The Reshaping of our Railways: 2. The Axemen Cameth

The second part of East of the M60’s report on the effects of its area’s railways before, during and after the publication of The Reshaping of British Railways

Bubble Car and MetCam Shuttle
By the late 1960s, Rail Blue was starting to supplant its various liveries. This example seen above was photographed in 2010 on a Bury Bolton Street – Heywood shuttle service.

For some commentators, the railway was slow, dirty, unreliable and apart from some instances, unprofitable. It was seen as labour intensive, but the sound of steam or the purr of diesel multiple units on quiet stretches added a sense of rhythm. Therefore, their future was veered towards the Thunderbirds style of Forton motorway services; the joy of unfettered motoring and not having to govern journeys by bus or rail times. For them, it was the sense of freedom and enhanced personal space which made a Ford Anglia more seductive than sharing a carriage with a few strangers.

In the 1960s, the Isambard Kingdom Brunels of the world had names like Bovis, Laing or Marples Ridgeway. It was concrete instead of ballast; it had countdown markers instead of speed restriction signs, and motorway services every 25 miles instead of buffet bars. Plans were advanced in our locality for outer and inner ring roads in and around Manchester. This was augmented by plans for motorways across the Pennines, one of which becoming today’s M62. Another one wouldn’t open till 1978 – 81; originally designed to run between central Manchester and Sheffield, all what remains is a five mile section from Denton to Hattersley.

With Lancashire and Cheshire County Councils and the Ministry of Transport turning their attention towards motorways, ring roads and dual carriageways, it was clear that central government’s heart was in tarmac. Who better to deliver that vision than a Mancunian transport minister who happened to have (cough!) a road building business among his interest. Enter stage right, Ernest Marples. His role, besides overseeing an extensive road building programme, was to ensure that the railways would pay their way. As a consequence, he hired Doctor Richard Beeching from ICI to look at how best to cut British Railways’ losses.

In 1962, British Railways was hived off from the British Transport Commission and became a separate public corporation in its own right, as the British Railways Board. As a result of traffic surveys, he proposed the closure of a third of British Railways’ 7,000 railways and 5,000 miles of track out of 17,830 miles.

For many passengers, that fateful day was the 27 March 1963, publication date of The Reshaping of British Railways. The most incendiary part was Appendix 2A, which detailed passenger service, line and station closures. Throughout our area, these affected the following stations and lines:

Passenger Services To Be Withdrawn:

  • Manchester Piccadilly – Buxton;
  • Stockport Edgeley – Stalybridge;
  • Manchester Exchange – Huddersfield (local service);
  • Stockport Tiviot Dale – Glazebrook;
  • Manchester Victoria – Bury – Bacup/Accrington – Colne;
  • Manchester Central – Chinley – Derby Midland (local service)/Hope – Sheffield Midland;
  • Manchester Exchange – Stalybridge – Greenfield;
  • Manchester Victoria – Middleton;
  • Manchester Victoria – Bury Bolton Street;
  • Royton – Royton Junction;
  • Manchester Piccadilly – Hadfield;
  • Manchester Piccadilly – Romiley – Hayfield/Macclesfield.

Passenger Services To Be Modified:

  • Manchester Piccadilly – Macclesfield – Stoke-on-Trent;
  • Manchester Victoria – Rochdale – Todmorden;
  • Bolton Trinity Street – Bury Knowsley Street – Rochdale;
  • Manchester Oxford Road – Crewe;
  • Manchester Victoria – Rochdale/Oldham.

Stations Proposed For Closure (closed stations in italic type – stations closed shortly after Beeching):

  • Ardwick, Ashburys (for Belle Vue), Ashton (Charlestown), Bacup, Baguley;
  • Bamford, Birch Vale, Bollington, Broadbottom, Bowker Vale, Bury Bolton Street;
  • Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith (Central and South stations), Cheadle, Cheadle Heath;
  • Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Clayton Bridge, Crumpsall, Davenport, Denton;
  • Didsbury, Diggle, Dinting, Disley, Dore and Totley;
  • Dove Holes, Droylsden, Edale, Ewood Bridge and Edenfield, Fairfield (for Droylsden), Furness Vale;
  • Glossop Central, Godley Junction, Golcar, Gorton and Openshaw, Greenfield, Grindleford;
  • Hathersage, Hayfield, Hazel Grove, Heaton Park, High Lane, Higher Poynton, Hyde Central;
  • Hyde North, Longwood and Milnbridge, Marsden, Middleton, Middleton Junction, Middlewood Lower;
  • Miles Platting, Miller’s Dale for Tideswell, Mossley, New Mills Newtown, Newton (for Hyde);
  • Newton Heath, Northenden, Park, Radcliffe Central, Ramsbottom, Rawtenstall;
  • Reddish South, Rose Hill Marple, Royton, Saddleworth, Slaithwaite;
  • Stockport Tiviot Dale, Strines, Stubbins, Summerseat, Waterfoot (for Newchurch);
  • Whaley Bridge, Woodley;

Had Beeching’s report been followed to the letter, our area east of the M60 motorway would have had no local services along the Glossop/Hadfield line. All stations with the exception of Guide Bridge and Hadfield were to close, including Glossop Central. Woodhead would have stayed open, being the next stop after Hadfield before calling at Dunford Bridge. At that time, the Woodhead line got a reprieve, but the end of this decade would see the loss of its passenger services.

The discontinuation of passenger services along the Rose Hill Marple route would have seen Hydonians without a railway station. Their nearest stations for Manchester bound trains would have been Stalybridge or Guide Bridge. Had Beeching’s plans went ahead, passengers who would have used Hyde North, Hyde Central or Newton stations would have faced a tedious bus journey to Manchester, by means of SHMD’s 15 [Shaw Hall Circular] and 125 routes. Given this was before day rover tickets rose in popularity, it would have been a costlier one.

Whereas passengers using the Rochdale line fared better, two stations (Newton Heath and Middleton Junction) were under threat, along with the Middleton branch. Littleborough, Castleton and Moston were unaffected. Passenger services on the line from Castleton to Bolton, via Bury Knowsley Street, were subject to review. A similar fate would be true of the Oldham – Rochdale loop line.

Along with Hydonians, Droylsdonians and Ashtonians would have been faced with a longer journey to their nearest railway stations. All stations on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s ‘Old Lanky’ line, with the exception of Stalybridge, would face closure. Buxtonians would see the loss of all local rail services with the traffic clogged A6 likely to have put paid to Trent’s bus route to Stockport.

It was claimed in some areas that bus routes would have done as good a job – or a better job – than the railways in some areas. Though Buxton had direct routes to Stockport and Glossop, its main stumbling block would have been maintaining services in the winter months with snow affecting Peak District roads. The lines around Oldham and Tameside had parallel bus competition, but traffic was an issue. Besides offering its residents a faster way to Manchester, comfort was another factor of rail’s superiority.

Instead of local services, the Standedge, Woodhead and Hope Valley lines would be the preserve of express trains and goods services. Local branches would be closed to passengers only, or closed for good.

The Closures

Of the 74 railway stations detailed above, 27 would close for good. A further few would close after the 1970s and some would later reopen, either as part of the East Lancashire Railway, or as today’s Metrolink light rail system. Common sense and public outcry prevailed as all stations on the Hadfield/Glossop route had a reprieve. Ashton-under-Lyne’s Charlestown station, along with Mossley, Greenfield and Marsden also avoided closure. Park and Miles Platting were reprieved, though would later close in 1995. Closing on the ‘Old Lanky’ line were Clayton Bridge and Droylsden stations.

Droylsden’s railway station was on a junction and had four platforms. Two were on a line avoiding Guide Bridge to Denton Junction, with the other two on the former L&YR stretch. Before closure, the line was also used for diversions, most notably in 1960 during the electrification of the Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe line, using the new standard 25kV a.c. system. London Euston trains were diverted from Stockport via the avoiding line to Droylsden before terminating at Manchester Victoria.

On the other side of the Pennines, Saddleworth, Diggle, Slaithwaite, Golcar and Longwood and Milnsbridge stations closed two years later on the 07 October 1968. Though Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley gained reprieves, rationalisation would follow shortly afterwards.

Middleton’s stations (Middleton and Middleton Junction) closed without fanfare nor pallbearers. Middleton station looked increasingly run down when it closed to passengers on the 07 September 1964. Both the Middleton Branch, its terminus station, and Middleton Junction station closed for good on the 11 October 1965.

By contrast, amid public outcry, Royton’s station closed to passengers a year after Middleton’s stations did to all traffic. The station lost its goods facilities on the 02 November 1964, before closing for good on the 16 April 1966. Further down the loop line, Oldham Central station closed two days after Royton’s station, leaving Oldham Werneth and Oldham Mumps as the town’s stations.

Positive Developments

Though the Beeching Report was known for its closures, there were some positive developments which would have an indelible effect on today’s operations.

One was the Liner Train concept. Embracing the arrival of containerisation, this won new traffic to the railways, and proved one other thing about rail transport’s strengths. Besides the quick movement of passengers from A to B, the Liner Train proved rail’s ability to carry heavy goods. As well as taking traffic off the roads and reducing labour costs, it offered seamless transfer from one container port to another. Besides the carriage of general merchandise, it would lead to (by the 1980s), the rise of ‘Binliner’ trains, carrying refuse from one processing plant to another. One side effect was the closure of small goods yards and a trend away from being the ‘common carrier’.

Another one was greater emphasis of another merit of rail transport’s abilities: its strength in the swift conveyance of passengers from city to city. 1966 saw the introduction of British Railways’ Inter-City branding, a move which also coincided with BR’s new modern image and its renaming to that of ‘British Rail’. Among the main tangible signs of progress was 1966’s new all-electric service from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. Boasting a 2 hour 30 minute journey time, it boasted the then new Mark 2 carriages among its fleet. The success of which would see further awareness of the Inter-City brand, continuing well in to the 1990s.

Rationalisation of Existing Routes Towards the 1970s

In spite of all this, costs needed to be cut, with railway stations set to be simplified, duplicate services reduced and further cuts. Given the unpopularity of the Beeching Report among its electorate, Labour stated its intention to stop the rest of the closures. Unfortunately, they didn’t, with Stockport Tiviot Dale closing as planned in 1966, along with Cheadle, Cheadle Heath, Didsbury, Baguley and Northenden stations shortly after the 1964 General Election.

By 1967, there was some light in the disused tunnel, and it came in the form of new Transport Minister, Barbara Castle. Instead of stopping further closures, the Ministry of Transport under her tutelage came up with the idea of the ‘social railway’. As opposed to being an anachronism, they were seen as a necessary good in reducing road traffic, particularly so in urban areas. On the up side, this meant the retention of some services which would have faced closure under Beeching’s plans. On the down side, it meant stripping railway stations to the bone and staff to the bare minimum. Instead of having a ticket office at a smaller station, the guard would instead sell tickets along a given route. Lines would be cut to save money (with some lightly used sections singled, or doubled from quadrupled sections). There would also be greater use of diesel and electric multiple units.

Another brainchild of her department was the 1968 Transport Act. Part of the act, along with the ‘social railway’ proposals, included the formation of Conurbation Transport Authorities – latterly known as Passenger Transport Executives. PTEs would be given powers to subsidise socially necessary bus and rail services, ensure integration between modes and take over municipal or private bus and coach operators. Talks towards a similar body were made in 1936 among a few municipal operators and the North Western Road Car Company in what would later become Greater Manchester. The talks fell through, but similar proposals were rehashed in 1962, only to resurface in 1968.

On the 01 November 1969, Britain’s second Passenger Transport Executive was formed (the first was West Midlands PTE formed on the 01 October 1969). Known as SELNEC, it would take over municipal operations throughout what is now known as the Transport for Greater Manchester boundaries, and enter joint operating agreements with National Bus Company subsidiaries and private companies such as A. Mayne and Son.

At first, SELNEC PTE made their presence known with their buses decked in Sunglow Orange and Mancunian White (a very subtle creamy white), with moves toward bus/rail integration around the corner. On its formation, Greater Manchester’s rail services saw:

  • The closure of railway stations between Bacup and Rawtenstall;
  • The abolition of Sunday services at Mossley, Greenfield and Ashton railway stations;
  • Swingeing cuts to off-peak services on local Manchester – Huddersfield services;
  • The closure of Manchester Central and Manchester Exchange railway stations;
  • The threat of closure on the Oldham – Rochdale loop line.

It was clear that the new PTE would have its work cut out from the start. Not to be content with trying to unify the fare systems of former municipal operations, their other mission was to boost the attractiveness of rail. This was a long job which would later include knock backs, little funding, buses converted to DMUs in Workington, and a light rail system.

*                         *                         *

Part Three: All This, Rail Blue and Rationalisation Too (1970 – 1983)

For our third part, we shall focus on our railways in the lean years starting from the 1970s. By then, multiple units ruled the roost on local services and railway stations were stripped to the bare bones. There was talk of an underground tunnel in the centre of Manchester, and Class 40s were legion on the Trans-Pennine route through Stalybridge.

S.V., 27 March 2013.

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One thought on “The Reshaping of our Railways: 2. The Axemen Cameth

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  1. A most in depth analysis to one such as I who was just in his late teens in 1960. I used to use the Middleton to Manchester service until its demise in 1964, passing through the now closed stations of Middleton Junction with its four-platform timber-baulk platforms, Newton Heath (offering a look at what was “on shed”) and Miles Platting (another four-platform junction station). There were still the remains of the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway works on the left hand side and the overbridge across the main lines from there (all soon to be demolished) on the way down from Miles Platting into one of the ten terminal platforms at Manchester Victoria railway station, which at that time still had the office block containing the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway head offices on Hunts Bank.

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