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The Reshaping of British Railways - Beeching Report
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The Beeching Report

For the railway enthusiast, no other name is guaranteed to provoke a response of opprobrium quite like that of Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of British Rail during the early 1960s and at the helm of the The Reshaping Of British Railways report that decimated the railway system of Britain with the wielding of 'the Beeching Axe'. However, whilst many allegations as to the skewing of the Report's findings being the result of a less-than scientific and impartial approach taken by the research team, and suggestions that the report outcome was more politically motivated than motivated by a genuine desire to inject efficiency into the country's railways, a considerable proportion of the railway losses in and around the West Midlands stem from the work of Dr Beeching et al and for this reason I thought it would be of interest/use to present the report for download below. By way of an introduction to the report I have also included a brief, potted background history but deliberately steered away from a more 'revisionist' approach as I'm sure readers have already made up their own minds as to its efficacy and impartiality.

By 1960 the then publicly-owned British Rail was annually haemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of pounds (£42m in 1960 - over a 50% annual increase over the previous 5 years) maintaining a dilapidated network comprising thousands of miles of under-used branch lines, poorly maintained rolling stock, Victorian practices and overstaffing and a general infrastructure that had been run into the ground during intensive use during World War II and had, in part due to the nationalisation of the railway in 1948, never received the monies necessary to rebuild it to its former glory. In addition to these factors pertaining to the railway itself, external factors beyond the ambit of British Rail were also having a major impact on its operation. The huge growth in car ownership had drastically reduced the number of potential passengers for the railways and the commensurate huge growth in road haulage had decimated the utilisation of railway goods services.

The 1954 Modernisation and Re-Equipment of the British Railways had proposed investment of £1.2b attempted to address many of these issues through electrification, re-signalling, investment in new diesel locomotives and various other enhancements and upgrades but this failed to redress the huge annual budget deficits. The general thinking of the Department of Transport, under Minister of Transport Ernest Marples (co-owner of Marples Ridgway Ltd, a civil engineering and motorway construction contractor), was that an attempt to solve the problems with British Rail by spending had failed and a more radical approach was required. Marples brought-in ex-ICI Technical Director Richard Beeching as chairman of British Railways who immediately tasked a team with identifying the root cause of the problem.

The findings of the research were many but in synopsis showed that the majority of revenue generating traffic occupied only part of the network and that "30 per cent of miles carried just 1 per cent of passengers and freight, and half of all stations contributed just 2 per cent of income". With this in mind, the solution proposed was to cut as many non-revenue/loss making lines as possible and concentrate passenger and freight traffic around trunk routes and major cities, with commensurate investment, with the resultant loss of 25% (4000 miles) of track, 50% (3000) stations, 70,000 jobs, 300,000 goods wagons and the concentrated decimation of rural branch lines leaving many towns/cities isolated for the network.

As it transpired, the estimated £130-£150m annual savings were approximately £30m and the rush to car ownership and road haulage still gathered apace and by the early 1970s the rail network, particularly the suburban routes, were semi-abandoned and what was seen as the saviour of rail freight - the Freightliner terminal network - was showing signs of decline. Indeed, not only has The Reshaping Of British Railways (HMSO: 1963) been seen subsequently as a failure, it has also since become the example of Governmental myopia, particularly in transport planning, as rail passenger numbers are now rising, profits being made by the now privatised train operating companies, lines reopening, road freight and traffic damaging both the environment and clogging the roads of towns and villages etc.

You can view/download each section of the report below by clicking on the link you require but will need Adobe Reader to actually see the files which can be downloaded free HERE. Appendix 2 - Passenger Service, Line And Station Closures - will be of particular interest:


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