Friday, October 03, 2008

Hislop, Railways and Beeching

Enjoyed watching Ian Hislop on the story of the famous 'Beeching axe' - when many railway lines, including many much-loved scenic branch lines were closed. It goes out again on Sun Oct 5, or see here Hislop is both a train-lover, but also a realist, so he told the story with an affection for the railways, but also a degree of realism about the romance of a 1950s British Rail train.

In the end, of course, it was a mixed story. Some lines never paid, and should probably never have been built. Some lines were closed for goos and proper reasons. Other lines were closed for dubious reasons with even more dubious statistics. In some cases, it even seems that timetable adjustments ensured trains didn't connect and hence passenger usage dropped. All in a period when the Government had a transport minister who had made his money building roads...

Now, of course, some of those lines would never be closed and some have even been re-opened. The closure of the Waverly route from Carlisle to Edinburgh is perhaps the most drastic - with a section planned for re-opening from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. Likewise some people believe parts of the old Great Central route from Marylebone through Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham on to Sheffield and Manchester would be a great route for Channel Tunnel freight (with some necessary diversions!).

It's all a sorry tale of vested interests, wasted money, missed opportunities and lost assets. There's just something about the landscape that makes a disused branch line evoke something we can't feel about a car plant or a steel works.

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