2013 marks two significant anniversaries for the UK railway system: the first affecting the national railway network was the “Beeching Report” and the other is a celebration of saving of a small section of rural line in Sussex, the Bluebell Railway.
The infamous Beeching report was entitled “The Reshaping of British Railways” and was a modernisation report to make the UK railway system more efficient. It was named after the author, Doctor Beeching. The report was originally published on 27th March 1963 and was looking to address the rising losses of the national rail network. Those losses had risen from 1952. The report undertook an analysis of the state of the railway system and reviewed the freight and passenger markets along with the merits of the current state of each. It was concentrating on the costs associated with running the railway system. The report outlines for making economies and closing various sections of railway line together with the withdrawal of stopping services that served smaller towns and villages: the idea would be to focus on main population centres. The report lists a whole set of lines and stations to be closed. It was because of the closures the report became well renowned.
Over the following few years much of the report’s recommendations were implemented with many miles of line closing. A copy of the report is now available on the internet and makes interesting reading. See this railway archive link. Another PDF is available showing maps of the proposed network changes which would affect the rural areas mostly. The focus would be on linking urban areas, the so-called Inter-City routes. There was, as a result, a significant division between urban and rural areas with many parts of rural Scotland and Wales being greatly affected by the proposals. Thankfully the north of Scotland network was not trimmed back as much as the map suggested. Some of the Highland routes are very scenic and today are well patronised by tourists who appreciate the magnificent scenery.
The Bluebell Railway: Global Pioneer
The Bluebell Railway, a rural Sussex line, was closed before the Beeching report. It had the claim to fame as being the first preserved standard gauge passenger line in the world. The origins of the current preserved, or heritage, railway date back to 1959-60. The line, which once ran from London via East Grinstead to Lewis in Sussex, was initially closed in 1955 but re-opened to be finally closed by British Railways in 1958. For a map see this link. The reason for the reprieve was the fact that British Railways had ignored a legal clause in the original act of Parliament that was used to construct the line. Local resident Margery Bessemer of Chailey had discovered the statutory clause and there had to be a public inquiry to the closure. In 1959 the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society was formed to save the entire route and to operate it as a commercial service: an early example of a community group who had an aim to operate a service for the public. Unfortunately the capital was not raised and the line was dismantled. The Bluebell Railway Society, as the group became, did save a short section of track to run old steam engines and rolling stock. Much of the route was then lifted and the society has become a leading steam preservation experience having restored many engines and items of rolling stock from the nineteenth century and the twentieth century.
The line gradually was re-opened in stages until the new track eventually reached East Grinstead in March 2013. What is remarkable about this story is the fact that the society raised millions of pounds to get the link restored and even had to remove a landfill site to accomplish their goal which was set back in 1985. It took them a public inquiry, which found in their favour, and twenty-eight years to reach the town where a certain Dr Beeching once resided. Ironically Dr Beeching actually helped the initially struggling society in its early years and helped with early cash flow problems.
Now, The Bluebell Railway, is re-connected at East Grinstead to the national railway network offering onward journey opportunities. It also offers rural communities an opportunity to have passenger services once more. It is not quite the full service that was intended, yet, but with rising oil prices and sustainability becoming more important then the Bluebell may once again flourish.