This is the story of how around 150 pre-Grouping railways of Britain evolved from their 'Golden Age' in the heady Edwardian era to become the less popular nationalised British Railways. It fell to Dr. Richard Beeching, Chairman of the British Railways Board (1961-1965) to wield his axe in order to achieve the Government's ambition of turning the railways back into profit. With the use of extensive and rare archive footage, this series examines Beeching's legacy as we commemorate 50 years since his infamous report 'The Reshaping of British Railways' was published.
Before Beeching To start our journey, we follow the path of Britain's railways from the pre-Grouping of the Edwardian era when steam was king, through to Beeching's appointment as Chairman of the British Railways Board in 1961. During that time two World Wars had drastically changed Britain and its railways had moved from a 'Golden Age' to an industry experiencing heavy annual losses.
Beeching's Axe Picking up the story in 1961, the second part of this series follows the chain of events after Beeching was appointed as the first Chairman of the British Railways Board. His task was to draw up a plan to eliminate the network's losses and to reorganise the railways for the future. It was a job that would secure his place in British Railway history.
The Beeching Railway In March 1963 Beeching's proposals popularly known as the Beeching Axe were, unsurprisingly, accepted in full by the Minister of Transport Ernest Marples, despite some opposition from within the Conservative party. Over the following years Beeching's cuts were gradually introduced and by the early 1970s Britain' s railways and passengers were seeing the benefits of his actions as The Age of the Train was ushered in.
Beeching's Legacy The final part of our story concludes with the often-painful experience of travelling on today's railways. With a myriad of operators taking rail travel into a future with a seemingly never-ending growth in traffic, it proves that Britain's railway network has a vital part to play in the transport industry of the future, just as it did 50 years ago: truly, 'Beeching's Legacy'.