Station Road Dunstable
Ian Pearce looks at the impact of the 1963 Beeching Report on one Bedfordshire town...
In 1963 Doctor Richard Beeching published his notorious report "The Reshaping of Britain's Railways".
The Beeching report recommended the closure of thousands of miles of track and hundreds of stations. Many branch lines were wiped off the railway map along with major routes such as the Great Central main line through North Buckinghamshire. Intermediate stations on main lines were closed as well. Castlethorpe just north of Wolverton was one village to suffer from Beeching's axe even though the West Coast Main Line splits the village in two.
The remains of the bridge over Watling Street
In 1965 the branch line from Hatfield to Dunstable closed as recommended by Beeching. This stations closed included Dunstable North and Dunstable Town. It was to be the end of Dunstable's place on the rail network.
Today, Dunstable is the biggest town in the country without a train service. Dunstable's first trains arrived from Leighton Buzzard, struggling up Sewell cutting into a station just south of Thomas Telford's Watling Street road cutting. This line was operated by the London North Western Railway. In 1858 the branch from Hatfield arrived and shared a new station at Dunstable North. The original station became goods sidings serving Dunstable's gasworks.
A level crossing... but no trains!
For over one hundred years Dunstable had a through train to London although for most of the day local trains pottered up and down both branches, passengers changing at Dunstable North. The Leighton Buzzard line closed to passengers in 1962 a year before Beeching. The Hatfield branch was earmarked for closure in 1965. The train service was poor and the stations were on either end of the town.
Meanwhile an excellent direct bus service ran between Luton and Dunstable. Beeching's cold business analysis saw no case for the line and so it closed to passengers in 1965.
Ironically the fragment of the branch between Luton and Dunstable was connected to the main line at Luton and was relaid to carry one hundred ton wagons to the Houghton Regis cement works and an oil depot by the A5.
Rails through Dunstable - just!
The line nearly reopened in the late eighties. Network South East proposed electrifying the branch with one Thameslink train per hour diverted to the branch. The first class 319 Thameslink units showed Dunstable on the destination blinds ready for the new service. The privatisation of the railways stopped this plan and a large section of the track was removed in Luton severing the town of Dunstable from the rail network for ever.
The line is now to be converted into a guided busway between Houghton Regis and Luton's Parkway station. The scheme has many critics especially amongst those who want a train service.
The site of Dunstable North Station
Today, Dunstable is choked with road traffic while the railway vanishes under trees and bushes. A new bridge crosses the line over the Luton Road where the Town station stood. The bridge over the Watling street was dismantled in 1967 and South Bedfordshire Council's offices stand on the site of Dunstable North station.
Beeching had no vision of the future and no imagination either. If he had proposed joining two railways that were ten feet apart in Luton, then Dunstable would have an electric train to London today. Instead he looked at the business on one day in the school holidays in 1962 and axed anything that didn't make a profit.
There are two remarkable survivors of Beeching's axe in the Three Counties.
A new bridge over the A505.
Bedford to Bletchley survives. Beeching proposed all the interim station for closure, yet would retain Oxford to Cambridge fast services along the line. In the event the opposite happened and a valuable lifeline continues to serve the Marston Vale to this day.
The Abbey Flyer survives between Watford and St Albans thanks to new housing developments. Just what could and should have happened at Dunstable. Instead the railway is gone forever.
last updated: 28/10/2008 at 13:52
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