Anarchy 44/Irrelevancies of Beeching

From Anarchy
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Irrelevancies of Beeching


On the very first day of flam­ing june this year, (re­mem­ber it?), a daily jour­nal which shall be name­less, but which boasts of hold­ing up a mirror to life on a mass cir­cu­la­tion basis, (“tuck­shop Annie may be a teacher”—“The army flies Barbara to love”), used up the whole of its pre­cious mid­dle pages, (ex­cept two three quar­ter columns ad­vertis­ing one of its women’s week­lies, and three squares of a daily strip), in adu­la­tion of Dr. Beech­ing and the suc­cess of his Plan. “His great­est achieve­ment—halt­ing the slide into the red”—“A twin track look at the Brit­ish Rail­ways”—(or at a one track mind?).

  This per­turb­at­ive bally­hoo on Beech­ing im­pels one to seek for the reason be­hind it all, (apart from that of mass cir­cu­la­tion). Has Dr. Beech­ing de­cided to use admas meth­ods in ap­peal­ing to the masses? (“I would like people to know that I didn’t set out to plan the fu­ture of Brit­ish Rail­ways in iso­la­tion from other forms of trans­port”). Can it be pos­sible that the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors, Aims of In­dus­try, and the Road Haul­age people, have com­bined to “per­suade” this daily jour­nal that “pro­fit­abil­ity” is the one key word to the fu­ture? (People who inter­fere with that sacred cow do not matter—the cus­tomer is not always right). But this mir­ror of life needed no per­suad­ing. It ac­claimed the Beech­ing Plan, at its in­cep­tion, as a “Great Plan”. It pub­lished a map with the main lines inked in heav­ily and the feed lines washed out. Hurrah. Pro­fit­abil­ity is the watch­word. Ignore the added con­ges­tion on the roads. Dr. Beech­ing has told us that inte­gra­ted road and rail traf­fic is a “gov­ern­mental re­spons­ibil­ity”. Now we can use our cars to get to the main line sta­tions in time to catch the trains which will get us, in com­fort and at speed, to our main line des­tin­a­tions on time. (Or may we, once in our cars, de­cide to travel all the way, door to door?) On this map, Skeg­ness was out, Bourne­mouth was in. With Dr. Beech­ing’s flair for the blue pen­cil, shall we now be see­ing un­used Skeg­ness post­ers over­printed, like gro­cers’ win­dow stick­ers, “Bourne­mouth is so bracing”?

  And what is this Beech­ing Plan? It is the re­sult of a doctor of philo­sophy’s ac­cept­ance of the task of carry­ing out the Gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal that the Rail­ways should be “made to pay”, on their own. This pro­posi­tion ig­nored the fact that the rail­ways had al­ready been sac­ri­ficed to a “free for all” ideo­logy, by throw­ing their road haul­age source of in­come to the wolves, who, in­sist­ing on their own “pro­fit­abil­ity”, re­pudi­ate their fin­an­cial re­spons­ibil­ity for tear­ing up the pub­lic roads, and in­com­mod­ing other traf­fic. Was the good doc­tor not aware that the rail­ways, even be­fore na­tion­al­isa­tion, had to be sub­si­dised? Was he not aware that hold­ers of con­verted rail­way shares are
now grate­ful for being in re­ceipt of a steady in­come? Was he not aware that the roads, and road and rail traf­fic, are su­premely inter­de­pend­ent? But no, he shrugs off any re­spons­ibil­ity for the roads, and de­cides to in­crease their bur­den of traf­fic by “prun­ing” the rail­ways, per­haps rely­ing on those very de­bat­able stat­ist­ics re­gard­ing the prob­able in­crease in road users. As a doc­tor of philo­sophy he is pre­sum­ably trained in the hu­man­it­ies, so he brings out his sur­geon’s scalpel and cuts out what he calls the “dead wood”. Is he not aware that he is prun­ing the roots that feed the tree? And root prun­ing is a deli­cate oper­a­tion, not one for mass lop­pings which deny an al­ready crip­pled tree its right­ful sus­ten­ance. He lances here,, he lances there, and the com­mun­it­ies of Lan­cing and other places are killed. He should be grate­ful for the prun­ings so far re­sisted. For in­stance, the plan to cut out the South­port line—until some­one dis­cov­ered it would re­quire an­other four hun­dred buses or so to cope with the traf­fic trans­ferred to the roads. Alter­nat­ive trans­port? Dr. Beech­ing must know this is a myth when he evades re­spons­ibil­ity for roads ori­gin­ally de­signed for horse traf­fic.

  He claims thathe has halted the slide into the red. How has he measured this? By using an elas­tic tape measure marked off in the fin­an­cial sym­bols of £. s. d.that con­tinu­ally fluc­tu­at­ing measure used by ac­count­ants to de­term­ine pro­fit­abil­ity, with no re­gard for eco­nom­ic and so­cial values. These prun­ings may very well bring tem­por­ary pro­fit­abil­ity, but it will be at the ex­pense of all the other inter­de­pend­ent con­cerns they have damaged, and the rail­way tree will even­tu­ally grow lop­sided and de­nied its full use­ful­ness in har­mony with its sur­round­ings.

  In these “twin track” pages of white­wash, there is also the boast that “five hun­dred ex­pres­ses a week now do their jour­neys at an aver­age of 60 m.p.h.”. Has not Dr. Beech­ing heard of a train called the Sil­ver Ju­bilee which, thirty years ago, did the run from <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: New­castle-on-Tyne">New­castle-on-Tyne to London, non-stop travel­ling at 100 m.p.h. for long streches? Busi­ness men in those days went to Town in a morn­ing, con­duc­ted their busi­ness and re­turned in the even­ing. Today, the ex­pense ac­count exec­ut­ive goes to the air­port, (main line sta­tion, or all the way?), in his Bent­ley, stays two nights in London enter­tain­ing his “busi­ness as­so­ci­ates”, (?), and charges the cost of the whole trip to the tax­payer.

  Pro­fit­abil­ity? In the eco­nom­ic and so­cial sense, (what doth it pro­fit a man?), YES, by all means, YES. In its ac­count­ing sense, (in­dis­crim­in­ate fin­an­cial gain?), NO, de­fin­itely, NO.

  London buses are slower today than they were in 1914, Mr R. J. Mellish (Lab. Ber­mond­sey) told the Min­ister of Trans­port, adding that roads in Central London were so con­ges­ted that it was vir­tu­ally im­pos­sible to run a sched­uled ser­vice at all.

  Mr Marples had in­formed MPs that be­tween 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on week­days, 1,434 buses per hour run through the Central London area, com­pared with 2,176 buses and tram­cars in 1950 and 2,458 in 1938.

the guardian 16/5/1964