The railways that had helped Britain become an industrial power, but which were now haemorrhaging money, were to be cut back brutally. The car would replace the train, Beeching decreed. In doing so, he ushered in an era of vast motorway expansion and cheap motorised transport. The train, deemed dirty and smoky, was earmarked for extinction. If Beeching and other transport planners of the day had had their way, only a rump of inter-city lines would have been left.
Today the makeup of UK transport looks very different from the one envisaged by Dr Beeching. Rail passenger figures have almost doubled over the past 10 years; commuter trains are crammed; young people are deserting the car for the train; and Britain’s railway bosses are struggling to meet soaring demands for seats. The legacy of Beeching – dug-up lines, sold-off track beds and demolished bridges – has only hindered plans to revitalise the network, revealing the dangers of having a single, inflexible vision when planning infrastructure.
[…] Examples of the headaches imposed by Beeching’s legacy include the Varsity line that used to link Oxford and Cambridge and which the government now wants to reopen to connect fast-growing Milton Keynes with Oxbridge’s research centres. Rebuilding the disused western section between Oxford and Bedford will cost £270m and could be ready by 2017. But the track bed of the eastern section, between Bedford and Cambridge, was sold decades ago and has since been built on. How transport planners get round this problem remains to be seen.