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. However, he could have added a more strategic coverage approach and one that understood that some loss making branch lines fed mainline profitability.

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 the 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 Baemar 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 was 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 connecting 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.

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. 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 maintains 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 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 use the still used high level line adding strategic stops (with the low level line and all its crossings closed). I would keep the later intercity route via Selby for trains for London, but the line speed on a straight line out of Hull is incredibly restricted. 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 hourly and regular.

One reason for reopening is the number of lines available for upgrading after 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 Rosington 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. The Airport could have its own branch, and/ or Finningley reopened. 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 as the main Grimsby south route. Not just this, but the Lincoln and Skegness run was lost too, as well as a link 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.

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 bypass route.

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 Sheringham curve down to Melton Constable. I'd have simplified and better connected Yarmouth, whilst accepting some closures were pre-Beeching. As for south of Yarmouth, the closure of 1970 ended the coastal route - what could have been. However, keeping this open (it was reduced to a single line and unstaffed halts) 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, that kept, the big loss was the important route between Carmarthen/ Caefyrddin through the university town of Llanbedr Pont Steffan (Lampeter) and Abeystwyth. I'd have downgraded the lines west to regional, keeping the line to Aberteifi (Cardigan) but have the south western route as intercity. This would be aided by a short cut avoiding Neath in the Abertawe (Swansea) area. Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth would also be intercity. The line through Llangollen should never have been closed, benefitting Wrecsam and Chester and I'd terminate and begin services at Machylleth. 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 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 to Amlwch and to Llanberis.

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. 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 via Chepton Mallet for Poole and Bournemouth, providing intercity journeys. I'd 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) - [new link] Port Talbot - Pen-Y-Bont Ar Ogwr - Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Casnewydd (Newport) - Bristol Temple Meads - Bath - Westbury - Salisbury - Romsey - Southampton.
Abertawe (Swansea) - [new link] Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Casnewydd (Newport) - Bristol Parkway - Didcot - London.
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 - Bath - Shepton Mallet - Poole - Bournemouth.
Bristol - Bath - Swindon - Oxford - Bletchley - Bedford - 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 - Abertawe (Swansea) - 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 - Bletchley - Bedford - 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.
Aberteifi (Cardigan) - Hendy Gwyn - Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen).
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 - Radstock - Shepton Mallet - Wincanton - Abbas Combe - Blandford Forum - Poole - Branksome - Bournemouth.
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Caerphilly - Talybont - Aberhonddu (Brecon).
Caerdydd (Cardiff) - Caerphilly - Talybont - Aberllynfi (Three Cocks) - Llanfair-ym-Muallt (Builth Wells) - Builth Road - Rhaeadr Gwy - Llandidloes - Cyffordd Lôn Ffos - Y Drenewydd (Newtown) - Trefaldwyn - Y Trallwng - Oswestry - 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.
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 - Chanterlands - Newland - Stoneferry - Chamberlain Road - Sutton - Skirlaugh South - Hornsea Bridge - Hornsea.
Hull - 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 - Bicester Village - Claydon - Winslow - Bletchley - Woburn Sands - Bedford Midland.
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.
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.