Railways: If Beeching Had Done Better

How it Could Have Been
The Map

Beeching's cuts in the 1960s were based solely on dodgy line collection statistics and profitability and without line repetition. He could have done it differently, and included a more strategic coverage approach (he was opposed to repetition of routes) and one that understood that some loss making branch lines fed mainline profitability. A number of closures came before Beeching, but anticipated Beeching, and continued into the 1970s. Today the stress is on reopening stations and restoring (some) strategic lines.

The map below, 1760 by 3000 pixels, is my interpretation of that different brief. Here is a commentary on some of the changes - what might have been.

In Scotland one line could have extended to Grantown-on-Spey, with a connecting bus to Keith. The selected branches to Banff, Fraserburgh/ Peterhead and Ballater would have provided more coverage and feeder lines. I'd have had a connecting bus at Ballater through to Braemar and Kirkmichael to Pitlochry railway station. It might be a difficult bus link in winter, as would be Rannoch to Pitlochry. The line that really should have been preserved there was between Dunblane and Crianlarich, as it had a crossover at Crianlarich with the surviving West Highland Line. A useful route would have been a northern one between Perth and Arbroath for coverage. The rail link to St. Andrews would have served university students and staff at the least.

The big one to have been maintained was the Borders Railway, somewhat being rebuilt at expense as, so far, a limited Edinburgh commuter line. A bus at Hawick would have connected in Selkirk and Jedburgh. Similarly a direct intercity line to Stranraer with regional services would have avoided the long way around Ayr, and thus making Ayr the end of an intercity route looking north.

Into England and the map shows the Tyne and Wear Metro and some considered changes that might come about around Newcastle. The line to Alston should never have been closed - another late closure. The Barnard Castle and Bowes line produced good access over the Pennines, and a line as far as Keswick from Penrith, with a connecting bus to the coast, would have been an important tourist route. A tourist route in its own right was Northallerton across to Garsdale. I'd have kept the branch to Lake Side too.

Still, sometimes, buses are the better option, timetabled into the railway system, as between Garsdale and Sedburgh, and buses can do important links between stations and their towns, such as at Kirkby Stephen.

Richmond and Grassington both would have been important and used branch lines for coverage.

Left to me (!) there would never have been the North York Moors Railway, and the line would have stayed connected to Malton. Heritage railways are limited to 25 mph and too slow. In the same way, the link between Scarborough and Whitby was critical for the coast, despite the train having to cross the high viaduct and reverse to curve down into Whitby, and also had to manoeuvre to connect with the main Scarborough station. However, Staithes and Whitby could have connected from the Staithes branch, thus linking to the artists' destination at Staithes.

Harrogate is connected to the rail system but it would have been so much more convenient and for capacity if the line through Ripon had stayed open. Northallerton could have been an important crossover point between Leeds with Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

There is much by way of planning to reconnect Skipton to the south, so these lines should have stayed open. Skipton was a hub for Blackburn and Preston, Burnley and Rochdale, Lancaster, Carlisle, Gassington, Leeds and Bradford - all regional and local services. With a unified system, the Settle and Carlisle line does not need to be intercity.

The map accepts the later north of Selby closure (a coalfield) but not those lines in East Yorkshire. This website comes from Hull, and today Hornsea would have been both a busy commuter and tourist destination. The agriculture based stops could have been replaced by one at the main road south of Skirlaugh with a big car park. The stops on the Withernsea line were already villages of substance to they would have stayed open. Both lines would have had to transfer to the still used high level line adding strategic stops (with the low level line and all its crossings closed). The later intercity route via Selby for trains for London is best, but the line speed on a straight line out of Hull is incredibly restricted. (Is this because of level crossings?) The service west of Goole has long been neglected and reduced, when it is a good connection to Wakefield.

When the Humber Bridge opened in 1981, it was accompanied by Humberail, a guaranteed connection at Barton-on-Humber ruined by later privatisation. It would have been easy to keep open the route between Immingham and Grimsby and indeed connecting up to services to the west. Gainsborough Central sees trains on Saturday only, as a way to avoid closing the line. It should be daily, hourly and regular.

One aid for reopening is the number of tracks already available for upgrading. Thus is the example of the re-opening of Mansfield and the Robin Hood Line. There are the lines through Tickhill, and a line between Shirebrook and the ECML. Bawtry and Rossington lack stations because the ECML is preserved for fast trains, but an extra track to the side would take these renewed local services, trains reversing at Worksop or continuing to Retford. Finningley reopened is also seen as an airport halt, although the airport failed. Note that intercity from Mansfield uses the (in reality proposed) Maid Marian Line. A direct service can run between Sheffield and Immingham and on to Grimsby and Cleethorpes via upgrading and relinking the Pyewipe line.

Then we get to the huge transport losses in east Lincolnshire. They've now built the A16 on much of the railway bed that went from Spalding north north east, and very late on the link from March to Spalding was lost. This could have stayed beyond 1970 as the main Grimsby south route. Not just this, but the Lincoln and Skegness run was lost too, as well as connecting to Mablethorpe. Given capacity issues on the East Coast Main Line, a second line with services via Lincoln to and from Norwich and Cambridge could have been maintained with Doncaster and further to York.

Another line that should never have been closed was the Derby and Manchester via Matlock. It would be an East Midlands based intercity, connecting with Derby and through to Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Keeping the Hathersage line from Sheffield that links into it, I'd have kept also the northern route via Penistone, for traffic linking to Nottingham specifically and for much goods traffic. There might even be a car loading service as there is at the Channel Tunnel.

The sheer volume of north-south traffic through Doncaster is why there must be (as there has been in reality) a York and Sheffield route, and there are occasional non-stop and goods routes for a Rotherham and Sheffield rail bypass.

Far too many rail routes were closed in East Anglia. The line through Wisbech and the lines through Swaffam and Dereham, and the terminus at Hunstanton, would have kept Kings Lynn from being isolated. Fakenham would still connect with Wells-next-the-Sea, and the Sheringham curve down to Melton Constable. I'd have simplified and better connected Yarmouth, whilst accepting some closures that were pre-Beeching. As for south of Yarmouth, the closure of 1970 ended the coastal route - but keeping this open would surely have closed the short extra line through Berney Arms.

Wales was stripped of many railways that provided through routes within the country. There was a line through the valleys linking Caerdydd/ Cardiff to mid-Wales. However, the big loss was the important route between Caefyrddin (Carmarthen) through the university town of Llanbedr Pont Steffan (Lampeter) and Aberystwyth. I'd have downgraded the lines west to regional, but have this south western route as intercity.

In 2022 there was a proposal for a Caerfyrddin and London service with a stop at a new station called Felindre at the business park alongside the M4 motorway. Let's call it Gorllewin Abertawe, near the Swansea West motorway services. There's be a frequent bus taking the direct road to and from the Swansea terminus. The journey via Gorllewin Abertawe saves twenty minutes by (west to east) leaving Llanelli at the Central Wales line, and then taking an existing line that tunnels under the line that circuits through Neath and merging. In fact this scheme is far cheaper and more practical than a proposal to cross the River Tawe and send lines along the dock area into the south of Gorsaf Abertawe/ Swansea Station. There'd be a tramline coming south from the west of Neath itself on old rail tracks until coming into the city near the station. Much Intercity east to and from Swansea continues via Neath, but Intercity involving west of Swansea is always via the new Gorllewin Abertawe station and on to Port Talbot.

The line through Llangollen should never have been closed, benefitting Wrecsam and Chester and I'd terminate and begin services at Machynlleth. That's where stopping services to Pwllheli could end and originate. The same would have been kept between Afon Wen and Bangor via Caernarfon. However, a bus better connects Llan Ffestiniog with Dolgellau - the line to Y Bala was flooded of course, well after Beeching. We shouldn't rely on heritage railways to make connections between rail lines - illustrated, however. Buses again would come at Dinbych (Denbigh) for Abergele and Rhuthun for Corwen as the line at Rhuthun and Dinbych connects to Yr Wyddgrug (Mold) and Chester. I'd have kept a single line track for Amlwch.

On the map but closed in 1962 (before Beeching) is the line through Llandidloes and Rhaeadr Gwr (Rhayader) and, beyond Aberhonddu (Brecon) south, all the way past Talybont. It is included here because it provides a Caerdydd (Cardiff) north connection into mid-Wales and a planning eye should have maintained this. Dowlais Top is renamed Dowlais as the only remaining station. Main routes from Caerdydd will be via Hereford and (as imagined and altered) Gorllewin Abertawe for Aberystwyth, but the slow route north-south does connect with several spa and reservoir resorts and the books resort of Y Gelli (Hay-on-Wye).

It's not realistic to justify a line from Aberteifi (Cardigan). Villages en-route are small and the line is indirect for further journeys. Buses can link to the nearest stations.

Some lines wouldn't have become heritage lines, such as Taunton to Minehead. Padstow was a big loss to the rail network, but I'd have coupled it with Bude in multiple rail options, and that would have meant the (we've learnt with hindsight) the importance of the second inland route between Exeter and Plymouth. They restored Exeter for Okehampton but it should run through. Still, some railways would have closed, it's just that some key destinations if for tourism could have been maintained.

I've actually removed the short spur to Stourbridge. The junction is surely close enough.

A missing line is indeed Bath for Poole and Bournemouth, but Bath Green was unconnected. From and to Bath Spa the journey goes via Westbury and reverses near Wincanton at a new station called Wyke. I'd also have kept Didcot south towards Southampton.

The Varsity Line is much mentioned these days. Plans are to go through Bedford (Midland, as was) with a new route to the east, passing the A1 in the northern Tempsford area. But it seems to me the older route is easiest, pre-existing too, and so the old St. Johns location is now a suggested new Bedford Fenlake. (I'd close Bedford St. Johns, as moved.) Nevertheless I'd have flyover at the East Coast Main Line so to connect Bedford with Sandy and Letchworth for the eastern stretch and that line NE-SW for Cambridge.

Buckingham, a university town, needs its railway restoring. Rather than have a through branch via Verney Junction (as was) the connection to London can be via the Aylesbury line connecting directly with the Varsity line. Claydon (station) is the old name for Steeple Claydon.

Cowes and Ryde should have stayed connected within the Isle of Wight.

Partition and conflict in Ireland reduced the number of cross-border railways. Nevertheless, I would have kept the Portadown to Derry line, and if so this would have been intercity for both trains from Belfast and Dublin. I would kept open the line for passengers that would have provided a later airport station, as indeed there can be one north east of Derry. Dublin trains can start and finish at Larne.

Regarding the ferries illustrated, some are principally goods routes with limited space for extra passengers.

 Some Retained Intercity 
 (not existing today) [and reverse direction]: 

Abertawe (Swansea) - Neath - Port Talbot - Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr - Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Casnewydd (Newport) - Bristol Temple Meads - Bath - Westbury - Salisbury - Romsey - Southampton.
Abertawe (Swansea) - Neath - Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Casnewydd (Newport) - Bristol Parkway - Didcot - London.
Aberystwyth - Llanbedr Pont Steffan - Caefyrddin - Llanelli - Gorllewin Abertawe - Caerdydd - Casnewydd - Bristol Parkway - Swindon - Oxford.
Aberystwyth - Tregaron - Llanbedr Pont Steffan - Pencader - Caefyrddin - Llanelli - Gorllewin Abertawe - Port Talbot - Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr - Caerdydd - Casnewydd - Bristol Temple Meads - Bridgwater - Taunton - Tiveton parkway - Exeter St. Davids.
Bradford - Leeds - Harrogate - Ripon - Northallerton - Darlington - Durham - Newcastle-Upon-Tyne - Berwick-upon-Tweed - Edingburgh - Falkirk - Glasgow.
Bradford - Leeds - Harrogate - Ripon - Northallerton - Eaglescliffe - Thornaby - Middlesbrough.
Bristol Temple Meads - Bath - Swindon - Oxford - Claydon - Bletchley - Bedford Fenlake - Sandy - Letchworth - Royston - Cambridge - Ely - Thetford - Wymondham - Norwich.
Buckingham - Claydon - Quainton - Aylesbury Vale Parkway - Aylesbury - Amersham - Chorleywood - Rickmansworth - Northwood - Wembley Park - London Marylebone.
Buckingham - Winslow - Bletchley - Fenny Stratford - Bow Brickhill - Woburn Sands - Aspley Guise - Ridgmont - Lidlington - Milbrook - Stewartby - Kempston Hardwick - Bedford Midland.
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr - Port Talbot - Gorllewin Abertawe - Llanelli - Caerfyrddin - Pencadr - Llanbedr Pont Steffan - Tregaron - Aberystwyth.
Cambridge - Waterbeach - Ely - March - Spalding - Sleaford - Lincoln - Gainsborough - Finningley - Doncaster - Wakefield - Leeds.
Dublin - Drogheda - Dundalk - Newry West - Goraghwood - Portadown - Dungannon - Omagh - Newtonstewart - Strabane - Derry.
Great Yarmouth - Norwich - Thetford - March - Peterborough - Grantham - Nottingham - Derby - Matlock - Bakewell - Stockport - Manchester.
London - Huntingdon - Peterborough - Spalding - Boston - Firsby - Willoughby - Louth - Grimsby.
London - Stratford - Shenfield - Chelmsford - Wytham - Marks Tey - Colchester - Ipswich - Saxmundham - Beccles - Gorleston-on-Sea - Great Yarmouth.
Manchester - Bolton - Preston - Lancaster - Oxenholme - Penrith - Carlisle - Getna Green - Dumfries - Castle Douglas - New Galloway - Newton Stewart - Stranraer.
Nottingham - Chesterfield - Sheffield - Penistone - Manchester.
Oxford - Claydon - Bletchley - Bedford Fenlake - Sandy - Letchworth - Royston - Cambridge.
Sheffield - Wakefield - Leeds - Harrogate - Ripon - Northallerton - Eaglescliffe - Stockton - West Hartlepool - Sunderland.

 Some Regional/ Local 
 (not existing today) [and reverse direction]: 

Aberdeen - Banchory - Lumphanan - Aboyne - Ballater (bus for Braemar - Kirchmichael - Pitlochry.
Aberdeen - Dyce - Newmachar - Ellon - Maud Junction - Peterhead.
Aberdeen - Dyce - Newmachar - Ellon - Maud Junction - Strichen - Fraserburgh.
Aberhonddu (Brecon) - Aberllynfi (Three Cocks) - Y Gelli (Hay-on-Wye) - Eardsley - Hereford - Ross-on-Wye - Gloucester.
Aviemore - Boat of Garten - Broomhill - Grantown-on-Spey - (bus for Charlestown of Aberlour - Keith).
Banff - Tillynaught - Carnie Junction - Keith - Elgin - Burghead.
Bangor - Llangefni - Llanerchymedd - Amlwch.
Bolton - Blackburn - Langho - Whalley - Clitheroe - Hellifield - Settle.
Bristol - Bath - Bradford-on-Avon - Trowbridge - Westbury - Wyke [reverse] - Wincanton - Abbas Combe - Sturminster Newton - Shillingstone - Blandford Forum - Sturminster Marshall - Poole - Branksome - Bournemouth.
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Caerphilly - Dowlais - Talybont - Aberhonddu (Brecon).
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Caerphilly - Dowlais - Talybont - Aberllynfi (Three Cocks) - Llanfair-ym-Muallt (Builth Wells) - Builth Road - Rhaeadr Gwy - Llandidloes - Cyffordd Lôn Ffos - Y Drenewydd (Newtown) - Trefaldwyn - Y Trallwng - Oswestry - Gobowen - Rhiwabon - Wrecsam - Chester.
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Pontypridd - Porth - Llwynypia - Treorci - Treherbert - Abertawe.
Cambridge - Cambridge North - Waterbeach - Ely - Downham Market - Kings Lynn - Wolfeton - Desingham - Hunstanton.
Carlisle - Getna Green - Annan - Dumfries - Dalbeattie - Castle Douglas - Kirkcudbright.
Carlisle - Longtown - Copshaw Holm (Newcastleton) - Hawick - (bus for Selkirk - Abbotsford - Melrose - St Boswells - Jedburgh) St Boswells - Melrose - Galashiels - Eskbank and Dalkeith - Edinburgh.
Cowes - Newport - Ryde.
Darlington - Bishop Auckland - Durham - Chester-le-Street - Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Darlington - Catterick - Richmond.
Derby - Ambergate - Matlock Bath - Matlock - Bakewell - Miller's Dale - Buxton.
Doncaster - Thorne South - Scunthorpe - Barnetby - Habrough - Grimsby - Louth - Willoughby [reverse] - Sutton-on-Sea - Mablethorpe.
Edinburgh - Falkirk - Stirling - Dunblane - Doune - Callender - Strathyre - Lochearnhead - Glen Ogle North - (bus for Killin) - Crianlarich - Tyndrum Lower - Loch Awe - Tainuilt - Aiseag na Coingheil - Oban.
Exeter - Crediton - Okehampton - Halwill - Holsworthy - Bude.
Exeter - Crediton - Okehampton - Lydford - Tavistock - Devonport - Plymouth.
Exmouth - Exeter - Crediton - Lapford - Barnstaple - (bus for Bideford) Ilfacombe.
Falmouth - Truro - St Austell - St Dennis - Newquay.
Gloucester - Longhope - Ross-on-Wye - Holme Lacy - Hereford
Hereford - Ledbury - Great Malvern - Worcester - Evesham - Honeybourne - Stratford-upon-Avon - Stratford Parkway - Wilmcote - Wooton Wawen - Henley-in-Arden - Danzey Green - Wood End - The Lakes - Earlswood - Wythall - Whitlock End - Shirley - Yardley Wood - Hall Green - Spring Road - Tyseley - Small Heath - Bordesley - Birmingham Moor Street - Birmingham Snow Hill.
Hull Paragon - Chanterlands - Newland - Stoneferry - Chamberlain Road - Sutton - Skirlaugh - Hornsea Bridge - Hornsea.
Hull Paragon - Chanterlands - Newland - Stoneferry - Holderness Road - Marfleet - Hedon - Burstwick - Keyingham - Ottringham - Winestead - Patrington - Withernsea.
Ipswich - Wickham Market - Saxmundham - Halesworth - Beccles - Lowestoft
Ipswich - Wickham Market - Saxmundham - Thorpeness - Aldeburgh.
Kings Lynn - Swaffam - Dereham - Wymondham - Norwich.
Lincoln - Bardney - Woodhall Spa - Firsby - Skegness
Lincoln - Bardney - Woodhall Spa - Firsby - Willoughby - Sutton-on-Sea - Mablethorpe.
Llandudno - Cyffordd Llandudno - Llanrwst - Betws-y-Coed - Blaenau Ffestiniog - Llan Ffestiniog (bus for Dolgellau).
Machynlleth - Cyffordd Dyfi - Penhelyg - Aberdyfi - Tywyn - Llwyngwril - Fairbourne - Morfa Mawddach - Abermaw - Dyffryn Ardudwy - Harlech - Porthmadog - Cricieth - Afon Wen - Caernarfon - Bangor.
Machynlleth - Cyffordd Dyfi - Penhelyg - Aberdyfi - Tywyn - Llwyngwril - Fairbourne - Morfa Mawddach - Dolgellau - Cyffordd Y Bala - Cowen - Llangollen - Rhiwabon - Wrecsam - Chester.
Manchester - Bury - Accrington - Burnley - Colne - Skipton.
Middlesbrough - Eaglescliffe - Darlington - Barnard Castle - Bowes - Kirkby Stephen - Appleby - Penrith - [reverse] Keswick (bus for Cockermouth - Workington).
Northallerton - Bedale - Leyburn - Aysgarth - Askrigg - Hawes - Garsdale - (bus for Sedburgh) Dent - Horton in Ribblesdale - Settle.
Northallerton - Darlington - Barnard Castle - Bowes - Kirkby Stephen - (bus for Kirkby Stephen town) (bus for Sedburgh) Appleby - Penrith - [reverse] Keswick.
Norwich - Wymondham - Dereham - Fakenham - Wells-next-the-Sea.
Okehampton - Halwill - Launceston - Camelford - (bus for Tintagel) Wadebridge - Padstow.
Oxford - Oxford Parkway - Bicester Village - Claydon - Winslow - Bletchley - Woburn Sands - Bedford Midland.
Oxford - Oxford Parkway - Bicester Village - Claydon - Winslow - Bletchley - Woburn Sands - Bedford Fenlake - Sandy - Biggleswade - Letchworth - Royston - Cambridge [reverse] - Newmarket - Bury St. Edmunds - Stowmarket - Ipswich [reverse] - Felixstowe.
Oxford - Didcot - Newbury - Winchester - Eastleigh - Southampton.
Oxford - Didcot - Newbury - Winchester - Eastleigh - Welborne - Fareham - Portsmouth.
Perth - Luncarty - Stanley - Cougar Angus - Forfar North - (bus for Forfar) (bus for Brechin - Laurencekirk) Friockheim - Arbroath - Carnoustie - Broughty Ferry - Dundee.
Penrith - Keswick (bus for Cockermouth - Workington).
Peterborough - Whittlesea - March - Wisbech - Kings Lynn.
Plymouth - Devonport - Saltash - Liskeard - Bodmin Parkway - Bodmin - Wadebridge - Padstow.
Plymouth - Devonport - Saltash - Liskeard - Bodmin Parkway - Lostwithiel - Fowey.
Porthladd Abergwaun - Abergwaun ac Wdig - Ffordd Treglarbes - Hendy Gwyn - Caerfyrddin - Cydweli - Pen-bre - Llanelli - Gorllewin Abertawe - Port Talbot - Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr - Caerdydd.
Preston - Kirkham and Wesham - Thornton - Wyre Dock (for Fleetwood).
(Bus from Corwen) Rhuthun - Dinbych (Bus for Llanelwy (St. Asaph) and Abergele) - Yr Wyddgrug (Mold) - Chester.
Sheffield - Worksop - Retford - Gainsborough - Kirton in Lindsey - Brigg - Ulceby - Killingholmes - Immingham - Works West (Request) - Works East (Request) - Europa - Pyewipe - Grimsby - Grimsby Docks (Request) - New Clee (Request) - Cleethorpes.
Skipton - Colne - Burnley - Accrington - Blackburn - Preston.
Skipton - Rylstone - Cracoe - Grassington.
Sunderland - Ryhope - Seaham - West Hartlepool - Stockton - Thornaby - Middlesbrough - Redcar Central - Redcar East - Longbeck - Marske - Saltburn - New Skelton - Brotton - Hunt Cliff (request) - Loftus (bus to Easington - Dalehouse - Staithes - Hinderwall - Runswick Bay - Ellerby - Sandsend - Whitby West Cliff - Whitby Railway Station).
Trowbridge - Westbury - Shepton Mallet.
Warwick - Wilmcote - Stratford Parkway - Stratford-Upon-Avon - Honeybourne - Worcestershire Parkway - Worcester.
Whitby - Robin Hood's Bay - Ravenscar - Cloughton - Scarborough [reverse] - Seamer - Filey - Bridlington - Driffield - Beverley - Cottingham - Hull.
Worcester - Droitwich Spa - Kidderminster [reverse] - Bewdley - Bridgnorth - Buildwas - Shrewsbury.
York - Haxby - Malton - Rillington - Pickering - Levisham - Goathland - Grosmont - Sleights - Ruswarp - Whitby.