16 Facts About Beeching Axe


Protests resulted in the saving of some stations and lines, but the majority were closed as planned; Beeching Axe's name remains associated with the mass closure of railways and the loss of many local services in the period that followed.

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Beeching Axe first studied traffic flows on all lines to identify "the good, the bad, and the indifferent".

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Out of 18,000 miles of railway, Beeching Axe recommended that 6,000 miles —mostly rural and industrial lines—should be closed entirely, and that some of the remaining lines should be kept open only for freight.

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Beeching Axe recommended that freight services should mainly be for bulk commodities such as minerals and coal, and that the freight system make use of new containerised handling systems rather than less efficient and slower wagon-load traffic.

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On 16 February 1965, Beeching Axe introduced the second stage of his reorganisation of the railways.

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Underpinning Beeching Axe's proposals was his belief that there was too much duplication in the railway network: "The real choice is between an excessive and increasingly un-economic system, with a corresponding tendency for the railways as a whole to fall into disrepute and decay, or the selective development and intensive utilisation of a more limited trunk route system".

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Frank Cousins, the Labour Minister of Technology, told the House of Commons in November 1965 that Beeching Axe had been dismissed by Tom Fraser, then Minister of Transport.

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Beeching Axe denied this, pointing out that he had returned early to ICI as he would not have had enough time to undertake an in-depth transport study before the formal end of his secondment.

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Beeching Axe Report was intended to be the first stage in the rail network's contraction.

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Beeching Axe's reports made no recommendations about the handling of land after closures.

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Critics of Beeching Axe argue that the lack of recommendations on the handling of closed railway property demonstrates that the report was short-sighted.

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Marshlink line between Ashford International and Hastings, threatened with closure in the Beeching Axe Report, is seen as important due to the opening of the Channel Tunnel and High Speed 1.

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Stedeford and Beeching Axe clashed on a number of issues, but the future size of the railway system was not one of them.

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Beeching Axe would receive the same yearly salary that he was earning at ICI, the controversial sum of £24,000, £10,000 more than Sir Brian Robertson, the previous chairman of the BTC, £14,000 more than Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and two-and-a-half times higher than the salary of any head of a nationalised industry at the time.

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In 1982, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, Sir David Serpell, a civil servant who had worked with Beeching Axe, compiled the Serpell Report which said that a profitable railway could be achieved only by closing much of what remained.

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Ian Hislop comments that history has been somewhat unkind to "Britain's most hated civil servant", by forgetting that Beeching Axe proposed a much better bus service that ministers never delivered, and that in some ways he was used to do their "dirty work for them".

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