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Beeching-plan-in-reverse sees investment in railways grow.

Byline: WALESINMOTION WITH PROFESSOR STUART COLE

THE future of the UK's rail network back in 1963 was very bleak when the first of several attempts were made to destroy it.

The Reshaping of British Railways - known as the Beeching Report after its author and the then British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching - was commissioned by Conservative minister of transport Ernest Marples.

The minister ordered the closure of 1,162 route miles. Marples and Beeching got the blame. Attempts have been made to restore Dr Beeching to polite society by suggesting that it was not he that closed the railways and stations; he merely identified those to be closed.

Contrast that with 20 years later and the Serpell Report on British Rail which left Wales and England with very limited rail investment and with no growth provision.

The then chairman Sir Peter Parker leaked to the press the report's 'worst case' scenario (in Wales only the London to Cardiff service and in England only to major cities - a total of 1,600 miles), before publication thus destroying its implementation.

Despite Harold Wilson's promise in 1964 to halt the closure programme it was Tom Fraser and that doyen of the Labour Party Barbara Castle as ministers of transport who did more damage in closing 2,983 miles of railway and over 1,000 stations during their tenure. In total 5,000 miles out of 17,000 miles were closed.

The main failures of the Beeching report, which today would have been rejected as flawed, was a lack of adequate cost and revenue data (based on one week's financial information in 1961) and a lack of financial and management vision. There were many financial basket-case lines and stations which would have been closed in any analysis. Many rural lines closed long before the Beeching Report. But Marples required each part of the railway to make a profit. There was no use of cost benefit analysis to consider the economic impacts on industry, agriculture, tourism and road congestion and increased journey time for road users.

In addition no consideration was given to the revenue contribution of branch lines feeding into the primary network; to cost savings from unstaffing stations (which did help save some lines) or to transferring from steam to diesel or electric power.

But this dwells too much on the negative past.

The railways are now being developed to meet passenger demand - at considerable capital cost to present governments - reversing the Beeching plan. The Welsh and Scottish governments and English Department for Transport working with Network Rail are building new railways, reopening lines, reintroducing rail passenger services on lines and at new stations and improving frequency and reliability. In 1963 present day annual 8% passenger growth rates would not have been believed. Electrification of the Great Western and Valley Lines (a power source familiar to Beeching's team) will result in the required increased passenger capacity, train frequency, shorter journey times and new stations creating the core of Valleys Metro by 2018.

Electrification of the North Wales main line is now under consideration. Beeching planned closure of all its stations which would have destroyed the tourism industry. The completion this week of a PS40m scheme to redouble the track and construct a new viaduct between Swansea and Llanelli brought railway reinvestment to West Wales.

This scheme to increase capacity as with those between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury and Wrexham and Chester are on lines which did not close following Beeching's report, so the costs of improving services are relatively low.

The Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line stations were closed in 1965, the line itself in 1973. The estimated rebuilding cost of PS700m cannot achieve a sufficiently high benefit cost ratio and would be better served as part of the TrawsCymru long distance bus network . Rural lines such as the Heart of Wales are being revived through promotional advertising of journeys and attractions despite the proposed closure under Beeching.

| Professor Stuart Cole CBE is Emeritus Professor of Transport, Wales Transport Research Centre, University of Glamorgan

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Former chairman of British Railways Dr Richard Beeching who authored a report earmarking over 1,000 miles of rail for closure
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 10, 2013
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