The Beeching Debate

Dr Beeching has become infamous. If most people outside the industry were asked to name someone who ran British Railways I guess many will recall Dr Beeching, but I doubt if they could name anyone else. They recall him, of course, because he has been the man held responsible in the public mind for the drastic closure of the rail network in the 1960s, judged through the prism of half a century to be a 'bad thing'.

Only people of a certain age can remember the railway of the 1950s. I can, for a start. In so many ways it had failed to move very much with the times and its attempts to move away from the kind of services it had been offering for decades were at best desultory and at worst utterly failing to appreciate the huge changes happening around it that were taking traditional traffics away (or threatening to) or allowing it to go instead by road. The losses were colossal and appeared to be unending. Doing nothing really was not an option, and the railway's management were no longer entirely trusted, having conspicuously mishandled the Modernization Plan that was supposed to find salvation.

It is against that background that Dr Beeching arrived.

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For some reason various people have taken it upon themselves to remind us that the famous Beeching Report appeared in 1963 and that this was half a century ago. The theme is a suggestion that we should reflect on 'his' railway closures. I am happy to use the opportunity to reflect on this much maligned individual but don't think celebrating his report on closures is quite the way I would have put it, for the report was more than that, and probaly set the organization on course towards the business-led railway of the 1980s, albeit that the course was a circuitous one.

I have put my own thoughts together about this, drawing partly on something I had already complied for a different purpose (but which having re-read it I believe fairly represents the man). Regard this, if you will, as a contribution to the 'debate'. There is probably more yet that should be said of the man, and the real nature of the brief he was given, and what he really thought about what he'd inherited.

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