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Monday 4 May 2009

Station Sellout – Take 2

I’ve previously outlined the relationship between the town of Crewe and the railway. Also, the moves by Network Rail (NR) to take the station out of town were considered. I mentioned that NR’s predecessors had previous. It is from this point that I continue.

Forty-two years ago, a senior British Rail (BR) manager published his memoirs and soon after was sacked for what was widely seen as misconduct: one didn’t do that sort of thing. Gerry Fiennes’ book, I Tried to Run a Railway, is interesting and accessible, even to those with little or no knowledge of railways. It also reveals the sometimes less than honest way that the railway dealt with its customers and staff.

After railway nationalisation in 1948, the network was organised on regional lines, each region being defined by area, and not by the previous operator. This meant that some lines found themselves in the territory run by the successors of their competitors. Some main lines – those from London to Birmingham via Bicester, and London to Exeter via Salisbury – have survived, despite being run down and considered for closure. The main line from London through Rugby and Leicester to Nottingham and Sheffield, built by the former Great Central Railway, did not.

Fiennes’ book was quite candid about the Great Central. He admitted that a team had set out in the early 1950s to prove that the route was uneconomic and, ultimately, close it. Neither the travelling public, nor even those who worked on the line, knew of this. Not until the end of the 50s, that is, when the express service on the line was withdrawn, presaging a running down of the route.

BR were soon afterwards faced with the fallout from the Beeching Report. From this came a wave of route closures. One proposed closure, of the route from Stockport to Buxton, resulted in furious opposition. Those against closure sought the assistance of consultant Roger Calvert, who demonstrated that BR’s cost assumptions were substantially bogus. They included, for instance, the cost of upkeep for major stations that would still be open even if closure went ahead: closure would not produce any saving.

The line to Buxton survived, and is still in use today. But any opponents of future closures had their hopes of similar reprieve dashed when BR then changed the rules to stop their costings and other assumptions being challenged. Closure could now be challenged only on the grounds of the hardship it would cause to those having to make alternative travel arrangements.

Thus the lack of openness that Fiennes’ memoirs revealed returned. It has survived into the new millennium, as I discovered when the railway toyed with the idea of more station closures in the North West, in fact, only just north of Crewe. I’ll consider this later.

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