LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 No. 45293 heads the Marylebone-Nottingham express through Northwick Park on September 3, 1966. The chalked message on the smokebox door indicated that it is the last day of through working on the Great Central Railway, which as highlighted inside, could have become a major Freightliner route had it survived longer. COLOUR-RAIL
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The 19¼-mile Cranleigh Line which connected Guildford to Horsham via Cranleigh, closed on June 14, 1965, four months before its centenary, the only Surrey railway closure under Dr Beeching’s report The Reshaping of British Railways. The last day of full service was Saturday, June 12, and the final train left Guildford at 7.34pm hauled by Ivatt Class 2-6-2T No. 41287. It consisted of two three-coach sets carrying around 400 passengers, including Bert Andrews, the last Cranleigh signalman who was also the great-grandson of the guard on the first train back in 1865. No. 41287 is pictured with the last Down train at Christ’s Hospital, with a suitably adorned headboard. Christ’s Hospital station itself was for a time under threat of closure but an outcry from the school plus a petition with 3046 signatures sent to the Queen stopped this. TREVOR OWEN/COLOUR-RAIL
It is now around half a century since British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching (April 21, 1913 – March 23, 1985) shocked the nation with the publication of his landmark report The Reshaping of British Railways on March 27, 1963. As discussed in the earlier and companion volume Beeching: 50 Years of the Axeman, his name became synonymous with the demise of the steam age and the mass closure of railway lines, even though he was responsible for starting neither.
branch lines but in the case of the Midland & Great Northern Joint line, a whole system, were being implemented by regions simply because the public had by and large stopped using them.
The process may be deemed to have become unstoppable, and rather than try to swim against the tide, the governments of the day, both Conservative and Labour, followed Beeching’s lead in allowing road transport to do what it did best, and streamlining the railways so that they could do likewise.
By the start of the Seventies, Britain was littered with the remains of closed railway routes big and small, their great earthworks and vacant track formations merging back into the landscape just like the Roman roads of 19 centuries before.
The general public view of Beeching has therefore tended to be decidedly negative. Yet in 2012, Britain not only still has one of the most intensive railway networks of any country despite the Sixties closures, but also passenger numbers are at their highest level since the 1920s, despite a third less track mileage.
How can this be? The key is in the title to the 1963 report. The key word is ‘reshaping’, not ‘running down’ or ‘closing’.
Behind the household word for rail closures that ‘Beeching’ has become lies another reality.
Here was a man who came in from outside British Railways at a time when it, like every other national rail network in the western world, was faced with an unprecedented and increasingly insurmountable challenge from the more versatile road transport, both in terms of carrying passengers and the conveyance of freight.
Already huge swathes of closures, mainly of
Far from being anti-rail and the bogeyman who scrapped our beloved stream trains, Beeching began an evolutionary process of yanking the railways kicking and screaming into the modern age.
It cannot be stressed enough that he did not make any closures personally: the decision was made by government minister, who in some cases chose to ignore Beeching’s accountancy-led recommendation and retain particular routes on social grounds.
Key to this publication is a series of interviews with John Edser, who is believed to be the last surviving member of Beeching’s planning team.
He was one member of the Central Planning Unit, which at British Railways headquarters at 222 Marylebone Road, next door to Marylebone station, processed the Beeching closures and then helped pave the way for what was to follow.
After Beeching returned to ICI in 1965, the unit team was given the task of redrawing the complete railway map of Britain for the first time since the lines were built in the 19th century.
This drew on masses of highly confidential information, including the little-known ‘Blue Book of Maps’, which predicted the life expectancy of
Beeching: The Inside Track 3