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Laying it on the line; The day the railways changed forever.

THE railway system of this country is something close to many people's hearts and held in great affection by some.

So, for that reason, there is one name that stirs the emotions regarding railways more than any other, Dr Beeching.

Tomorrow - Wednesday March 27 - marks the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the Beeching Report, which recommended the wholesale closure of thousands of miles of railways.

His report had an impact on communities the length and breadth of the country and Teesside did not escape his infamous axe.

The popular conception in many people's nostalgic view of the railways prior to Beeching is that Britain possessed a cosy rail system, which provided much needed services to rural communities.

This idea has since been reinforced by such television programmes as Oh Dr Beeching! the sit-com which was a sort of Hi de Hi! on rails.

The truth, of course, is very different. The railways had reached crisis point in the early 1960s and ran at such a loss that British Railways could not even afford to pay the interest on the loans, let alone the loans themselves.

This was one reason why Dr Beeching was appointed.

After an intensive investigation into the railway system, Dr Beeching found that hundreds of minor lines ran at not only a huge loss but were hardly used.

He cited many examples of lines that ran more trains than there were passengers. Clearly something had to be done.

Actually the process of closures had begun many years before and since 1951 had been running on average at 150-300 miles of closures per year.

But Dr Beeching went further. His recommendation was for the closure of 5,000 miles of track and 2,363 stations.

This came as a huge shock to the public and the protests started almost immediately.

On Teesside, the rail network had already seen some closures before Dr Beeching, such as the line to Whitby from Teesside via Loftus and Sandsend, which closed in 1958 (featured in the February edition of Remember When magazine).

However, the main casualties of Br Beeching locally were the Castle Eden line running from Stockton, known affectionately as The Cuckoo line (no-one really knows why) and the Middlesbrough to Guisborough line.

The line closures certainly had an impact on the local population and the withdrawal of services, even if only used infrequently, came as a shock.

The railways appeared to be part of the landscape and seemed to be permanent fixtures - Dr Beeching proved that clearly they were not.

But the 1960s saw huge changes in society and one was car ownership. The public was shifting away from the railways as a primary method of travel.

Nevertheless the nostalgia for our 'lost' railway heritage still pervades society today, hence the huge popularity of heritage railway lines such as our own North Yorkshire Moors Railway.


WAVE OF RAILWAY CHANGE: Dr Beeching, right
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Mar 26, 2013
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