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  • Survivors of Beeching by John Jackson

    It seems like only yesterday that I was lying on the carpet at my best friend’s house. Dave lived ‘seven doors down’ and had the superior Hornby double 0 gauge model railway layout. As school chums, we spent many a happy hour playing trains there.

    The view from the train as it approaches St. Ives. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    On more than one occasion I distinctly remember our two dads having the audacity to invade our space and enter our playroom. I recall their conversations on how this man Beeching would have a lasting effect on their lives, not to mention ours.

    My Dad was explaining that the railway lines east of Northampton would soon be no more. These were the very lines that I had taken for granted were there to take us home to see my Nan who lived not far from Haverhill on the Essex and Suffolk county border.

    David’s Dad had responded in a ‘tit for tat’ sort of way by explaining that this would also ruin their family holidays to Hunstanton in particular.

    In those days, when car ownership was not a given, I didn’t appreciate that there would have been similar discussions going on across the land as the country came to terms with the Beeching Act or the Beeching ‘Axe’, as it would become known in the annals of twentieth century history.

    How could I be expected to understand the economic necessities of a radical review of our railways?

    Fast forward a quarter of a century and adulthood had made me realise just what the ‘before’ and ‘after’ railway map looked like once the substantial cull of lines, stations and services had been fully implemented.

    The remote outpost of Altnabreac on Scotland’s Far North Line. (Survivors of Beeching, Amberley Publishing)

    Most childhood weekends had been spent watching the variety of steam locomotives heading up and down the West Coast Main Line. These steam locos were ousted by the rapid introduction of diesel engines followed by the northward march of the line’s electrification. Worse, Roade station, ‘our’ station had become just one of the station closure casualties. There would be no more spotting from the platforms at this strategic point where the Northampton loop split from the main line.

    In time I would, of course, get things in perspective and come to terms with the post Beeching railway map. My goal to travel on all the passenger lines in the country would be that much easier to achieve and there would be considerably less stations to visit.

    But there would still be challenges. The remote station of Rannoch may be on the West Highland Railway Line but, oddly, its road access is from much further east. The B846, a no through road, runs for about fifteen miles from the isolated village of Kinloch Rannoch, itself a similar distance from the main A9. This makes Rannoch around thirty four miles from the comparative civilisation of the Central Highlands. Yes, Rannoch is most certainly ‘a survivor’.

    My seventh title for Amberley, ‘Survivors of Beeching’, is a recognition that many lines were saved for today’s rail travellers to enjoy. The line from Cambridge to Sudbury is gone and Haverhill station has been consigned to railway history. That said, my wife and I continue to enjoy travelling on the lines that have survived. From the branch from St. Erth to St. Ives in Cornwall to Scotland’s Far North line to Wick and Thurso, the lines featured in my book are examples of what today’s railway network still has to offer.

    John Jackson's new book Survivors of Beeching is available for purchase now.

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