In the 1930s, one can understand only too well the sacrifice that had to be made by parents to support such ability, for money was very tight indeed but all four sons understood and deeply appreciated what was being done for them.

At the Grammar School three of the boys were cricketers, loved the game and played in the 1st XI. Not so Dick, he was just not interested; indeed it was a nine days wonder if he connected with the ball at all! He preferred to be out in the country, walking and talking with a friend. This was a characteristic that never left him for he always had a liking for discussion, either singly or in small groups. Nevertheless, he became a prefect, dominant in a quiet and thoughtful way but one that was not necessarily popular with boys who admired 'swashbuckle' and the charismatic leadership of the games player.

Beeching stayed on at Imperial College and gained his PhD (London) for research under Sir George Thomson. He continued in research until 1943, first at the Fuel Research Station in Greenwich and then at the Mond Nickel Laboratories in Birmingham where he was senior physicist concerned with a combination of physics, metallurgy and mechanical engineering. By 1938 he was becoming relatively affluent and married Ella Tiley, setting up home in Solihull. They had known each other from their schooldays and, although they did not have any children, they made up for it in many other ways. Ella complemented her husband perfectly, enjoying to the full the social life that came their way in later years and enabling him to relax at home. They had 46 immensely happy years together.

Whitemoor Up Yard was at March in the Fens - first gravity sorting yard in the country to be fitted with retarders - 1927Although as a young man Dick is remembered as quiet but brilliant, though with a sense of fun and humour.

Whitemoor Up Yard was at March in the Fens - first gravity sorting yard in the country to be fitted with retarders - 1927

I doubt whether the family as a whole realised the enormous potential in their midst that was waiting to be developed, for he did not talk much about his work to his brothers. On the other hand, his mother, to whom he talked a great deal, was probably aware of something more than mere brilliance and, in later years, with great pride and enjoyment she became the 'distribution centre' for the rest of the family.

In the middle of 1942, at the height of the war, a committee under Sir Henry Guy recommended a recasting of the Ministry of Supply's Armament Design and Research Departments for the three fighting Services. Until then, design had depended on a design office staffed entirely by civil servants with management at all levels by officers from the Services, with the Head of the Department selected from each in rotation. Following the report, the management was now to be opened to civilians and service officers alike.

The first step was the appointment of F. E. Smith as Superintendent and Chief Engineer of Armament Design (CEAD). He had been a gunnery officer in World War 1 and as Chief Engineer of the Billingham Division of ICI he had already been closely involved with the war effort. When rearmament started in 1937, he was responsible for the design and building of government factories to make basic chemicals for explosives and for the production of high octane aviation petrol. In 1941 he was involved with the development of the Blacker Bombard (an anti-tank weapon for the Home Guard), and in March 1942 with the design and production of a shoulder weapon and projectile capable of penetrating 4in of tank armour (the PIAT). [This PIAT weapon was, according to one WWII infantryman whose life depended on it, useless against all but the smallest German tanks - ed.] Smith was, therefore, already known to Adm. Sir Harold Brown, the Chief Supply Officer of the Ministry of Supply, who had knowledge of the type of work involved.

Smith quickly appointed a number of highly qualified and experienced people from ICI and asked his friends in industry for further candidates. Among these, Dr Sykes of Firth Brown recommended a Dr Beeching, then aged 29. He was interviewed and engaged, and thus began a close understanding relationship which continued until he became involved with the railways.

Beeching was appointed to the Shell Design Section, which was short of people with a knowledge of physics and metallurgy. His rank was equivalent to that of an Army Captain, but he quickly showed his ability to analyse, fundamentally, problems of the most varied type. Soon after Smith took over as CEAD, he introduced a system for assessing, every six months, the relative abilities of the entire staff of the Drawing Office and, shortly after, a rather fuller approach to all the officer grades, civilians and Service officers. These appraisals covered both the technical and managerial aspects of the work and Beeching was always among those heading the list.

At the end of the war, Smith returned to ICI as Technical Director and was replaced as CEAD by Cdr Steuart Mitchell RN (who had been Head of the Gun Design Section) with Beeching as his deputy. Beeching continued his analytical work over a wider field, including AA guns and small arms, with striking results, some of which are only now, in the 1980s, being adopted; for example, the reduction by some 30% in calibre of standard small arms.

Beeching's promotion, at the age of 33, to the post of Deputy Chief Engineer with a rank equivalent to that of a Brigadier was the remarkable appointment of an emerging and very remarkable man. The Armament Design Establishment was staffed by professional engineers but it must be remembered that Beeching was a physicist, not an engineer, and his impact at senior level on these very experienced and rather hard-boiled practical engineers was fascinating.

Beeching refused absolutely to accept a Service demand for any weapon design that sprang from tradition. His physicist's mind fearlessly questioned and probed the fundamentals and paid little attention to custom and tradition. At first his appointment was rather ridiculed, but the ridicule changed first to sheer awe, then to fascination and finally to great enthusiasm for the approach to engineering problems of a physicist with a very great intellect. These, in fact, are largely the words of Sir Steuart Mitchell, his chief, who could understand his brilliance as a thinker, a planner and a man who delighted in solving the near impossible.

Mitchell and Beeching were to achieve a great rapport, to be renewed years later when Beeching asked his former chief, recently retired, to join him at Marylebone to reorganise the railway workshops. The two men had one perennial argument which caused a great deal of amusement to others then and in later years. Beeching was completely sold on Einstein's distortion of time and the Theory of Relativity. Mitchell, small, wiry and tough, had been a midshipman in the Grand Fleet in 1918, ultimately becoming a gunnery expert and Inspector of Naval Ordnance, and was an intensely practical man. For this particular purpose, he knew little of Einstein and cared less, so that Beeching's arguments were countered by a derision and dogmatism that effectively undermined the normal bland calmness, discussion and dissection to produce heated, fierce and involved argument that got the good Doctor absolutely nowhere at all! After years of fruitless endeavour, he was forced to admit that there might just be some small element of doubt.

In 1948, Beeching joined ICI as Personal Technical Assistant to his old chief, now Sir Ewart Smith and who was Technical Director on the Main Board. Beeching was in this post for about 18 months and during this time was mainly concerned with analysing the size and type of orders in relation to production lines for products as diverse as paints, leathercloth and zip fasteners, in conjunction with the Divisional staff involved. These analyses led to a significant reduction in production costs. In addition, he helped to improve the system of rail transport of raw or finished materials in bulk. During this period Beeching was moved about to jobs of increasing importance, mostly of an analytical kind, but he always preferred to work on his own, and opted not to appoint staff to be trained in his methods. After this introduction to the company's activities and organisation, he was transferred to the Fibre Division for Terylene production and in 1953 was sent to Canada to take overall responsibility for the construction and operation of a Terylene plant in Ontario.

He was now 40, and his team of engineers and managers found him quiet but determined and utterly brilliant. One of this team was the Resident Engineer, Leslie Norfolk, who remained a friend for the rest of Beeching's life and found him absolutely straight, absolutely honest and very amusing, though at times pretty sardonic, gently smiling in matters of importance and capable of being relentless in an extremely firm but civil manner. In close business association he did not always inspire affection of a personal nature. Nevertheless, however developed the mutual understanding and warmth might be, if the subordinate let him down, he was for the high jump. Beeching had become a great delegator: he would say precisely what he required but did not tell people how to do it. But if the man to whom he had delegated a job did not measure up, he would want to know why and, if the reasons were entirely within the control of the individual, Beeching would take the hard decision without hesitation. And if he made a mistake - and this was rare - he would never duck from under, always taking the full responsibility.

In Canada he would chair meetings of his team who, after the manner of engineers and managers, would have their say, all of them forcefully, all of them convinced they were right, all basically in disagreement. Beeching would sit there, smoking a pipe, silent, unmoving, listening, maybe twinkling gently and would then, at the appropriate moment, call a halt. 'Right, gentlemen, we are going to do it this way...'. And that was that, no further argument. But his view was never a consensus, rather a product of his mind which rarely coincided with any of the views expressed. The trouble was that he was almost always right!

Leslie Norfolk would go to him with a serious difficulty and Beeching would listen with care. He would then reply with a smile: 'You've certainly got problems, Leslie, good day!' or maybe, 'Right, let's allow events to unfold'. Instant management was not his forte, and he rarely wanted an immediate solution to a problem. He knew that his staff were competent people, each responsible in his own field, and if there was no obvious route forward he would take the decision as he saw it. It was this and other great qualities that inspired loyalty and affection and his basic strength was that, given suitable technical backing and provided he had the facts, he was prepared to take a risk, however unorthodox and controversial.

On his return to England in 1955, he became Chairman of the Metals Division on Sir Ewart Smith's recommendation. He was by no means universally welcomed, but those who worked with him quickly recognised a talent that was particularly needed in what had become a rather traditional Division and who came to regard his performance as Chairman as a great stimulus. And so, within two years, in 1957 he was made Technical Director on the main ICI Board and to relieve Sir Ewart Smith who had also been a deputy Chairman since 1954. His analytical powers had become more formidable than ever and, in a lifetime of experience, Sir Ewart had never found anybody to touch him in this respect. But he was not necessarily the supreme manager for he had not yet been truly exposed to the industrial rough and tumble; nor had he, in his most senior positions in ICI, discovered and brought on many young men. His predecessor as Technical Director was outstanding in this capacity, so that comparison was not easy. It can fairly be said, therefore, that the development and management of people. As individuals, was not his strongest point, but I have already stressed the quality of his leadership which rested on objective analysis and scientific method.

Yet again, in 1960, fate was to intervene. Sir Ewart Smith, who had retired in 1959, was asked by Ernest Marples to serve on the Stedeford group to consider the parlous loss-making condition of the British Transport Commission. Sir Ewart declined, being fully occupied with other matters but, understanding Beeching so very well, strongly recommended him with his great ability to analyse problems of this kind.

Beeching impressed Stedeford and all those closely involved with his analytical examination of witnesses, time and again asking the crucial questions and gaining a mastery of the subject in an extraordinarily short time. But whereas on the Royal Commission on Quarter Sessions and Assizes he was Chairman and held a commanding position, in the Stedeford group he had to use his great powers of persuasion to get the group to conclude a report based on his thinking. At the same time, Ernest Marples, faced with a desperate situation and being a man of action, saw at once that Beeching was a potential chairman big enough to solve the problems of the railway and to prescribe the remedy.

The Marples-Beeching axis - 1960-63

Extracted from:

The Great Railway Conspiracy
the fall and rise of Britain's railways since the 1950's
by David Henshaw
pub. Leading Edge 1991
ISBN 0-948135-28-X (hbk.) 0-948135-30-1 (pbk.)

Chapter 5. The Marples-Beeching axis - 1960-63

'It is a difficulty which we all face, including the Commission, of trying to trace exactly where the money is being lost... the Commission itself admits that it cannot say with any precision where the money has been lost. All we know for a fact is that large sums of money are being lost... talk as some do of the plan we have for the railways as being one for closures, and for closures alone, is claptrap and drivel. It has a positive and constructive side to it and that is what I want to emphasise.'      John Hay, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport

Imposing draconian cuts on a large nationalised industry can lead to the sort of nightmare of which politicians live in constant fear. As Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples' first move was to tighten control over the BTC management and rein in the modernisation programme. Early in 1960, the Ministry of Transport informed the Transport Commission that any investment project involving expenditure of more than £250,000 would have to be cleared with the Ministry, the ultimate decision resting with Mr Marples.

The effect of the new controls was virtually to wind up the modernisation process, for a scheme instigated at Area Board level now had to be cleared by the Commission's Works and Equipment Committee, the Commission itself, the Ministry and, finally, the Minister of Transport. The new system performed exactly as had been intended: it was quite unworkable. The Euston to Liverpool and Manchester electrification scheme was already well advanced, and it was allowed to continue, although financial control remained tight, and the completion date was set back several years. On the branches and secondary lines, investment ceased almost immediately, and the authorities began to prepare the ground for extensive closures.

Many voices would have to be silenced to bring about a bloodless road transport revolution: politicians, the rail lobby, the railway management, the unions. . . and the public at large. The Government replied with a systematic and well organised campaign.


In Government circles, the railways were considered to be far from essential; a next-to-worthless Victorian encumbrance in the age of road transport. What was the point of paying for railway modernisation when roads were already under construction to carry ex-railway traffic? [The author appears to have missed the fact that the government was acutely aware of how essential the nation's railway network was since the crippling strikes of the 1950s had brought industry to a standstill and the government to their knees - ed.]

There was a genuine and rather naive belief that lorries would handle the nation's freight, the private car would look after personal transport, and road buses would more than suffice for those who could not afford (or chose not to own) a car. If the railways were to remain (and it was politically expedient that they should, in some form) the network would be cut to a size where profitability could be assured.

There had been an ongoing debate for many years as to whether certain railway maintenance and investment costs should be borne by the State. After all, the Government was pouring large sums into the construction of a motorway and trunk road network, why should it not pay to develop the railways as well? The railways were just as much a state network as were the roads: why should they be expected to operate profitably? The official reply was that the road system was effectively self-financing, receiving income from vehicle road fund licences and car and fuel taxes. But it was a contentious issue, for it was impossible even to prove whether the income covered the true cost of building and maintaining the road network, let alone other consequential costs.

According to the road lobby, the road "income" exceeded direct expenditure on construction and maintenance by a healthy margin. What it omitted to observe, however, was that income fell well short of covering the real cost, including pollution, accident damage, policing, hospitalisation and congestion. The National Council for Inland Transport, a generally pro-rail pressure group, later attempted to estimate the real cost of the road network and came to the conclusion that the annual roads income of £610 million covered no more than half the true expenditure of about £1,486 million. The shortfall of more than £800 million exceeded the railway deficit man)~ times over, but such arguments were lost on a Government that openly favoured the road lobby.

Had the Government paused for a moment in 1960, weighed up the relative worth of various forms of transport, and reached the conclusion that individual roads should be placed under the same financial constraints as individual railways, the vast majority of minor roads would have been deemed uneconomic. The density of road traffic was spread just as unevenly as rail traffic, for half the vehicles were travelling on five per cent of the road network, leaving much of the system "uneconomic" in straight financial terms. The fact remained, though, that the railways were deemed a secondary, duplicate means of transport and, to Mr Marples, a Minister with a substantial interest in road construction, the answer was obvious.

Public opinion

The first, and probably the most difficult, task was to win the public relations battle, for an attempt to close a large proportion of the railway network was a policy that would cost the Government dear if it was handled badly. The message would be a simple one: that sacrifices would be needed by a few in the interests of the nation as a whole.

It might still have been an uphill struggle had the Government not brought out its big guns from the very beginning. It was decided that the Prime Minister himself would launch the campaign and on March 10, 1960, introducing a debate on the Guillebaud Committee report on railwaymen's wages, Harold Macmillan delivered a suitable speech:

'The carriage of minerals, including coal, an important traffic for the railways, has gone down. At the same time, there has been an increasing use of road transport in all its forms...

First, the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular, the railway system must be remodelled to meet current needs, and the modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape...

Secondly, the public must accept the need for changes in the size and pattern of the industry. This will involve certain sacrifices of convenience, for example, in the reduction of uneconomic services.. .

The public has to accept that it cannot ask the industry to take on some of the old functions such as fell upon a common carrier, and some of the old restrictions which were quite reasonable when the railway was a monopoly, of which there are signs still, and it must also accept the inconvenience of certain lines being closed and other means of transport being made available.'

The public had been told "to accept" it. There was an authority behind the voice of the Prime Minister that made the thing seem inevitable and, with the introduction of a few carefully worded slogans for the press, the campaign was well under way. One particular slogan gave the impression (without actually promising anything) that the Government was about to replace the outmoded railway network with a new improved version: "The railways are supposed to meet 20th century demands with 19th century equipment."

John Hay, Mr Marples' Parliamentary Secretary, generally put emphasis on the age and inadequacy of the railways, with remarks such as that "the existing system was laid down for horse-and-cart delivery and collection". Such remarks were deliberately intended to clear the way for a programme of railway closures.

Other claims were more defensive, such as Mr Marples' own Parliamentary reply that "traffic is going onto the roads because the people wish it to go onto the roads; I am not forcing it!".

Another slogan that caught the attention of the press was an implication that closures would increase road congestion by no more than one per cent, equivalent to two months' normal traffic growth. This claim was quite false, being based upon a most dubious accounting procedure, but it was widely quoted.

The Government's big push centred on the outmoded nature of the railway network and the mounting losses. There were plenty of figures to play with, and the Government made good use of them: the Transport Commission was £353 million in the red by 1960; the Government had loaned £600 million; the overall railway deficit for 1961 would top £150 million, £160 million in 1962, and so on. Most spectacular of all were the near £2,000 million overall capital liabilities of the BTC. As £1,400 million of this was in the form of British Transport Stock, it was quite unreasonable to imply that such a figure represented a railway debt. To put the figures into perspective, the actual working deficit was running at around £60 million a year, against a gross national expenditure of around £7 billion, but these figures were given little emphasis.

The Government made clear its view that the losses were horrendous, and that they could only-be reduced by eradicating the lines that did not pay. There was no direct reference to the extent of the proposed cuts, however, and the newspapers and the public produced answers of their own. Typical was the view of Professor Gilbert Walker, of Birmingham University, writing in Westminster Bank Review: "Railway route mileage to be closed cannot be less than 60 per cent. The proposition may be as high as 80 per cent." Even The Times fell victim to the misinformation campaign, agreeing that "half of total track mileage and a very much larger proportion in Scotland, Wales, South-West England and East Anglia" would close. When the authorities released the actual proposals a few years later in the Beeching report, their conclusions looked mild and well reasoned in comparison with these inflated expectations.

The Government naturally encouraged the view that railway closures were only of local importance and usually of a "rural" nature. This had been largely true during the 1950s, as the Transport Commission lopped off a few minor branch lines, but the plans of the Marples regime were on an altogether different scale. There was suddenly a very real threat to the entire railway infrastructure, although the official line continued to be that of minor rural hardship; of the necessity to "sacrifice" the convenience of a few unfortunate individuals who might in future need to take the bus.

Government policy undoubtedly paid off. The public, the media and even the specialist press began to accept the view that the Transport Commission was making overwhelming losses, and that the losses were largely caused by the rural railways. The only conceivable answer would be to cut the network.

The Road Haulage Association was only too glad to assist in the campaign and, in April 1960, its journal, The World's Carriers, went for the railway jugular:

It is understood that the Government have already settled the principles of reorganisation, and it will be for the Board to work out their detailed application...

We should build more roads, and we should have fewer railways. This would merely be following the lesson of history which shows a continued and continuing expansion of road transport and a corresponding contraction in the volume of business handled by the railways...

A streamlined railway system could surely be had for half the money that is now being made available... We must exchange the "permanent way" of life for the ''motorway'' of life... road transport is the future, the railways are the past.

There was a lunatic fringe that took the whole thing even further. According to Colonel John Pye, Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen:

...a look should be taken at the widths of pavements and, where possible, steps be taken to cut them down to widen the road space... there should be more control of pedestrians.

Strangely, no-one objected, for in the early 1960s the motor car could do no wrong. Many of the claims of the Railway Conversion League - a dubious amalgam of thinly disguised road interests which campaigned for railways to be converted into roads - were equally ludicrous. The railways certainly had few friends at the time, while the road lobby was becoming ever more powerful. And that, really, was the problem. The railways had already lost the public relations battle.

General Sir Brian Robertson, the BTC Chairman, desperately mustered his troops in a last-ditch manoeuvre to turn the tide: "Our aim must be to counterattack and not merely defend!" But it was too late -the old soldier and his gallant staff were buried beneath a welter of invective from the heavy artillery of the road lobby, the Ministry of Transport, and the Government.

In a few short years, the road interests had become sufficiently powerful to influence political events, making it virtually impossible for the Government, or any future government, to hold out against them. From this viewpoint, the question of whether there was, or was not, a conspiracy to crush the railways... and who might, or might not, have been involved, becomes irrelevant. The road transport machine, once it had gathered momentum, was to destroy every obstacle in its path. Whether it began to move. on its own accord - or was pushed - was no longer important.

Some people had once believed they could vote for Labour yet still keep Churchill as Prime Minister; many now believed that they could have motorways without losing the branch railway lines. The Government did nothing to dispel the illusion.


Parliament posed a few problems for the Government. Opposition members had a nasty tendency to ask awkward questions and rake up unpleasant facts, and if the Government was to lose the support of its own back benches, the Marples plan would be doomed to failure. It was essential to push the negative aspects of the British Transport Commission for all they were worth - the losses, the mismanagement, and the accelerating cost of modernisation - while holding back on the positive aspects, such as the success of the diesel multiple unit programme. Unfortunately, the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries looked set to produce a fair and well-balanced report on the railways. Something stronger would be needed.

The Minister of Transport invited a select team of industrialists to investigate the "railway problem" and to find a solution. The trouble-shooting committee would be led by Sir Ivan Stedeford, Managing Director of Tube Investments, with Frank Kearton (later Lord Kearton), Joint Managing Director of Courtaulds, Henry Benson (later Lord Benson) of Cooper Brothers, a firm of Chartered Accountants... and Dr Richard Beeching (later Lord Beeching), Technical Director of ICI. Inevitably, the committee also included two top civil servants representing the Treasury and the Ministry of Transport.

But why did the Government actually appoint the Stedeford Committee? As early as 1956 the Transport Commission had made it clear that modernisation would take at least ten years to bear fruit. Meanwhile, decentralisation and more efficient working practices were beginning to show a return. Indeed, the Commission had already begun slimming its organisation down to size, predicting a rather alarming 1,000 station closures by 1963, together with a ten per cent cut in route mileage. In February 1959, the Commission had actually closed a trunk route - the old Midland & Great Northern Joint line that meandered for 170 miles across rural Lincolnshire and Norfolk and was reportedly losing £640,000 a year in the process. Perhaps it was a measure of the seriousness of the financial position that the line was closed in record time, with less than ten weeks passing between the announcement and the final implementation, which was unopposed by the Railway Development Association. If the Government was unhappy about the quality of management at the BTC it could have said so - and it had unlimited powers to do something about it.

The Stedeford Committee was set up for the sole purpose of facilitating railway closures. According to the Select Committee for the Nationalised Industries, which had already spent a great deal of time and effort investigating the railways, "a non-parliamentary planning board was later set up to cover much the same ground for the Government's own purposes" [author's emphasis].

There seems little doubt that the Stedeford Committee (originally a planning board, but later an advisory group) was set up to provide a smoke screen. The Government intended to cut the railways to size, but such a radical move would have been politically unacceptable without the backing and "evidence" of an expert committee.

Mr Marples would ensure that the committee reached suitable findings by effectively doctoring its terms of reference. The exact wording of the Stedeford Committee terms of reference were a subject of considerable Parliamentary interest. Mr Marples claimed they were both flexible and wide, although he went on to add that the Government had "laid down the broad plan", which implied that the committee would be concerned with no more than detail.

On April 6, 1960, in the face of repeated questions in the House of Commons, Mr Marples revealed what he claimed were the Stedeford Committee's terms of reference:

To examine the structure, finance and working of the organisations at present controlled by the Commission and to advise the Minister of Transport and the British Transport Commission, as a matter of urgency, how effect can best be given to the Government's intentions as indicated in the Prime Minister's statement.

As the Prime Minister had clearly indicated that many railway services would close, we must assume that the Stedeford Committee received a similar brief - to advise the Government on how best to close railway lines.

It was to be no ordinary Parliamentary Committee, however, for the Government needed a group that would produce an exclusive report for the Minister - which echoed the Minister's own views. Superficially, the Stedeford Committee would be an independent body reaching an independent conclusion, but in reality its task appears to have been simply to rubber stamp various conclusions that the Government had already reached. Perhaps understandably, the resulting report was not made public.

No member of the Stedeford Committee had railway experience, there was no BTC presence, no input from the unions, and no consultation as such, although the Committee hoped to take note of the views of various parties before producing its report - if it had time.

In the event, there was not sufficient time to take submissions from those opposed to railway closures - the rail lobby, the railway trade unions, user groups and other interested parties. But, strangely enough, the Stedeford Committee did find the time to engage in consultations with the Central Transport Consultative Committee, the Road Haulage Association, and the Railway Conversion League.

The RHA saw a Darwinistic inevitability in the eclipse of the railways:

' permanent subsidy should be granted to the railways before it is established exactly what services, passengers and freight are conducted at a loss... the railways' subsidisation would retard the natural evolutionary process in transport by which road services are replacing rail...

The railway system has a fairly long history of failure, and the decline in the importance of rail can no longer be concealed.'

According to the available evidence, the Stedeford Committee had little or no contact with groups that might have helped to balance such views, besides accepting representations from the Locomotive and Allied Manufacturers' Association, and the Wagon Repairing Association - and their main concern was presumably with the number of jobs that would be lost on the manufacturing side if, or when, the cutbacks began.

Politically, the whole affair was skilfully orchestrated. Labour objections were silenced when the Minister revealed that the socialists had set a precedent for secret committees some years previously. Apparently, the Labour Minister for Aviation and Supply had received a secret report on efficiency in Royal Ordnance Factories. It was hardly comparable, for the ins and outs of the Royal Ordnance Factories were hardly suitable for widespread debate, whereas the future of public transport most certainly was. Labour MP Francis Noel-Baker was in no doubt as to the purpose of the Stedeford Committee:

'The conclusion that many of us have reached about the Stedeford Group is that... the Civil Servants in the Minister's Department and the Treasury got cold feet.

When they saw the railway deficits mounting and they saw the Guillebaud Report [on railway wages], they lost their heads. Then they realised that things were in a mess and that if there was a row they might not get proper backing from the Minister of Transport, because he had always wanted to sell out on the railways anyway, and that therefore - to shift responsibility and to protect the Government and protect Ministers, who had not the courage of their own convictions - the Stedeford Group would provide an amenable and respectable-looking front and, incidentally, make it easier to ignore a good deal of the serious and factual reporting of the Select Committee.'

But the truth was even more sinister, and many Labour MPs knew why. Back in May 1960, as the Govemment/Road Haulage public relations campaign reached its zenith, John Hay had spoken at the Road Haulage Association Annual Dinner. Relaxing in the company of friends, the Minister's Parliamentary Secretary made a speech which included the following tantalising items:

'I know that our idea of getting advice on the detailed application of Government policy towards the railways from a group of businessmen... is a sensible approach which will commend itself to those present at this dinner.

We were very glad to know what you thought... and the views of your Association have been brought to the attention of Sir Ivan Stedeford's group. the search for transport efficiency, the Government is prepared in a most practical way to do what it can to help. I refer of course to the road programme. It would be too optimistic to expect you to say that what we are doing is enough. No Ministry of Transport spokesman will ever expect that from his friends in the industry.

You and we worked together against the threat of nationalisation of road haulage. We won that battle. Now we must show that we were right to win it...

We in the Government will back you all we can... we shall try to make sure that the roads we have and the new roads we build give the best possible dividend... sometimes in this we shall be forced to require some sacrifices by individuals or by groups in the interests of the many. Road haulage will enjoy many of the benefits...'

It was an extraordinary lapse. The Parliamentary Secretary had implied at least two significant things in his speech:

* It could be safely assumed that the (supposedly independent) Stedeford Committee would prepare a report in favour of the road lobby;

* That the road lobby, the Conservative Party (then in opposition), and perhaps even the Ministry of Transport, had ''worked together" against nationalisation.

And what did Mr Hay mean when he said the assembled company would "require some sacrifices"? It might have been an echo of Harold Macmillan's March 10 statement, when the Prime Minister had first announced that sacrifices would be needed. But from the viewpoint of a private Road Haulage Association dinner, the phrase takes on a different and more specific meaning. Clearly, the railways, and railway travellers, were to be sacrificed in the interests of road transport.

That the Parliamentary representative of the Ministry of Transport should stand at a private function and openly toast the past and future patronage of a lobby group, leaves one wondering exactly where power lay at the time. Were Harold Macmillan and Ernest Marples really in control of events, or were they simply caught up in a private battle between the Ministry of Transport and the road haulage industry on the one hand, and the embattled British Transport Commission on the other?

Mr Macmillan had been a director of the Great Western Railway before the war and was known to have retained a degree of sympathy for the industry. Mr Marples, on the other hand, had a personal stake in road transport that amounted to more than three quarters of the shares in Marples Ridgeway, his own road construction firm. Although the Minister claimed to have "divested" himself of the shares by this time, he had in reality put the shareholding in the hands of Mrs Marples. If there was a deliberate plan to inflict injury on the railways, it would be all too natural to assume that he was a willing accomplice.

Politicians are, of course, little more than front men where power is concerned. It was the anonymous civil service mandarins at the Ministry of Transport who wielded the real influence and they had a great deal to gain by supporting road interests to the detriment of the railways.

It was really just a matter of power, for the Ministry had been closely allied to the road lobby for so long as to become virtually a "Ministry of Roads". Road affairs necessitated a vast administrative machine, commanding a substantial budget, while the railways were virtually self-governing. By 1966 no fewer than 80 per cent of the Ministry staff were concerned with road matters while just one per cent handled the affairs of the railways. And the majority of this one per cent dealt solely with occasional accident inquiries. In the upper echelons of the service, 11 under-secretaries dealt with road matters and only one with the railways. Obviously, in order to gain promotion, it was essential to adopt a pro-road stance. If the railways had managed to leach back traffic from the roads to any marked degree, the Ministry of Transport would surely have been ravaged.

The Select Committee for the Nationalised Industries had cross-examined several key civil servants, including Sir James Dunnett, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Transport, in an attempt to unravel Ministry policy, and it had received some masterful civil service replies:

Mr Albu (MP for Edmonton): I want now to know whose business it is within this estimate of the country's general economy to make estimates of the return on capital invested in the railways... to put it crudely, whether the return on building more roads or modernising certain lines of the railway is likely to show the better return?

Sir James Dunnett: That is a very difficult thing. The problem does not, in my experience, arise in quite that form.

(Mr Albu: You are saying that it is not the business of the Treasury or the Ministry to have a transport plan? I do not mean forcing everybody to travel a certain way, but a structure based on the consideration of giving the best economic returns?

Sir James Dunnett: What kind of thing would you have in mind?...

The Stedeford Committee's main source of information had been the Ministry of Transport, and the committee had been carefully briefed by Ministry officials on the inaccuracy of the Transport Commission's financial figures, and the general inadequacy of the railways as a means of transportation. Stedeford was already firmly opposed to the modernisation plans, and particularly to the electrification of the Euston to Crewe line (Crewe to Manchester being largely complete by this time). According to internal Ministry records on a top-level meeting between the Minister and Sir Ivan Stedeford on May 10, 1960:

'The Stedeford Advisory Group has sought, but completely failed to find any evidence, that the BTC's modernisation proposals had any adequate commercial basis. His view was that there was no prospect of railway finances moving from the "red" to the "black" during the first half of the 1960s, as claimed in the modernisation plans; it would be the late 1970s, if ever, before the railway system paid.'

All the same, Stedeford needed to be sure that the Government had planned an adequate road network to replace the railways, because the Committee might otherwise be forced to recommend that certain traffic be encouraged back to rail transportation. Naturally, Mr Marples was only too willing to reassure him on the question of road construction:

[The Minister] pointed out that [road] congestion occurred primarily in towns, and that in the future there would be still less congestion on the routes between towns. There were in any case objections to directing traffic to rail because of the economic burden this would place on industry...

In the light of the future road schemes Sir Ivan agreed with the Minister's view and said that, in the circumstances, it was all the more important to prevent new railway modernisation projects being started.

Excerpts from Ministry of Transport notes relating to the meeting between Sir Ivan Stedeford and Ernest Marples, May 1960.

By October 1960, after six months of intensive work (and three months after publication of the Select Committee Report), the Stedeford "Special Advisory Group" had completed its report. Mr Marples prevaricated over whether the report would be published, finally announcing that it would not, to cries of anger from the Labour benches:

'We have been told that we may not debate the report, to which, apparently, they attach real significance and on which they propose to base their legislation... [The railwaymen] take a very gloomy view of the present Minister of Transport. They see in him a Minister who is entirely disaffected, who has apparently no understanding of the railways, who hates them and the BTC and wants to write the whole system off, and whose whole attitude to the railways is one of utter frivolity and irresponsibility...

If one looks at the relation between the Conservative Party and the road haulage interests, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that they have had a dominating influence on the policy of the Government and their attitude to the railways.'   Excerpt from a speech by Francis Noel-Baker, Labour MP for Swindon

At least Marples had admitted there was a report. John Hay was later to deny that the committee had produced a report at all, merely that "advice has been tendered to my Right Honourable Friend and a number of recommendations have been made". It can now be revealed that this was more or less correct, for the Stedeford Committee's deliberations really were released as a series of recommendations - they were never actually compiled into a report. This was a most useful ruse which was used to good effect in later years when officials would declare, hand on heart, that the Stedeford Report did not exist. In a reply to a question from Robert Adley, the pro-rail Tory MP, in the late 1980s, Premier Margaret Thatcher was to state that the report could not be found, which was hardly surprising.

The findings of the Stedeford Committee remained such a well kept secret that even Barbara Castle was unable to see them on becoming Minister of Transport in 1966.

Mr Marples made only one, rather ominous, remark on the Stedeford Committee's deliberations. It had, he said, merely answered the questions that the Parliamentary Select Committee had asked.

According to Henry Benson, the only member of the Stedeford Committee to make any sort of public pronouncement on the report's contents, the committee had failed to reach unanimous agreement. Beeching and Benson had recommended the course of action that the Government favoured, and Stedeford and Kearton had taken a different, and unspecified, line. In the event, there was a damaging and divisive split, and Beeching was left to write the majority of the report.

Whatever the political situation within the Stedeford Committee, its final recommendations were pretty innocuous, according to the available records, and broadly in line with the conclusions of the Parliamentary Select Committee. Initially it had adopted a hard line with regard to modernisation, recommending in June 1960 that all schemes that had yet to pass "the point of no return", including the major part of the Euston to Liverpool and Manchester project, should be set aside for review. But, interestingly enough, the committee did not feel qualified to conduct the review itself, suggesting that another body be set up with very much broader terms of reference:

' consider the size and pattern of the railway system required to meet current and foreseeable needs, in the light of developments and trends in other forms of transport, changing industrial needs and social habits, and other relevant considerations.'

Presumably some members of the committee were unwilling simply to endorse the option of wide-scale closure being pressed upon them by the Ministry of Transport. All the other Stedeford Committee recommendations (released to Marples and the BTC in September 1960) were perfectly fair, and a number would even have pleased the rail lobby - had it only been aware of them. It suggested that the Commission's finances be restructured along more favourable lines; that the archaic fares and charges legislation be repealed; and that there should be closer scrutiny of railway capital expenditure, and a proper system of regional accountancy to clarify the financial picture.

The Commission had an excessive number of staff, said the Stedeford Committee, and fares and charges should be increased on marginal services:

'Insofar as such services cannot be eliminated (and that will very often be the case) we think that higher fares can and should make a substantial contribution to eliminating the current loss.'

But on the subject of railway closures, the committee had little to say, besides recommending that "a dated programme of further proposals be prepared".

As its deliberations came to a close, the committee even began to waver on the subject of the Euston to Liverpool and Manchester electrification. It agreed that the lines should be modernised and, although far from convinced that there would be an adequate return on capital, it noted that cancellation would waste £20 million that had already been spent, destroy railway morale, and damage Britain's standing abroad.

In the final analysis, Mr Marples' committee of industrial experts "could not give firm guidance" even on this issue, that had seemed so clear-cut to the Ministry of Transport. Its terms of reference had been doctored, and it knew it. Clearly some committee members had refused to play along.

The British Transport Commission

The effects of the Stedeford Committee's deliberations were felt almost immediately: Mr Marples further tightened his control over the railway system, subjecting the modernisation plans to close scrutiny and cutting investment. Many schemes were abandoned altogether, particularly those intended for the secondary and branch lines.

The committee had, of course, been unsure whether to endorse the Ministry's criticism of the beleaguered London-Manchester and Liverpool electrification scheme, once the jewel in the crown of the BTC modernisation projects. But Mr Marples took the opportunity to halt further construction and cancel all future contracts. Although the scheme was eventually allowed to proceed, his actions demonstrated the real value of the Stedeford Committee, for the "Marples Gestapo" (as it became known among disaffected railwaymen) had succeeded in emasculating the Transport Commission overnight.

The next move in the Marples plan was to complete the process. In December 1960 it was announced that the BTC was to be abolished, and its constituent parts placed under the control of separate boards of management. General Sir Brian Robertson, Chairman of the Commission, had once warned the Government to stand aside and allow the modernisation schemes to run their course. Marples had neither forgotten nor forgiven Sir Brian for his outspoken remarks, and on March 15, 1961, he ousted the BTC chairman in favour of Dr Beeching, a member of the Stedeford Committee, who became Chairman on June 1, 1961. His task would be to simplify the organisation, oversee its final days, and implement the Stedeford Committee proposals.

Sir Brian was elevated to the House of Lords for his trouble, but he was greatly saddened by the collapse of the Commission. In May 1961 he undertook a farewell tour of the network and lingered awhile among the unfinished catenaries of the Euston-Liverpool/Manchester electrification scheme. To Sir Brian, who had defended the scheme to the bitter end, it must have been a sad and poignant moment. What really stung, leaving aside the political implications behind the move, was that Beeching was to receive a salary of £24,000 against the £10,000 paid to his predecessor.

Dr Beeching came to be vilified in the popular press as a cold and analytical accountant - an industrialist with a brief to destroy the railways. But, in reality, he was a scientist whose considerable intellect had aided his effortless rise through the ranks of ICI, Britain's most prestigious industrial concern.

Beeching was convinced that a detailed analysis of the railways' position would enable the losses of the Transport Commission to be turned into profits. Unfortunately, it would also be necessary to overturn the Commission's rather vague social obligations - which was exactly what the Government had in mind. To the Government, Beeching was the ideal appointee: an intellectual who could be relied upon to subject the railways to a rigorous statistical analysis, while ignoring the wider social aspects of the task.

The new Chairman rapidly appointed other private sector managers into the industry, including Philip Shirley, an Australian accountant from Unilever, and LH Williams, from Shell. The new regime set to work on a wide-ranging review of railway operations, producing a four-stage plan:

1) A series of traffic studies to judge which services were viable.

2) Publication of the results.

3) Publication of Dr Beeching's own report.

4) The Government would be left to "reach its own conclusions".

Cutbacks in investment, and a general feeling that the railways had little future, were already causing a knock-on effect throughout the industry. During a heavy fog on October 25, 1960, two loaded oil barges collided with the Severn Railway Bridge at Sharpness, bringing the centre section down into the river - an event that could hardly be blamed on Marples. Such was the mood within the BTC at this critical time, however, that the bridge (due for upgrading as recently as 1959) was never repaired. It was destined to stand, useless and derelict until 1970, when the remains were demolished. Many other railway assets, some that had never been commissioned into service, were to share a similar fate.

An item of news that escaped widespread discussion in the general furore concerned the accident figures for 1961: 270,000 died or suffered serious injury on the roads while, on the railways, there was just a handful of casualties.

The objectors

There had been a number of obstacles in the path of earlier railway closures. One, although little more than a minor inconvenience, was occasionally embarrassing: the problem of protesters rooting up legislation from the Victorian era when, for one reason or another, the railway company of the day had been obliged to provide a railway service in perpetuity.

The other problem involved the Transport Users Consultative Committee (TUCC) inquiry procedure. True, only a handful of inquiries had actually found in favour of the protesters, but growing public resentment and increasingly sophisticated opposition might change the situation. If nothing else, concerted opposition might lead to future inquiries being drawn out for a considerable period, whereas the Government wanted the trains taken off, and the track removed, as quickly as possible. And if an inquiry found against closure, the Minister might even be put in the awkward position of having to overrule its findings. Legislation would be needed, and it arrived in the form of the 1962 Transport Act, which received the Royal Assent on August 1st that year.

The BTC was dissolved, and the railways were left in the hands of a British Railways Board, which was charged (amongst other things) with the task of eliminating the railway deficit. Generally speaking, the Board would function rather as the former Railway Executive had done, although the new legislation was framed with the intention of handing considerable extra powers to the Minister of Transport.

In keeping with the Government's intention to return the network to profitability, the railway rates and charges legislation was finally to be jettisoned completely in favour of a free-for-all, allowing the railways to tender for traffic on equal terms with the road hauliers.

The various capital liabilities of the BTC, standing by this time at about £2,000 million (£1 ,400 million as British Transport Stock), would be apportioned to the various boards that were to succeed the Commission, with the majority going to the railways. Of the debts apportioned to the Railways Board, around £400 million (representing half the modernisation capital) would be written off, another £400 million would continue as an interest-bearing loan, and the remaining £705 million (representing pre-modernisation debts) would enter a "suspense account". The Treasury hoped the money would remain "forgotten" only as long as the railways remained in debt, and that it might prove recoverable should the railway system show a profit in the future. It was a convenient skeleton for the Government to bring out of the cupboard and rattle at frequent intervals.

As an opening dowry for a reorganised and thoroughly demoralised Railways Board, the financial arrangements were hardly earth-shattering in their generosity, for the railways remained crippled by annual charges of almost £100 million.

The 1962 Act, like others before and since, covered a wide range of topics, but there were several disturbingly undemocratic aspects to the legislation. Various measures were taken to smooth the railway closure process and, predictably enough, all previous legislation that might conceivably hinder the process was repealed. But it was Section 56 of the Act that caused real consternation in railway circles, for this affected the Transport Users' Consultative Committees.

As we have seen, the Consultative Committees had never been very satisfactory bodies, but the 1962 Act sought to limit their powers still further. Since 1948, the area committees had held inquiries into the railway closure proposals put forward by the Transport Commission. Where a committee had come down in favour of a proposal, the judgment was usually confirmed by the Central Committee and the closure rapidly implemented. The area committees occasionally decided against closure, but they were usually overruled by the central body. In any event, the BTC was entitled to ignore all advice if it so wished, although this never occurred in practice. The system had worked (after a fashion) because the Transport Commission had put forward comparatively few closure proposals, and many of them had been quite justifiable, but the Government now intended to close a large proportion of the network. The new legislation promised a tightening of control over the entire procedure.

The committees were no longer to concern themselves with the wider social and strategic implications of closures (not that they ever had, of course), but with the simple question of "hardship" to individuals. The British Railways Board would put forward alternative road transport proposals and it was up to the objectors to prove that the new arrangements would be inadequate. The good news was that there was now a proper legal framework governing the advertising and implementation of the closure procedure, but the actual workings of the inquiries were considerably impaired.

There was to be no debate - something which was bound to be a little hard to enforce in a supposedly free country - and the committees had no power to make recommendations. They would report in future, not to the Central Transport Consultative Committee, but directly to the Minister of Transport. Where the previous arrangements had left something to be desired, the new consultation procedure was a sham and a travesty of democracy, for the TUCCs were empowered to submit a report, but they were instructed to ignore most of the available evidence.

The TUCCs were no longer to concern themselves with objections of a political or strategic nature, or those of holidaymakers (even though their patronage might constitute the major part of a line's traffic). Even the wider manifestations of hardship, such as the loss of property values to a town or community, would be unwelcome. The aim was simply to take submissions from those users of the line who lived or worked in its immediate vicinity.

The legal departments had worked long and hard to draft legislation to speed up the closure procedure, for the scale of the proposed closures was so vast that they could never have been implemented under the previous legislation. The intention was to keep discussion of financial figures well away from the TUCCs: in future, figures would only be supplied where committees requested them, and they would not be allowed to discuss them in public.

These provisions caused such disquiet that Mr Marples was forced to seek the backing of an outside expert. In August 1963, he invited Sir William Carrington, President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, to comment on whether accounts should be provided to the Consultative Committees.

Sir William's general ruling was that the limited financial details were "appropriate for the purposes of the Consultative Committees", but he brought up many points of detail that are worth considering. It would not, he claimed, be wise to furnish TUCC inquiries with a detailed breakdown of income based upon the receipts of individual stations, because such figures might lead to inaccuracies. He recommended instead, that the estimate of income for a particular line should be based upon an extraordinarily complicated procedure.

During a census period of a week, the number of passengers joining and alighting from trains would be recorded at every station, converted into passenger-miles, and multiplied by the average fare. There was to be an additional safeguard for seasonal lines, where traffic would be measured at various times of year and "appropriately weighted in order to give the most reliable estimate". In the event, seasonal figures were never used to make adjustments of this kind, although they were sometimes provided separately to the TUCCs.

The great advantage to the Railways Board and the Government was that the figures effectively excluded any mention of contributory revenue (or the value of traffic passing from a branch line to the rest of the system) even though, as we have seen, it was of fundamental importance. It might be the case that almost all of the passengers boarding a branch line train would continue their journey on the main line but, with no mention of station receipts or contributory revenue, the TUCC would be unaware of this.

Sir William ruled that contributory revenue could only be a matter of "opinion or judgment". Whether he had been deliberately misled by the Minister, or had taken a unilateral decision to assist the Ministry of Transport in its plans, is not clear, for the contributory revenue of a given line was far from being just "a matter of opinion". Individual stations kept very accurate records of such things, and market research on a line-by-line basis would not have been difficult to arrange. In fact, the Railways Board knew in great detail the contributory revenue of particular lines. Before 1962, the Transport Commission had analysed traffic figures on threatened lines, identifying the "through traffic" component, and estimating how much of it would be lost after closure. Beeching himself was later to state that contributory revenue from through traffic varied between five per cent and 75 per cent of gross income..

The official view was that contributory revenue, although vital to any realistic judgment on the financial health and social importance of a given railway line, was outside the limited brief of the Consultative Committee inquiry procedure. It was not the committee's task to consider whether or not a line was financially viable, as this decision had already been taken. Why else would the Railways Board have chosen to withdraw the service? The task of the committees was simply to evaluate the hardship that might result from closure.

Thus the TUCCs (and anyone else concerned with the inquiries) would have access only to the number of passengers carried in a typical week, and an "estimate" of the annual income based upon those figures. So complicated was the procedure that errors were bound to occur, and protesters were subsequently able to prove, on at least one occasion, that the number of passengers travelling between two stations had actually emerged as a negative figure!

Railway expenditure would be divided into three categories:

* Movement expenses - the cost of actually moving passengers from one point to another, including the cost of train crews, fuel, repairs and vehicle depreciation.

* Terminal expenses - the cost of providing stations, including wages and salaries of staff, repairs, heating, lighting etc.

* Track and signalling - not necessarily the total costs, but the cost of any additional signalling or track maintenance required solely for the service under review.

In addition to the "direct" costs described above, Sir William judged that the TUCCs should be made aware of any additional expenditure which might be required for renewals or maintenance during the five years following the inquiry, in the unlikely event of the line remaining open. This had been standard procedure for some time but, as an accountant, he must have realised that such figures were bound to give a false picture. Most heavy renewals on railway track or fixtures (such as stations, viaducts or tunnels) could be expected to have a working life of several decades. To provide these costs to the TUCCs within a "next five years" category, was to imply that such expenditure might be due every five years. Sir William Carrington's analysis of the figures was, in many ways, most unsatisfactory, but it provided the ammunition that Marples needed to silence his critics.

Fortunately, legislation could do nothing to silence public criticism, and Professor Hondelink, the United Nations railway expert, continued to battle away at a government that refused to heed his advice. The professor repeated his earlier message - that railway losses were mostly a result of top-heavy bureaucracy and poor management. Since nationalisation, the system had contracted, and the number of productive railwaymen had been reduced, yet headquarters staff had risen fourfold by 1962. The eradication of the BTC and cutbacks in the modernisation programme did nothing to stem the tide for, by 1965, there were nearly as many senior managers as there had been total headquarters staff three years before. It was all nonsense, of course: the sort of nonsense that pervaded the nationalised industries in the 1960s and '70s. Many of the clerks and managers, rather than looking for new traffic to improve the prospects for their industry, were involved solely with line closures. A number of them spent their working days massaging traffic figures in order to facilitate closure, and a more negative management post is hard to imagine.

According to Professor Hondelink, the losses on the branch lines were very small, and could be virtually eliminated with the application of a few economies. The Government, on the other hand, had put a great deal of effort into proving that railways would have to close, and proving that the remains of the system would be free to return to profitability when they did close.

There were no easy answers to the professor's arguments. Mr Marples, who was later to describe Professor Hondelink as a major thorn in his side, responded by instructing government and railway servants to avoid entering into discussion with him. Several attempts were made to discredit the Professor, not on academic or professional grounds where no fault could be found, but politically. Marples accused Hondelink of "going over to the Labour camp" through his association with the Labour Peer, Lord Stonham, and Labour MP Philip Noel-Baker, although the Professor had remained studiously neutral all along. Finally he was ignored altogether. Free speech could not be denied though, and in July 1962, Professor Hondelink rounded upon the Marples-Beeching plans in unequivocal style:

'Branch lines, wayside stations, even main lines and larger stations, have been deliberately starved of proper service to prepare them for closure and abandonment... the ever increasing rate of closures has now reached the stage where partial and wholesale closures of certain main lines, including partial or total abandonment of some unremunerative passenger services, are planned...

No serious attempt is made to bring about the elimination of loss by improving operating methods, by meeting customers' needs, not necessarily with new equipment.'

There was, he said, no evidence that closures had saved, or were likely to save, a penny. So complete was the legislation under the 1962 Act, and so incomplete the financial figures supplied under the Carrington formula, that even that most conservative of bodies, the Central Transport Consultative Committee (CTCC), felt moved to sound a note of caution:

...there is an urgent need for the study of overall transport costs, including social costs (such as congestion, accidents and health services) for all forms of transport, and this should be published. The effect of subsidies, open and hidden, may be giving a completely false picture of the costs of various forms of transport...

.. .the negative policy of closing down uneconomic facilities, while contributing a small financial saving, is not the panacea it has sometimes been made out to be. Each closure diverts some business onto the roads.

That, of course, was the whole intention of the plan, but the change of heart from the CTCC had come too late, for its warning was not published until after the arrival of the Beeching Report.

Meanwhile, events began to move with bewildering speed. In the summer of 1962, Dr Beeching completed Stage Two of his plan and published maps indicating traffic density throughout the railway system. There were few surprises.

The unions

Many years later, the National Union of Railwaymen was to agree that its opposition to the Beeching proposals had been both ineffectual and lacking in direction.

That the main railway union mounted no serious opposition either before or after publication of the Beeching Report is difficult to understand, for between nationalisation and the Beeching cataclysm, more than 174,000 jobs had been lost. Branch line closures had proceeded without demur from the unions - perhaps they had accepted those BTC promises at face value: that "pruning" really would promote vigorous growth elsewhere. It was not until political events began to take a serious turn in 1959-60 that the NUR eventually established a Closure of Branch Lines Sub-Committee to deal with the matter, but even then the union took no effective action. Reports from local branch level continued to suggest that there was little point in opposing closures, for it was felt that the proposals were largely justified.

Whether by accident or design, the much more intensive Beeching plans cam~ to affect the less affluent areas of the country first, with Scotland being particularly hard hit. When the railways had been reorganised in 1921, Scotland had not been given a statutory company of its own. The stated reason was that Scotland, weighed down by the sparsely populated Highlands region, was simply unable to support a railway company. As a result, the country was divided up between two comparatively wealthy English concerns, the LNER and the LMSR. Nationalisation was to change all that, creating a Scottish Region and, after the arrival of the Conservatives in 1953, the fundamentally unprofitable Scottish railways bore the brunt of the cutbacks while the wealthy South remained relatively secure.

One of Dr Beeching's first moves on becoming Chairman of the Commission was to examine the loss-making Scottish lines. A traffic survey was quickly conducted and, within a couple of months, the figures were released: of 2,750 daily trains in Scotland, no fewer than 2,000 were apparently running at a loss.

As a direct result, management drew up plans to withdraw 260 services and close seven branch lines outright on November 6, 1961. In the event, union pressure secured a stay of execution, but the Scottish railwaymen were well aware that they had won no more than a temporary reprieve, and delegates of both ASLEF and the NUR decided to lobby Parliament, spreading the word to their brothers in the South along the way. And so it was that about 100 railwaymen made the long journey to London, linking up with others from Lancashire, the North-East, and Wales as they went.

Astoundingly, on reaching the irrespective union headquarters in the capital, they were given a less than enthusiastic welcome. As the skirl of bagpipes could be heard outside NUR headquarters, only two members of the Executive Committee bothered to greet their members, and they were both docked an hour's pay for their trouble! The ASLEF delegation fared even worse: on arriving at their union headquarters, the members found the building locked against them.

Although the delegations were eventually given a warm welcome at Westminster by Hugh Gaitskell and other MPs, the affair was to do untold damage to the prospects of a united union campaign against railway closures. Whether Beeching had deliberately instigated cuts in the provinces first is not clear, but the effect was to split the unions.

In the South, where unemployment stood at less than two per cent and railway closures were expected to have little impact" the membership and officials of the unions showed little concern. In Scotland, Wales, and the less affluent areas of England, the impact was immediate and very serious, but the executive committees in London were unable to decide whether to take action or not. The inevitable result was no action at all and the unions dithered, wasting a rare opportunity to mount a concerted campaign.

By April 1962, details of some of the English railway closures became known and the unions, still prevaricating over how best to react, were caught largely unawares. It was not until June 1962 that the publicity machine swung slowly into action, dispatching circulars to branch offices, publishing leaflets, and organising meetings up and down the country. Even at this late stage, firm union action might have had the desired effect, but the campaign was lacklustre and ineffective, against a well-honed Railways Board publicity machine.

Meanwhile, the railway workshops, which had mostly done rather well out of modernisation, were feeling the pinch. As many as 11,000 redundancies had been envisaged as early as 1959, but three years later it became clear that Beeching intended to go a good deal further. A statement was issued by the management on September 19 detailing the revised plans. Many of the workshops would be closed, others would lose departments, and the whole programme was to be carried through in just three years.

The railway unions now felt they were in receipt of the whole picture, but still they failed to organise any effective opposition. The NUR, with assets of more than £6.5 million, had spent just £7,547 campaigning against the closure plans. The only direct action proved to be a one-day national strike over the workshop closure proposals on October 3, 1962 - the first national stoppage since 1926. It was an ideal opportunity to rally the public to the railways' cause and fight the cuts, the implications of which were still not widely understood. But little was done. Only in South Wales did NUR men spend the day canvassing - the result understandably lacking the impact of a nationwide campaign.

In any event, Beeching swiftly defused the situation by making concessions on redundancy payments, and the half-hearted campaign against the closure policy rapidly degenerated into local discussions over the number of redundancies and their terms.

According to the NUR, the Railway Chairman "leaned over backwards" in his desire to reach a satisfactory compromise. And well he might, for had the unions taken concerted action and gained the sympathy of the general public, the future of the whole closure programme might have been put in doubt. As it was, the redundancy terms were unprecedented in their generosity and the union voice was effectively silenced.

So satisfied were the unions with the result of the negotiations, that in December 1962 the NUR Executive Committee voted unanimously to wind up the campaign:

There can be no doubt whatever that the campaign has been one of the most successful the union has ever undertaken, but we feel that the time has arrived for meetings at Executive Committee level to cease as from December 31,1962.

It was a disastrous decision. Three months later the Beeching Report appeared and the union was, once again, caught quite unawares. All the NUR succeeded in doing was to reopen the debate over workshop closures, which proved a waste of effort for the newspapers were engrossed in the details of the Beeching Report. Had the unions spent the previous three years preparing a measured response to the Railway Board's proposals, and launched them on the media at the right psychological moment, they might have dealt the Beeching regime a devastating blow.

The most poignant side to the affair was that the South Wales NUR branch, which had worked alone to publicise the cutbacks during the strike, had made a unilateral decision to continue the fight. Convinced that a cataclysm was about to wreak havoc on the industry, the little branch ignored the platitudes from headquarters and fought on. In February 1963 Gust before publication of the report) it canvassed other branches and lobbied MPs at Westminster with a measure of success. There was a sting in the tail, though, for when General Secretary Sidney Greene heard of their campaign, he reminded the South Wales men that the Executive Committee decision in December meant they would be unable to charge expenses to branch funds. It was a petty, officious and vindictive move that ultimately led to a debate at the union's AGM, and a vote in favour of continuing the campaign. But this was in July 1963, three months after publication of the report. .. there was little point.

In any event, the union response had already collapsed into farce. The NUR rejected the Beeching Report outright and called for strike action, a move that met with a positive response from ASLEF and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. At a meeting between Mr Marples, the TUC and the rail unions in April 1963, the Minister of Transport offered no concessions, leaving the ball in the NUR court. The Executive met later the same day and voted in favour of a three-day strike in May, but ASLEF was unable to agree, for the strike would have fallen during its Annual Assembly.

Once again, Beeching headed off the strike threat with concessions on redundancy terms. Down-graded staff would no longer be obliged to accept a cut in wages; men between the ages of 60 and 65 would have the option of retirement on almost full pay; and for those who were to be asked to relocate, there would be cheaper lodgings and free travel. The Railways Board had split the unions branch against branch, outmanoeuvred them, and finally bought their patronage for a handful of silver.

On May 9, 1963, the unions agreed to lay aside the strike weapon. The NUR continued a low key campaign, however, and a modest sum was put aside for the production of leaflets in 1963, but according to the official history of the union, the campaign lacked conviction:

The most popular [leaflet], The Mis-shaping of British Railways... Retort [a pun on Beeching's The Reshaping of British Railways - Report], made clear the vast areas of Britain which would be denuded of railways if the report was implemented. But it was a slim leaflet and not a substantial, closely argued publication detailing a positive alternative... the kind of case likely to inform and educate influential opinion in the Labour Party.

Beeching had achieved an overwhelming victory at the expense of just a single day's strike action. But the cost of the generous redundancy package and the relocation agreements was to be a high one in cash terms. As a result, many of the savings forecast under the Beeching plans were never realised, for when closures were implemented, staff were simply transferred elsewhere. The unions had won a few concessions, but Beeching had brought his plans through almost unscathed. The country was about to pay the price.

The management

The railway management had surprisingly little warning of the impending cuts. Morale during the late 1950s had reached an all-time high, and it was not until the virtual cancellation of the modernisation plans, and the arrival of Dr Beeching in 1961, that doubts began to creep in. The real shock was delayed until April 1962 when Beeching chaired the senior managers' conference in York for the first time, and outlined his plans for the industry. As public criticism began to mount, a defensive wall of silence descended around the Railways Board. It was not to be lifted for more than a decade. Few were willing to speak out, and when they did, it was generally in the most guarded of tones:

There are those who feel that these losses need not have been incurred after 1952, at any rate to the extent they have and, if this is right, to judge all the parts of the service now on the basis of the losses being incurred is open to question.

A J Pearson, Assistant General Manager, London Midland Region

Such criticism hardly amounted to a forthright condemnation of the Beeching regime but Pearson, like many others, was bound by loyalty to an industry to which he had devoted his working life. To speak out would only have meant dismissal, controversy, and untold damage to the railways.

According to the Railway Gazette, the Board was, by July 1962, experiencing a "grand resignation" of experienced managers. The result was an influx of outsiders: civil servants, army officers, industrialists and accountants. Pearson stayed to see it through, as did Gerard Fiennes, one of the best administrators in the industry during a period when the quality of management left much to be desired. It has been said that regional managers had kept their most able men in the provinces to avoid losing them to the BTC - whatever the reason, the higher echelons of the organisation were starved of experienced railwaymen, but they were desperately needed to balance the views of Beeching' s army of outsiders.

Gerard Fiennes, who displayed a unique blend of common sense, business guile, and plain honesty, did more to salvage the position of the railways than almost anyone else in the Beeching era. Unfortunately, he was a little too honest with his views, having a perfectly natural tendency to condemn poor management and quixotic business practice. It was later to cost him his job.

British Railways managers, though not necessarily in full agreement with the Beeching philosophy, had enough work on their hands allocating a trickle of investment cash towards the inter-city services, without having to worry about the branches and the secondary lines.

According to Fiennes, General Manager of the Western Region at the time, the crucial challenge facing the railways was to improve the reliability and speed of main line services in order to compete with road traffic. He was probably right, for if the railways had lost the propaganda battle on the trunk lines as well as the branches, they might have failed to survive the 1960s at all. This view was supported by many within the industry: the branch lines would be sacrificed in order to satisfy the Ministry, but once the minor services had been eliminated, the railways would be free to concentrate on the trunk lines, where investment was desperately needed.

The branches were a social and political problem - a problem for the Government to solve. Some genuinely agreed with Beeching, but others saw the closure plans as a necessary evil to take pressure off the rest of the system, where competing road and air services were making a real impact.

That the railways had a task on their hands can be gleaned from the figures in Fiennes' own region: the fastest scheduled service from Paddington to Bristol before the war had been 105 minutes. It was not until 1954, nine years after the war, that the Castle Class locomotives were able to return even to that pre-war schedule but, with road traffic accelerating year by year, the Western region needed to cut minutes off the schedules, and it needed to do it very rapidly.

The early Warship Class diesel locomotives, introduced in 1959, cut the journey time to 100 minutes but, lacking power and reliability, were unable to maintain the pace. The following year the schedule was back to 105 minutes, and in 1961 it receded even further. It was not until 1971 that the fastest schedule was reduced to 100 minutes on a permanent basis.

Progress might have been slow, but the improved services began to pay dividends. The number of passengers carried in the region had fallen from 112 million in 1948 to a low of 104 million in 1960, but rose thereafter to 110 million in 1965.

As we have seen, the plunge into deficit in the late 1950s was largely due to a loss of freight traffic, but there were particular problems with the performance of the Western and London Midland regions. While other areas were gradually improving their traffic figures and reducing staff, the Western and London Midland were simply failing to do so, and performing badly as a result.

In the final analysis, this was the only justification the Government had had for cancelling the modernisation plans and initiating the chain of events that led to the Beeching Report. If Fiennes had pushed up the traffic figures with little more than hard work, a flair for publicity and rescheduled services, to what extent might traffic have increased had the BTC investment programme been allowed to run its course?

By the end of 1962 the writing was on the wall. The Transport Commission had gone, and the new Railways Board was preparing to push through the most savage round of cuts the industry had ever seen. Ironically, the Conservative Party was in difficulties too, for the economic boom of the late 1950s had proved short-lived, and the electorate was restless and ready for a change of Government. Within a matter of months, the Party was hit by the damaging Profumo affair that put paid to any lingering hopes of re-election. To some extent the fortunes of the Conservatives were set to mirror the decline they had so carefully engineered for the railways: it was a wicked irony.

In October 1962, Beeching addressed the Institute of Directors at the Albert Hall and outlined his plans. Even in Parliament, the war of words appeared to have been won for, during a debate in November 1962, there was considerable agreement with the Beeching philosophy. Perhaps the railways really were a relic of the horse-and-cart age; the stopping trains a ludicrous, outmoded form of transport.

The 1962 deficit had topped £160 million after interest, and Beeching was promising to sweep away the dead wood and balance the books. All would be revealed in the third stage of his plan, The Reshaping of British Railways.

1938, Square Deal Denied - by Ted Gibbins§

A timely warning of Government attitudes to privately owned railways. Drawn from Public Records & elsewhere, catalogues the long fruitless search by railways for equal treatment under the law with much favoured hauliers.

Sets out many new facts on the subject, hitherto, reported only briefly, and due to the relevant Government papers being kept secret for 50 years, often inaccurately.

Government favoured hauliers from 1912, and, contrary to popular belief, never intended to give equality to railways. Government actually subsidised the infant road transport industry. Even worse, Railways, as ratepayers, were also subsidising road transport, but denied the use of those same roads to carry goods by motor vehicle.

To avoid giving equal treatment under the law to rail and road transport, the pre-war Tory Government claimed to prefer co-ordination of transport to competition, but took no action to achieve that end. In consequence, from 1921, railways progressively lost freight traffic to road transport.

When a Tory Government regained power in 1951, they dismantled the co-ordinated concept created by a post-war Labour Government and reverted precisely to the pre-war "Unsquare Deal". During the war, Government skimmed 1 billion from privately owned railways, whilst road hauliers were virtually uncontrolled.

For 60 years, three myths have held sway in respect of the pre-war railways call for a "Square Deal" - equality with other transport.

The first is that the campaign for equality began in 1938. It began in 1921, when railways sought legal powers to operate road haulage. Their competitors needed no legal power to set up in road haulage, and for many years, paid little or nothing towards road construction and maintenance. Road haulage was subsidised by ratepayers in general, and railways in particular. Railways were denied road powers until 1928, and even then, had limited rights and stringent obligations. Railways then called for hauliers to be subject to the same statutory regulations as themselves - no more, no less. This was followed by three ineffective Government inquiries, spread over seven years, which kicked this reasonable request into touch. As Government would not regulate road haulage on equal terms, Railways asked for the only alternative - the same commercial freedom as road haulage. At this stage, Railways gave their 18 year long search for equality, an eye catching title - "The Square Deal Campaign".

Old Goodsyard - Horse drawn transport

The second myth is that railways sought equality only with road haulage, but they were also concerned about the privileged, protected and subsidised position of coastwise shipping, which was allowed by Statute to object to competing rail charges, whilst railways had no similar rights with regard to shipping or road haulage. Rail charges from ports were designed by the government's scheme to protect coastwise shipping.

The third myth, fostered by politicians and others is that the "Square Deal" was about to be conceded when war broke out, and was thereby thwarted. Nothing is further from the truth. Government papers unearthed by Ted Gibbins reveal that Government interfered with, and delayed the findings of the 1938/39 Inquiry, and prove that they never had the slightest intention of conceding equality. To have done so, would have led to Government subsidising inefficient uncompetitive industry, which would not invest in modern methods, but depended on an archaic rail charges system, enforced on railways by Government, and specifically designed to provide heavy industry with uneconomic rates subsidised by profits from classes of traffic, which road haulage were discriminatively "creaming-off". The "Unsquare Deal" was endured by British Rail for over 30 years.

This book demolishes another myth - that railways were glad to accept a low fixed Rental from their own revenue for sequestration during the 1939-45 War. Government and Railway papers show this to be completely untrue. The Companies had no fears about wartime viability, but succumbed to thinly veiled threats of nationalisation. The media criticised Government's inequitable wartime railway policies. Some Ministers warned of bankruptcy. But Government went ahead - happy to continue to ruin railways, whilst ineffective pseudo control of road haulage enabled them to prosper. No other industry was so thoroughly skimmed. It was a natural progression of the "Square Deal Denied".

Square Deal Denied, by Ted Gibbins, M.C.I.T., ISBN 0 9521039 3 1
Price £11.95, From booksellers or may be obtained at the same price inclusive of postage, from the publishers:
Leisure Products, 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke-on-Trent ST7 2SR, England. Telephone 01270 873208

Blueprints for Bancruptcy

Blueprints for Bancruptcy - Ted Gibbins

Pre-war policies were forcing railways into bankruptcy. Government's wartime policies ensured the insolvency of railways. Worse still, this had been forecast by senior Ministers and civil servants in 1940.

B.R. began life with 1941 prices and 1948 costs, unlike all other industry. Whilst B.R. was unable to obtain the limited raw materials authorised in Government's Economic Plans, road transport - year after year, was allowed to exceed the limits which they had been given. Hence, they soon had a modern post-war fleet, whilst B.R. had to lumber on with war worn vintage rolling stock.

B.R. was actually directed not to overtake wartime arrears of track renewal, so that they were not finally cleared until nine years after the war ended! On top of this, Whitehall theorists & politicians implemented post-war laws & policies which bankrupted B.R., and would have bankrupted any industry. A court of law decided rail charges, delaying increases for over 12 years ! The so called "subsidy" began as an interest bearing loan to "compensate" for prices being held, by Government and their appointees, up to 41 points below the inflation rate, whilst BR's suppliers were uninhibited in their price increases.

No other industry - not even other nationalised industries - had their prices controlled by a court of law. In recent years, Ministers criticised B. R. for not making profits when their own legislation specifically directed that they were not to be profitable!

Government policies ensured B.R. would be loss making to keep fares below the inflation rate so as to please the electorate, and would lose freight to road through an archaic Government designed rates system.

Reviews - Chartered Institute of Transport: "Does not deserve to be neglected";
Railway & Canal Historical Society; "A new aspect of railway history".

Paperback UK price £11.95 each incl. P&P from Publishers : Leisure Products, 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke on Trent ST7 2SR or from booksellers.

Railway references:

§Gibbins, E.A., Square Deal Denied, Leisure Products, 1998, ISBN 0 9521039 3 1 Price £11.95, from Leisure Products 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke-on-Trent ST7 2SR, England. Telephone 01270 873208

¹Gibbins, E. A., Blueprints for Bankruptcy, Leisure Publications, 1995. ISBN 0 9521039 2 3 Available from Leisure Products, 11 Bedford Grove, Alsager, Stoke-on-Trent ST7 2SR, England. Telephone 01270 873208

²B.R. Board, The Reshaping of British Railways, HMSO, 1963

³Allen, G Freeman, British Rail After Beeching, Ian Allen, 1966


Burroughs, R. E., The great Isle of Wight train robbery: the story of Wight railway closures, Railway Invigoration Society, 1968. [tells the story of falsified figures used to close railways in the Isle of Wight]

Hardy, R. H. N. (Richard Harry Norman), "Beeching : champion of the railway?", Ian Allan, 1989 ISBN 0711018553

Reshaping British Railways 63-mins - FA332 - £19.95
In 1963 Dr. Beeching's plan for Britain's railways was published. This video contains the film version of his plan & the first 2 Reports on Modernisation of BR published in 1959 & 1961, just prior to the appointment of Dr. Beeching as Chairman of BR in 1962.

Available from:
PO Box 362, Olney, Bucks, MK46 5EY, England, UK.
Tel: +44(0)1234-711615 Fax: +44(0)1234-240976

2. Trams

The Royal Commission on Transport, that reported in 1931, recomended that trams be phased out as soon as possible since they 'cause conjestion'. This was the death-knell for the tram. The short-sightedness of commission members who, sitting in their cars, would have to wait for trams to get out of the way could also be interpreted as a deliberate strategy to increase consumption of and reliance on oil.

The recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transport, 1931¹

In the late 1920's and early 1930's the Royal Commission on Transport was investigationg a number of major issues of transport policy. Its third report, 'The Co-ordination and Development of Transport', published in 1931 (HMSO, 1931), whilst acknowledging 'the great part played by tramways in the past' (para365) and even some inherent advantages (less noise on well maintained tarck, absence of fumes, smoothness of accelleration and mechanical reliability: para 366), the Commissioners were generally unfafourably disposed towards trams. Among their conclusions and recommendations were:

'We believe [tramways to be superior to any other form of road pasenger vehicle] at the present moment in London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and other large towns where the volume of passenger traffic at certain hours is very great, but we cannot believe that even in these populous centres the present state of things is likely to be permanent... improvement in motor omnibuses in recent years as regards comfort, capacity, design, reliability and economical running has been so remarkable that we feel certain that the time will soon arrive when the motor omnibus, supplemented by new tube railways, etc. will be able to carry the public, even in London and other big cities, as expeditiously and cheaply as the tramcar.' (para 368)

The commissioners itemised a number of specific disadvantages associated with tramways. These included:

[were these 'reasons' or 'excuses']

Despite the acknowledged difficulties that would be involved in abolishing tramways and that 'at the present time trams are necessary in certain large towns if the traffic is to be carried with any degree of expedition' (para 373), the commissioners considered view was that tramways 'if not an obsolete form of transport, are at all events in a state of obsolescence, and cause much unnecessary congestion and considerable danger to the public.' They therefore recommended:

(a) that no additional tramways should be constructed, and

(b) that, though no definite time limit can be laid down, they should gradually disappear and give place to other forms of transport (para 372)

The predictions of the Royal Commission were to some extent self-fulfilling, not least because they echoed popular opinion at the time. So far as London is concerned, the last new section of line opened at Westhorne Avenue, Eltham, in 1932; and the network was gradually closed between 1931 and 1952, being replaced by a mixture of trolleybuses and motor buses (Joyce, 1987).

¹All this section is from

Higginson, Martin; Tramway London: background to the abandonment of London's trams 1931-1952; Pub.: Light Rail Transit Association in association with Birkbeck College with assistance from London Transport Museum;1993; ISBN: 0948106166

Notes from the commission reports in the public records office, Kew

Supplied by Ted Gibbins - many thanks Ted

Royal Commission appointed Aug. 1928,

Chairman: Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen

Members - Members: Marquess of Northampton, Earl of Clarendon, JJ Aston, Sir MG Wallace, Sir EV Hiley, Sir WG Lobjolt, I Salmon, HE Crawford, J Learmouth, F Montague, WR Smith

(3rd Report appears to have more members - Messrs Donald, Galton, Leach)


To consider problems arising from the growth of road transport, and with a view to securing employment of the available means of transport in Great Britain <[>including coastwise shipping & ferries], to greatest public advantage. To co nsider and to report what measures, if any, should be adopted for the better regulation and control, to promote their co-ordinated working and development.

1st Report [Cmd 3365] July 1929 - 54 pages. In addition to a number of private meetings, 30 days were occupied in Public Inquiries. 54 witnesses were heard. The Report refers to the Road Vehicle Regulation Bill to be put before them, but actually referred instead to a Select Committee which rejected it.

Page 3, para 4: Need to revise legislation. Not one in 1000 motorists were observing speed limits. Bus companies have had timetables approved by Local Authorities which were based on speeds in excess of legal limits.

Page 4, para 5: 6127 killed in 1928 by mechanical transport.

Page 5, para 6: Increase in accidents in 1909: 27k; 1928: 148k.

Para 76: Recommendations: [iv] No general speed limit for vehicles with pneumatic tyres. <[>vi] Stiff penalties for dangerous driving. [xi] Driving licences issued on self declaration as to fitness to drive. <[>xxv] 3rd Pty insu rance - essential measure - action needed.

2nd Report Licensing & Regulation of PSV's, Oct. 1929 [Cmd 3416] 51 pp Recommended licensing of PSV's: Traffic Area Commissioners to be established with power to grant or refuse licences. To consider and approve timetabl es and fares. To hold Public Inquiries, if necessary. To fix maximum and minimum fares for their Area. The aim was to establish and adequate passenger service by creating a "controlled monopoly". To issue licences for PSV's, drivers and conductors. PSV o perators to carry insurance.

Final 3rd] Report Cmd 3751, December 1930] published 1931, 240 pages. Numerous private meetings and 44 days of Public Inquiries to take oral evidence from 47 bodies and 5 individuals. Written submissions from 54 others, one on the practice on Indian Railways. p.3, Para 9: Three different questions were involved in the Terms of Reference:- 1. Free and easy movement of traffic on roads and its control from the point of view of safety. 2. Licensing of PSV's. 3. Gene ral co-ordination & development of all means of transport. Items 1 and 2 dealt with in the 1st and 2nd Reports respect.

Page.8, para 24 The first Turnpike Act was passed in the mid 17th Century. Between 1760 and 1774, over 450 Turnpike Acts were passed. Between 1785 and 1809, 1062 Acts were passed. Para 25 Turnpikes never popular, were source of resentment.

Page.9, para 29 A nation of horse lovers and users marked its aversion to use of roads by team carriages by placing every obstacle, notably excessive tolls in way of its development.

Page.10, para 33 In the mid 19th century Parliament embarked on a policy of disturnpiking reverting the liability to parishes. In 1888, the liability was transferred to the [newly formed] County Councils.

Page.12 In 1909, a Roads Board was created with an income which averaged 1m pa for five years. During the war, work was suspended and the money ceased.

Page.16 British rlys suffered as pioneers - due heavy capital expenditure, extremely high prices for land and compensation in respect of depreciation - real or fancied. Opposition in Northampton forced railways to divert from the natural line to o ne which involved construction of the 1.5 mile Kilsby tunnel. This is merely one example of needless expense.

Page.17 Stations often had to be constructed at inconvenient places remote from the centre of towns. The consequences were either capital is unremunerative or higher charges ensue. Excessive wasteful competition fostered by Govt.

Page.18 para 52 During the past 100 years, there have been 200 public Acts dealing with the regulation of railways.

Page.20 para 58 Parliament did not define "Undue Preference", but left the R&CC free to decide in each case.

Page.22 para 65 Locos, RS and sleepers sent overseas, especially to the Western Front [France & Belgium]. Workshops had to produce new special type wagons to carry war materials (e.g., howitzers, tanks, etc), Para 66 Lack adequate materials in war resulted in min attention to maintenance and repairs. By 1919, rlys needed a complete overhaul. Para 67 Permanent way sadly in need of attention, great shortage of locos, RS - most in use was overdue for repairs.

Page.29 Railway "Disabilities":- Control of charges; obligation to carry; undue preference; facilities for HM Forces and workmen at cheap rates; control of wages and conditions of service by National Wages Board set up by Govt , Accounts & returns ; Safety; Passenger Duty [tax]; Maintenance of roads over bridges; Standardisation of equipment [by Government decree].

Page.30 para 100: Rlys called for end Pass Duty. Since evidence given, this has been dealt with by the Finance Act, 1929. Para 101 Called for release from liability for maintenance on bridges. Otherwise, Railways sought that road transport be equal ly regulated.

Page.31, Para 103 ABCC claimed no economies from amalgamation. Stamp said economies are very large and progressive - a fall in prices of purchases worth £20m pa. p.33 Para 112 Standing Committee on Mineral Transport [1st Report - Cmd 3420, 1929] only 3% of wagons are over 20 tons capacity. Drastic reconstruction needed at terminals and sidings estimated to cost £8.75m essential for large extension of use of 20 ton wagons. Recommend no wagons below 20 tons be constructed after 1.1.32 without special authority. p.34 Para 120 The POW system is defective and costly .

Page.45, para 160 Conclusion - Cannot afford to lose railways. The aim should be to harmonise and co-ordinate the newer and older forms of transport with the objective of obtaining from each the maximum of advantage to th e public.

Page 46 Para 162 At start of the century, roads were poor. The emergence of Motor vehicles led to a need for roads to have a surface dressing of tar to abate dust [a commonplace problem] and to waterproof them. Page.47 para 165 1st task was to classify highways. Para 166 Class 1 & 2 = 36,600 miles. By Mch 1929, Class 1: 25,528, Class 2: 15,747. These were the principal highways covering entire country. The total in 1929 was 179,095. 68,000 were receivi ng grants for maintenance and improvement.

Page 49 para 176 Local Government Act 1929 changes in highway administration.

Page 50 para 178 £20m from Fund for roads against £60m spent by Local Authorities.

Page 56 para 198 7000 bridges including those owned by railways, canals and others. Legal requirement to strengthen them was based on needs when bridges were built. Para 199 Recommended not less than 1000 pa programme.

Page 58 para 202 All private bridges should be vested in appropriate highway authority. Precise number unknown. Para 204 No compensation to be paid to bridge owners but they should pay amount saved which would have been s pent on maintenance.

Page 59 para 208 Level crossings dealt with in 1st Report. Should be speedily eliminated & replaced by bridge or tunnel.

Page 72 para 259 Dryland [CC Association] lorries travelling at 40 mph should be 12 mph. Weights carried are "much in excess of legal max.

Page 76, para 271 Wilkinson [Instituteof Municipal & County Engineers] 5 ton vehicles carrying 9/10 tons.

Page 80 para 286 Prior 1896, man ahead on foot, from 1896, 12 mph speed limit permitted, 1903 Motor Act increase to 20 mph. Para 287 Royal Commission on Motor Cars - 51,549 in Dec 1904, 86,638 May 1906 [Cmd 3080, 1906].

Page 81 Para 288 Statistics. Thousands HP class 1922: 314.8, 1930: 1042.3; M/cycle 1922: 377.9, 1930: 698.9; Goods 1922: 150, 1930: 334.2; Hackney 1922: 77.6, 1930: 98.9; All 1922: 952.5, 1930: 2217.6.

Page 83 para 296 80% road borne goods are in owners vehicles.

Page 84 para 300 Many ex-servicemen and others set up in road transport - refers to ease with which 2nd hand vehicles obtained.

Page 115 para 411 Govt formed Canal Control Committee March 1917 & principal non railway owned canals taken over.

Page 117 para 417 Canal traffic tons - railway owned 1924: 2.1m, 1929: 1.8m; others 1924: 14.3m, 1929: 12.6m.

Page 126 para 445 Harbour Companies 100; Railways 50; Local Authority 70; Trusts etc 110. Para 448: 47 Dock undertakings 70% of shipping through them. 25% of shipping through railway ports, mostly coal.

Page 163 [clause lxx] No further tramways to be built. Should disappear.

Page 169 [c] Board of Trade expressed themselves in no uncertain terms of the value of coastwise shipping. Page 171 [cxiv] Recommend permanent Advisory Council on Transport

Page 172 [cxxii] Without unification (a euphemism for nationalisation?) no co-ordination would be successful

Page 174 [cxxii] Transport should not be for profit - a policy adopted by German, and other, railways before the War.

There were 4 minority Reports included covering 59 pages. Main Report 175 pages, Appendices 4 pages.

Legislation against the tram over the years was unfathomable, here are some examples:

The government gave local authorities the power to tax the land beside and between the tram lines while also requiring tram companies to maintain it.

No overhead power lines were allowed in many areas because when a tram passed it might interfere with telephone reception.

The metropolitan police would not allow trams to be coupled together for 'safety' reasons nor would they allow windscreens on trams because they were considered to obscure the view.

U.S. trams (streetcars) were deliberately shut down by oil and road interests.

Oil barons chuckle as greens take on protestors

Tony Gosling - 05Nov00

This fuel 'crisis' has been, as Ken Livingstone rightly said two months ago, orchestrated by the big three global oil companies. (Shell, BP and Exxon).

They want protesters to put pressure on the government to reduce tax on fuel so they can make even bigger profits.

Some environmentalists have been saying fuel prices should be even higher to stop people using cars. How naive! People don't use cars because fuel's too cheap but because public transport is either not there any more, particularly in the freight world, or too expensive.

Since the sixties buses, trams and trains have been closed down or made extremely expensive to force people to become dependant on cars and massively boost consumption of and dependence on the oil companies.

Don't blame the protestors! In some cases the recent rise in fuel prices means companies and small one-man bands that are dependant on vehicles are now running at a loss. It is simply not good enough for environmentalists to say - 'told you so' because many people who are dependant on their vehicles have been forced into that position as public transport has been withdrawn or made impossibly expensive. We mustn't forget social considerations when moaning about dependance on cars. Many people truly have no public transport alternative any more.

If the rail fare from Bristol to Oxford, for example, was cheaper than the cost of the fuel to drive far more people would take the train. Problem is over expensive public transport and profiteering privatised bus and rail companies. What with the profiteering oil companies for many people there's no way out.

Protesting truckers and motorists are quite right to fight back against the hike in fuel prices. And they are targeting the oil companies more as they learn about how this archetypally monopolistic industry works.

The oil companies and their mates in the media have been clever diverting public anger onto the government whilst making record profits - blaming the world market price which they conveniently forget they control!

Last week Shell announced an 80% rise in first quarter profits. Yes that's 80%!!!!

They're not messing about these oil monopolists, they're going for the mega big bucks and their PR departments are much happier when it is made out to be a fight between the people and the government about prices over which they have no control. Needless to say this is rubbish!

Even the smaller oil companies have been blockading the big boys' distribution terminals because they're being forced out of business. That action by an independant tanker drivers firm in Liverpool 10 days ago was only reported on one radio news bulletin then dropped. So don't be too suprised if you didn't hear about it.

We should be demanding a reduction of oil company profits and break-up of their cartel side by side with the fuel protestors and a subsequent reduction in fuel prices AS WELL AS realistic public transport fares to reduce dependance on the car long term.

As a regular rail passenger I am disgusted to see trains running around outside the rush hours almost empty. If the train operators were penalised for this you'd soon see fares come down, less cars on the road and the oil companies would have a tiny bit less of a stranglehold.

But the future is surely bleak, the oil barons are in such a powerful position nowadays that they've even managed to con some greens into helping them out.

See also Ken Livingstone's Fares Fair at the GLC

Making sure we over-consume

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