The age of the train

Any historical discussion of British railways has to include the Beeching Report, ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, now excoriated as ‘one of the most notorious government reports of the 20th century… The report often adopted an overly-simplistic analysis of the economics of the routes, failing to recognise how the branches contributed traffic to the core network. The Beeching closures failed in their attempt to eliminate BR’s losses, and led to the belated recognition that the railways serve a social role which should be financially acknowledged.’ (the network before Beeching). Much criticised now, and then, the report recommended the removal of about a third of the network, ‘amounting to 5,000 miles of track and 2,363 stations‘.


Less well known is the Serpell Report, issued in 1982 (and the full text of which can be found at the Railways Archive). Serpell’s findings were almost totally ignored, all for the sake of a single suggestion buried deep in his report. In looking at ‘new network options,’ Serpell proposed an ‘Option A’, a plan for cuts that would have made Beeching’s eyes water. In total, some 84% of the existing network would be scrapped, leaving a grand total of 1,630 miles of railway (less than 10% of the pre-Beeching total). A bit more background, including a mention of the polemical 1957 book, Twilight of the Railways – What Roads They’ll Make! and the machinations of the virulently anti-rail and pro-road Railway Conversion League.


Related, consulation on station change and overhaul at Peckham Rye, courtesy of the AOC / the above image is from A Practical Treatise on Rail-roads and Interior Communication in General… and Tables of the Comparitive Value of Canals and Rail-Roads, 1825.

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