Oh! Dr Beeching!
By Steven George
Forty years ago this year the Golden Age of Steam, already tarnished, already slowing, was finally consigned to a railway siding forever.
The reforms of Dr Richard Beeching transformed Britain's rail network, closing 2000 stations and tearing up 5000 miles of track. To many Beeching was the axe man who ruined the railways and at the time he was wielding the axe he was living in East Grinstead.
Dr Richard Beeching
Unlike the rest of the country Sussex and Surrey dodged the worst of the Beeching Axe. He realised that many suburban lines - although small - carried thousands of office workers in and out of London and just about paid their way. What he didn’t like were rural services carrying a handful of passengers to visit relatives or go shopping. They were for the chop.
One such service was the seven miles of track linking Uckfield to the coast and efforts to reopen the line are still being made, forty years on. "When the line was cut in 1969 the effect was catastrophic," says campaigner Brian Hart.
Somewhat ironically, Dr Beeching made particularly dramatic cuts to his home station of East Grinstead. Pre-1968 the station was the hub for lines going to all four points of the compass. The only line which remains today is the one connecting the town to London - the same line Beeching took to work every day.
Despite this radical change there are some in East Grinstead who think if Richard Beeching as a hero.
Rail expert Christian Wolmar believes that even though Beeching slashed hundreds of services, modernisation was inevitable: "It’s important not to look at Beeching as just an axe-man." he says. "What he saw as the future of the railway was high speed rapid travel between towns so I think he would have been very pleased to have seen the Ashford to St Pancras service that’s starting in 2009."
26 Oct 2008 16:25 BBC One - Edwina Currie journeys across London and the South East to examine the legacy of Doctor Beeching, one of the most notorious men in British railway history. She meets the people and places affected by his cuts and discovers how, forty years later, they have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. (London, South East only)
last updated: 24/10/2008 at 15:47