07:18 Wednesday 27th March 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: It’s the 50th anniversary of the controversial Beeching Report. (TAPE)
ANNOUNCER: All the proposals in it are directed towards making the railways do those things that they can do best, and stopping them doing those things that they’re no longer well suited to do. I think there’s no sensible alternative. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well the 1963 document led to the closure of some of the UK’s railways, decimated really the landscape, after the author Richard Beeching announced more than 2,000 stations should shut to make savings, including many many in Cambridgeshire. This this morning from Martin, who says, “Hello Paul. Dr Beeching was only the fall guy, not the villain of the piece. Ernest Marples was Transport Secretary.I’m told Ernie had shares in Tarmac.” he says, who won the Government contract to build Britain’s motorways. So he was the fall guy, not the villain of the piece. Well David Pepperell is the Chairman of the Cambridge Railway Circle and can give us a full history of what happened back then. David morning.
DAVID PEPPERELL: Yes, good morning to you.
PAUL STAINTON: So was he the fall guy, or was he the villain of the piece?
DAVID PEPPERELL: No I think you’re right. I think he was the fall guy. He was an eminent physicist and engineer, and he was on the Board of ICI. And as you’ve already said, he was appointed to be Chairman of the British Railways Board from 1st June 1961 by no less than Ernest Marples.
PAUL STAINTON: This is the fellow that was accused by one texter of having shares in Tarmac.
DAVID PEPPERELL: That’s correct. And of course he was responsible for building the M1. Ernest Marples had no interest in the railway network, and he got Richard Beeching in to do a job and to expect him to get quick results, and to look at getting the railway system into profitability. because just before he came in, we had what was called the 1955 Modernisation Plan. The railways were losing in those days £15.5 million. But that extended to £42 million which I suppose you can multiply that by at least 20 nowadays. But I think it has to be remembered that he actually made the recommendations. The actual implementation was written by the civil servants. They had the chance at the time to deny his recommendations. And of course you had all British Railways managers looking after all these stations as well. And perhaps they weren’t quite as active in looking at the viability of their own operations as well. We’ve heard about the first report that came out on 27th March 1963. But there was a further report just before he was sent back to industry, Richard Beeching. It came out in 1966, in which there were even more severe pruning recommendations of the railway system. And I was looking on Google last night under Richard Beeching, and would you believe it, he was very much an advocate for just keeping the main lines in operation, and cutting all the branch lines. And in those days it was recommended that there should be only one main line from London up to Norwich, and that Cambridge Ely and Kings Lynn would be truncated. There would be no railway services to Cambridge. And it could have been as severe as that.
PAUL STAINTON: A huge lack of foresight. But we did lose a long list of stations across Cambridgeshire, didn’t we, Linton, Soham, Swavesey, St Ives, Histon, Saffron Walden. The list goes on and on.
DAVID PEPPERELL: It does go on and on. In fact I can remember going on the steam trains on a Sunday morning across to Clacton. We had the situation locally of Saffron Walden closing, Audley End, that use to cost five pence, old pence in those days. They closed it down, put a car park in at Audley End. And without running trains put the fees for parking cars up to fifteen pence. So they trebled their income. The decisions that were made were actually to try and get the railways back into profit. And it was purely a cold look at what you could do. When you consider that out of the 17,000 miles carrying passengers, 4% of the passengers were carried by 11,000 miles of the system.
PAUL STAINTON: The problem is though train travel is expensive, isn’t it, and still expensive, and we need more of it for the growth of Cambridgeshire. Is it the way to go, or do we build more roads? It’s a difficult conundrum.
RICHARD PEPPERELL: I think there’s a lot of tweaking that can be done. We have the situation, it wasn’t in the Beeching Report, but we have the situation that the Cambridge to Oxford line was closed down. And one of the problems with that is that cross country travel was not favoured. When you started off from Oxford you were on the Great Western Railway. You then came through Bletchley and Bedford which was the Midland Railway, and then you came on to the Eastern side here, LNER. There were all sorts of reasons why that line closed down, because it didn’t have a real sponsor. A lot of creative accounting was done at the time, which I understand that no revenue from through journeys outside that line which people travelled over were never included. When Beeching did his analysis of what income was generated, he actually did it across the system one week in April. He took that revenue. That didn’t take into account all of the summer holiday traffic.
PAUL STAINTON: So some of the decisions were possibly flawed is what you’re saying.
RICHARD PEPPERELL: Very much so. I think the decisions and the rationale behind doing it was very much flawed.
PAUL STAINTON: And a lack of foresight as well. David we’ve got to leave it there, but thank you. David Pepperell the Chairman of the Cambridge Railway Circle. And 50 years on then, and campaigns are mounting now for shut down lines in Cambridgeshire to reopen.