Thursday, 6 February 2014

Beached And Beeching

The news about the weather and the railways had me reaching for my July 1922 and 1863 copies of Bradshaw.  The damage done at Dawlish where the old Great Western Railway main line goes by the sea through tunnels and embankments is going to be a big job to repair. 

My view is that it will cost a lot more and take a lot longer than is being said.  In a brief piece about the cost and future there was passing mention of an inland alternative. 

This does not need to be a new  line because there are disused lines for an inland route.  There was a line out of Exeter that connected at Heathfield to the Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead line.

Given the existing costs of maintaining the coastal line, already known for delays in bad weather, it may be that the cost of reinstating the old inland lines as a fast route plus the comparative maintenance costs could be economic in the long term.  It is an interesting question.

It is understandable that the coast route in the past may have had enough local traffic and originally there was development to be sponsored but that is no longer the case.  These coastal places are now pensioner and benefits enclaves.  The old coastal route could be handed over to a heritage group.

The fact that lines to the west were cut down to one two track line was because of the vagaries of railway decision making in the past.  Back in the 1970's it would have made sense to use the inland route rebuilt with fast tracks. 

But British Rail then had lost interest in passengers and any fast lines other than the two Scottish main line routes and the Brighton Line for the media people and Administrative Class civil servants.

If you want to see what this line was then Disused Railway Stations has the answer in relation to Heathfield Station that connected with both Exeter and Newton Abbot.  Basically, it was used like other options elsewhere as a freight line with limited slow passenger services in this case that closed before Beeching.

Given the layout of the western counties and their need for reliable fast services to London quite why they were cut back down to one line only and that on a vulnerable coastal line better served by stopping local trains is one of those mysteries of transport policy.

It may be the time to revisit the past and work out what kind of railway and backup lines might be best in the future.  This may not happen because all eyes and the money are fixed on a fourth route to Birmingham that might save all of thirty minutes, if you do not allow any time taken to go to and from the stations.

This weekend's weather might make the decision for them.


  1. Do you really think our governing classes capable of such reasoned logic as yours, Demetrius?

  2. "It may be the time to revisit the past and work out what kind of railway and backup lines might be best in the future."

    I agree. Do we really need to save those minutes between Birmingham and London? Surely slower trains are more efficient anyway - energy wise.